The Washington Merry-Go-Round

July 1952

Why is this important?

This sighting is important because it occurred around the U.S. capital over several days, registering on radar and alarming the public. Project Blue Book investigated the incident and concluded it was due to a weather event. This explanation was difficult to accept by those who experienced the incident firsthand.

Artist rendering of the UFOs over the Washington, D.C. Capitol building during the July 1952 alleged UFO sightings.
Artist rendering of the UFOs over the Washington, D.C. Capitol building during the July 1952 alleged UFO sightings.

The events over Washington D.C. in July 1952 are some of the most famous events in the history of the UFO phenomenon. Many credible witnesses–including air traffic controllers and USAF pilots dispatched to intercept the objects–believe they saw physical objects in the sky and on radar during this period. Official explanations, including a USAF report, attributing the sightings to weather phenomena are treated with skepticism by many who have studied the case.

1952 saw a huge uptick in UFO reports and investigations by Project Blue Book, and the increase in sightings in the first half of the year had the U.S. Air Force on edge in anticipation of a busy summer. In July 1952, numerous alleged UFO sightings were reported in or around Washington, D.C. over the course of several weeks. The event, which occurred in several clusters throughout the month, has been dubbed the "Merry-Go-Round" incident by many UFO enthusiasts, with the name referring to the unusual movements eyewitnesses recounted seeing. One of the more prominent UFO events on record, the July 1952 sightings over America's capital are officially attributed to a weather phenomenon known as temperature inversion which triggered radar discrepancies.

The first sightings associated with the event came on July 12th, when radarmen at Washington National Airport (now called Reagan National Airport) observed seven objects moving at high speeds and in an erratic manner on their radar. Several pilots, both commercial and military, allegedly reported seeing bright lights in the sky and saucer-shaped craft that were capable of making extremely sharp turns uncommon to conventional airplanes. The sightings continued into July 13th, when the USAF scrambled several fighter jets for an intercept; no intercept was successfully made, and some eyewitnesses reported seeing the lights fly away from the incoming jets at a high rate of speed.

Eyewitness reports of UFO sightings exploded during the period of July 19th-July 20th, when many residents of the D.C. metro area reported seeing strange lights in the sky. Several of these incidents were corroborated by staff working at Washington National Airport. Air traffic controller Edward Nugent reported seeing the objects from his home in Alexandria, VA. Nugent was quoted as saying "we couldn't tell whether they were craft or what they were, but they were moving at a high rate of speed." Another air traffic controller, Harry G. Barnes, was on duty during the incident and was quoted as saying "We knew immediately that a very strange situation existed... their movements were completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft."

Another flurry of civilian and ATC sightings was reported during the period of July 26th-July 27th, with similar reports of unusual lights flying in an erratic manner above D.C. airspace. The USAF dispatched two F-94 jets to intercept the objects, but attempts at doing so were unsuccessful. USAF pilot Lt. William Patterson, one of the pilots involved, claimed the objects appeared visually as bright lights in the sky that faded and ultimately disappeared as they approached. Maj. Dewey Fournet is quoted as saying "I have no explanation for what we saw that night."

On July 26th, the USAF held a press conference attributing the sightings to a weather anomaly known as temperature inversion, which is known to cause unusual radar readings. This explanation, however, does not account for the multiple eyewitness visual sightings of lights in the sky moving in erratic fashion. The public interest peaked and reporters hounded the Air Force for more information, prompting another press conference lead by Major General John A Samford, where he admitted the U.S. Air Force once was sure what the objects were, but he stated they did not pose a threat to national security. In September 1952, the USAF released a report on the incidents titled "Air Force Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) Report No. FTD-OTI-57-1." This report similarly concluded that temperature gradients created false targets on the radar screens at air traffic control. The report also stated "the evidence presented does not support the hypothesis that the reported phenomena observed are due to intelligent vehicles of extraterrestrial origin."

The Merry-Go-Round UFO sightings from July 1952 are some of the most famous in history, having garnered widespread media coverage and national attention. The event is specifically notable for the credibility of a number of eyewitnesses. Over a decade later, during the 1966 University of Colorado Condon Committee UFO study, the air traffic controllers held to their story that the objects on radar were real, going against the official U.S. Air Force explanation. Many skeptics accept the USAF findings of atmospheric anomaly while many UFO researchers believe there was advanced technology involved. The matter is presently unsettled and is debated to this day.

References

Official Explanation

Atmospheric effects on radar and light propagation.

Counter Argument

Military jets chased multiple unidentified crafts, over Washington, D.C.

Evidence

Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Radar, ARTC radar, ARS radar at Washington National Airport and Andrews AFB, with concurrent ground and airborne observers visually confirming lights in the same locations as the radar blips.

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