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WASHINGTON, DC UFO Incident 1952

1952 Washington, D.C., UFO incident

(Redirected from 1952 Washington, D.C. UFO incident)

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, on the Potomac River

From July 12 to 29, 1952, a series of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings were reported in Washington, D.C., and later became known as the Washington flap, the Washington National Airport Sightings, or the Invasion of Washington.[1] The most publicized sightings took place on consecutive weekends, July 19–20 and July 26–27. UFO historian Curtis Peebles called the incident “the climax of the 1952 (UFO) flap” – “Never before or after did Project Blue Book and the Air Force undergo such a tidal wave of (UFO) reports.” [2]

Events of July 19–20[edit]

At 11:40 p.m. on Saturday, July 19, 1952, Edward Nugent, an air traffic controller at Washington National Airport (today Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport), spotted seven objects on his radar.[3] The objects were located 15 miles (24 km) south-southwest of the city; no known aircraft were in the area and the objects were not following any established flight paths. Nugent’s superior, Harry Barnes, a senior air-traffic controller at the airport, watched the objects on Nugent’s radarscope. He later wrote:We knew immediately that a very strange situation existed . . . their movements were completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft.[4]

Barnes had two controllers check Nugent’s radar; they found that it was working normally. Barnes then called National Airport’s radar-equipped control tower; the controllers there, Howard Cocklin and Joe Zacko, said that they also had unidentified blips on their radar screen, and saw a hovering “bright light” in the sky, which departed with incredible speed.[3] Cocklin asked Zacko, “Did you see that? What the hell was that?”[3]

1952-Washington-D.C.-UFO-incident-Wikipedia

At this point, other objects appeared in all sectors of the radarscope; when they moved over the White House and the United States Capitol, Barnes called Andrews Air Force Base, located 10 miles from National Airport. Although Andrews reported that they had no unusual objects on their radar, an airman soon called the base’s control tower to report the sighting of a strange object. Airman William Brady, who was in the tower, then saw an “object which appeared to be like an orange ball of fire, trailing a tail . . . [it was] unlike anything I had ever seen before.”[3][5] As Brady tried to alert the other personnel in the tower, the strange object “took off at an unbelievable speed.[5]

On one of National Airport’s runways, S.C. Pierman, a Capital Airlines pilot, was waiting in the cockpit of his DC-4 for permission to take off. After spotting what he believed to be a meteor, he was told that the control tower’s radar had detected unknown objects closing in on his position. Pierman observed six objects — “white, tailless, fast-moving lights” — over a 14-minute period.[6][3] Pierman was in radio contact with Barnes during his sighting, and Barnes later related that “each sighting coincided with a pip we could see near his plane. When he reported that the light streaked off at a high speed, it disappeared on our scope.”[7]

Meanwhile, at Andrews Air Force Base, the control tower personnel were tracking on radar what some thought to be unknown objects, but others suspected, and in one instance were able to prove, were simply stars and meteors.[8] However, Staff Sgt. Charles Davenport observed an orange-red light to the south; the light “would appear to stand still, then make an abrupt change in direction and altitude . . . this happened several times.”[7] At one point both radar centers at National Airport and the radar at Andrews Air Force Base were tracking an object hovering over a radio beacon. The object vanished in all three radar centers at the same time.[9]

At 3 a.m., shortly before two United States Air Force F-94 Starfire jet fighters from New Castle Air Force Base in Delaware arrived over Washington, all of the objects vanished from the radar at National Airport. However, when the jets ran low on fuel and left, the objects returned, which convinced Barnes that “the UFOs were monitoring radio traffic and behaving accordingly.”[7] The objects were last detected by radar at 5:30 a.m.

