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in the news 1952



Above: From The Washington, D.C., Times-Herald, July 29, 1952. The caption reads: "The above map shows where "flying saucers" have been observed in this area. Four or five of the objects were seen near Herndon (dotted oval) July 20 and six days later 12 more were spotted there. All disappeared in a southeasterly direction."

NINETEEN FIFTY-TWO might be remembered for many things, large and small. The election of Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. Fifty thousand American families afflicted by Polio. The British A-bomb. The first issue of Mad magazine. The theory of the Big Bang.

But for those of a certain bent, 1952 will also be remembered for the second great 'flying saucer flap' which climaxed with the reports of radar and visual sightings over the nation's capital in late July.

Part of the story of that event-filled year is now available in declassified government files. But for the public back then -- at a time when only one in three families in America had a television set -- the story was mostly found in the newspapers and magazines.

This then is a look back at those stories, as they first appeared in print...

Note: This particular entry focuses on public reaction just before and just after General Samford's July 29, 1952 press conference, as posted last week in General Samford Meets The Press.

JULY 29, 1952:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Post-Gazette 29 Jul 52

Public Has Right to Know What Saucers Are All About

By WATSON DAVIS, Director, Science Service

WASHINGTON, July 29 -- If governmental authorities know what causes the mysterious lights and radar blips seen in the hot Washington sky, they should tell the public.

Otherwise even skeptical persons who have discounted the fantastic idea of flying saucers, born of comic strips and science fiction, may begin to get worried.

Building up of a secrecy-cloaked mystery, about which almost every competent scientist or aviation authority is forbidden to talk, will contribute to the atomic war of nerves which we seem to be waging upon ourselves.

Civilian defense instructions warn our citizens of the dangers of a sneak attack and the possible dropping of an atomic bomb. We learn to live with this fear, just as people do in other nations, confident that the world situation must get much worse before this is really likely to happen.

However, if the Air Force is unable to say what is happening in the sky only a few miles from the Capitol many citizens may decide it is time to be apprehensive. It matters little whether the Air Force just does not know or is concealing something. The effect will be the same.

The Air Force must certainly be convinced that the cause is not "enemy" invading planes. If there was evidence of an actual attempted invasion, there would be much higher excitement in official Washington.

Visitors form other worlds, a la H.G. Wells can be discounted. We might almost be relieved to have this fantasy come true because then the nations of the world might have an excuse to unite in a common danger.

Is the secrecy a cover-up for just not knowing? An announcement of this would relieve the situation.

Racine, Wisconsin Journal Times 29 Jul 52

Saucers Are 'Mirages' Scientist Still Says

PHILADELPHIA -- One of the first scientists to publicly back up Air Force claims that "flying saucers" do not exist said he sees no reason to change his views because of the "mysterious objects" currently reported seen over the nation's capital.

Dr. I.M. Levitt, director of Fels Planetarium here, reiterated that the objects are simply "mirages."

He concurred with Dr. D.H. Menzel of Harvard, who said in a recent magazine article that the same conditions which cause optical mirages cause radar and television mirages as well.

Levitt said he is positive that as soon as weather conditions over Washington change, the "mysterious objects" will disappear -- "except for those who want to continue seeing them."

Referring to radar "blips," which some persons believed prove that the objects do exist, Levitt pointed out that the "blips" for most part were reported "distended," which could have resulted from ionized air or gaseous clouds.

Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard 29 Jul 52

Meteor Expert Says Saucers Not 'Mirages'

ALBUQUERQUE -- A meteor expert said Monday night that "flying saucers" definitely are not mirages and should not be confused with distant planets.

Dr. Lincoln La Paz, director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico, observed that the yellow disks seen over Washington, D.C., closely resembled like phenomena in the Southwest.

"These disks are not mirages," he said, "as was suggested a few weeks ago in a national, magazine. Radar proves that.

"Furthermore, any suggestion that these come from the depths of space is fantastic. Their origin is earth: The question is where on earth."

La Paz recalled that some authorities had decided a disk sighted over Iowa was the planet Jupiter, and told a reporter: "Jupiter, or Mars or Venus for that matter, because of the earth's rotation on its axis, appears to move less than a hundredth of the moon's apparent width a second. Therefore it appears stationary to the naked eye.

"On the contrary, the luminous yellow discs seen in the Southwest and near Washington, D.C., move twice to 30 times the apparent width of the moon a second. Hence there should be no difficulty in distinguishing between planets and discs."

Dunkirk, New York Evening Observer 29 Jul 52

RPI Scientist Says 'Saucers' Are Man-made

ALBANY -- "Flying saucers" are man-made, either by the United States or Russia, a scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, believes.

Another RPI scientist is convinced "there is something there," perhaps a "natural phenomenon," which always existed.

The director of Dudley Observatory here, however, says he is satisfied "flying saucers" are nothing more than light reflections.

These views were expressed last night simultaneously with fresh upstate reports of mysterious objects in the sky -- this time over Buffalo.

His Private Guess

Walter M. Nunn director of the RPI radio laboratory, said it was his "private guess" the "saucers" were "something the United States Government is doing in an experimental manner, or something the Russians are doing."

Nunn ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning as having caused strange radar impulses in Washington last weekend.

Dr. Warren C. Stoker, in charge of the new electronic computer at RPI, said he considered the matter more seriously now that the objects had been spotted by radar.

He suggested the "saucers" might be a "natural phenomenon" of which the world never has been aware.

May Long Have Been There

"We have been craning our necks more in recent years than ever before and maybe we are seeing something that has been there always," he said.

However, Benjamin Boss, director of Dudley Observatory here, believed the "saucers" were the result of light reflections or meteorological sounding balloons...

Cumberland, Maryland Evening Times - 29 Jul 52

"Flying Saucer" Sighting Scouted
Army Officer At Frederick Says Weather Balloons Seen

FREDERICK Md. -- Here's another shot at knocking down those flying saucers.

