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in the news 1952


Flying Dutchman

Above: Illustration of a sighting of "the Flying Dutchman" (artist unknown). Legend dating back to the 18th century had it that the ship was a phantom wandering the seas, as reported in "A Voyage to Botany Bay" in 1795...

I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, but had never given much credit to the report; it seems that some years since a Dutch man-of-war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape. Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitude. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared. Nothing could do away the idea of this phenomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman. From the Dutch the English seamen got the infatuation, and there are very few Indiamen, but what has some one on board, who pretends to have seen the apparition.

The legend gained currency, and persisted over the centuries. In 1910 such sightings were met by a scientific explanation. From "Round-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy" by Frank R. Stockton...

The news soon spread through the vessel that a phantom-ship with a ghostly crew was sailing in the air over a phantom-ocean, and that it was a bad omen, and meant that not one of them should ever see land again. The captain was told the wonderful tale, and coming on deck, he explained to the sailors that this strange appearance was caused by the reflection of some ship that was sailing on the water below this image, but at such a distance they could not see it. There were certain conditions of the atmosphere, he said, when the sun's rays could form a perfect picture in the air of objects on the earth, like the images one sees in glass or water, but they were not generally upright, as in the case of this ship, but reversed—turned bottom upwards. This appearance in the air is called a mirage. He told a sailor to go up to the foretop and look beyond the phantom-ship. The man obeyed, and reported that he could see on the water, below the ship in the air, one precisely like it. Just then another ship was seen in the air, only this one was a steamship, and was bottom-upwards, as the captain had said these mirages generally appeared. Soon after, the steamship itself came in sight. The sailors were now convinced, and never afterwards believed in phantom-ships.

The legend -- and explanation -- would resurface with at Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) report in 1952. Story below.

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...

DECEMBER 8, 1952:

Greeley, Colorado Daily Tribune - 8 Dec 52

To Avert Another Pearl Harbor, President Calls For Volunteer Plane Spotters 24 Hours a Day

WASHINGTON -- President Truman, declaring Pearl Harbor "can happen again," Saturday renewed his call for volunteer air raid spotters.

On the eve of the 11th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack, Truman said:

"Because of the immense destructive power of the atomic bomb, we must maintain vigilance so that our cities and our industries will be less vulnerable to devastating attack."

Although "Operation Skywatch" -- a 24-hour round-the-clock ground watch in 27 states along the country's Eastern, Western and Northern frontiers -- has been in effect since last July, the Air Force reported in August that one of its jet bombers simulated an atomic bomb attack on a large city without being detected.

Gen. Curtis E. Lemay, chief of the Strategic Air Command, did not identify the city but he said a B-47 "flew to the target, made a simulated bomb drop, and returned to its base" without being seen or heard by the nearly two million people in the target area.

Saturday's statement by Truman follows:

"Your government has been asked frequently in recent months why a ground observer corps of civilian volunteers is needed to help defend our country. After a thorough evaluation of our air defense system I issued a statement on July 12, 1952, endorsing the necessity that this corps operate 24 hours a day.

"The foremost reason why 'Operation Skywatch' is stressed is that it is an organization capable of detecting low-flying aircraft that have avoided detection by our radar warning system and thus to prevent a surprise attack upon our county.

"On this Dec. 7, 1952, the 11th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, I wish to call to your attention the fact that an attack of this nature can happen again.

"Because of the immense destructive power of the atomic bomb we must maintain vigilance so that our cities and our industries will be less vulnerable to devastating attack.

"I therefore call upon all citizens who reside in communities which have been designated as possible enemy air approach areas to volunteer their services for this vital task."

DECEMBER 9, 1952:

Lebanon, Pennsylvania Daily News - 9 Dec 52

Youth Who Spoiled HST's Plane Honored By USAF

NEW YORK, Today -- The 14-year-old aircraft spotter who recently sighted President Truman's plane flying unexpectedly over Northern New York, was honored by the United States Air Force in New York today.

Ronald Hutchins, a member of the Ground Observer Corps in upstate Newcomb, who set the Air Force on the trail of an unexpected multi-engine plane last Nov. 23, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hutchins, were guests of the Air Force.

DECEMBER 10, 1952:

Corsicana, Texas Daily Sun - 10 Dec 52

Little Benny
A Boy of Today -- by LEE PAPE

Us fellows were standing around the letter box talking and argewing about different subjects sutch as which we would rather be a private in the cavalry or a general in the reer, and whether people actually see flying saucers or whether they just have spots in their eyes, and I said, Hay, let's all keep looking up in the air as if we saw some flying saucers, just to see what happens.

Which we started to, pointing to the sky and making serprized sounds, and Puds Simkins said, Oh boy look at them whizzing, that's what I call travelling.

I wonder if there's anybody on them? Glasses Magee said, and Dopey Shorty Judge said, If there is, they must be pretty fast breethers.

Which just then some man stopped going past and looked up with us, saying, Say, there are some queer looking objects flying up there.

Being a man with a brown suit and yellow hair, and some lady stopped and looked up too, saying, I see them, they're round and black.

They look sausidge shape to me, and they're red, the man said, and the lady said, Oh no, they're quite black, perhaps you see different ones.

Whatever ones I see, they're sausidge shape, and they're red, the man said. I think I'll write to the newspapers about this, he said, and the lady said, Goodness, I believe some of them reely are red.

And they kept on going shaking their heads, and I said, G, I wonder if they reely did see something.

And we kept on looking till we thawt we saw things too, having a fierce argewment about the shape and the color.

Proving it's easy to fool other people and even easier to fool yourself.

Mexico, Missouri Evening Ledger - 10 Dec 52

Around Town

Several residents of in and near Mexico report watching something in the sky Monday night which they think may have been the sort of thing which is responsible for a lot of the flying saucer reports . . . But there's nobody who saw it who can be sure whether this was a star, a navigational balloon, or something else . . . One observer reported watching it for about a half-hour, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:00 Monday, in the eastern sky, just South of east, about 12 to 15 degrees above the horizon . . . It seemed to move, to change color, and to vary in intensity of light . . . Another who observed it declared that at times a sort of red tail was visible . . . One man thinks it was a star, and points out that the stars not only vary in position by seasons, but from day to day and hour to hour in some cases . . . But he said his star charts were not accurate enough to show just what star . . . If anyone can clear up the minor mystery the folks who saw it would be grateful . . .