Publicity and Air Force reaction[edit]

The sightings of July 19–20, 1952, made front-page headlines in newspapers around the nation. A typical example was the headline from the Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa. It read “SAUCERS SWARM OVER CAPITAL” in large black type.[10] By coincidence, USAF Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the supervisor of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation into UFO sightings, was in Washington at the time. However, he did not learn about the sightings until Monday, July 21, when he read the headlines in a Washington-area newspaper.[11] After talking with intelligence officers at the Pentagon about the sightings, Ruppelt spent several hours trying to obtain a staff car so he could travel around Washington to investigate the sightings, but was refused as only generals and senior colonels could use staff cars. He was told that he could rent a taxicab with his own money; by this point Ruppelt was so frustrated that he left Washington and flew back to Blue Book’s headquarters at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.[12] Upon returning to Dayton, Ruppelt spoke with an Air Force radar specialist, Captain Roy James, who felt that unusual weather conditions could have caused the unknown radar targets.[13]

Events of July 26–27[edit]

At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, 1952, a pilot and stewardess on a National Airlines flight into Washington observed some lights above their plane. Within minutes, both radar centers at National Airport, and the radar at Andrews AFB, were tracking more unknown objects.[14] USAF master sergeant Charles E. Cummings visually observed the objects at Andrews, he later said that “these lights did not have the characteristics of shooting stars. There was [sic] no trails . . . they traveled faster than any shooting star I have ever seen.”[7]

Meanwhile, Albert M. Chop, the press spokesman for Project Blue Book, arrived at National Airport and, due to security concerns, denied several reporters’ requests to photograph the radar screens. He then joined the radar center personnel.[15] By this time (9:30 p.m.) the radar center was detecting unknown objects in every sector. At times the objects traveled slowly; at other times they reversed direction and moved across the radarscope at speeds calculated at up to 7,000 mph (11,250 km/h).[16] At 11:30 p.m., two U.S. Air Force F-94 Starfire jet fighters from New Castle Air Force Base in Delaware arrived over Washington. Captain John McHugo, the flight leader, was vectored towards the radar blips but saw nothing, despite repeated attempts.[17] However, his wingman, Lieutenant William Patterson, did see four white “glows” and chased them.[18][3] He told investigators said that “I tried to make contact with the bogies below 1,000 feet,” and that “I was at my maximum speed but…I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of overtaking them.”[3] According to Albert Chop, when ground control asked Patterson “if he saw anything”, Patterson replied “‘I see them now and they’re all around me. What should I do?’…And nobody answered, because we didn’t know what to tell him.”[7]

After midnight on July 27, USAF Major Dewey Fournet, Project Blue Book’s liaison at the Pentagon, and Lt. John Holcomb, a United States Navy radar specialist, arrived at the radar center at National Airport.[3] During the night, Lieutenant Holcomb received a call from the Washington National Weather Station. They told him that a slight temperature inversion was present over the city, but Holcomb felt that the inversion was not “nearly strong enough to explain the ‘good and solid’ returns” on the radar scopes.[17] Fournet relayed that all those present in the radar room were convinced that the targets were most likely caused by solid metallic objects. There had been weather targets on the scope too, he said, but this was a common occurrence and the controllers “were paying no attention to them,”.[19] Two more F-94s from New Castle Air Force Base were scrambled during the night. One pilot saw nothing unusual; the other pilot saw a white light which “vanished” when he moved towards it.[13] Civilian aircraft also reported glowing objects that corresponded to radar blips seen by Andrews radar operators.[3] As on July 20, the sightings and unknown radar returns ended at sunrise.[20]

White House concern and CIA interest[edit]

The sightings of July 26–27 also made front-page headlines, and led President Harry Truman to have his air force aide call Ruppelt and ask for an explanation of the sightings and unknown radar returns. Truman listened to the conversation between the two men on a separate phone, but did not ask questions himself.[21] Ruppelt, remembering the conversation he had with Captain James, told the president’s assistant that the sightings might have been caused by a temperature inversion, in which a layer of warm, moist air covers a layer of cool, dry air closer to the ground. This condition can cause radar signals to bend and give false returns. However, Ruppelt had not yet interviewed any of the witnesses or conducted a formal investigation.[10]

CIA historian Gerald Haines, in his 1997 history of the CIA’s involvement with UFOs, also mentions Truman’s concern. “A massive buildup of sightings over the United States in 1952, especially in July, alarmed the Truman administration. On 19 and 20 July, radar scopes at Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base tracked mysterious blips. On 27 July, the blips reappeared.”[22] The CIA would react to the 1952 wave of UFO reports by “forming a special study group within the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) and Office of Current Intelligence (OCI) to review the situation. Edward Tauss reported for the group that most UFO sightings could be easily explained. Nonetheless, he recommended that the Agency continue monitoring the problem.”[22] The CIA’s concern with the issue would lead to the creation, in January 1953, of the Robertson Panel.[22]