In many cases they're probably weather balloons, believes Capt. Lawrence Berry of Camp Detrick. Weather stations all over the country send up four balloons a day to measure wind velocity, and the Army captain says they might easily be what's getting into people's eyes.

What's more, the balloons can be tracked down on radar screens. On the two past week-ends, unidentified objects in the sky were picked up on radar screens in the Washington, D.C., area. Last Saturday night, Air Force interceptor planes went chasing them but couldn't catch a light they reported seeing.

Capt. Berry's weather station at Camp Detrick is only about 45 miles from Washington. Last night, for instance, he said the wind balloon he released at 11 p.m. headed for Washington and could be seen for 12 miles with the naked eye.

And the balloons carry a battery charged light at night. Capt. Berry said it's so bright it can be traced among the stars as long as it is on.

When the balloons reach a height of 40,000 to 50,000 feet they burst. The battery and bulb drift to the ground on a parachute.

The balloons are 4½ feet in diameter. They are made of rubber filled with hydrogen. During the day the rubber has a red tone and on overcast nights black. Those released at night are transparent so the light can shine through. They ascend at 400 feet a minute.

The balloons are sent up by all weather stations twice a day, 5 a.m. and 11 a.m.. and twice a night, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.

As a parting shot Capt. Berry said weather observers at Camp Detrick have an eye on the sky 24 hours a day. "And never by the most extravagant imagination have they seen anything that could be described as flying saucers."

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette 29 Jul 52

Psst! We've Got Company


WASHINGTON -- Maj. Don Keyhoe, U.S.M.C., (ret), is our most modest and unassuming citizen hereabouts. He just happens in his own quiet way to be America's leading authority on flying saucers.

His honest but reluctant opinion is that the mysterious red-orange lights blinking lately over Washington, Chicago, and many another place are manifestations from another world.

Do not worry about them, the major adds. They've been with us for the last 200 years and they haven't bit yet.

Even so, it seemed to me that I had a hair-raising lunch with Major Keyhoe. I don't suppose there's anything quite so scary as the unknown. Causes you to imagine things.

So with no imaginings whatever, I'll try to tell you exactly what the major had to say.

After a distinguished wartime career as a marine corps flyer, he became an aviation writer. This led him to do a little piece about saucers for True magazine; it caused such a sensation in military circles that he later wrote the best-seller, "Flying Saucers Are Real".

All other authorities are coming round now to agree with him and no longer do we get the suggestion from the Pentagon that reports of saucers are hallucinations and probably drunken at that.

Must Be Outsiders

Major Keyhoe, who has traced down dozens of such stories and talked to their goggle-eyed tellers (mostly commercial aviators), said there were three theories about saucers:
  1. They are a natural phenomenon growing out of atomic explosions.
  1. They are a secret weapon, developed either by the United States or Russia.
  1. They are exploratory vehicles from a far-advanced civilization on another planet.
Number One he discounts because the saucers do not travel haphazardly. They maneuver, as if controlled by a brain, possibly not human, but still and all an intelligent chunk of gray matter.

The second theory could not possibly be true, he believes, because mere humans cannot keep secrets so well. If the Russians had such a machine they'd have used it before now, he continues, while if we had developed it, at least some of our high brass would know something about it.

That leaves Number Three, or what he calls the extra-terrestrial theory.

"I came to the last-named conclusion reluctantly," he said, "because none of the other theories fits the known facts. This one does. I believe further that these so-called saucers are unmanned and controlled from afar, perhaps by radio from a space ship so high that it cannot possibly be detected."

The saucers fly at hundreds of miles per hour and sometimes makes right-angled turns without slackening speed, he added. No human being, or even humanlike creature, would withstand such suddenly developed pressures.

No Cause for Alarm

Maj. Keyhoe said that more than 1,000 flying-saucer incidents have been logged by the air force. Many others have not been reported because those who saw them kept quiet on fear of being ridiculed.

The machines in general seem to be in a shape of an egg, with the large end in front. This has caused them to look like disks sometimes, while others have insisted they saw something that was cigar-shaped. At night they usually glow deep orange.

"In my opinion," the major continued, "there is no cause for fear. For at least 200 years now, astronomers, sea captains and others of repute have reported similar objects. Only lately have the reports been numerous, but that simply is because we now are able to see better than we did in the horse and buggy age."

There you are. If the major's opinion is correct, somebody somewhere has a civilization at least a couple of centuries ahead of our own. Makes you wonder.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sentinel 29 Jul 52

Einstein Isn't Curious About 'Flying Saucers'

LOS ANGELES, July 29 -- The Rev. Louis A. Garner of Los Angeles wanted to know what the greatest scientist in the world had to say about flying saucers.

The inter-denominational evangelist wrote Dr. Albert Einstein asking him whether the saucers originate in outer space, come from Mars or Venus, or if they are products of our military rivals or of U.S. Air Force experiments.

The famous scientist answered in a letter received today:

"Dear Sir: Those people have seen something. What it is I do not know and I am not curious to know. Sincerely yours, A. Einstein"

JULY 30, 1952:

North Adams, Massachusetts Transcript 30 Jul 52

'SAUCERS' NO MENACE -- Maj. Gen. John A. Samford, director of Air Force intelligence, points a finger as he emphasizes that recent "saucer" sightings over Washington are derived from natural causes. He made the statement at a press conference there July 29. He added that an analysis of mysterious object sightings for six years revealed "no pattern that shows anything remotely consistent with any menace to the United States." Unidentified objects were spotted on radar screens at Washington National Airport this week-end. (AP Wirephoto).

Athens, Ohio Messenger 30 Jul 52

Flying Saucers

The USAF, for reasons known only to itself, has again aroused the flying-saucer bogie to bestir people, make publicity for itself, and fashion support for its "Operation Skywatch" form of Civilian Defense.