Ogden, Utah Standard-Examiner - 10 Dec 52

Officer Reports Disc at Provo

PROVO, Utah -- A state police officer reports that he watched a "flying saucer" hover in the sky south of Provo last night. Newell Knight, radio dispatcher in the State Highway Patrol office here, said an unidentified man called him outside to watch a "strange round light."

Knight said the object hovered motionless for about 10 minutes, then started off. Later Knight said the object returned for another brief period.

Hagerstown, Maryland Daily Mail - 10 Dec 52

Fable Passes On, Also The Reality

The incorruptible Smithsonian Institution tells us that the giant squid is passing from the face and the depth of the sea. It is probably just as well. Since the atom was split and enterprising agents are booking rocket trips to the moon, just in case, the squid has outlived its usefulness as the object of thrills in folklore, old mariners' yarns and imaginative fiction.

There was a time when the giant squid, first cousin to the octopus, and the cuttlefish, inspiration of the sea serpent fable, was good for a spell of goose pimples any day. Jules Verne let us have 'em more than once. His Captain Nemo battled the tentacled monsters, hacking away and letting fly with air guns, half-blinded by a gabulous black spray, in the course of traversing his famous 20,000 leagues under the sea.

The Young Marooners had a fling at the beasts. Hakluyt, the voyager and geographer, lent a credulous ear to the mythology of monsters who wrapped their might antennae around ships and dragged them down to Davy Jones. You could hardly blame the old adventurers for their notions. Those were the days when a captain on the bridge might glance about almost any time and hit upon a fearsome creature in the waters, 50 feet or so across, ten tentacles flapping and probing.

Today, we simply fly over the denizens of the deep. Our eyes are peeled for flying saucers, not flying dragons. The monster is the man from Mars. The science fictioneer deals in rays and islands in space. The squid and octopus have served their time and the Smithsonian's tidings leave the world unmoved.

DECEMBER 11, 1952:

Lumberton, North Carolina Robesonian - 11 Dec 52

Wind May Cause Radar Reports Of Flying Saucers

WASHINGTON -- Dense, swirling sheets of air high in the sky may have caused false "blips" to show up on radar sets, touching off last summer's reports of flying saucers.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said yesterday wind eddies can bend a radar beam downward so that it picks up an object on the ground and makes it look like something floating high in the heavens.

When the unidentified blips, or spots on radar screens, were picked up last summer by airport radar sets the popular belief was that only solid objects on which radar was directly focused would show up.

The CAA announcement yesterday is in accord with an Air Force report last July that a temperature inversion could deflect radar waves and cause false images on the set.

In an analysis of all the flying saucer radar "sightings" on its records, the CAA said many of them apparently were caused by "secondary reflections" caused by bent radar beams.

The Air Force since 1947 has studied more than 2,000 reports of visual sightings of strange objects in the air, and most have been traced to misidentification of aircraft, balloons, or electrical or meteorological phenomena. Some remain unexplained.

Madison, Wisconsin State Journal - 11 Dec 52

CAA Blames Temperature for 'Saucers'

WASHINGTON -- The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said Wednesday that a temperature phenomenon -- not visitors from space -- is responsible for many "flying saucer" reports.

But it indicated this is not the entire answer and urged additional study of the matter "through observations with more versatile equipment."

The agency said its technical development and evaluation center at Indianapolis undertook a study of "flying saucers" after a flood of reports from CAA airplane traffic control towers.

Maj. Gen. John A. Sanford [sic, should be Samford] Air Force intelligence chief, said last July that the Air Force had checked from 1,000 to 2,000 "flying saucer" reports without finding anything that might menace the United States.

The CAA said it looked into scores of reports made by the control towers at Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and New York.

It said that in checking back the reports against weather bureau records it found "that a temperature inversion almost always existed when such targets appeared on the radar."

Temperature inversion results when air that has been cooling with increased altitude suddenly starts becoming warmer, creating a layer of warm air on top of a mass of cool air.

The CAA said this produced a refracting surface causing reflections which travelled with the wind and ultimately ran into CAA radar screens.

It attributed reports of sudden bursts of speed on the part of the "saucers" to the action of the radar operators in switching from a fading reflection to one which was just appearing on his screen.

The CAA also noted that such reflections traveling horizontally with the air inversion mass would "produce a movement twice as great in the image being received on the radar scope."

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette - 11 Dec 52

CAA Blames "Saucers" On Air Electricity

By Darrell Garwood

WASHINGTON -- A Civil Aeronautics Administration report Wednesday based on months of study blamed last summer's radar-detected "flying saucers" on patches of wind-borne, partly electrified air created by the heat.

The agency, whose radar operators first noted the "saucers" or "targets," said its study was based on examination of weather data from a half dozen cities where the objects were "seen." It was established that a "temperature inversion" -- a layer of warm air over a layer of cooler air -- nearly always existed when the "saucers" appeared.

Speed Apparently Doubled

Even though the objects seemed to be traveling at twice the speed of the wind, the CAA experts deduced that they were actually wind-borne but that the apparent extra speed was caused by a double reflection. The radar beams were bent to the ground before the "echo" returned to the scope.

This would cause the speed to appear twice its actual rate since the rate of movement as well as the distance of an object is measured by the interval before the "echo" returns to the radar scope.

The CAA experts said when speed of the "targets" was divided by two their rate corresponded closely to reported wind direction and velocity at certain altitude levels. And, the temperature inversion levels, where the warm air lay over cooler air, "were at or adjacent to these altitudes."

Meets Previous Theory

The agency's suggestion that radar beams could be bent to the ground and then bounce back to the scope was described as "too complicated" even by some radar operators. However, it corresponds to a previous theory advanced by the air force that automobile headlights and other round lights can sometimes be reflected so they appear to be objects in the sky.

The air force "Saucer" file contains a detailed report by a fighter pilot who said he made three attempts to run down a light which appeared to be in the sky, and that each time the path of the light rays would have led him to the ground.

The CAA rejected the idea that the "saucers" were powered or intelligently controlled because none of them changed direction or increased speed in normal fashion while under observation.

Bradford, Pennsylvania Era - 11 Dec 52

Round The Square

FLYING SAUCER? Two Port Allegany men sighted an object in the sky over Keating Summit one day last week. They did not claim that it was a "saucer" and certainly believed it was not one of those elusive airborne objects which have made headlines lately. They described it as an object of circular design on the leading edge, swept-back trailing edges on each side, shiny, extremely fast and leaving no sound or vapor trail. The time they sighted it until it disappeared over the horizon took only a few seconds.

