The DC Flap of 1952

You’ve heard about the Chicago Mothman Flap, the Welsh Flap...but what about the Washington, DC flap? In 1952 UFOs were seen all over the nation’s capital, particularly that summer. On a humid Saturday Night, July 19th to be exact, air-traffic controller Edward Nugent at Washington National Airport spotted and reported several oddly slow-moving objects on his radar screen. These objects were not flying in from or following any kind of civilian or military flight paths. He made a joke about a fleet of flying saucers headed for DC...but little did he know how monumental this sighting would become.

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Shortly after Nugent reported the strange flying objects two more air traffic controllers spotted an unexplainably bright light that as soon as they laid eyes on it sped away at an impossible speed. These sightings were reported and tracked by the team at National. They had no idea that Andrews Air Force Base radar operators were making similar reports of unidentified blips. According to History.com they were “slow and clustered at first, then racing away at speeds exceeding 7,000 mph. Looking out his tower window, one Andrews controller saw what he described as an “orange ball of fire trailing a tail.” A commercial pilot, cruising over the Virginia and Washington, D.C. area, reported six streaking bright lights, “like falling stars without tails.”

Soon enough, the objects were headed right for the White House and the National Mall. In a serious moment it was unclear what may happen but luckily the unexplained objects buzzed right over the Mall without any attack. However, two nearby F-94 inceptor jets were scrambled.

In addition to formal reports, there were dozens of witness reports on the ground that had been reported on the same strange path that the teams at National and Andrews had reported. By dawn, what the teams at Andrews and National had seen seemed to have cleared the area...but this night wouldn’t be the last of the DC flap. In fact, the next night’s radar, as reported by the Air force, the objects were backed and performed inexplicably powerful gyrations and reversals. Some reports clocked the movement of the objects at 900mph. HowStuffWorks reports, “At one point, as an F-94 moved on targets ten miles away, the UFOs turned the tables and darted en masse toward the interceptor, surrounding it in seconds. The badly shaken pilot, Lt. William Patterson, radioed Andrews AFB to ask if he should open fire. The answer, according to Albert M. Chop, a civilian working as a press spokesperson for the Air Force who was present, was "stunned silence. . . . After a tense moment, the UFOs pulled away and left the scene."

As a resident of DC, I find these reports particularly interesting. The airspace above DC is regulated to an altitude of 18,000 feet and planes fly through predictable paths. An object breaking these rules would be impossible to miss and quite frightening.

One week later on Saturday, July 26th, another pilot on a flight into Washington noted strange objects above his aircraft.

Another interesting thing to note is that the Washington National Weather Station confirmed a slight temperature inversion was present over the capital during this time. However, these inversions alone could not explain the activity on the radarscopes. Two other jets from Newcastle Air Force Base were also scrambled. One of the pilots reported nothing of note while the other said he saw a white light. Once again, sunrise began a new day and ended the sightings.

1952 was a key year for UFO research lead by the government. Since the late 1940s when sightings boomed Project Blue Book and other government-led initiatives arose to try and figure out what exactly was behind this phenomena. On top of this, the media was hungry for new stories. So, when the sightings leaked the Washington Post gave the flap front-page treatment with the snappy title, “‘Saucer’ Outran Jet, Pilot Says; Air Force Puts Lid on Inquiry” and the rest of the country followed suit and the sighting made national headlines.