White House UFO Incident

Date: July 19 and 26, 1952
Location: Washington D.C.
Appearance: fiery-orange spheres, red and orange and white lights
Sources: Blue Book; US national newspapers
Summary: UFOs flying over the White House

The Washington, D.C. sightings of July 1952 are also known as "the Big Flap".

UFO headline

It was around 11:40 p.m. on Saturday night, July 19, 1952. Air traffic controller Edward Nugent and his superior, Harry Barnes, saw seven unusual blips on the radar screen at Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. They checked to make sure the radar was working properly. Also at nearby Andrews Air Force Base controllers saw strange objects on their radar screens. Looking out of their windows they saw what they described as a "huge fiery-orange sphere" hovering in the sky.

Two of the objects clearly hovered over the White House, with another one over the Capitol building. Controllers at the airports estimated the objects to be traveling at about 130 mph. One of the objects was clocked at speeds of more than 7000 miles per hour (11000 km/h).

At around 8:15 p.m. one week later, a stewardess and a captain on a flight into Washington National Airport, observed strange lights above their plane. At the same time, an officer at Andrews Air Force Base also saw the objects. Other pilots in the air at the time saw them too.

On several occasions, F-94 Starfire jets were sent to intercept the intruders, but the UFO's vanished when an aircraft came near.

On July 20, Captain Edward Ruppelt, the head of the U.S. Air Force's official UFO investigation department Project Blue Book flew to Washington, DC. Ruppelt would stay in Washington to further investigate and formulate a response for the press, who was growing impatient with the air force's official "no comment" response. However, the USAF finance department would not approve the extension to his stay and sent him home. When Ruppelt received a call from Life Magazine asking what the air force was going to do about that night's UFOs, Ruppelt said: "I have no idea what the Air Force is doing; in all probability it's doing nothing."

On July 29, the Air Force called an emergency press conference to debunk the sightings and quiet the panic. It was the largest press conference since WWII. Leading the press conference were generals John Samford, USAF chief of intelligence, and Roger Ramey, USAF director of operations, who was in charge of the jet scrambles. The official explanation of the UFO sightings was that the objects were misidentified aerial phenomena, and that the blips on the radar were due to temperature inversions. In 1969, a scientific report released by the Air Force concluded that a temperature inversion strong enough to create the effect attributed to it by General Samford could not possibly occur in the Earth’s atmosphere.

"I have no idea what the Air Force is doing; in all probability it's doing nothing." - Captain Ruppelt, U.S. Air ForcePress conference
Press conference of July 29, 1952. Maj. Gen. John Samford, seated
on the right, dismissed the sightings as "natural phenomena."