It is indicative that no one had seen nor thought about flying saucers for a long time, until the USAF, in search of volunteers for "Skywatch," announced it wanted the watchers as much for flying saucers as for anything else. Still, nobody saw any saucers. When "Skywatch" began to fail because of lack of civilian enthusiasm, flying saucers began to be seen again.

These were conveniently over Washington, D.C., but as the headquarters for chasing saucers is at Dayton, something had to be seen in that vicinity. (One could be funny with the imaginary things seen in the sky during and after the Democrat convention, but "Operation Public Jitters" would not be produced for comical reasons.)

Producing "emergencies" for political purposes is a favorite game of the present administration. If everything else fails to stir up the people, flying saucers is always good for a renewal.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette 30 Jul 52

Flying Saucers Are Nonsense, Shapley Says

ALBANY, N. Y. -- "Flying saucers are a lot of complete nonsense."

That is the opinion expressed Tuesday by Dr. Harlow Shapley, director of the Harvard observatory, Cambridge, Mass., and considered one of the world's leading astronomers.

"The objects people are seeing in the sky -- if they are seeing anything at all -- are not aircraft from another planet, nor are they Russian planes," he said with emphasis.

Five Possible Sources

Dr. Shapley said in a telephone interview, the so-called flying saucers can be traced to five sources:
  1. Hallucination.
  1. Fire balls, or meteorites.
  1. High altitude weather balloons
  1. Planes flying above a layer of warmth several thousand feet up in the sky.
  1. High flying planes that cannot be seen passing through a layer of abnormal, uneven density.
Hallucination must be placed at the top," Dr. Shapley said, "because at least half the people who report they have seen flying saucers, never saw anything."

Meteorites and Balloons

He explained that at this time of the year, because of the earth's position, an abundance of fire balls, or meteorites, are to be seen in the sky.

"Every day several thousands of high altitude weather balloons are sent up from the more than 100 weather stations all over the country," he said. "Many of them are seen by people who jump to the conclusion they have seen a flying saucer."

Discussing the fourth point, Dr. Shapley pointed out that often a warm layer several thousand feet up contains dust particles which increases the power of light diversion.

"A pilot may well be attracted by a somewhat distorted, displaced image of the moon, sun or even a high, brightly lighted cloud," he said.

High Plane

Finally, Dr. Shapley said that a plane flying at a high altitude through a layer of abnormal density "can set off some queer sights" like bright images sweeping across the dark sky.

As for the announcement by the Civil Aeronautics Administration traffic control center, at Washington, D.C., that its radarscope had picked up objects seen in that area, Dr. Shapley said:

"All of the sources I have given, with the exception of hallucinations, will register on a radarscope. Even a cloud with water vapor will record itself on the radar screen."

Dr. Shapley also noted that the earth satellite vehicle program from which 20,000 miles in space man could control radar-directed missiles, has been "enormously developed" in the last three years.

"But this would have not the slightest connection with what we have come to know as flying saucers."

He added: "The best way to see flying saucers is when you are in your cups."

Sheboygan, Wisconsin Journal 30 Jul 52

[No Headline]

CAMBRIDGE, Mass -- A Harvard astro-physicist says: "There's as much chance of catching a flying saucer as there is of picking up a rainbow" because both are optical illusions.

Dr. Donald H. Menzel wrote a treatise on flying saucers six years ago before the current controversy had arisen. He called them "galloping ghosts."

He said today he agreed with Gen. John A. Samford, Air Force director of intelligence in Washington, that the saucers are not real.

Washington, D.C. Post 30 Jul 52

Flying Saucer Hobby Leads to a Theory

Some hobbyists collect stamps; others, match book covers, even teabag tags.

Leon Davidson, of 804 S. Irving st., Arlington, Va., is more up to date. He collects reports on flying saucers.

He began his side interest in mid-1949, in personal dissatisfaction with the Air Force's findings after investigation of flying saucer reports.

Today he has analyzed those reports, and almost everything since published on flying saucers. He has some conclusions, and some fixed ideas.

First, he said, official denials to the contrary, the saucers are most likely Navy-developed missiles, either piloted or ground-controlled, or both, and jet-propelled.

Davidson thinks the Navy is laughing up its gold-braided sleeves at the Air Force. And he thinks at least one Air Force official knows it. Else why, he asked, would an (unidentified) Air Force official suddenly change the designation of its flying saucer investigation from "Project Sign" to "Project Grudge."

The name change, he said, occurred at a doubly significant time -- during unification of the military forces, and when the Air Force was winding up its 1947-48 saucer investigations.

Here's why Davidson thinks flying saucers aren't foreign to this earth: None has been observed in any area for a period of more than four hours, an incredibly short time for visitors who would have traveled so long from so far.

Here's why he discards the idea they may be Russian-made: The United States military would be far more concerned than to wait two hours after sightings to send jet interceptors after them, as was reported from nearby Andrews Field recently.

Davidson said his geographical plotting on flying saucer reports supports his conviction the objects are a Navy product. Reports of the first sightings, in 1947, almost all came from Northwest United States, mostly over sparsely populated areas, but not far from Navy installations, he said.

In 1948, they were reported over the Southeast United States. They have spread out since over a more general geographically scattered area, but all within control range of the far-flung Navy, he said.

Finally, said Davidson, a chemical engineer, the saucers have traveled courses of established air lanes, where radio beams would be helpful in their flight control -- by Navy scientists.

There's one thing about Davidson's hobby -- it could be ended suddenly by an official announcement.

Marysville, Ohio Journal-Tribune 30 Jul 52

'Flying Saucers,' Whatever They May Be, Not Result Of U.S. Experiments; Air Force Anxious to Find Cause

(The Pentagon has exhausted its supply of previous news releases concerning its investigation of "flying saucers." However, an official air force spokesman has issued a summary outlining the findings made in the exhaustive probe of "saucer" reports since 1947. In the following signed article, Al Chop, air force information representative, reports that whatever the unidentified disks may be, they are not the result of secret defense department experiments. He also explains how the use of a special camera may help solve the 1952 "flying saucer" mystery.)

