The 1952 Washington DC UFO Invasion!

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
February 4, 2019
Last Updated
October 13, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
11 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

Perhaps one of the most often used phrases or questions in UFO circles is will “UFOs ever just land on the White House lawn?” Will they ever make themselves known and communicate with the leaders of the world which, rightly or wrongly and at least according to Hollywood, would start with the President of the United States. The fact is, though, an incident almost exactly like this did take place in the summer of 1952. And while there were no actual landings – at least that we know of – there were multiple sightings of the strange, circular objects, some hovering over the White House and others moving through the skies of Washington DC. The majority of the sightings would come from experienced pilots and control tower experts, no less. Strange, then, that the official explanation would essentially dismiss this expert witness testimony.

Depiction of the Capitol Building blended into an image of a newspaper article

The 1952 Washington Invasion was one of the most fascinating UFO encounters on record

Just what did take place between the 10th and 29th July – including two multiple witness sightings exactly a week apart – is very much a topic of debate in the UFO community. Not least due to the official explanation offered by the US military at the time that the incident was simply a “weather phenomenon”. Or that they then went on to essentially “block” their own investigation into the incident. Perhaps that is telling enough of how credible, genuine, and intriguing an encounter the Washington DC incident was. And indeed, still is. It is also telling that the US government and military, at least certain select aspects of it, had a very different agenda to that offered to the American public. Much like that offered to the rest of the international community.

Before we delve into this most fascinating encounter, which remember took place almost exactly five years after the Roswell incident, check out the video below.

The Beginnings Of The 1952 UFO Wave

Shortly after Project Blue Book came into life to study and evaluate the authenticity of increasing reports of UFOs and strange glowing objects in the skies of the United States – and indeed the wider world – did America find itself in a wave of UFO sightings. As the months rolled by, these sightings steadily increased. According to Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, in his 1956 writing, ‘The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects’ would claim those behind the scenes were expecting a big incident regarding the UFO phenomena.

He would claim that following a conversation with a “scientist from an agency I can’t name” that analysis of their data showed a “build-up of reports along the east coast of the United States”. He would claim the mystery scientist told him:

Within the next few days, 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. Probably Washington! [1]

It is an interesting observation. At the time sightings were prevalent all around the United States. However, a concentration did exist on the eastern coast. Was this apparent prediction purely based upon the study of data? Or might, even back in 1952, those involved with “unnamed agencies” have known more, perhaps had a deeper and more direct involvement than most would think? According to Ruppelt, other agencies also noticed this trend on the east side of America. Not only those working on Project Blue Book to high-ranking officials at the Pentagon, talk of UFOs was rampant.

As July began to unfold, these sightings did indeed become increasingly noticeable. And increasingly regular.

A “Build-Up” Of UFO Sightings Along America’s East Coast!

What would eventually earn the moniker of The Washington DC UFO Invasion would begin on the 10th July 1952 when a National Airlines’ crew made a report of a strange light “too bright” for a balloon and moving “too slow” for a meteor. The sighting occurred south of Washington over Quantico, Virginia.

Three days later on 13th July, another commercial airliner, this one flying 9,000 feet higher than the National Airlines plane at 11,000 feet and around sixty miles to the south, would report a bright light below their position. Remarkably, the light would ascend to the same altitude as the plane. It then hovered to their left for several minutes before racing away in a “fast, steep, climb”. The following evening came another encounter. This time, a Pan American plane making its way from New York to Miami, Florida, would report eight UFOs over Newport New Virginia. Two nights later on the 16th July, in the same location came another sighting. This time, however, the witness was on the ground.

At a little after 9 pm at Langley Air Force Base, a scientist working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Laboratory, along with another, unnamed man, would witness two lights glowing amber. He would claim they were “much too large to be aircraft”. And furthermore, they traveled in absolute silence. After several minutes they suddenly turned and went back in the direction they were heading. However, as they did, they appeared to separate and “jockey for position” in the air. Then, a third light appeared and all three settled into formation and disappeared.

