In 1952, the United States had the most massive UFO sightings. The year is widely remembered due to the strange objects seen in the skies of Washington D.C. The event, also known as “the Big Flap,” had credible reports 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.
The incident caught the attention of the CIA, astrophysicists, as well as President Harry Truman, and scientist Albert Einstein, who took part in the discussion of those events. But after preliminary research, all the data was classified, and the head of the UFO study project died under mysterious circumstances.
On the night of July 20, Washington airport radars recorded seven flying objects around 15.5 miles from the capital. The airport authority immediately found it strange because the trajectory of their flight did not coincide with the trajectory of any civil or military aircraft. The senior controller contacted the Air Force, and they also noticed the strange objects that were approaching the capital. It was calculated that the objects flew at a speed of 2000 miles per hour.
What is more, the objects hovered over the White House and U.S. Capitol Building at around four in the morning. Controller Howard Cocklin claimed that he saw an object over National that night. “I saw it on the screen and out the window,” he said. “It was a whitish-blue object. Not a light – a solid form. An object. A saucer-shaped object.”
Military fighters were sent to patrol the airspace, but as soon as they approached the objects, they disappeared with lightning speed. Then, the pilots were ordered to return to the base, but as soon as they did, the objects returned back. It was assumed that all radio communications were being tapped by the uninvited guests.
At first, the obvious explanation of the sightings was the optical illusion, a consequence of temperature inversion, but not many believed in this theory. All major mainstream publications, including The Washington Post, and The New York Times, started reporting the flying saucers over the White House.
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According to The Washington Post, the number of UFO sightings reported to the Air Force jumped more than sixfold, from 23 in March to 148 in June 1952. 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.
Truman, Einstein, and UFOs
“A massive build-up of sightings over the Universe States in 1952… alarmed the Truman administration,” Gerald K. Haines wrote in an article for the CIA.
This was the main cause that would eventually lead President Harry Truman to order the shooting down of the flying saucers. The Air Force gave a command order on July 26, 1952: “Shoot them down!”
According to a historical report (click here), this was due to renowned scientists like Albert Einstein and others interceding and telling the president it was not a good idea.
“However, several prominent scientists, including Albert Einstein, protested the order to the White House and urged that it be rescinded, not only in the interest of future intergalactic peace but also in the interest of self-preservation: Extraterrestrials would certainly look upon an attack by primitive jet firepower as a breach of universal laws of hospitality,” Haines wrote.
The order given to the Air Force to shoot down the flying saucers was consequently withdrawn at the White House at five in the afternoon. However, that same night, the UFOs would return.
Project Blue Book and the mysterious death of the ufologist
For 22 years, from 1947 to 1969, the United States Air Force ran a trifecta of UFO research programs known as Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book. The public is most familiar with the latter of the three, undoubtedly due to the success of a History Channel series with the same name.
US Air Force officer Edward Ruppelt was the director of Project Grudge from late 1951 until it became Project Blue Book in March 1952; he remained with Blue Book until late 1953. He was a strong supporter of the fact that extraterrestrial civilizations exist.
The April 1952 issue of LIFE magazine has the eye-catching headline: “There is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers.” 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. 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.”
In his book “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects,” Edward Ruppelt intended to set out the whole truth about flying saucers. The most interesting thing began in the second half of the 1950s, when Ruppelt changed his point of view about UFOs. He made an official statement on television that all the talk about extraterrestrial civilizations is nothing more than the nonsense of ufologists.
Ruppelt’s colleague Donald Kehoe was perplexed when he discovered several chapters cleanly rewritten in an advance copy of his book. Now, the structure of the monograph was built as follows: in the first half it was told about UFOs, and in the second one, all ufological assumptions were criticized.
In 1959, Ruppelt broke off communication with his colleagues, and a year later, he died of a heart attack at the age of 37. Project Blue Book was canceled in 1969, and all data was classified. It was only in the 1980s that information was made public, giving rise to new interest in the UFO topic.
“The Washington UFO flap perfectly illustrates the real government ‘cover-up’,” said 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.”