know some of my colleagues are delighted that we’ve seen the season finale of Project Blue Book, not because they like
the show but because it is over… for a while. I confess that I don’t understand
their hostility. Project Blue Book is
not a documentary but a drama that has a historical background and a loose,
very loose, interpretation of some of the sightings that are found in the Blue
prior two episodes were based on cases that were not found in the files, though
there is some information about the Hill abduction found there. It seems,
however, that the mention of the Hill case is because someone queried the Air
Force about it and not because they were actively investigating it.
finale dealt with what are known as the Washington Nationals, which were
sightings on two consecutive Saturday nights in July 1952. Blips were seen on
radarscopes and pilots were reporting the lights in the ski near them.
have talked to two of the officials who observed the sightings on the second
night, Major Dewey Fournet and Al Chop. Both men believed that the UFOs were
reacting to the presence of jet fighters scrambled to intercept the objects.
According to both men, at one point, it got pretty hairy, meaning one of the
fighters was surrounded by the objects.
They also mentioned that it seemed the objects, except for that one
instance, would disappear when the fighters arrived and would reappear when the
fighters left the area. More on that later.
sightings, unlike those shown in the program, were at night and not over the National
Mall in Washington, D.C. At no point did any of the fighters fire at the
objects. These sightings resulted in what I think of as the greatest science
fiction headline ever published by a real daily newspaper. “Saucers Swarm Over
is the short version of the Washington Nationals. It began late in the evening
on July 19, 1952, when two radars at the Air Routing and Traffic Control Center
(ARTC) picked up eight unidentified targets near Andrews Air Force Base.
According to reports made by the controllers, these were not airplanes because
they moved too fast. One object, according to the calculations made at the time
was tracked at 7,000 miles an hour.
twenty minutes later, or just after midnight on July 20, the tower radars at
Washington’s National Airport tracked five objects. What this meant was that
three radars at three different locations had solid targets that were not
identified as aircraft.
of the controllers at the ARTC called for a senior controller, Harry C. Barnes
who in turn called the National Airport control tower. They had unidentified
targets on their scopes, as did the controllers at Andrews Air Force Base. They
had already eliminated a mechanical malfunction as the cause, but with the
objects on other scopes in other locations, there was no longer any question of
their reality. The performance of the blips ruled out airplanes. All the men,
including Barnes, was sure they were looking at solid objects based on their
years of experience with radar. Weather related phenomenon wouldn’t produce the
same effect on all the radars at the widely scattered locations. In fact, if
weather was the explanation, the targets would have varied from scope to scope.
after midnight, Airman Second Class (A/2c) Bill Goodman, called the Andrews
control tower to tell them he was watching a bright orange light about the size
of a softball that was gaining and losing altitude as it zipped through the sky.
this time, Goodman talked to Airman First Class (A/1c) William B. Brady, who
was in the tower. Goodman told Brady that the object was to the immediate
south. Brady saw a ball of orange fire. There were discrepancies between the
physical description given by Goodman and Brady, but the problems were
relatively small. It can be argued that the discrepancies are the result of the
points of view of the two observers.
DeBoves, who was also on the scene as a civilian control tower operator at
Andrews, said that Brady became excited during one of his telephone
conversations, yelling, “There one goes.” DeBoves believed that Brady
was watching nothing more interesting than a meteor.
two in the morning on July 20, the Radar Officer, Captain Harold C. Way, at
Andrews Approach Control, learned that the ARTC had a target east of Andrews.
He went outside and saw a strange light which he didn’t believe to be a star.
Later, however, he went back out, and this time decided that he was looking at
a star. There is a suggestion that he was pressured into revising his first
Air Force Base became involved briefly about the time Way went outside. The
tower operator there said that he saw a “roundish” object drifting
low in the sky to the southeast of Bolling. There were no radar confirmations
of the sighting, and that was the last of the reports from that base. This
might will have been a star.
ARTC again told the controllers at Andrews that they still had the targets on
their scopes. There is conflicting data because some of the reports suggest
that the Andrews radar showed nothing, while other reports claim they did. Now
DeBoves, and two others in the tower, Monte Banning and John P. Izzo, Jr.,
swept the sky with binoculars but could see no lights other than the stars.
sightings lasted through the night, and during that time, the crews of several
airliners saw the lights right where the radars showed them to be. Tower
operators also saw them, and jet fighters were brought in for attempted
intercepts. Associated Press stories written hours after the sightings claimed
that no intercepts had been attempted that night but those stories were
inaccurate. Documents in the Project Blue Book files, as well as eye witnesses,
confirm the attempted intercepts.
of the civilian sightings were those made by Captain Casey Pierman on Capital
Airlines Flight 807. He was on a flight between Washington, D.C. and
Martinsburg, West Virginia at 1:15 A.M. on July 20, when he, and the rest of
the crew saw seven objects flash across the sky. Pierman said, “They were
like falling stars without trails.”