Yorkshire, England The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - 11 Dec 52

This World of Ours
Lady Dugdale looks into the future

THOUGH the lively, witty broadcast which Lady Dugdale, wife of the Minister of Agriculture, gave last night was entitled "A Flashback in Time," she did take a glance into the future. "At the birth of this new Elizabethan age," she said, "what have our children to look forward to? It is only a guess, but I can foresee season tickets for shuttle services to the moon and joy rides on flying saucers. How glad I am my youth is over, for if this should be a true picture of the future, I could never feel at home. I do not want to travel faster than sound and have no time to wonder and contemplate."

Lady Dugdale said she was born in 1904, when the political giants were Liberals, when a person could travel without a passport, before the war between the pedestrians and motorists had begun, and when Dr. Crippen was busily cementing his wife's remains in the cellar wall. Reflecting on changes over the past 50 years, she said: "There is now only one vehicle which still enjoys a Victorian air of respectability and that is the hearse. Transport, underground and over-ground has become faster and faster, and it is surprising that as transport has become faster men and women are in a much greater hurry. One would have thought the opposite would have happened.

I wonder if Lady Dugdale is right about those shuttle services to the moon. According to a recent prediction in a Moscow magazine, within the next 50 years rocket-powered space-ships will enable Soviet pioneers to travel to the moon in five days. If that proves to be true, trips to the moon will lose much of their attractiveness for the rest of us.

Syracuse, New York Herald Journal - 11 Dec 52

Sketches by Ben Burroughs

"Flying Saucers"

There has been a lot of chatter . . . about visions in the sky . . . people call them flying saucers . . . they amaze and terrify . . . folks of profound reputation . . . have been honest witness to . . . this phenomenal occurrence . . . that takes place up in the blue . . . shaped like saucers glowing brightly . . . flying with the speed of light . . . seen by many different people . . . in the daytime and the night . . . varied concepts have been given . . . as to what they really are . . . some say they are apparitions . . . others space ships from afar . . . as for me I think the saucers . . . could be visitors from Mars . . . learned people from the heavens . . . who make playthings of the stars . . . only one thing is for certain . . . and that is they do exist . . . some day we will solve the mystery . . . that is if we will persist.

DECEMBER 12, 1952:

Uniontown, Pennsylvania Evening Standard - 12 Dec 52

Air Reserves
Air Reserves Hear About Flying Saucers

Uniontown's 9551st Volunteer Air Reserve Squadron heard about flying saucers this week from Dr. W.P. Taylor, center, of Monongahela. With him are 1st Lt. Davis G. Yohe, left, and Master Sgt. Armand A. Balsano, Air Force Reserve liaison non-com. -- Evening Standard Photo

Bakersfield, California Californian - 12 Dec 52

CAA Gives Its Clue to "Flying Saucers"

Months of study, untinged by imagination and gestaltism, have brought the Civil Aeronautics Authority to the conclusion that what radar apparati detected last summer was not a series of flying saucers but patches of windborne, partly electrified air created by the heat.

Weather data and other records established this conclusion and other scientific explanations along this line accounted for the phenomenon. This seems to dispose of the most substantial of the flying saucer hallucinations, those recorded on radar. The proponents of the flying saucer theory must now turn to other fields.

The Air Force, whose file on this phenomonen [sic] must be eight feet thick by now, has likewise placed the flying saucers in the "pooh pooh" stage, and they will remain there until more factual evidence is brought forth and less fantasy and hysteria surround it.

It is an age of wonders and the fact is that if there are such things as flying saucers, no one would be greatly surprised. As H.G. Wells put it once, the shape of things to come eliminates astonishment, only fulfills the imagination.

But so far, there has been no valid evidence that the odd craft sailing through the air like a disc is anything more than the general willingness to believe that anything can happen now, an attitude certainly encouraged by scientific development of the past quarter of a century.

Winnipeg, Canada Free Press - 12 Dec 52


Four "flying saucers" were reported sailing in formation high over Karachi Thursday. Witnesses said they saw four translucent white disks trailing smoke. They suddenly shot up vertically and disappeared.

Florence, South Carolina Morning News - 12 Dec 52

Watch Your Language
'Saucer' Story Deflated And So Is a Party Line

By Bob Weirich

The flying saucer tales continue to grow, They provide plenty of food for thought in some quarters and a barrel full of laughs in others. It is because of the latter that a good many people are hesitant about admitting they believe they and seen one of the visitors from out of space.

Here's a little one-act drama, we'll call it that, about possible flying saucers, but one with a new twist. The locale is factual but the names are fictitious to avoid embarrassment for principals involved.

The scene opens in the bustling editorial rooms of the Morning News just before deadline. A phone jingles:

Deskman: Morning News.

Voice: Have you had any report on flying saucers tonight?

Deskman: No, mam, we haven't. (There's a pause on the other end at the line and the DM senses hesitancy bordering on embarrassment). Have you seen one?

Voice: I don't think so. This is "Mrs. Jones" at Mars Bluff. (More pause, and then, bravely). But there is an unusual light over my house. (A bit of prodding and she goes on rapidly). It just seems to be coming on and off and it's not moving. It isn't an airplane. The light is real bright.

(At this point the deskman realizes that the lady is talking from a party line and other phones are being picked up. He sits back and listens and is apparently forgotten )

Voice: Is that yon "Selma?"

Second Voice: Yes. Have you seen that light, too?

Third Voice: This is "Ina." I saw it and I believe it's that star we all have seen in this area about this time of the season for a number years. We've been calling it the miraculous star. It always has so many different colors and it's so bright. We saw it tonight just over the airport. We think it's something like the Christmas Star.

(There's more talk along the line and it's finally agreed that the light is a star).

Voice: Well, one of us better call the Morning News. I called it few minutes ago and asked them if they had heard anything about it and wanted to know if there were any flying saucer reports.

Third Voice: No let's let it go as it is and not say anything more about it. The Morning News is probably checking and has learned, anyway.

Second voice: I agree. Besides it would just give someone a laugh at our expense.

Deskman: Ladies, this is all very interesting. But there's no need to call the Morning News. You've forgotten I've been on the line all this time.

(There's a dead quiet as phones all along the party line are put silently back in their cradles.)

Council Bluffs, Iowa Nonpareil - 12 Dec 52

Loss of Commercial Jet Race to Cost Taxpayer?

WASHINGTON (NEA) -- U.S. taxpayers may eventually have to pick up a huge bill for Britain's big lead in the development of commercial jet flying.

The purchase of three British jet Comet airliners by Pan American World Airways, with an option on seven more, confirms the worst suspicions in the U.S. aviation trade as to how serious their lag in this field could prove to be.