Shortly Before Midnight, Washington DC, 19thJuly 1952

While these sightings were on the radar of official UFO groups such as Project Blue Book, and perhaps the most studious and alert UFO researchers at the time, the general public were not. However, at around 11:40 pm on 19th July that was about to change. Air traffic control staff at Washington National Airport (now named Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) would notice seven strange objects that appeared out of nowhere on their radar screens. The bizarre group were around 15 miles to the south of Washington and were seemingly moving in random directions with no obvious destination.

Senior Air Traffic Controller, Harry Barnes was aware of the unfolding situation. He would monitor the situation for several moments, not taking his eyes from the radar screen. He would ask two other air traffic controllers to monitor the screen. They also performed checks to ensure it was working as it should. They would confirm the sighting. And all indications were the radar systems were in full working order. Barnes would later state:

We knew immediately that a very strange situation existed. Their (the objects) movements were completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft!

Barnes then communicated with the radar-equipped control tower to see if the operators there could also see the strange anomalies. One of those on duty that evening, Howard Cocklin, would state that:

We were tracking a flight that had just taken off, when all of a sudden, we had another target show up. It was very erratic. It went left and right. We knew it wasn’t an airplane because a plane flies in one direction! [2]

Cocklin and his colleague, Joe Zacko, then watched as the object “zoomed away” at a breathtaking pace. Within minutes, objects would appear in the skies all over the city.

An image of Washington Airport control tower

An image of Washington Airport control tower

Sightings From Andrews Air Force Base

As midnight came and went and the early hours of the 20th July began to unfold, the sightings began to be reported from all around the city by several commercial airline pilots. However, when Barnes witnessed the strange unidentified crafts move towards Washington DC, including the White House no less, he would make the decision to notify nearby Andrews Air Force Base. One of those he spoke to at the base was Airman William Brady, who would visually confirm a sighting from the control tower. He would state an object “like an orange ball of fire” was clearly visible in the sky. Then, the glowing craft “took off at unbelievable speed”.

Brady’s wasn’t the only sighting by military personnel at Andrews Air Force Base. Sergeant Charles T. Davenport, for example, would later state in an official military report that:

I saw a strong light south of Andrews Air Force Base, traveling from east to west at a terrific speed…Its color was orange red. Later on, we spotted what seemed to be a star northwest of the field. It was very bright (also) but not the same color. This was a bluish-silver. It was very erratic in motion (and) moved from side to side!

Davenport would further claim that he witnessed several such displays that evening. At the same time as Davenport’s sightings, and back at the Washington National Airport, a radio controller would communicate to a recently departed Capital Airlines Flight 807 to report any strange lights in its vicinity. However, before he could finish the request, an excited voice crackled over the radio getting everyone’s attention immediately.

“There’s One! And There It Goes!”

The voice belonged to Casey Pierman, a veteran pilot with 17 years’ worth of experience. He was sat in his DC-4 airplane waiting for the order to take off and investigate the anomalies. He would suddenly interrupt over the radio system “There’s one – off to the right – and there it goes”. What followed was a bizarre few minutes. Pierman would describe strange bright lights “like falling stars without tails”. What was most bizarre, though, was Pierman was inadvertently providing commentary in sympathy with the activity on the radar screens. Barnes would later state:

Each sighting corresponded with a ‘pip’ we could see near his plane. Whenever he reported that the light streaked off at high speed, it would disappear on our scope!

Incidentally, a similar experience would play out several hours later just after 4 am. A commercial pilot who was approaching Washington National Airport would report a strange light to the left of his plane. Radar operators could also see the object. At the same time, the pilot reported the object was moving away, the blip would correspond exactly and vanish from the radar screens.

