In 1952, ‘Flying Saucers’ Over Washington Sent the Press Into a Frenzy

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.”

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David Aragorn

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