U.S. defense policy calls for the maintenance of a large and active aircraft industry in the U.S. The fact that America's plane builders have been able to corner more than 80 per cent of the international market for transport planes since the war has kept the major firms going strong despite fluctuating defense contracts.

Even with this tremendous post war business the Air Force and Navy were forced to spend hundreds of milions [sic] to keep plants of some firms in a stand-by condition and for semi-subsidy contracts.

Threatened Airlines

Today, with its virtual monopoly on the commercial business threatened by Britain's jet inroads the U.S. aircraft industry could face desperate years ahead. And the taxpayer would have to foot the bill for keeping it alive.

If the situation develops the way some experts are predicting, U.S plane makers could lose even the business of U.S. airlines. And the lack of American jets could cost U.S. airlines which compete with foreign lines plenty of business.

The American taxpayer would also have to underwrite that loss through air mail subsidies. Airlines of Canada, Brazil, France, Belgium and Sweden are all reported ahead of U.S. lines in plans for converting to jets.

Britain's commanding lead in this field has caused considerable controversy within the American aviation trade as to where the blame for the lag is and what is to be done about catching up.

Jets In 1937

Britain's big lead stems from the fact that Air Commodore Frank Whittle produced the first working model of a jet engine in 1937. Thus, with longer experience with jet engines, and more information on their performance, a special committee formed in Britain during the war, headed by Lord Brabizon [sic, should be Brabazon], came up with the conclusion that jet and turbo-prop transports were practical and desirable for post-war commercial flying.

With this report in hand, and realizing that it was hopelessly behind U.S. firms in the design and production of piston-engine transports, the de Havilland company decided at the end of the war to gamble its future on jumping America's lead in transport development by concentrating on jets.

DECEMBER 13, 1952:

Baytown, Texas Sun - 13 Dec 52

My New York
by Mel Heimber

THE SAD WORD TODAY is that Edward Balod, the Latvian who owns the six-foot, thousand-dollar curbstone telescope set up nightly on 42nd street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, is ready to sell out his business. Balod is tired and wants a job where he can sit down. Has his own theory about flying saucers; says he has seen two over Bryant Park and that they can be made for five dollars. "Somebody on rooftops make them and fool the people," he says with quiet confidence . . .

DECEMBER 14, 1952:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette - 14 Dec 52

Propwash -- by Lon Breur
Billy Mitchell Predicted Top-of-the-World Flying

"The new routes (air) will follow the meridians over the top of the earth, which will cut off hundreds of miles and save weeks of time."

That statement could have been made earlier in the fall when a major European airline announced plans for starting an "over-the-top" air route from the West Coast to Europe.

Truth of the matter is, it wasn't made this fall. In fact, you may be surprised to learn it was made more than 25 years ago when airlines wouldn't even dream of attempting a non-stop hop from Chicago to New York.

It came from the lips of General Billy Mitchell, perhaps the most controversial figure in American aviation history.

Billy Mitchell's name today, even 16 years after his death, strikes a chord of excitement in most Americans. For his prediction of the way men would fly the commercial airlanes was only one of many startling forecasts.

Perhaps many of you remember that Mitchell accurately prophesied the Japanese attack on the United States 18 years before it occurred and that he repeated the prophecy just before he died on Feb. 20, 1936.

Perhaps you will remember that he also prophesied the sinking of battleships from the air 20 years before the Repulse and the Prince of Wales went down before German air might during the early days of World War II.

He also made repeated warnings about growing German air strength and the need for unification of America's armed services.

And perhaps you were one of the skeptics who hooted at his ideas in the early 1920s.

Mitchell admirer or no, you probably will enjoy a recent book by Roger Burlingame, "General Billy Mitchell: Champion of Air Defense".

(The book has been published by the McGraw-Hill Book Company. It sells for $3.)

Burlingame leaves little if any doubt that he is a member of the Billy Mitchell fan club, but he has done a thorough job of writing the life of that famous pilot.

One of many fascinating bits of information in the book is the fact that Mitchell once masterminded a far bigger aerial combat flight than ever developed during the last war.

Near the close of the war to end wars, while he was working as chief of air service for the AEF, he put 1,500 allied planes into the air over Saint-Mihiel to cover an allied ground attack.

DECEMBER 15, 1952:

Montreal, Canada Gazette 15 Dec 52

'Saucers' Said Reflection Trick

By ANTHONY LEVIERO (New York Times Service)

Washington. -- Here goes science again, converting illusions into delusions, if such a distinction can be made about those flying saucers. The scientists at the Civil Aeronautics Administration would have you believe today that the saucy saucers are just a matter of reflections, and they are quite convincing about it.

In a report issued here, they dealt strictly and with due scientific caution with the flying saucers that have skimmed across the radar scopes in airport control towers. But a C.A.A. man, on being questioned, said the agency's conclusions could be applied to demolish the saucers that persons have been seeing with their own eyes.

This same C.A.A. man was asked then whether The Flying Dutchman perhaps was in this same class of the dubious. Yes, he said, as far as he was concerned. Der Fliegende Hollander was just a flying saucer of the old time. If this sort of thing keeps up, what will the fantastic story writers do? A year ago when citizens were seeing fleets of saucers, some devotees of the lurid would have you believe that other planets more advanced than ours were subjecting us to a reconnaissance in force.

C.A.A.'s Explanation

Here is how the C.A.A. explains it in good old Government language:

"Concerned with the possible detrimental effects on air traffic control, the C.A.A. Technical Development and Evaluation Centre made a study concentrating on the scores of such targets sighted by the Washington Air Route Control Centre radar. It also surveyed experience of the C.A.A. tower radars at Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and New York.

"Correlation of controllers' reports with Weather Bureau records indicated that a temperature inversion almost always existed when such targets appeared on the radar.

"Apparently," the study says, "reflections were produced by isolated refracting areas which travelled with the wind at or near the temperature inversion levels. These areas, possibly atmospheric eddies created by the shearing action of dissimilar air strata, were not of sufficient density to produce direct returns, but could bend the radar beam downward to give a ground return.

"Horizontal movement of these areas would produce a movement twice as great in the image being received on the radar scope, and in a parallel direction. This ties in with the fact that when the speed of targets on the radar was divided by two, their motions corresponded closely to the reported wind directions and velocities at certain altitude levels.

"In nearly all cases, the temperature inversion levels were at or adjacent to these altitudes."

The Bouncing Beam

Or the saucers might be explained this way:

A layer of cold air gets sandwiched between layers of hot air. Cold air is denser than the hot, and therefore breaks through the hot layer -- breaks up into odd fragments. That's temperature inversion. These fragments are not visible to the naked eye but are "visualized" by radar.