Around ninety minutes following Pierman’s commentary, personnel at the New Castle Air Force Base were preparing two F-94 jets for take-off. Shortly after 3 am, just after the objects vanished from the radar-screens, they would leave the runway and venture into the night skies over the nation’s capital. The jets would monitor the area until their fuel supplies ran low, at which point they would return to base. Shortly after, though, the objects would reappear. This, Barnes would conclude, showed “the UFOs were monitoring radio traffic”.

The objects remained overhead until 5:30 am. However, the incident would be on the front page of national newspapers within days.

An All But Purposeful Blocking Of The Official Investigation!

Barnes would go through the reports and timeline of the events of 19th to 20th July, even producing an article for the several news agencies. According to his report “at least ten unidentifiable objects” were in the skies over the nation’s capital. The entire episode would last for just over six hours.

It was around this time that things began to become a little strange. Ruppelt, who was barely over six months into a project to investigate such sightings was eager to visit both of the control towers, including Andrews Air Force Base, to speak to witnesses and view the data for himself. This, after he learned of the incidents through a newspaper report he just happened upon. That he wasn’t made aware of the activity by the Pentagon is a little strange. However, and rather bizarrely, when his request for a staff car to carry out his investigations at the control towers was denied, the Pentagon’s behavior began to look outright suspicious.

They would suggest instead that he simply use public transport. This, however, would not only consume unnecessary time, it would take him far beyond what he could claim back from the Pentagon in expenses. They were not stopping him from investigating, but realistically, they were making it all but impossible. At the time, but particularly in retrospect, it would appear perfectly obvious that despite their public rhetoric, the Pentagon had little intention of transparency with the public or even their own employees over the UFO phenomenon.

However, those who saw events first hand didn’t buy into such dismissive stances. The aforementioned Howard Cocklin, for example, would state when asked what he thought was behind the bizarre events, “At the time I thought it was something alien. I still do”.

UFOs over the White House in 1952

UFOs over the White House in 1952

The Second Weekend Wave Of Sightings

The following week on the 26th July, at around the same time in the evening, commercial airline and military pilots in the skies over Washington would begin reporting the same strange glowing lights as exactly a week previously. One particular report from a pilot of a B-29 plane would state he saw “three amber edged white flashing objects”. Furthermore, these objects traveled at the “speed of sound” and would leave a “yellowish trail”.

There were also further sightings from the ground. Including, once again, from within Andrews Air Force Base. Although his name is withheld, once sergeant would state they witnessed blue-white light that possessed “an incredible rate of speed”. He would continue:

About a minute later, I saw the same kind of light (as before). These lights did not have the characteristics of shooting stars. There were no trails and (they) seemed to go out rather than disappear. And (they) traveled much faster than any shooting star I have ever seen!

Perhaps the most interesting point in this unknown sergeant’s statement is the reference to the lights “going out” rather than them moving away. This is a detail that comes up quite a lot in UFO sightings, even ones of the contemporary age. Is this due to some kind of optical illusion caused by such a bright light suddenly vanishing? Or is this “turning off” effect a key point to understand if we wish to reveal the secrets of the UFO and alien question?

Radar operators also had confirmations of objects on their screens. However, at times, the number of targets appeared so large that the radar had trouble accurately recording just how many there were. And like before, they seemingly performed aerial feats that were not in line with any standard aircraft of the time.

Reporters “Practically Banging Down The Door!”

As these events were taking place, another Project Blue Book employee (a PR man), Al Chop, would a receive an urgent phone call. It was late in the evening when a member of the control tower team at Washington National Airport informed him that there were UFO sightings on the radars there and at Andrews Air Force Base. Of more concern, however, were the hoarded of reported were “practically banging down the door”.

He would arrive at the control tower shortly after the desperate call, denying reporters request to photograph the radar screens as he entered the facility. Chop would watch the sightings on the radar screen for almost a quarter of an hour. He would recall over fifty years later:

I looked at the radarscope and there were about 10 or 14 unknowns. They looked just like aircraft. They had the same kind of strong signal, but we couldn’t contact them. We just looked at each other as if to say, ‘what should we do?’ Then, we just watched them. We were kind of helpless!

