In 1952, ‘Flying Saucers’ Over Washington Sent the Press Into a Frenzy
UFO reports in the capital’s air space set headlines blaring across the nation about ‘disks’ and ‘whatzits’ and mysterious lights.
If 1952 marked the year that UFO fever spread across Cold War America, events in late July of that year spiked that mania to critical levels. That’s when the grandfather of all “saucer” sightings took place in the skies above the nation’s capital, causing a coast-to-coast collective jaw drop.
Over several weeks, up to a dozen unexplained objects repeatedly streaked across the skies over Washington, D.C.—spotted not just by crackpots, but by radar operators, professional pilots and other highly credible witnesses. The Air Force scrambled fighter jets, but the ‘saucers’ outran them. Around the U.S., sci-fi-like headlines blared, rumors flew and sightings soared.
When President Harry Truman quietly called for answers, a representative from the Air Force’s secret UFO-investigation team, Project Blue Book, was summoned to D.C. But before anyone could fully probe the incidents, the Air Force hastily convened a press conference to quell the panic, blaming the whole thing on the weather.
The incident didn’t just get covered in big-city papers. In every corner of the country, local publications ran stories, many drawn from national wire services, often edited with different details to fit their space. Some added sidebars with local ‘saucer’ news or tidbits like what Albert Einstein thought when asked about UFOs. One reporter got the bright idea to ask the Soviets if they were somehow behind it all. Below, some original clippings from around the nation during that extraordinary historical moment:
Monroe News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana), page 1, July 21, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force today investigated reports that several “flying saucers” had been spotted by radar virtually in its own backyard on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.
Not only were unidentified objects seen on radar—indicating actual substance instead of mere light—but two airline pilots and a newsman saw eerie lights fitting the general description of flying saucers the same night…
Capt. S.C. (Casey) Pierman of Detroit, piloting Capital Airlines Flight 807…was careful in his report…not to identify the objects as flying saucers. He described them as “like falling stars without tails” but added: “In my years of flying I’ve seen a lot of falling or shooting stars…But these were much faster…They couldn’t have been aircraft. They were moving too fast for that.” ‘
The Cedar Rapids Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), page 1, July 29, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘Radar showed that the air over the nation’s capital was full of flying objects early Tuesday, but an airliner directed to one of the radar sightings could not find a thing… https://a8198de371254c39eacffd12adc381cf.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
A CAA [Civil Aeronautics Administration] spokesman said the latest sightings showed as many as 12 unidentified objects on the radar screen at one time… The sightings Tuesday were the third within two weeks.’
The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), page 1, July 29, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force disclosed today that jet fighters are under orders to maintain a nationwide 24-hour “alert” against “flying saucers” and to shoot them down if possible.’
The Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Montana), page 11, July 31, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘ “It looked like a sphere, so deeply orange colored that it appeared almost the shade of rust. It was silent as death. It was moving too fast and evenly to be a balloon…’
Most persistent rumor is that Boeing Airplane Co. in Seattle, Wash., is either making flying saucers or has been in charge of the engineering of the project. The rumor goes that very small parts of the saucers are being made by widely scattered subcontractors and that the finished items are being assembled at some remote site…
In the weirder category of rumors is the one that the saucers are either Russian-built or from another planet and that several of them have crashed and have been picked up by the Air Force. It goes on to theorize that the Air Force has been able to repair some of them and make them operate and at the same time is trying to build some of their own just like them.’
Daily Independent-Journal (San Rafael, California), page 5, July 29, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘Reports of “saucers” have kept police, air force and weather bureau telephones jangling for several days recently in widely scattered localities…
At Key West, Fla., the Navy said it was investigating accounts by several sailors who said they saw a “saucer” while attending an outdoor movie…
Near Cleveland, O., three observers of “Operation Skywatch” reported spotting floating lights which rapidly changed color and dodged in and out of the clouds, finally vanishing to the South.’
Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), page 2, July 30, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘ “I wouldn’t doubt but that the things are coming from Russia,” declared Mrs. V.D. Mason of 1488 Massillon rd…
Mrs. Floyd Wetzel of 901 Sayder st., said, “I think the government knows what’s back of it all and isn’t revealing it.”
“I think they may be coming from another planet if they are anything,” asserted Al Rose of 74 Eastgay dr. “But even so,” he added, “I’m not worried. I’m from England. I saw the bombs falling there in WWII. There’s nothing compared to that.” ’
The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), page 3, July 23, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘The Soviet embassy Tuesday denied any connection with flying saucers seen in this area…
Vladimir L. Lomovisev, attaché at the embassy, was asked by a reporter if the strange objects seen in the sky recently were of Soviet origin. He first said “I don’t know,” and then added firmly, “No.” ’
Standard-Sentinel (Hazleton, Pennsylvania), page 1, July 30, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘It was the third time in 10 days that radar—an electronic device which tracks only physical objects not imagination—picked up signs of something unknown packing through pre-dawn black skies…
And the Air Force threw lots of cold water on any chilling speculation about men or missiles from Mars—or enemy nations.’
The Paris News (Paris, Texas), page 1, July 30, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force says it’s still checking into flying saucer reports, but it’s certain of one thing: The saucers—whatever they are—don’t seem to be a menace to the United States. Most of the sightings traced to date have turned out to be natural phenomena.’
The Rhinelander Daily News (Rhinelander, Wisconsin), page 1, July 30, 1952
EXCERPT: ‘The bulk of these, after cross-checking, have been reasonably well identified as the product of friendly aircraft, out-and-out hoaxes, or electrical or meteorological phenomena…
The two generals added that the hot weather of recent weeks well might be related to the current outbreak of saucer reports. They said that a temperature inversion—a layer of warm air over cool air—sometimes may be sufficient to deflect radar waves and cause a false response on a radar set.’