Radar sends out a beam that bounces back from tangible objects, showing their shapes on the radar scopes. Cold air is sufficiently dense to bounce the beam back to the ground. The beam bounces back to the sky and is then strong enough to reflect the fragmented cold areas, moving with the wind. On the radar screen these fragments look like saucers.

Similarly ground lights are reflected by cold air layers, giving them visible form. As these layers break and change shape in the wind illusions are created.

While the C.A.A. report was conclusive in tracing the saucers "to secondary reflections of the radar beam by atmospheric conditions," the agency stated that it would seek "additional evidence" with more versatile equipment.

The C.A.A. said that radar saucers are a bother only in helicopter operations. Helicopters and cold air areas produce similar radar images. On the screen it is often difficult to tell them apart. So when a helicopter is coming in and another saucer shape is on the screen, the pilot is given a collision course. He keeps his eyes peeled, and if another helicopter is around he will see it. Otherwise it is just the radar operator who is bothered.

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1. The finding regarding giant squids reported in "Fable Passes On, Also The Reality" referred to a late November, 1952, report from the Smithsonian Institute that there had been no reported sightings for 50 years, indicating the species might be nearing extinction.

2. The CAA study reported on in "Wind May Cause Radar Reports Of Flying Saucers" and various other articles herein was apparently not finalized and officially issued until May, 1953 (and even then was titled "preliminary"). Whether the timing of this CAA announcement about a "preliminary" report which would not be issued for four months was related to Major Donald Keyhoe's just-published True magazine article "What Radar Tells About Flying Saucers" can only ever be a matter of conjecture.

As to the findings of the report itself, although the various news outlets were apparently led by the CAA to believe that this report pertained to the July, 1952 sightings at Washington, D.C., in fact the analysis was on scope readings at Washington National and other airports beginning in mid-August (although at least one chart includes weather conditions for July at Washington National Airport). Also the CAA analysis failed to address the issue of simultaneous visual and radar reports of objects in the same location, which cannot be accounted for by inversion layers.

In addition, neither "inversion layers" nor "ground reflections" were uncommon or unknown to experienced radar operators. Surprisingly, the CAA in its report dismisses the issue of air-traffic safety -- its primary mission -- if experienced air-control operators cannot differentiate between actual aircraft and phantom returns, blithely stating that... "At its worst, it forms a nuisance by cluttering the scope display and by requiring that additional traffic information or heading instructions be issued in order to protect other traffic against the possibility that such a target might be a helicopter".

These and other points will be addressed in a future "Spotlight 1952" entry. The report itself is as follows, and may be seen in PDF format at CUFON.

CAA Report


Richard C. Borden, Electronics Division
Tirey K. Vickers, Navigation Aids Evaluation Division Technical Development
Report No. 180


May 1953

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The Air Navigation Development Board (ANDB) was established by the Departments of Defense and Commerce in 1948 to carry out a unified development program aimed at meeting the stated operational requirements of the common military/civil air navigation and traffic control system. This project, sponsored and financed by the ANDB is a part of that program. The ANDB is located within the administrative framework of the Civil Aeronautics Administration for housekeeping purposes only. Persons desiring to communicate with ANDB should address the Executive Secretary, Air Navigation Development Board, Civil Aeronautics Administration, W-9, Washington 25, D. C.

- - - - - - - - - - - -


This report describes the investigation of a type of unidentified moving target which has been observed recently in considerable numbers on the viewing screens of air traffic control radar equipment operated by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. This investigation was conducted by means of interviews with personnel concerned, by study and correlation of official records, and by first-hand observation of numerous targets on the Washington Microwave-Early-Warning (MEW) radar and on the Indianapolis ASR-2 radar.

It was determined that targets which are known to operating personnel by various terminologies such as "ghosts," "angels," or "pixies" do not represent new phenomena; nor are they peculiar to the Washington area. Correlation of controllers' reports with United States Weather Bureau records indicated that a surface temperature inversion was almost always noted when such targets appeared on the radar.

Firsthand observation in the tracking and subsequent motion analysis of 80 of these unidentified targets indicated that a large number of these were actually secondary reflections of the radar beam. Apparently these reflections were produced by isolated refracting areas which traveled with the wind at or near the temperature inversion levels.

Although the exact size, shape, and composition of these isolated areas are not known, it is believed that they may be atmospheric eddies produced by a shearing action of dissimilar air strata. It appears possible that such eddies may refract and focus the radar energy with a lens effect to produce small concentrations of ground return with sufficient intensity to show up on the radar display. It is also believed that the correlation of the appearance of these radar targets with visual reports of so-called "flying saucers" is due to the strong probability that both effects are caused primarily by abrupt temperature inversions. Such radar targets are usually easy to recognize because of their generally weak return and slow ground speed. Unfortunately, radar returns from small helicopters sometimes present these some characteristics. Spurious targets of this type can become a nuisance under busy traffic conditions, particularly in localities where helicopter operations are prevalent.


Closely related to a recent flood of visual reports of flying saucers, the sighting of scores of unidentified targets on the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTC) radar aroused much publicity and speculation regarding the origin, composition, and import of these objects. Concerned with the possible detrimental effects of this situation on the control of air traffic, the Air Navigation Development Board requested the Technical Development and Evaluation Center of the CAA to investigate the problem.

The specific objectives of this study were:

1. To find out as much as possible about the nature of the targets themselves.

2. To determine whether this problem is new and peculiar to the Washington area or whether it had occurred previously at Washington and at other CAA radar locations.

3. To determine the effect of this problem on the control of air traffic.

4. To determine what changes should be made in the radar development program in order to cope with the situation.


As one of the first steps in this study, all records of these phenomena reported in the logs of the Washington ARTC Center were tabulated. The tabulation, given as Table I of this report, was taken to the Analysis Section of the United States Weather Bureau where it was correlated with meteorological data for the periods involved. It was then discovered that a temperature inversion had been indicated in almost every instance when the unidentified radar targets or visual objects had been reported. Weather analysts were asked whether any unusual weather conditions had prevailed over the Washington area during the period covering the occurrences of large numbers of the unidentified radar targets. Their report may be condensed as follows:

Monthly Weather Summary, July 1952.