Then, the situation turned even more disturbingly bizarre. And, once more, had slightly differing accounts from the Pentagon, and the person they asked to investigate such sightings. Two F-94 jets would once again scramble to the skies of the capital. And once more, as they arrived near the airspace occupied by the strange craft, the objects would disappear. Almost as if in anticipation of their arrival. Even more intriguing, in unsettling, within minutes of the jets leaving and returning to base, the strange objects returned.

Incidentally, Ruppelt would report that rather disappearing upon the jets’ arrival, they “relocated” to an area in Newport News. While the military would deny this aspect, residents of the Newport News area would report strange lights overhead.

The Biggest Pentagon Press Conference Since World War Two

Much like the previous week, several sightings of the strange objects would continue to come in from commercial airline pilots as they approached Washington National Airport. And, with F-94 flying several missions over Washington DC that evening, the glowing objects would disappear before their arrival and reappear shortly after they left. And whether of consequence or not, the objects would disappear entirely at dawn.

By the time the newspapers had ran another weeks-worth of headlines, anxiety levels in the public were reaching panic-type levels. Even President Truman was seeking an explanation for the bizarre happenings. If the Pentagon wished to keep the sightings completely under wraps, then it was increasingly obvious that such a possibility was no longer possible. Explanations such as “temperature inversions” began to enter into reports and language of the incident. This, was the claim, would present “false returns” for the radar. This, however, wouldn’t explain the visual sightings from the ground and the pilots themselves.

Then, on 29th July 1952, came perhaps one of the most famous press conferences of the early second half of the twentieth century. And certainly, the largest given by the Pentagon since the days of the Second World War. Two Air Force Major Generals would speak – John Samford and Roger Ramsey. However, instead of a serious discussion on the strange sighting and informing the public of the bizarre events, Samford would rather bluntly state the visual sightings were “misidentified aerial phenomena”. Basically, stars, meteors, or planets. And the radar sightings were the result of the temperature inversion. In short, the sightings of dozens of witnesses in the previous month alone were dismissed as nothing. It would be an approach the US authorities would take with the UFO phenomena for decades to come. And one largely intact today.

“I Saw It On The Radar Screen! And I Saw It Out Of The Window!”

Many would reject the official findings, not least Rupplet. He would claim that during the entire months of June, July, and August 1952, the “temperature inversion” was present every single day. However, the sightings, particular those of the 19/20th and 26/27th July, occurred on only two occasions. Furthermore, he would site the apparent intelligence of the lights and their ability to disappear upon the jets’ arrival and to reappear when they vacated the area.

Even more damning of the weather explanation offered by the Pentagon were the sightings of physical solid objects as opposed to just bright lights or bizarre glows. Just one of those was the aforementioned Howard Cocklin, who saw the object on radar and physically with his own eyes. He would state:

(I am) convinced I saw an object over Washington National Airport. I saw it on the radar screen. And I saw it out of the window. It was a whitish-blue object. Not a light – a solid form. A saucer-shaped object!

Given the wealth of testimonies, many of which came from experienced aviation experts, including people asked by the Pentagon themselves to conduct investigations into such accounts, it is perhaps eye-opening how dismissive the Pentagon were, and still are today. Whether this was out of a concern of panic from the public, or whether the reason for the obvious suppression of information regarding this very obviously real phenomena, whatever it might one day prove to be, is one of a darker and much more purposeful agenda is open to debate. Perhaps we should note the underlying tone of the Robertson Panel – a consequence of the sightings – that such projects should concentrate on “debunking” such cases rather than investigating them is telling enough.

Check out the video below for further details.


1 The Washington Merry-Go-Round, NICAP
2 Saucers Full of Secrets, Dan Gilgoff, Washington City Newspaper, December 14th, 2001

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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