Airline officials said that National Airport radar picked up the objects and
asked Pierman to keep an eye on them. Shortly after takeoff, Pierman radioed
that he had the objects in sight. He was flying at 180 to 200 mph, and reported
the objects were traveling at tremendous speed. Official Air Force records
Capital Airlines pilot, Captain Howard Dermott, on Capital Flight 610, reported
a single light followed him from Herndon, Virginia, to within four miles of
National Airport. Both the ARTC and the National Tower confirmed that an
unidentified target followed the aircraft to within four miles of landing. At
about the same time, an Air Force radar at Andrews AFB was tracking eight
additional unknown objects as they flew over the Washington area.
of the most persuasive sightings came early in the morning when one of the ARTC
controllers called the Andrews Air Force Base control tower to tell them that
there was a target south of the tower, over the Andrews Radio range station.
The tower operators looked to the south where a “huge fiery-orange
sphere” was hovering. This again was later explained by the Air Force as a
before daylight, about four in the morning, after repeated requests from the
ARTC, an F-94 interceptor arrived on the scene, but it was too little too late.
All the targets were gone. Although the flight crew made a short search of the
local area, they found nothing unusual and returned to their base quickly.
that night, apparently the three radar facilities only once reported a target
that was seen by all three facilities at the same time. There were, however, a
number of times when the ARTC radar and the Washington National tower radars
had simultaneous contacts. It also seems that the radars were displaying the
same targets that were seen by the crews of the Capital Airlines flights. What
it boils down to is that multiple radars and multiple eyewitnesses were showing
and seeing objects in the sky over Washington, D.C.
Force intelligence, including ATIC and the officers assigned to the Project
Blue Book, had no idea that these sightings had taken place. They learned of
the Saturday night – Sunday morning UFO show when the information was published
in several newspapers on Monday. Captain Ed Ruppelt, chief of Blue Book, on
business in Washington and unaware of the sightings, reported “I got off
an airliner from Dayton and I bought a newspaper in the lobby of Washington
National Airport Terminal Building. I called Major Dewey Fournet, but all he
knew was what he read in the papers.”
week later, almost to the minute, with the same Air Traffic Control crew on
duty, the UFOs returned. About 10:30 P.M. spotted several slow-moving targets.
This time the controllers carefully marked each of the unidentifieds. When they
were all marked, they called the Andrews AFB radar facility. The unidentified
targets were on their scope too.
hour later, with targets being tracked continually, the controllers called for
interceptors. Al Chop, the Pentagon spokesman for the UFO project, told me,
that he was in communication with the main basement command post at the
Pentagon. He requested that interceptors be sent. As a civilian, he could only
make the request and then wait for the general or admiral in command at the
Pentagon to make the official decision.
happened the week before, there was a delay, but by midnight, two F-94s were on
station over Washington. At that point, the reporters who had assembled to
observe the situation were asked, by Chop, to leave the radar room at National
Airport because classified radio and intercept procedures would be in
Dewey Fournet, the Pentagon liaison between the UFO project in Dayton and the
intelligence community in Washington was at National Airport that night. Also, there
were Al Chop, a public information officer and Naval Lieutenant Holcomb, an
electronics specialist, assigned to the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence.
those men watching, as well as the controllers at various facilities using
various radars, the F-94s arrived. And the UFOs vanished from the scopes
immediately. The jets were vectored to the last known position of the UFOs, but
even though visibility was unrestricted in the area, the pilots could see
nothing. The fighters made a systematic search of the area, but since they
could find nothing, they returned to their base.
told me, “The minute the first two interceptors appeared on our scope all
our unknowns disappeared. It was like they just wiped them all off. All our
other flights, all the known flights were still on the scope… We watched
these two planes leave. When they were out of our range, immediately we got our
Air Force officers would learn that as the fighters appeared over Washington,
people in the area of Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, spotted weird lights in
the sky. An F-94, in the area on a routine mission was diverted to search for
the light. The pilot saw it and turned toward it, but it disappeared “like
somebody turning off a light bulb.”
pilot continued the intercept and did get a radar lock on the now unlighted and
unseen target. That was broken by the object as it sped away. They fighter
continued the pursuit, obtaining two more radar locks on the object, but each
time the locks were broken.
scene then shifted back to Washington National. Again, the Air Defense Command
was alerted and again fighters were sent. This time the pilots were able to see
the objects, vectored toward them by the air traffic controllers. But the fighters couldn’t close on the
lights. The pilots saw no external details, other than lights where the radar
suggested that something should be seen.