The heat wave that broke records in the eastern portion of the United States during the month of Tune continued on through July, becoming intensified during the latter part of the month. July weather maps were characterized by a well-developed Bermuda high pressure area which remained in the vicinity of the southeastern coast line during the entire period. This high pressure area was responsible for an anticyclonic (clockwise) circulation of air over the eastern United States, a movement which continued during the month. This flow brought warm, moist air up from the Gulf of Mexico. The warm air mass usually extended up to about 10,000 feet. At higher levels the flow was from the west-southwest, and this continental air mass from the southwestern desert and drought area was hot and dry. Stagnation and heating of the air over the eastern United States was further increased because of an extremely strong band of westerly winds along the northern United States border, winds which prevented cold Canadian air masses from pushing south. Cyclonic activity was confined mostly to the area north of this band of westerly winds. There was a notable lack of thunderstorm activity in the Washington area. Physicists at the Naval Observatory reported that the amount of electrification in the air was very low.

The foregoing analysis indicated that the lack of cloud cover promoted solar heating in the daytime and rapid radiation cooling of the surface at night, This combination, with the prevailing light winds, was unusually conducive to the formation of temperature inversions during the hours of darkness.

Since the visual reports of flying saucers indicated that the observed lights spanned the same color range as the aurora borealis and since auroral effects closely follow sunspot activity, personnel of the Naval Observatory were consulted in order to determine whether any unusual sunspot activity had occurred during the period in question. They reported that there had been no unusual activity of this nature.

Reports from Other Locations.

The Washington ARTC Center is the only one equipped with air route surveillance radar. However, several CAA control towers are equipped with airport surveillance radar, Type ASR-1. A survey of these locations produced the following results:

ATLANTA, Municipal Airport. No unidentified targets of this nature have been reported.

BOSTON, Logan Field. Unidentified targets have been noticed on rare occasions. One slow-moving target was observed during instrument flying weather conditions about August 1, 1952. No interference with traffic has been caused by this problem.

CHICAGO, Midway Airport. Unidentified targets have been seen on many occasions, particularly when temperature inversions have been in effect and low smoke hung over the city. They are usually given as traffic information to other aircraft and occasionally form a nuisance problem, since there is a considerable helicopter activity at and around the airport.

CLEVELAND, Municipal Airport. Unidentified radar targets have been observed many times. The chief controller reported that on a recent occasion such targets moving slowly from west to east showed up in all portions of the scope face.

MINNEAPOLIS, International Airport. No targets of this nature have been reported.

NEW YORK, New York International Airport. No targets of this nature have been reported.

LaGuardia Airport. Only one such instance was reported. At the time it was thought to be due to difficulties within the radar itself.

WASHINGTON, National Airport. Targets of this nature have been observed occasionally over a long period. Recent occasions are logged in Table I of this report.

CAA Report

Chart of data from "Official Records" section, reproduced as a facsimile from the original CAA report by Click on image to open larger-size version in a separate window.


The history of radar abounds with reports of strange echoes received from supposedly clear skies. Early observers suspected birds or stray weather balloons, but these were eliminated by visual checks. Conjecture that clouds of insects were responsible was also eliminated when such echoes were obtained in the dead of winter. Some connection with the weather was suspected after it was noted that echoes of this type became more numerous on summer nights under calm conditions. Additional evidence indicated that many of these echoes originated in the fine structures of the dielectric (refracting) layers of air-mass boundaries and in regions of air turbulence. Some of the sharpest echoes involved surfaces of pronounced transitions of the water-vapor content of the air. The bibliography at the end of this report contains numerous detailed references to these general phenomena.


August 13-14, 1952.

The observation period started at 1830 Eastern standard time (EST) on the evening of August 13. At the beginning of this period, the moving target indicator was gated to cancel out ground returns up to a range of 10 nautical miles. Beyond this range the scope was clear except for a few permanent echoes that were visible.

Suddenly, at approximately 1957 EST, a group of seven strong stationary targets became visible in an area about 15 miles north-northeast of the radar antenna. During the next two or three antenna revolutions, the area on the scope between Washington and Baltimore became heavily sprinkled with stationary targets in a belt about 6 miles wide. A group of additional targets became visible in an area approximately 10 to 15 miles south of the radar antenna. This was evidence of the beginning of a temperature inversion.

Within the next minute, at approximately 1958 EST. four unidentified moving targets showed up 5 miles southeast of the radar antenna and moved in a southerly direction away from it. When the radar beam was switched from high to low, the targets disappeared. The beam was switched back to high, and the targets returned.

Targets were uniformly small and usually had a weak, fuzzy appearance. However, the target intensity varied from sweep to sweep. Occasionally one or two very strong returns would be received in succession, followed by almost total blanking.

For the next four and one-half hours, many unidentified targets were carefully plotted with a grease pencil on the face of the Type VG scope. The time for each was entered on these plots in order to calculate ground speeds. To secure a permanent record, time data and track plots were transferred from the scope face to a sheet of frosted acetate. These plots are reproduced in Figs. 1, 2, and Fig. 3. The distribution of target ranges is shown in Fig. 4. The average distance that any target was tracked continuously was approximately 2.1 nautical miles.

CAA Report

CAA Report

CAA Report

CAA Report

Original Figure 4 above. Click on image to open larger-size version (reproduced as a facsimile from the original CAA report by in a separate window.

The observation period was discontinued at 0030 EST on August 14, and steps were taken to secure all available meteorological data relevant to the observation period. The local radiosonde observation which was taken near the midpoint of the observation period, at 2200 EST on August 13, is reproduced in Fig. 5. Winds aloft, as observed at the same time, are listed in Table II.

CAA Report

CAA Report

CAA Report

August 15-16, 1952.

On the night of August 15-16, additional track plots were obtained by Washington ARTC Center personnel. During this period, the radar was operating on the high beam with the moving target indicator gated to 12 miles. The same stationary targets in the Washington-Baltimore belt and in an area 10 to 15 miles south of the radar antenna were visible again on the scope face.

Track plots for this period are shown in Figs. 6 and 7. The local radiosonde observation taken at 2200 EST on August 15 is reproduced in Fig. 8. Winds aloft, as observed at the same time, are listed in Table III.

CAA Report

CAA Report

CAA Report


It will be noted from Table I that many more unidentified targets are picked up by the Washington ARTC Center than by the Washington Airport Traffic Control Tower. This may be explained by the fact that the center is equipped with a MEW radar, while the tower is equipped with an airport surveillance radar, Type ASR-1. The most significant differences between the two types of equipment are listed in the following:

1. The peak power of the MEW is 3 decibels (db) higher than the ASR-1.

2. The average power of the MEW is 6 db higher than the average power of the ASR-1.

3. The MEW has a higher elevation angle coverage.

4. The MEW elicits approximately twice as many hits per scan per target since the scan rate of the MEW is 6 revolutions per minute (rpm). Additional specifications of these radars are listed in Table IV.