(AF Information Representative)

WASHINGTON, July 30 -- The demand for copies of past press releases on "flying saucers" issued by the Department of Defense has completely exhausted our supply. However, the information contained in these releases is summarized below and constitutes the official opinion of the Air Force on the subject of "flying saucers."

In the fall of 1947 the United States Air Force took official notice of reports of so-called "flying discs" because the reports from the public indicated that the problem might be related to the Air Force responsibility for the air defense of the United States.

On Dec. 30, 1947 the Air Force directed its Air Materiel Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, to set up a project to collect and evaluate all available facts concerning reported flying saucer incidents. To perform this job the Air Materiel Command obtained the services of well-known scientists, such as astronomers, psychologists, electronic specialists, and meteorologists.

On Dec. 27, 1949, after 375 reported sightings had been investigated, the Air Force, with the concurrence of the Army and the Navy, announced the findings of the "flying saucer" project.

The evidence at that time indicated that the majority of the reports of unidentified flying objects could be accounted for as misinterpretations of various conventional objects, a mild form of hysteria, meteorological phenomena, or hoaxes.

There remained, however, a number of reported sightings that could not be thus explained, and the Air Force has continued its investigations.

As far as luminous phenomena are concerned, the recent development of special photographic equipment may make it possible to gather data hitherto unobtainable through ordinary photographic methods. This equipment consists of a grating camera which separates light into its component parts (spectrums) and registers them on different portions of film.

The principle involved is that used by astronomers in determining the composition of the stars. In this manner Air Force scientists may be able to determine the composition of the light phenomena and consequently identify its sources.

It has been suggested that what people actually have been seeing is the result of some of our own secret experiments, guided missiles, or new types of planes, or flying weapons. This is emphatically not the case. None of the three military departments nor any other agency in the government is conducting experiments classified or otherwise, with disc-shaped flying objects which could be basis for the reported phenomena.

The Air Force would like to assure the public that, inasmuch as the air defense of the United States is an Air Force responsibility, it has and will continue to receive and evaluate any substantial reports of unusual aerial phenomena.

Sandusky, Ohio Register Star News 30 Jul 52

On The Saucer Trail

U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.

WASHINGTON, July 30 --  The Air Force order to try to shoot down the flying saucers is taken by some to mean fear of a Soviet secret weapon. No authority I know believes this is the answer.

If Russia had such a weapon, they surely would have delivered an ultimatum in the five years since the first report of flying saucers because such a weapon would mean complete control over any nation.

Prevent Hysteria

The real reason for the order to shoot down the saucers is to capture one of these objects as fast as possible before national hysteria results. I think officials are badly worried about the effects. If they could capture one of these and get the answer and reveal it to the public, regardless of what the answer is, it would end the mystery.

My opinion is that if they capture one, they will find it is a device from outer space. We worked out a rough cycle with the aid of a Canadian official, whom I am not at liberty to name, that indicated this sudden increase in sightings.

These sightings disprove the theory of Dr. Donald H. Menzel of Harvard University that these are optical illusions caused by reflections in the sky of lights on earth.

Radar reports now prove they are solid, fast-moving objects intelligently
controlled. They are able to maneuver so violently that no human pilot born on this earth could stand the changes. These violent changes would practically paralyze a human.

Robot Units

I believe and most of the people I've talked to believe these are largely remote-controlled devices. They are controlled from either another space ship high out in our atmosphere or beyond it or from great distances out in space.

They could be observer units, sent from some planet to observe the people of the earth, taking pictures and sending messages on us back to their home base.

Unless there has been a gigantic conspiracy by the armed services to cover up some super-secret development, the saucers which have flown over Washington are real.

I do not believe the services have developed a secret and super aircraft because it is unlikely such a secret could be kept. The saucers apparently are friendly and eventually they may contact us.

Bend, Oregon Bulletin 30 Jul 52

Seeing Saucers Again

As reports continue to come in all the way from Washington, D.C. to our own Sisters, Oregon, from various persons who have seen what are commonly known as flying saucers, it occurs to us that the following definitions should be of general interest:

     Illusion - A false perception. The mistaking of something for that which it is not.

    Delusion - An immovable illusion. One which has become fixed and cannot be removed by evidence to the contrary.

    Hallucination - A subjective perception of what does not exist.

By way of illustration, let us suppose that you see scraps of paper drawn to a considerable height above the ground by air currents; you take them to be flying saucers. That is illusion. Then suppose that the scraps of paper are recovered and shown to you for what they are but you nevertheless find yourself unable to believe that what you saw shortly before was anything but saucers. That is delusion.

Those two are fairly close. But suppose, once more, that you gaze into the sky and you see flying saucers and that there aren't any and that there isn't anything there to mistake for them. That is hallucination.

Let us be charitable and assume that the great majority of the saucer reports stem from illusion. Delusions and hallucinations may indicate pathologic conditions which require the attention of a psychiatrist. But illusions, which run all the way from simple error to those in which error stems from interesting natural phenomena (as in the case of the mirage) are common to the healthiest minds. Fortunately they will yield to logical explanation and that, of course, is the thing to seek.

Leavenworth, Kansas Times 30 Jul 52

Air Force Has No Fear Of Saucers

WASHINGTON -- The air force says it's still checking into flying saucer reports, but it's certain of one thing: The saucers -- whatever they are -- don't seem to be a menace to the U.S. Most of the sightings traced to date have turned out to be natural phenomena.

A flurry of reports that scores of unidentified "objects had been spotted by radar in the Washington area during the past 10 days led the air force to call a special news conference Tuesday to tell what it knew -- or thought -- of the saucers.

