Form: 97 Report
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 09:31:09 -0500
From: Francis Ridge <>
Subject: Captain Willis Sperry Incident, May 29, 1950
Cat: 11


During the evening of May 29th, about 50 miles southeast of Washington D.C., an American Airlines DC-6, piloted by a Captain Willis T. Sperry, cruised along at 6,000 feet.  The airliner had just taken off from Washington Airport and was passing over Mt. Vernon, Virginia.  The sky was dark since it was after 9 o'clock.  Captain Sperry's attention was temporarily diverted as he fumbled with a map.  His co-pilot Bill Gates caught sight of a brilliant blue glow and thought a collision was imminent so he yelled: "watch it, watch it!".  Captain Sperry grabbed the controls and jerked the airliner into an abrupt turn as the strange glow zoomed toward his plane.

When first seen the UFO appeared to be a light about 25 times the magnitude of the brightest star.  Later during a brief moment the blue light passed in front of what appeared to be a smooth surfaced spindle.  Some 30 seconds went by as the object hovered motionless and then the cigar-like shape resumed its forward motion.  Said Sperry:

When the object first appeared coming toward us, I started a turn to the right, then when it changed its course to parallel us, I started turning to the left so as to be able to follow its path.  Even so it went to the rear of the plane, circled around to the right far enough so that the First Officer (Gates) saw it on his side before reversing its direction and going out of sight.

Captain Sperry radioed Washington Tower but the controllers had not seen anything unusual.  Tower personnel alerted the press and the next day in Tulsa reporters questioned Captain Sperry.

Instead of being ridiculed by his fellow pilots, Captain Sperry was approached by other airline flying officers who insisted on having "serious discussions" about the flying saucer problem.  One flyer was even able to provide information that seemed to lend support to Captain Sperry's story.  Captain Sperry heard from a pilot who had been flying another American Airlines plane over Virginia, some 400 miles to the south, a pilot named Henry H. Myers, President Franklin Roosevelt's personal pilot during World War II.  Myers had noticed a brilliant "shooting star" that night the same time as Sperry's encounter.  The "shooting star" dropped down out of the night sky off to the north of him where Captain Sperry's plane was at the time.  To Myer's astonishment the "shooting star" fell a distance and then moved horizontally.

Of his own UFO encounter, Captain Sperry told the press the Air Force was interested but had kept their agents at a distance.  The press reported:

He made no report to the Air Force but answered questions posed by a major who called him at Tulsa long distance from the Pentagon on 30 May.

That the UFO could have been a meteor was emphatically discounted by both Sperry and Gates.  A spokesman for American Airlines reacted to Sperry's description of the UFO's astounding speed by expressing amazement, noting that to be able to circle a 300 mile-per-hour airliner twice demanded an engine of incredible power.

<>Damned Nonsense

If Edward Ruppelt is accurate, the Pentagon hit a high of irritability by May 1950.   Ruppelt has one unnamed Air Force general bellowing:  "It's all a bunch of damned nonsense."  And of pilots reporting UFOs, the same military bigshot snorted:  "They were just fatigued."

Source:  UFOs: A History, Volume 6: April-July, 1950, pp.51-53, by Loren E. Gross, © 1982, Fremont, Calif.  Reproduced with permission.