The Washington National Sightings
Washington, DC Area
 July 19/20, 1952

Washington National's Control Tower radar room

Captain Edward Ruppelt:
"A few days prior to the incident, a scientist, from an agency that I can't name and I were talking about the build-up of reports along the east coast of the United States". At the end of the two hour conversation, the scientist made a prediction: "From his study of the UFO reports that he was getting from Air Force HQ, and from discussions with his colleagues, he said that he thought that we were sitting right on top of a big keg full of loaded saucers. 'Within the next few days,' he told me, and I remember that he punctuated his slow, deliberate remarks by hitting the desk with his fist, 'they're going to blow up and you're going to have the granddaddy of all UFO sightings. The sighting will occur in Washington or New York,' he predicted, 'probably Washington.'" 

Francis Ridge:
For the full story of 1952 UFO sighting wave be sure and visit The 1952 UFO Chronology.

Washington National's Control Tower radar room (see above photo)  was an exceptionally busy place the night UFOs visited Washington. Personnel on duty that night, using limited-range radar, verified on numerous occasions the radar sightings of UFOs reported by senior ATC controller Harry Barnes. This case is Item 23 on a list of 51 items, 41 of which are Air Technical Intelligence UFO sighting reports cleared for Donald Keyhoe by Albert M. Chop, Air Force Press Desk. This particular case is one of two incidents, the other being the radar/visual of July 26/27, 1952, and even more interesting. 

The radar room where Barnes and his men tracked the unknowns

It was July 19/20, 1952 - The scene was the Air Traffic Control Center at Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C. At 11:00 PM eight traffic experts, headed by Senior Controller Harry G. Barnes, entered the radar room and took over the 8-hour shift. The night was clear. 

The radar system used had a main scope, 24" in diameter. The range was 100 miles and the sweep-rate was 10-seconds. Traffic was light. They were tracking an airliner a few miles from the airport. Every ten seconds the sweep painted the airliner's new position, so that there were seven "blips" on the screen before the first one faded. Recognizing the targets and where they were, and what they were doing was what these men did every day. Many lives hung in the balance, especially when traffic was heavy. 

At 11:30, Barnes went to the supervisor's desk, leaving Controller Ed Nugent at the main scope. Two other controllers, Jim Ritchey and James Copeland, were standing a few feet away. 

At exactly 11:40, seven sharp blips suddenly appeared on the scope. They either came in from above or flew in between the ten second sweeps, but there they were, in the southwest quadrant, just east and a little south of Andrews AFB. Nugent ordered Copeland to get Barnes. Both consoles showed the strange blips. Barnes buzzed the tower and got ahold of Howard Cocklin. Cocklin said their scope showed the same targets and he reported that he could actually see one of the objects in the night sky as a bright orange light. 

Now really alarmed, Barnes notified the Air Defense Command. When he got back to the main scope the objects had separated. Can you imagine what went through these men's minds? A cluster of unidentified targets drops in out of nowhere, then stop, then fan out to prohibited flying areas! Two were over the White House, another was near the Capitol. Barnes, without taking his eyes off the screen, contacted Andrews Air Force Base, across the Potomac in Maryland. Andrews confirmed the targets, in the same locations. Barnes asked if they were scrambling some jets. Andrews' jets were at Newcastle, Delaware (near Wilmington) while their runway was under repair. Barnes told the other controllers that the jets had to come from Delaware, which meant at least a half hour. 

For several minutes they tracked the objects. Jim Ritchey noticed one was pacing a Capital airliner which had just taken off. The pilot, Captain "Casey" Pierman, was vectored toward the object. Until then, the object's tracked speed had been about 130 mph. Suddenly, to all the controllers' amazement, its track came to an abrupt end. Where the next blip should have been was only a blank space. 

Right after that Pierman called back. He said he saw the thing, but it streaked off out of sight in 3-5 seconds. Apparently, the object had zoomed completely out of the radar beam between sweeps. That indicates the object went from 130 to around 500 mph in that short period. 

A few minutes later it got even more interesting. One blip track showed an abrupt 90-degree turn, something WE could not do. Then, when the sweep came around, another object suddenly reversed, its new blip "blossoming" on top of the one it had just made. From over 100 mph, the mystery object had stopped dead and completely reversed its direction, all in about 5-seconds. (I've seen this myself while on SKYWATCH) 

On top of that, a startling report came in from the tower. Operator Joe Zacko had been watching the ASR scope, built to track high-speed objects. One of the objects was traveling at a fantastic rate across the screen and was racing over Andrews Field toward Riverdale. Zacko called Cocklin and they both computed the speed, 2-miles per second, 7,200 mph! From the trail it was plain that the object had descended vertically into the ASR beam, leveled off for a few seconds, then climbed at tremendous speed out of the beam again. 

The jets had still not arrived. The objects had been circling Washington, D.C. for almost two hours, and controllers nerves were getting taut. Tower men and pilots were reporting visual sightings. Two or three times Barnes noted that the objects darted away the instant he gave pilots directions for interception. Not once did a pilot get close enough to see behind the mysterious lights. 

It was almost 2:00 AM when the Air Force jets arrived in Washington. Just before that, the UFOs had vanished. Five minutes after the jets left, the UFOs were back, all over Washington. One of them followed a Capital airliner close to the airport, then raced away. 

At one point during the night all three radars had picked up a target 3 miles north of the Riverdale Radio beacon, north of Washington. For thirty seconds the three radar operators compared notes about the target over the intercom, then suddenly the target was gone, and it left all three scopes simultaneously. 

Then an ARTC controller called Andrews AFB and told them they had a target south of their tower, directly over the Andrews Radio range station. The operators looked and saw a "huge fiery-orange sphere" hovering in the sky directly over their range station. 

By sun-up, the UFOs ended their 5-hours of maneuvering over Washington. But before they left, at 4:30 AM a radio engineer by the name of E. W. Chambers was leaving the WRC transmitter station when he saw five huge discs circling in loose formation. The objects tilted upward and climbed steeply into the sky. 

The Air Force tried hard to play the Washington sightings down. First they denied Andrews Field had tracked the UFOs. One spokesman insisted the Control Center scope was defective. And then another spokesman denied fighters were scrambled. At Dayton, Ohio, the HQ for Project Blue Book, teletypes were churning out 30 reports a day! And Captain Ruppelt said that many were as good, if not better, than the Washington sightings. 

This part of the Washington National Sightings is mysteriously missing from the Project Blue Book's 701 UNKNOWNS. The only sighting listed by the Air Force as UNKNOWN for that period was Case #1504, July 20th, Lavalette, New Jersey! 

Reports to the Air Force rose to 40 per day, about a third of them were UNKNOWNS! 

I find it odd that, when the UFOs returned to Washington, one week later, those WERE listed as UNKNOWNS! Maybe it was because there were so many good UFO sightings during that week. To name a few: 

Originally there were twenty-two unknowns listed from July 21 to the 28th, which covered the period of both Washington National sightings incidents (July 19/20 & 26/27). As mentioned in the beginning of this report, the following is the updated list of ALL the sightings, which includes the unknowns, for the entire 1952 UFO Sighting Wave.

Then, on the 26th of July, UFOs were up to something over military bases: 

BBU 1588 - July 26. Travis AFB, California (military)
BBU 1628 - Kansas City, Missouri (military)
BBU 1637 - Kirtland AFB, New Mexico (military)

Late that evening the UFOs were back over Washington! Go to directory below and proceed to July 26/27.

Source: Item 23 of clearance list, copy in NICAP files.