The official air force conclusion:

About one-fifth of the sighting reports are "from credible observers, of relatively incredible things -- so we keep on being concerned about them."

Of the one-fifth for which there is no explanation, Maj. Gen. John A. Samford, Intelligence Director said:

"No pattern has ever been found that reveals anything remotely like a purpose or consistency that can in any way be associated with any menace to the United States."

Samford is one of the air force's top two experts on saucers. The other is Maj. Gen. Roger Ramey, director of operations. Both attended the news conference to answer questions newsman tossed their way.

Samford and Ramey announced that since 1947 the air force has analyzed about 2,000 reports of sightings of strange objects in the sky.

The bulk of these, after cross-checking, have been reasonably well identified as the product of friendly aircraft, out-and-out hoaxes, or electrical or meteorological phenomena.

Other "saucers" are blamed on optical illusions, northern lights, weather balloons, and reflection of lights -- even automobile headlights.

But every effort is being made to identify the mysterious one-fifth. One new step being planned is use of a newly-developed telescopic camera which can photograph a 150-degree area of sky on one plate.

Other specialized, highly sensitive cameras also will be used.

Some of the unidentified objects show up distinctly on radar sets.

It is not unusual for radar to pick up strange things, Samford said. Rain squalls (pilots sometimes use radar to avoid thunderstorms), birds, water spouts -- even surf spray.

The two generals added that the hot weather of recent weeks well might be related to the current outbreak of saucer reports.

They said that a temperature inversion -- a layer of warm air over cool air -- sometimes may be sufficient to deflect radar waves and cause a false response on a radar set.

Eureka, California Humboldt Standard 30 Jul 52

Inverted Waves Held Cause Of Sky Objects

WASHINGTON -- The air force cited summer heat waves and optical and radar illusions as a possible explanation of the latest flurry of "flying saucers"

Intelligence officers ridiculed the notion that the mysterious objects in the sky hail from other planets or Russia -- or are a menace to the United States.

They were confident that new scientific investigations and powerful telescopes and special cameras would explain away the objects as "physical phenomena," such as mirages.

As for three flocks of objects sighted by radar over Washington in the past 10 days, Maj. Gen. John A Samford, air force chief of intelligence, told a news conference late yesterday that "my mind is satisfied" they resulted from temperature inversion.

This was explained in detail later by two electronics experts from the air technical intelligence center, Wright-Patterson Air Base, Dayton, O.

Air temperature, they pointed out, decreases with altitude. Whenever a warm air mass passes over a relatively cooler mass the temperature temporarily increases and an "inversion layer" of waves is formed.

This inversion will cause radar beams to bend earthward. The impulses then bounce off ground "targets." What then appears as "blips" or tiny white lights on radarscopes are not objects in the sky but objects on the ground.

With a large inversion, street or automobile lights may be reflected, as if in formation, on clouds. And if there is wind velocity or turbulence, these lights will appear to be in a "dog fight."

Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail 30 Jul 52

Saucers Held Only Mirages

The air force offered today a combination of summer heat waves and optical and radar illusions as a plausible explanation of the latest flurry of "Flying Saucers."

Intelligence officers ridiculed the notion that the mysterious objects in the sky hail from other planets or Russia -- or pose a menace to the United States.

They were confident that new scientific investigations with powerful telescopes and special cameras would explain away the objects as "physical phenomena," such as mirages. And, maybe, cure the nation of sauceritis.

As for three flocks of objects sighted by radar over Washington, in the past 10 days, Gen. John A. Samford, air force director of intelligence, told a news conference late yesterday that "my own mind is satisfied" they resulted from temperature inversion.

This was explained in detail later by two electronics experts from the air technical intelligence center, Wright-Patterson air force base, Dayton, Ohio. They were Dr. L.B. Griffing and Capt. Roy James.

Air temperature, they pointed out, decreases with altitude. However, when a warm air mass passes over a relatively cooler one temperature temporarily increases and an "inversion layer" of warm air is formed.

This inversion will cause radar beams to bend earthward. Radar impulses then bounce off ground "targets." What then appear as unidentified "blips" or tiny white lights on radarscopes are not objects in the sky but objects on the ground.

With a large inversion, street or automobile lights may be similarly reflected, as if in formation, on clouds. And if there is sufficient wind velocity or turbulence, these lights will appear to dance or "dog fight," with the phenomenal gyrations attributed to "flying saucers."

The Air Force experts cited the opinions of Drs. D.H. Menzel, Harvard University, and I.M. Levitt, Fels Planetarium, Philadelphia, that optical illusions similar to the radar illusions can explain certain visual sightings of "saucers."

The Washington phenomena were not rare, according to Samford. He made it clear that while he regarded "flying saucers" as physical phenomena, he did not lay them all to temperature inversion.

To settle the "flying saucer" mystery once and for all, Samford disclosed that the Air Force investigation is going to take a new, scientific turn.

In the past, the Air Force has tried to find a common pattern among all the widely varying eyewitness reports of flying saucers in an attempt to clear up the mystery.

Now the Air Force is going to concentrate on some precise means of measurement of the eerie objects so that scientists can be handed "manageable material" for analysis, Samford said.

Samford thought the "saucer" obsession could partly be explained by the fact that there is more "man-made activity" in the air today and greater opportunity for observation of physical phenomena.

Washington, D.C. Evening News 30 Jul 52

Fighter Pilots at New Castle Stay Alert for More Saucer Reports

NEW CASTLE AIR FORCE BASE, Del. July 30 -- The Air Force may now consider those unidentified objects in the sky as natural phenomena, but if the Capital's favorite family of "flying saucers" return, Washington fighter pilots at this base are all set to ferret them out.

They are members of the 121st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, using F-94 all-weather night fighters equipped with radar. This group made up mostly of men from the District area, is on temporary duty at New Castle, from its home at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

The flyers are acting with the 142d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron in maintaining a 24-hour alert, lately especially concerned with keeping strange things out of the sky over the Washington area.