The almost simultaneous appearance of the first moving targets with the ground returns, signifying the beginning of the temperature inversion, suggested that the target display was perhaps caused by some effects existing in or near the inversion layers.

It will be noted in Figs. 1, 2, and Fig. 3 that all targets observed in the first period were moving from the north or northwest. In Fig. 6 all targets were moving from the south or southwest, and in Fig. 7 all were moving from the west or northwest. The definite directional trend in each case eliminated the possibility that the unidentified targets were surface vehicles such as trains, trucks, automobiles, or boats. Had this been the case, some vehicles would have been moving in the reverse directions. In each case, target directions corresponded with the wind directions reported aloft. This fact suggested that whatever was producing the targets as being carried by the wind.

The next step of the analysis was to determine, if possible, the altitude of the objects which produced the radar targets. Since the radar actually measures slant range which could in some cases be almost directly overhead from the high-beam MEW antenna, the minimum range of each target was used to determine the absolute maximum altitude of the object producing the target.

For example, a target which came within five nautical miles of the radar antenna could not be above an altitude of five nautical miles, or 30,400 feet. With the use of the slant-range principle, the absolute maximum altitude of each target was determined and is listed in Table V. When attempting later to determine the probable altitude of each target by studying the winds aloft, it was useful to have these maximum altitude figures to eliminate the necessity for consideration of higher altitude levels.

CAA Report

Click on image to open larger-size version in separate window.

Since winds aloft can vary considerably during the period of a few hours, it was decided to use in this analysis only data on targets which were under observation during the periods from one hour before to one hour after the observations of the local winds aloft. These targets are listed in Table V.

During the observation period on the night of August 13-14, all targets on a southerly heading had ground speeds of at least 24 knots. The only reported winds with a southerly heading had a velocity of only 12 knots. These were winds at the 2,000- and 3,000-foot levels. Targets on a southeasterly heading had a speed range of 32 to 48 knots. However, the only winds on this heading were from 14 knots at 4,000 feet to 38 knots at 20,000 feet.

During the August 15-16 observations, targets on a north or northeasterly heading had speeds of 35 to 42 knots. The only reported winds moving in this direction ranged between 5 and 26 knots from the surface up to 9,000 feet. Targets on easterly headings had speeds from 22 to 45 knots. The only reported winds moving in this direction had speeds of from 10 to 24 knots between 10,000 and 25,000 feet.

In Fig. 9 and Fig. 10, the directions and velocities of the winds aloft are plotted on a polar projection diagram together with the directions and velocities of the observed targets. Agreement between the directions of the winds and the directions of the targets is apparent.

CAA Report

Click on image to open larger-size version of Figs. 9 and 10 in separate window.

One of the theoretically possible causes of the unidentified targets was the delayed pulse or second-time-around effect inherent in the radar method of time measurement. With a second-time-around effect, objects beyond the normal sweep range of a radar can be displayed on the scope because of reception of an echo pulse elicited not by the transmitted pulse which triggers the range sweep but by the preceding transmitted pulse. The apparent velocity of the target on the radar is no greater than and normally less than the velocity of the object producing the return. The heading of the radar target would not necessarily be parallel to the heading of the object unless the object was on a course radial to the radar antenna. These effects are illustrated in Fig. 11.

CAA Report

If we assume then that an object producing a second-time-around radar target was being carried by the wind, the apparent velocity of the target would be no greater than the wind velocity. However, the analysis of the targets listed in Table V showed that they were actually moving at speeds approximately double the wind velocities reported for the directions involved. This fact eliminated the possibility that the targets were being produced by the second-time-around effect.

When the target velocities plotted in Fig. 9 and Fig. 10 were halved, those plotted points clustered very closely around the wind plots. Further investigation of the doubled-speed effect indicated that this effect could be produced if the original radar beam were reflected downward to give a ground return, as shown in Fig. 12. If we assume that some sort of horizontal reflector was present aloft and that the angle of reflection equaled the angle of incidence of the radar beam, any horizontal movement of the reflector would produce a movement twice as great in the image being received on the radar scope. Furthermore.- the apparent motion of the image would be parallel to the motion of the reflector, as illustrated in Fig. 13.

CAA Report

CAA Report

When the observed target velocities were divided by two, the target motions corresponded closely to the reported wind directions and velocities at certain altitude levels. In nearly all of these cases the altitude levels, which are listed as probable altitudes in Table V, were at or adjacent to the temperature inversion levels.

With only one exception, no targets were seen moving at the speed and heading of the reported wind at any altitude. This suggested that the reflecting areas, which were capable of bending the radar beam, were nevertheless not of sufficient density to produce direct returns on the radar scope. Thus, it appeared likely that the reflection effect was being produced by the atmosphere itself. If this were the case, it would probably be a refraction rather than a reflection which was involved. This effect is shown in Fig. 14.

CAA Report

The uniformly small size of the observed targets as well as the relatively low frequency of their occurrences suggested that the conditions producing this effect were extremely localized and decidedly critical. Although the exact nature of the discontinuity is not known, one possible explanation might be that it is an eddy in the atmosphere. Such eddies may be produced by the shearing effect of dissimilar air masses moving at different speeds and headings at or near the inversion boundary. They might under certain conditions produce bulges in the inversion layer, concentrating and directing the radar energy with a lens effect to produce a return signal strong enough to show up on the radar scope. The relatively short paths of some of the radar targets before their fadeout might be attributed to the dissipation of these eddies in the stratified air mass.

Intermediate speed checks on numerous targets indicated that individual velocities remained quite steady during the observation period. It became possible to predict with accuracy the progress of specific targets from minute to minute. There was no evidence of hovering or of sudden increases in speed by any target. It is believed that previous reports of sudden accelerations of targets to supersonic velocities were due to a controller's transfer of identity from a faded target to another target which was just appearing on a different section of the scope.

It would be unwise to assume that all unidentified slow-moving radar targets are caused by refraction of radar energy. Small rain clouds produce much the same appearance on the scope. Other targets could be direct returns from bird formations, balloons, or debris carried aloft by convection or tornadoes. It has recently been reported that more than 4,000 balloons are released in the United States every day by Government and civilian research organizations.[Footnote 1 referencing data source omitted.] A recent analysis of more than 1,000 visual reports of unidentified flying objects by the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base indicates that 21.3 per cent of these may be attributed to balloons.[Footnote 2 referencing data source omitted.]