Air Force explanation[edit]

Maj. Gen. John A. Samford’s Statement on Flying Saucers

Air Force Major Generals John Samford, USAF Director of Intelligence, and Roger M. Ramey, USAF Director of Operations, held a well-attended press conference at the Pentagon on July 29, 1952. At the event, Samford stated that the visual sightings over Washington could be explained as misidentified aerial phenomena such as stars or meteors, and unknown radar targets could be explained by temperature inversion, which was present in the air over Washington on both nights the radar returns were reported. In addition, Samford stated that the unknown radar contacts were not caused by solid material objects, and therefore posed no threat to national security. In response to a question as to whether the Air Force had recorded similar UFO radar contacts prior to the Washington incident, Samford said that there had been “hundreds” of such contacts where Air Force fighter interceptions had taken place, but stated they were all “fruitless.”[23] It was the largest Pentagon press conference since World War II.[24] Press stories called Samford and Ramey the Air Force’s two top UFO experts.[25]

Among the witnesses who supported Samford’s explanation was the crew of a B-25 bomber, which had been flying over Washington during the sightings of July 26–27. The bomber was vectored several times by National Airport over unknown targets on the airport’s radarscopes, yet the crew could see nothing unusual. Finally, as a crew member related, “the radar had a target which turned out to be the Wilson Lines steamboat trip to Mount Vernon… the radar was sure as hell picking up the steamboat.”[26] Air Force Captain Harold May was in the radar center at Andrews AFB during the sightings of July 19–20. Upon hearing that National Airport’s radar had picked up an unknown object heading in his direction, May stepped outside and saw “a light that was changing from red to orange to green to red again…at times it dipped suddenly and appeared to lose altitude.” However, May eventually concluded that he was simply seeing a star that was distorted by the atmosphere, and that its “movement” was an illusion.[27] At 3 a.m. on July 27, an Eastern Airlines flight over Washington was told that an unknown object was in its vicinity; the crew could see nothing unusual. When they were told that the object had moved directly behind their plane, they began a sharp turn to try to see the object, but were told by National Airport’s radar center that the object had “disappeared” when they began their turn.

At the request of the Air Force, the CAA‘s Technical Development and Evaluation Center did an analysis of the radar sightings. Their conclusion was that “a temperature inversion had been indicated in almost every instance when the unidentified radar targets or visual objects had been reported.”[28] Project Blue Book would eventually label the unknown Washington radar blips as false images caused by temperature inversion, and the visual sightings as misidentified meteors, stars, and city lights.[29] In later years two prominent UFO skeptics, Donald Menzel, an astronomer at Harvard University, and Philip Klass, a senior editor for Aviation Week magazine, would also argue in favor of the temperature inversion/mirage hypothesis.[30] In 2002 Klass told a reporter that “radar technology in 1952 wasn’t sophisticated enough to filter out many ordinary objects, such as flocks of birds, weather balloons, or temperature inversions.”[7] The reporter added that “UFO proponents argue that even then seasoned controllers could differentiate between spurious targets and solid, metallic objects. Klass disagrees. It may be that ‘we had two dumb controllers at National Airport on those nights’…[Klass] added that the introduction of digital filters in the 1970s led to a steep decline in UFO sightings on radar.”[7]

Criticisms of the Air Force explanation[edit]

In his book, The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects, author Edward J. Ruppelt wrote that radar and control tower personnel he spoke to, as well as some Air Force officers, disagreed with the Air Force’s explanation.[26]

Michael Wertheimer, a researcher for the government-funded Condon Report, investigated the case in 1966, and stated that radar witnesses still disputed the Air Force explanation.[31]

Former radar controller Howard Cocklin told the Washington Post in 2002 that he was still convinced that he saw an object, stating that “I saw it on the [radar] screen and out the window” over Washington National Airport.”[3]

The Robertson Panel[edit]