Trick Reflection Cited

The Air Force says that whatever has been seen probably can be traced to the trick reflection of light. But nobody has called off the 121st, and it stands ready to investigate when the alarm buzzer rings in the ready room at New Castle.

Last Sunday morning, after two pilots of the 142d went aloft on orders to find out what those now-famous things were over Andrews, two men of the 121st took over the early dawn patrol. They were Capt. John C. Lang, of 7812 District Heights Parkway, District Heights, Md., and Capt. Francis T. Evans, of 1101 Barnaby street S.E.

Not Easily Deluded

They cruised at 1,500 feet in their F-94's over Mount Vernon, where the alleged sky phantoms were supposed to be operating. Experienced combat pilots, they were not easily deluded by the flying ectoplasm. Here is Capt. Lang's report:

"I saw two little patches of clouds. And also a lot of shooting stars. I even quipped to National Airport's Control Center about all those 'Stars Over Alabama.' I thought 'Meteors Over Maryland' was better. And mass hallucination even better than that."

Lights On Horizon

He even mentioned the possibility that the illusion of a stationary sky saucer could be created by lights on the horizon, or by the upturned headlamps of an automobile

The 121st also includes men like First Lt. Lawrence H. Boteler, 1680 Thirty-second street N.W.; First Lt. Norman II Todd, 1638 V street S.E.; Second Lt. Wayne W. Wilson, 5365 Pumphrey Drive, Forestville, Md.; Capt. G.B. Holland, 4719 Falls Stone avenue, Chevy Chase, Md.; Capt. C.M. Eisele, 7204 Forest road, Landover, Md.; Capt. H.W. Philpot, 2125 Guilford road, Hyattsville, Md.; First. Lt. Robert A. Maxwell, 3211-A Terrace Drive S.E., and Capt. William F. Smith, who lives in Silver Spring.

El Paso, Texas Herald-Post 30 Jul 52

Expert Remains Skeptical Of Daylight Shot

Scripps-Howard Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, July 30 -- The Air Force is checking the authenticity of a photograph which purports to show five flying saucers in formation over Salem, Mass.

The picture was taken by Coast Guardsmen at Salem last Thursday about 10 a.m. It was flown to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, and then turned over to the Air Force. It is now at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, O., where flying saucer reports are investigated and evaluated. I saw it yesterday in the Pentagon.

Capt. E.J. Ruppelt, the Air Force's flying saucer expert, had it in his briefcase -- out of sight and unmentioned -- through a 90-minute press conference in which Maj. Gen. John A. Samford, Air Force intelligence chief, discounted recent saucer sightings over Washington. Captain Ruppelt still had it in his briefcase when he took a plane for Dayton an hour later.

Egg-Shaped Objects

In the picture, the flying saucers -- if that's' what they are -- appear egg-shaped white objects with wavy edges suspended in air. If the photograph can be accepted at face value, it is the first daylight picture of flying saucers.

Although several photographs of what purported to be flying saucers have been taken in the past, all were snapped at night. The Air Force invariably has explained them away as meteors, rockets or bursting fireballs.

Although the sky is light in the photo, the white objects which may be flying are easily distinguishable. They somewhat resemble, but could not be confused with clouds. There are several buildings in the foreground.

Captain Ruppelt, who has spent several years checking and plotting flying saucer reports, said he is skeptical. Attempts have been made to hoodwink him in the past and he believes nothing which cannot be proved.

Seeks Negative

He points out that a single photograph was submitted. There was no negative. That invariably happens, he said. The Air Force has yet to get hold of a negative of a flying saucer picture.

Captain Ruppelt said he has asked the Coast Guard to obtain the negative and forward it to him at Dayton.

Without questioning anyone's integrity, Captain Ruppelt said his first impression was that the picture is a fake. He said the alleged saucers appear to have been painted in. Their somewhat irregular, wavy edges indicate as much, he said.

I wouldn't know. Captain Ruppelt is a trained observer, who makes it his business to look for such things. I could easily be fooled by a composite picture.

General Samford said he is "convinced in my own mind" that the saucers picked up by radar over Washington are the result of sudden changes in temperature. He said flatly they are not secret weapons or machines produced in this country. He was equally sure they were not coming from another country. He discounted the idea they came from another planet.

The General went back to the Bible to show that there have always been such reports. He said we see more of them today because we travel in the air. Captain Ruppelt conceded that there have been a number of saucer reports around atomic energy installations. But, he pointed out, people in those areas are more security conscious and quick to report anything unusual.

General Samford conceded that a number of "credible observers" have reported "some relatively incredible things." He said the Air Force will continue to give flying saucer reports "adequate, but not frantic attention."

Portsmouth, New Hampshire Herald 30 Jul 52

Lovett Explains 'Saucer'

WASHINGTON -- Even Secretary of Defense Lovett has had an explanation for it.

Pentagon sources said Lovett, returning to Washington from New York Sunday was a fellow passenger aboard an airliner with persons who insisted they had seen a white disc whirling along beside the plane.

Lovett, however, reportedly said he had been watching a searchlight playing into the clear, moonlit sky and at one point its cone of light caught and held a shaft of cumulus cloud, creating the impression of a circular body keeping pace with the plane.

"That's how many a flying saucer gets born," one officer said.

The Christian Science Monitor 30 Jul 52

'Flying Saucers' Whirl Between Rumor and Fact

By Herbert B. Nichols
Special Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor


How easy it is for one to take a story with a small element of mystery and by letting imagination and the typewriter keys ramble where they will -- come up with a fascinating yarn that packs a mountain of interesting reading -- but has only half-truths or no truth at all.

Take flying saucers, for example.

"Why don't you tell the truth?" I asked a companion at a Pentagon news conference. "You've sifted the 'evidence' the same as I. You have talked to the pilots and the radar operators. You're intelligent and you know as well as I the Department of Defense is hiding nothing essential from us."