Examination of the logs of the Washington ARTC Center indicates that there is considerable correlation between the appearance of unidentified targets on the radar scope and the receipt of numerous visual reports of flying saucers. It should be noted that abrupt temperature inversions aloft can refract light in much the same way as radar waves and produce mirage effects. In a standard reference work on meteorology. [Footnote 3 referencing data source omitted.] Humphreys reports that a temperature inversion (near the surface) of 1 deg. C per meter bends down a light ray into an arc whose radius is 0.16 that of the earth; an inversion of 10 deg. C per meter gives an arc radius of 0.016 that of the earth, or approximately 60 miles. This effect makes it possible for an observer to see in the sky the sun or some other bright light that is actually well below the observer's horizon. On rare occasions, multiple images of the same object may be visible. It is believed that many visual sightings of flying saucers can be explained by this phenomenon.


November 4, 1952.

During test runs of the new ASR-2 radar equipment, a large number of unidentified moving targets appeared on the scope at approximately 4 p.m. The sun was low in the sky, and the sky was clear of all clouds. Ceiling and visibility were unrestricted. Pilot temperature reports from a departing aircraft indicated that a pronounced temperature inversion existed at the 6,000-foot level.

Although no targets were plotted, a check on several indicated that their movement corresponded to the direction of the wind at the inversion level, with a velocity roughly double the wind velocity. Targets were larger, stronger, and more numerous than those observed by the writers during the Washington observations. At times the clutter made it difficult to keep track of actual aircraft targets on the scope.

November 5, 1952.

At approximately 4 p.m., a group of similar targets appeared on the Indianapolis ASR-2 scope. Again the sky was clear of clouds; ceiling and visibility were unrestricted. Targets were strong. numerous, and of various shapes and sizes.

A simultaneous check of the L-band radar showed that only a few targets were being picked up by this equipment. The L-band targets appeared considerably weaker than those seen on the ASR-2 scope, although L-band aircraft targets appeared normal.

By manipulation of the ASR-2 antenna motor switch, it was possible to slew the antenna to beam it directly at some of the unidentified targets. The video return was displayed on an A-scope for closer analysis of the target characteristics. Comparisons were made with the A-scope characteristics of aircraft targets.

Aircraft targets showed sharp rise a "decay times as well as relatively constant shape and amplitude. The unidentified targets showed gradual rise and decay times, amplitude and shape showed wide variation which resulted in a random interlaced sign envelope similar to that returned by rain and cloud formations. These target characteristics are sketched in Fig. 15.

CAA Report


The reduced target returns from the L-band radar indicated that the reflecting areas are formed by atmospheric disturbances or discontinuities rather than by some form of ionization. If the cause were ionization, it would be expected that the lower frequency of the L-band equipment would increase the susceptibility of the radar energy to reflection or refraction effects. An example of this trend is that of ionospheric layers which produce no appreciable reflection of ultra-high-frequency energy but cause strong skip propagation of the lower radio frequencies.


The generally weak and fuzzy appearance as well as the slow speed of spurious radar targets usually enable them to be recognized as such by experienced radar controllers. Normally these targets have but little effect on traffic control, because they occupy very little space in relation to the entire scope area and their progress on course is very slow. The most dangerous possibility from the traffic control standpoint is the chance that one of these targets might be a helicopter.

If their course will not collide with that of an aircraft target, such targets are generally disregarded. If the course will collide with an aircraft target, some control action is indicated because of the helicopter hazard. In such cases, prudent controllers will give traffic information to pilots regarding the unidentified target, particularly at night under visual flight rule conditions. Where a collision course is involved, pilots would rather be warned about a spurious target than not be warned about a legitimate one.

At the present time, very little instrument flying is done by helicopters. Therefore, unidentified targets of this type are not usually given as traffic information to pilots known to be operating on instruments.


1. It is believed that most of the unidentified targets observed on the Washington MEW radar during the period beginning on the night of August 13, 1952 and the period beginning on the night of August 15, 1952 were ground returns caused by reflection phenomena closely connected with the temperature inversions in the lower atmosphere.

2. Unidentified radar targets of the type described in this report have been noticed since the early days of radar. Unusual weather conditions prevailing in the Washington area during the summer of 1952 were exceptionally conducive to the formation of these phenomena.

3. Present evidence indicates that the appearance of unidentified targets of this nature on radar scopes has but little effect on the control of air traffic. At its worst, it forms a nuisance by cluttering the scope display and by requiring that additional traffic information or heading instructions be issued in order to protect other traffic against the possibility that such a target might be a helicopter.

4. In some cases, it would be desirable to provide the controller with a more positive method of identifying targets such as these so that he could determine quickly whether they are spurious or whether they are actual aircraft.


1. In order to secure additional evidence regarding the causes, extent, and effects of this type of phenomena, it would be desirable to secure additional target plots from the horizontal plotting scope of the Washington ARTC Center. It would also be desirable for all CAA air traffic control agencies which use radar equipment to log the occurrence of such targets. Notes regarding the extent and motion characteristics of them, together with their effects on the control of air traffic, would also be of value. It would be desirable to correlate all these reports with official United States Weather Bureau records.

2. Should additional research regarding these phenomena be undertaken, close coordination with the local office of the United States Weather Bureau is essential in order that observations can be made when conducive meteorological conditions are expected.

3. It is believed that more complete evidence could be obtained through the use of more flexible radar equipment. A tremendous asset in evaluating the nature of false targets would be the ability to track continuously a specific target through use of a manual slewing control. It would then be desirable to examine this target closely on an A-scope radar presentation. A number of commercially available synchroscopes are ideally suited for this purpose. The echo could be enlarged on such a presentation to a width of one inch or more. Examination of the resulting trace including such characteristics as steepness of rise and decay time, energy distribution, and fluctuations in amplitude should make it possible to deduce a great deal regarding the source of the reflection.

4. Additional simultaneous observations of the phenomena on L-band and S-band radar equipment would be desirable. The availability of aircraft which could be guided by radar to the area of the target or to the primary reflecting area would also be advantageous. Additional information may be obtained by equipping the aircraft with an aero-psychograph as well as with suitable apparatus for measuring electrical charges in these areas.

5. When helicopter traffic becomes more prevalent, it may be desirable to provide the controller with some type of radar accessory which can detect propeller modulation and which can give him the means to determine positively whether an unidentified target is an aircraft or a reflection. It is recommended that this type of accessory be studied in connection with the proposed evaluation program for the ASR-2 radar.

[NOTE: Bibliography not included in this transcript.]


The Arrival

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