The extremely high numbers of UFO reports in 1952 disturbed both the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Both groups felt that an enemy nation could deliberately flood the U.S. with false UFO reports, causing mass panic and allowing them to launch a sneak attack. On September 24, 1952, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) sent a memorandum to Walter B. Smith, the CIA’s Director. The memo stated that “the flying saucer situation . . . [has] national security implications . . . [in] the public concern with the phenomena . . . lies the potential for the touching-off of mass hysteria and panic.”[29] The result of this memorandum was the creation in January 1953 of the Robertson PanelHoward P. Robertson, a physicist, chaired the panel, which consisted of prominent scientists and which spent four days examining the “best” UFO cases collected by Project Blue Book. The panel dismissed nearly all of the UFO cases it examined as not representing anything unusual or threatening to national security. In the panel’s controversial estimate, the Air Force and Project Blue Book needed to spend less time analyzing and studying UFO reports and more time publicly debunking them. The panel recommended that the Air Force and Project Blue Book should take steps to “strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired.”[32] Following the panel’s recommendation, Project Blue Book would rarely publicize any UFO case that it had not labeled as “solved”; unsolved cases were rarely mentioned by the Air Force.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The tenth and final episode of the first season of the 2019 History Channel television series Project Blue Book is titled “The Washington Merry-Go-Round”. It’s based on the 1952 Washington, DC UFO incident.[33]
  • Several episodes of the 2021 Netflix series Top Secret UFO Projects Declassified refer to the 1952 Washington, DC UFO incident, including the first episode “Project Blue Book Unknown,” which reenacts the incident with CGI and plays archival footage with several former witnesses.[34]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 73.
  2. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 78.
  3. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j Carlson, Peter; Carlson, Peter (21 July 2002). “50 Years Ago, Unidentified Flying Objects From Way Beyond the Beltway Seized the Capital’s Imagination”The Washington Post.
  4. ^ Clark 1998, p. 653.
  5. Jump up to:a b Clark 1998, p. 654.
  6. ^ Clark 1998, p. 655.
  7. Jump up to:a b c d e f g “Saucers Full of Secrets”.
  8. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 74.
  9. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 160.
  10. Jump up to:a b Michaels 1997, p. 22.
  11. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 210.
  12. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 162.
  13. Jump up to:a b Ruppelt 1955, p. 163.
  14. ^ Peebles 1994, pp. 75–76.
  15. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 164.
  16. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 159.
  17. Jump up to:a b Peebles 1994, p. 76.
  18. ^ Clark 1998, p. 659.
  19. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 166.
  20. ^ Ruppelt 1955, p. 165.
  21. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 77.
  22. Jump up to:a b c “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90 — Central Intelligence Agency”www.cia.gov. Archived from the original on October 1, 2019. Retrieved Jul 9, 2019.
  23. ^ “Page 2 Project Blue Book – UFO Investigations – Fold3”. Minutes of Press Conference Held By Major General John A. Samford Director of Intelligence, U.S. air Force 29 July 1952 – 4:00p.m. – Room 3E-869, The Pentagon.
  24. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 80.
  25. ^ “Los Angeles Times: Archives – U.S. SAUCER HUNTER DOUBTS THEY EXIST”pqasb.pqarchiver.com.
  26. Jump up to:a b Ruppelt 1955, p. 170.
  27. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 62.
  28. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 66.
  29. Jump up to:a b Peebles 1994, p. 79.
  30. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 360.
  31. ^ “Condon Report, Sec III, Chapter 5: Optical & Radar Analysis”files.ncas.org.
  32. ^ Peebles 1994, p. 102.
  33. ^ “Project Blue Book | TV Guide”TVGuide.com. Retrieved Jul 9, 2019.
  34. ^ “Project Blue Book Unknown.” Top Secret UFO Projects Declassified, season 1, episode 1, Netflix, 2021. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/81066337

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

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UFO’s BUZZ THE WHITEHOUSE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_reported_UFO_sightings

When UFOs Buzzed the White House and the Air Force Blamed the Weather

When a slew of saucer-like sightings was reported over Washington, D.C. in 1952, the Air Force blocked its own investigator from checking them out.

  • DAVE ROOS
  • UPDATED:JAN 15, 2020
  • ORIGINAL:SEP 6, 2018

1952 was the year America caught flying-saucer fever.