Yet Los Angeles had five days of flying-saucer alarms, Washington is deep in its second week of similar apprehension; saucer accounts have been sharing front-page display with the Democratic convention.

"Get wise," he said. "The public loves a mystery. Why spoil it?"

There you have reason No. 1 for the continuance of the flying-saucer mystery.

Reports Jump

The fact is, there is nothing new at all about the saucer reports except perhaps, that with the United States radar warning net going into round-the-clock action all over the country backed by an army of amateur watchers as well, the saucer warnings have jumped up to almost 100 a day. Because the Air Force has responsibility for patrolling American skies, it cannot afford to ignore them.

One of the cardinal rules of military intelligence is to consider all possibilities that have any bearing on a commander's decision of where to meet a threat. And one day the Russians can be expected to produce an intercontinental missile. Each report is given a most careful and complete analysis.

I've read more than 300 samples. Preliminary evaluation of the current items does not indicate that they different in any way from those received in the past few years.

"How about the radar angle?" someone may ask. "Radar operators reported good 'blips' that were exactly as good as those that appear when planes are in the vicinity."

No one will deny this, even though the radarscopes of the pursuit planes that took off after the sighted objects over Washington could not pick up anything at all.

The fact is, many a "battle" was fought during World War II, when for six to eight hours radar operators were picking up "blips" that suddenly appeared, perhaps moved at fast or slow speed a bit, then as mysteriously faded out. An alert was given on the Atlantic coast a few weeks ago that "40 bombers have been sighted approaching at fast speed."

Blips Explained

The answer is well known now to top physicists and experienced radar operators. Sometimes blips are caused by pranksters or by official use of "window," those long coils of aluminum foil tossed out of planes during the war to confuse enemy radar as to true air movements. But most of the time these pseudo-blips are caused by the appearance of ionized clouds in the atmosphere, especially when the sunspot cycle is approaching a high.

The latest word from Air Technical Intelligence is: "Only a small percent of reports received from reliable sources remain unexplained. The remainder of these sightings could be accounted for as misinterpretations of various conventional objects, a mild form of hysteria, meteorological phenomena, or hoaxes. Of the unexplained sightings it can be stated that they appear in a haphazard fashion and show no pattern which would indicate that the objects are being controlled by a reasoning body."

Pentagon Probes

Recently Thomas K. Finletter, secretary of the Air Force, and other top Air Force officials asked for a special briefing on Air Force saucer investigations over the past five years. The secretary sums up the briefing as follows: "No concrete evidence has yet reached us either to prove or disapprove [sic] the existence of the so-called flying saucers."

Reached just a few moments ago, as this story goes to press, a harried Pentagon spokesman repeated again what I am sure is a fact, "we have no really new evidence, nothing more concrete to go on than we have had right along. Every report, nevertheless, will be given a most careful and complete analysis.

"What more can we do or say to convince people that we are not trying to hide something, that we feel there is honestly no reason to believe there is any inexplicable mystery at all about 'flying saucer' reports?"

Lima, Ohio News 30 Jul 52

Harry Barnes

RADAR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER Harry G. Barnes, (right), at Washington's national airport tells fellow-controller Richard Thomas how he tracked mysterious objects on radar July 20.

Radar Man Tells How He Tracked 'Discs'

EDITOR'S NOTE: Harry G. Barnes, who wrote this eyewitness account of tracking "flying saucers" on radar exclusively for NEA service and The Lima News, has been with the Civil Aeronautics administration for nine years. For the last five years he has been working on radar traffic control.


WASHINGTON -- Shortly after midnight on July 19, Ed Nugent called me over to the radar scope and laughingly said, "Here's a fleet of flying saucers for you."

As it turns out now, Ed could very well have been stating an absolute fact.

I am a senior air route traffic controller for the Civil Aeronautics administration and was in charge of the air route traffic control center that particular night at National airport. Briefly, part of our job is to constantly monitor the skies around the nation's capital with the electronic eye of radar for purposes of controlling air traffic.

Our shift had been on duty about 40 minutes. Eight men were on this particular shift. It was a normal night for both flying and weather.

The sky was cloudless, no storms were approaching. Air traffic was light, as usual for that period. I think those facts are important in connection with what came later.

THE "THINGS" which caused Ed to call me over to the scope were seven pips clustered together irregularly in one corner. The scope is 24 inches in diameter and the pips show up as pale violet spots. Ordinarily they represent aircraft in the air. The radar we were using scans a 70-mile radius.

The seven pips indicated that the objects, or whatever they were, were in the air over an area about nine miles in diameter, 15 miles south-southwest of Washington. We knew immediately that a very strange situation existed. First, from all the information we had at hand, we knew that the spots were not aircraft -- at least not friendly aircraft.

That left three possibilities, enemy aircraft, some unexplained flying objects or something wrong with the radar. We tracked the seven pips for about five minutes and quickly determined that they were moving between 100 and 130 miles per hour while we could observe them.

But their movements were completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft. They followed no set course, were not in any formation, and we only seemed to be able to track them for about three miles at a time.

THE INDIVIDUAL pip would seem to disappear from the scope at intervals. Later I realized that if these objects had made any sudden burst of extremely high speed, that would account for them disappearing from the scope temporarily. Our radar is only designed to track known types of aircraft or objects in the air at speeds known to all of us.

After five minutes of watching the strange pips I asked Jim Copeland and Jim Ritchey, two experienced radar controllers, to check our observations. They confirmed our findings. Then I called the airport control tower to see what the radar showed there. The radar operator verified the same thing instantly.

At this time I notified the Air Force of our observation. This is a regular procedure but some parts of it are secret and I am not at liberty to explain it in detail. But we kept the Air Force informed of subsequent observations which continued for approximately the next six hours, until after daylight when we could no longer distinguish the objects from other aircraft.