several minutes of failure to close on a target, one of them was spotted
lopping along. A fighter piloted by Lieutenant William Patterson turned, kicked
in the afterburner and tried to catch the object. It disappeared before
Patterson could see much of anything.
by the press the next day, Patterson said, “I tried to make contact with
the bogies below one thousand feet, but they [the controllers] vectored us
around. I saw several bright lights. I was at my maximum speed, but even then,
I had no closing speed. I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of
overtaking them. I was vectored into new objects. Later I chased a single
bright light which I estimated about ten miles away. I lost visual contact with
Chop remembered this intercept, as did Dewey Fournet. Chop told me, “The
flight controllers had directed him to them [the unknowns]. We had a little
cluster of them. Five or six of them and he suddenly reports that he sees some
lights… He said they are very brilliant blue-white lights. He was going try
to close in to get a better look… he flew into the area where they were clustered
and he reported they were all around him.”
said that he, along with the others in the radar room, watched the intercept on
the radar scope. What the pilot was telling them, they could see on the radar.
had to break of the intercept, though there were still lights in the sky and
objects on the scope. According to Chop, the pilot radioed that he was running
low on fuel. He turned so that he could head back to his base.
said that the last of the objects disappeared from the scope about the time the
sun came up. Ruppelt later quizzed Fournet about the activities that night.
According to Ruppelt, Fournet and Holcomb, the radar expert, were convinced the
targets were solid, metallic objects. Fournet told Ruppelt that there were
weather related targets on the scopes, but the controllers were ignoring them.
Everyone was convinced that the targets were real and solid.
4:00 P.M., in Washington D.C., Major General John A. Samford, Chief of Air
Intelligence, held a press conference. Of that press conference, Ruppelt wrote, “General Samford made an honest attempt to straighten out the Washington
National Sightings, but the cards were stacked against him. He had to hedge on
many answers to questions from the press because he didn’t know the answers.
This hedging gave the impression that he was trying to cover up something more
than just the fact his people fouled up in not fully investigating the
sightings. Then he brought in Captain Roy James from ATIC to handle all the
queries about radar. James didn’t do any better because he’d just arrived in
Washington that morning and didn’t know very much more about the sightings than
he’d read in the papers. Major Dewey Fournet and Lieutenant Holcomb, who had
been at the airport during the sightings, were extremely conspicuous by their
absence…” As was the Pentagon spokesman on UFOs, Al Chop.
was the largest Pentagon press conference held since the end of the Second
World War, at least to that time. Interestingly, one of the general officers
also at the conference was Roger Ramey… yes, he of Roswell fame.
those interested in a transcript of that press conference, I published, in a
series of posts about it that can be found at:
runs to several postings, but the whole thing, along with some of my
commentary, is found there. For those who wish more detailed information about
the sightings, see my book, Invasion
Washington. It covers the sightings of the summer of 1952, the events
I have noticed in these last couple of episodes is that they’re moving farther
away from the reality of Blue Book and this last episode was no exception. For
example, the chief of Blue Book, Quinn, decided that he wanted to see what was
going on. Somehow, somewhere, he finds a fighter, and heads up to engage with
the objects. He fires on them, without results. He lands and gives his report…
but I can’t see a situation in which the local commander would allow some
random officer to show up and then take off in a fighter assigned to him and
carried on his property book. That pilot would have to appear with his flight
records that would then have to be verified and he would have to have a check
ride by one of the local instructor pilots to ensure he had the proper training
and skill level in the aircraft
|The Mall in Washington, D.C., where Quinn
and Hynek saw the lights for the TV program.
Photo copyright by Kevin Randle
he wished to fly. There is no way that Quinn
would have been allowed to join the intercept, even if a general called down to
arrange it. These things just don’t happen in the real military. It looks good
on television but it doesn’t happen in real life.
point is that this drama, and it should be considered a drama, doesn’t claim to
be the situation as it really happened and those short segments at the end
underscore that. Maybe it drives some traffic to the History website to look at the facts or inspires some to google the
sightings. If we’re going to complain about History’s
version, then what about all those websites that put up UFO information that is
totally bogus with no disclaimers whatsoever. That is far worse than a
repeat myself, I do enjoy the program. I don’t find it boring but do wish they
would ditch the Soviet spy angle. I do wish they would be a little more careful
with the military customs and courtesies, and I don’t really want to see Allen
Hynek in another fist fight with Quinn.
will be looking forward to the next season (but certainly not with the
enthusiasm that I await the final season of Game of Thrones… which I mention
only because Little Finger plays Allen Hynek). I do hope they will be a little
closer to reality, but if they’re not, I’ll remember that they’re making a TV
series and not a documentary.