So when a rash of strange sightings was reported in the skies over Washington D.C. that summer, the press and the public demanded answers. Were these unexplained radar blips, crafts that in some cases outran jets, part of a nuclear-armed Soviet invasion—a very real threat at the height of the Red Scare? Or were they evidence of something far more mysterious?

The Washington, D.C. sightings of July 1952, also known as “the Big Flap,” hold a special place in the history of unidentified flying objects. Major American newspapers were reporting multiple credible sightings by civilian and military radar operators and pilots—so many that a special intelligence unit of the U.S. Air Force was sent in to investigate. What they found—or didn’t find—along with the Air Force’s official explanation, fueled some of the earliest conspiracy theories about a government plot to hide evidence of alien life.

UFO mania takes hold

Pilots E.J. Smith, Kenneth Arnold, and Ralph E. Stevens look at a photo of an unidentified flying object which they sighted while en route to Seattle, Washington, 1947.
Pilots E.J. Smith, Kenneth Arnold, and Ralph E. Stevens look at a photo of an unidentified flying object which they sighted while en route to Seattle, Washington, 1947.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

It all started in 1947, when a search-and-rescue pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported nine “saucer-like things…flying like geese in a diagonal chainlike line” at speeds exceeding 1,000 m.p.h. near Mount Rainier in Washington State. Within weeks, “flying saucer” sightings had been reported in 40 other states.

In the name of national security, Air Force General Nathan Twining launched Project SIGN (originally named Project SAUCER) in 1948, the first official military-intelligence program to collect information on UFO sightings. Its investigators dismissed the vast majority as hoaxes or misidentifications of known aircraft or natural phenomena.

But a few cases remained “unexplained.”

By 1952, the UFO-investigation unit was called Project Blue Book, led by Captain Edward Ruppelt at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Ruppelt and his team would probably have continued to investigate a couple dozen sightings a month if not for the April 1952 issue of LIFE magazine. Just above its knockout cover shot of Marilyn Monroe ran an equally eye-catching headline: “There is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers.”

READ MORE: Interactive Map: UFO Sightings Taken Seriously by the U.S. Government

The article, written with Ruppelt’s full cooperation, explained the Air Force’s national-security interest in UFOs. And it made a convincing case—through the colorful retelling of 10 unexplained UFO “incidents”—that these unidentified objects were extraterrestrial in origin. As one rocket scientist working on “secret” projects for the U.S. told LIFE: “I am completely convinced that they have an out-of-world basis.”

According to The Washington Post, the number of UFO sightings reported to the Air Force jumped more than sixfold, from 23 in March 1952 to 148 in June. By July, the precise conditions were in place for a wildfire of UFO mania: widespread Cold War anxiety, mainstream press coverage of unexplained UFO incidents and a healthy dose of “midsummer madness.” All that was needed was a spark.

Mysterious radar blips buzzing over the White House

The Washington National Airport, 1953.
The Washington National Airport, 1953.PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Shortly before midnight on Saturday, July 19, 1952, air-traffic controller Edward Nugent at Washington National Airport spotted seven slow-moving objects on his radar screen far from any known civilian or military flight paths. He called over his supervisor and joked about a “fleet of flying saucers.” At the same time, two more air-traffic controllers at National spotted a strange bright light hovering in the distance that suddenly zipped away at incredible speed.

At nearby Andrews Air Force Base, radar operators were getting the same unidentified blips—slow and clustered at first, then racing away at speeds exceeding 7,000 mph. Looking out his tower window, one Andrews controller saw what he described as an “orange ball of fire trailing a tail.” A commercial pilot, cruising over the Virginia and Washington, D.C. area, reported six streaking bright lights, “like falling stars without tails.”

When radar operators at National watched the objects buzz past the White House and Capitol building, the UFO jokes stopped. Two F-94 interceptor jets were scrambled, but each time they approached the locations appearing on the radar screens, the mysterious blips would disappear. By dawn of July 20, the objects were gone.