Early Sunday morning is an especially busy time for both private flying and military reserve flying.

Before notifying the Air Force of our findings, our technicians had carefully checked the equipment to make certain that it was operating perfectly.

THESE are the important events of the next six hours:

During the first hour the objects had moved over all sectors of our scope. That meant that they had been over the restricted areas of Washington, including the White House and Capitol.

At the first opportunity Ritchey contacted Capital airlines pilot Capt S.C. Pierman, a veteran of 17 years of flying. Shortly after taking off, Ritchey asked Pierman to look for the objects we were watching on the scope. He agreed to do this.

All of a sudden his voice came over the radio, which we could all hear, with the words:

"There's one, and there it goes."

HE DESCRIBED it as just a bright light, moving faster than a shooting star at times.

His subsequent descriptions of the movements of the objects coincided with the position of our pips at all times while in our range.

During the next 14 minutes he reported that he saw six such lights. He said they had no tail, no recognizable shape and were just bright lights in the dark sky.

Each sighting coincided with a pip we could see near his plane. When he reported that the light streaked off at high speed, it disappeared on our scope, for the apparent reason I cited.

WHILE HE was giving us reports of his sightings, he was on a course from Herndon Va., to Martinsburg, W. Va.

Some of the other pilots we contacted reported that they were unable to see the objects. I had the distinct feeling that some of them were just unwilling to discuss the subject over the radio.

However, one other commercial pilot did flatly confirm seeing a light off his left wing which we saw as a pip on the scope. He was coming in for his landing and
the tower scope reported the same radar sighting. The light disappeared on our scope and from his view about four miles before he touched his wheels down.

During the whole period of observation we could detect no pattern to the movement of these objects. However, they did seem to become most active around the planes we saw on the scope. We did not see the pips in any recognizable formation at any time.

THE RADAR we were using does not show altitude and it is faintly possible that the objects could have been in a vertical formation without our recognizing it.

At one time toward daybreak we counted 10 objects over Andrews field, just outside of Washington. We sighted seven originally. Most of the time we could count eight of them.

The only recognizable behavior pattern which occurred to me from watching the pips was that they acted like a bunch of small kids out playing. It was helter skelter, as if directed by some innate curiosity. At times they moved as a group or cluster. Other times as individuals over widely scattered areas.

Other than some information in connection with our communications with the Air Force, which is classified, the above is a complete factual description of the important events which took place during those six hours. These facts I have set forth in my official report to CAA.

SPEAKING PERSONALLY, and not officially for CAA, I would like to make these additional comments:

Radar is strictly an electronics device. It has no imagination. It reports only what it "sees." The equipment was in perfect operating order during that period.

There is no other conclusion I can reach but that for six hours on the morning of the 20th of July there were at least 10 unidentifiable objects moving above Washington. They were not ordinary aircraft. I could tell that by their movement on the scope.

I can safely deduce that they performed gyrations which no known aircraft could perform. By this I mean that our scope showed that they could make right angle turns and complete reversals of flight.

Nor in my opinion could any natural phenomena such as shooting stars, electrical disturbances or clouds, account for these spots or our radar.

Exactly what they are? I don't know. You now know as much about them as I do. And your guess is as good as mine.

Washington, D.C. Evening Star 30 Jul 52

The Unexciting 'Saucers'

Whether or not there are such things as "flying saucers" (the Air Force prefers the more precise phrase "unidentified aerial objects"), the American people seem bound and determined not to be excited by them. At any rate, although some of the reports about the phenomenon have been atrociously sensationalized, the general reaction thus far has been one of monumental calm, if not complete indifference. By and large, it is a wholesome, common-sense reaction -- a mark of maturity -- and it deserves three cheers.

Actually, the calm is altogether understandable. After all, wholly apart from the somewhat exhausting televised proceedings of the recent political conventions, the American people have lived through a great many alarms and excursions since that October night in 1938 when Orson Welles made large numbers of them half-panicky with his radio broadcast of a fictional invasion from Mars. Between then and now a lot has happened to the wells of human excitability. Wars, multiple crises, revolutionary inventions, the atomic race, persistent international tensions, a host of astounding actualities and potentialities, and the clinging presence of abnormalities that have grown to seem normal -- these have so upended the world that most of us have become rather inured to shock and lost much of our capacity to be surprised or agitated by anything, including "flying saucers."

Maybe these objects really exist. Maybe they are a new super-secret weapon; either our own or another country's. Maybe -- perhaps -- possibly -- they are interplanetary machines operated by visitors from outer space. Whatever their true nature, however, the fact remains that the American public at large seems quite unmoved and unimpressed by them. And this indifference is the stronger because of findings by the Air Force that only a small fraction of the "saucer" reports have yet to be explained and that all the rest have been accounted for in terms of optical illusions, a mild form of hysteria, hoaxes, natural meteorological phenomena, and misinterpretation of various conventional things like weather balloons and radar-screen "blips" caused by flying birds. In the circumstances, the whole business fails to lend itself to the sort of excitation that the Martian broadcast stirred up in 1938.

This non-excitable frame of mind is a good thing from Americans to have. Except to the extent that it seems to be creating difficulties for civil defense authorities in recruiting volunteer observers for "Operation Skywatch," it is a frame of mind well suited to these days of explosive world tension -- a kind of sensible middle-ground mood between panic-breeding jitters and the folly of complacency. It is a mood worth cultivating, for we are living in a time that calls for steady nerves and level heads regarding matters far more substantial than the elusive "saucers."

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1. Dr. Leon Davidson, the subject of the Washington Post article "Flying Saucer Hobby Leads to a Theory" would go on to become an iconoclastic force in UFO research, and his personal collection is part of Columbia University Libraries Archival Collection. An overview on Dr. Davidson can be read at Phillip Coppens' site here and much more through a Google search.


The Arrival

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