READ MORE: Meet J. Allen Hynek, the Astronomer Who First Classified UFO ‘Close Encounters’

‘I tried to make contact with the bogies’

https://www.history.com/player/1357100611578?autoplay=false

Nobody bothered to tell Ruppelt, the Air Force’s lead Project Blue Book investigator, about the sightings. He found out a few days later when he flew into Washington, D.C. and read news reports. Ruppelt tried to get out to National and Andrews to interview radar operators and air-traffic controllers, but was denied a government-issued car or even cab fare. Frustrated, he flew back to Ohio with nothing.

The very next Saturday, the UFOs were back over the nation’s capital. Again, Ruppelt found out through a phone call from a reporter, and immediately called on two Air Force colleagues to check out the situation at National. The same radar blips were back, and radar operators wondered out loud if the dozen or so objects on their screens couldn’t be caused by a temperature inversion, a common phenomenon in D.C.’s hot, muggy summer months.

A temperature inversion occurs when a layer of warm air forms in the low atmosphere, trapping cooler air beneath. Radar signals can bounce off this layer at shallow angles and mistakenly show near-ground objects as appearing in the sky. Ruppelt’s Air Force colleagues, however, were convinced that the objects on the radar screen weren’t mirages, but solid aircraft.

To be safe, two more F-94 jets were scrambled to chase down the unidentified targets appearing on radar screens at both National and Andrews. A game of high-speed Whack-a-Mole ensued, where the jets would race to a location targeted by radar, only for the blips to vanish. Finally, one of the jet pilots caught sight of a bright light in the distance and gave chase.

“I tried to make contact with the bogies below 1,000 feet,” the pilot later told reporters. “I saw several bright lights. I was at maximum speed, but even then I had no closing speed. I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of overtaking them.”

READ MORE: When a U.S. Fighter Pilot Got into a Dogfight with a UFO

Averting mass panic with a disputed theory

Captain Edward Ruppelt, standing, and General John Samford, seated to the right of him, discussing the reports of unidentified flying objects with other Air Force officers at a 1952 news conference.
Captain Edward Ruppelt, standing, and General John Samford, seated to the right of him, discussing the reports of unidentified flying objects with other Air Force officers at a 1952 news conference.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

The next day, newspaper headlines across America screamed “Saucers Swarm Over Capital” and “Jets Chase D.C. Sky Ghosts.” The publicity and public panic over the sightings were so great that President Harry Truman himself asked aides to get answers. When they called Ruppelt, he said it could have been caused by a temperature inversion, but more investigation was needed to fully explain both the radar images and credible eyewitness accounts.

But before such an in-depth investigation could take place, the Air Force called a press conference, the longest such news event since World War II. The Air Force brass had decided, without consulting Ruppelt or the Project Blue Book team, that the best response to the sightings was to feed the press and the public an easy-to-swallow explanation.

Dodging specific questions about what pilots and radar operators had seen in the skies over the Capitol, Major General John Samford came back again and again to the temperature-inversion theory. Never mind that Ruppelt had since come to the opposite conclusion.

“The investigators had ruled out the inversion,” says Alejandro Rojas, editor of the UFO news site OpenMinds. “They had examined that situation. The radar operators said, ‘Inversions happen. We know what inversions look like. This is not an inversion. This is not the same thing at all.’”

READ MORE: The Unsolved Mystery of the Lubbock Lights UFO Sightings

To Ruppelt’s disappointment, the Air Force’s press conference worked exactly as planned. The papers reported the temperature-inversion story and the public largely seemed to accept it. In his 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt reports that after the press conference, UFO sightings dropped from 50 a day to 10.

Skeptics, however, weren’t satisfied with the pat government response. Many accused Air Force and Project Blue Book investigators of devious behavior and secret knowledge. It wasn’t until Project Blue Book documents were made public in 1985 that UFO sleuths could see that the closest thing to a government cover-up of UFO sightings in the nation’s capital was actually a conspiracy of ignorance.

“The Washington UFO flap perfectly illustrates the real government ‘cover-up’,” says Nick Pope, a UFO journalist who used to run UFO-investigations unit for the British Ministry of Defense. “It’s not a situation where the authorities conspired to keep some terrible truth about UFOs from the people, but rather, the government doing its best to keep people from realizing that they didn’t have all the answers.”

WATCH: Full episodes of Project Blue Book online now.

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