One night in 1952, the skies above Washington DC exploded with mysterious lights - but ever since, the US government has insisted it was just freak weather. A new book now claims a vast cover-up has hidden the truth, as MARCUS DUNK discovers
UFO's Over the Whitehouse 1952 31Secs
IT WAS a warm Saturday evening in July, 1952, and in the White House, President Harry S. Truman was in residence. His had been an eventful presidency, which had seen both the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War take place on his watch.Yet what happened that evening in the skies above Washington DC would make his tenure even more extraordinary.Before the night had come to an end, a group of unidentified flying objects had appear, leaving the military and the authorities scrambling towork out what was happening and then to stage a cover-up to prevent the truth being revealed.The east coast of the United States had been awash with sightings of UFOs all summer. On July 10, the crew of a National Airlines plane flying over Virginia noted a light "too bright to be a lighted balloon and too slow to be a big meteor" near them, while a few days later, another crew flying 60 miles northwest of Washington saw a light beneath them which then shot up to their level, hovered for a few minutes, and then rapidly ascended out of sight.
The next few days saw a number of similar encounters, which eventually came to the attention of Captain Edward Ruppelt, a United States Air Force officer who, from 1951 until 1953, headed project Blue Book, the unit in charge of UFO investigations. Neither a "diehard sceptic nor wide-eyed believer", Ruppelt was a war veteran who liked to keep an open mind. In the summer of 1952, his mind would be blown wide open.
Having heard rumours concerning the sightings, he spoke to a government scientist who was convinced that something big was coming. "You're going to have the grandaddy of all UFO sightings," the scientist told Ruppelt. "The sighting will occur in Washington or New York - probably Washington." Ruppelt did not have to wait long. On the night of Saturday July 19, one of the most significant events in the history of UFO encounters took place, right in Washington DC airspace. "It is difficult to overstate just how significant this incident was," says British author Colin Bennett, who has written a new book on the incident. "On this night, two radars at Washington National Airport picked up seven unidentified targets flying over the capital in prohibitedairspace. Two of the targets streaked off at an amazing burst of speed, which was estimated at 700mph. "In the alarm, the decision was made to scramble fighter jets from Andrews Air Force Base. The only problem was that the runways at Andrews were being repaired and no plane could take off. "One would have thought that the capital city of the most powerful nation in the world at the time of the Cold War would have had good fighter cover," says Bennett. "That it had none of any significance was a very serious matter. It is a mystery to this day that there appeared to be no central RAF-style 24-hour `fighter command' for the defence of the whole and entire American government and administration. "By this stage, orange and amber lights were flashing up all over the place. Numerous bases were picking up the signals on their screens but what was truly astonishing was whatcould be seen with the naked eye. Large orange and amber lights hung in the sky, with some darting back and forth. According to one control tower operator at Andrews Air Force Base, a "huge fiery-orange sphere" was hovering just south of the tower. Almost as quickly as they appeared, however, the lights disappeared, leaving the authorities confused and bewildered. On Monday morning, Ruppelt was called by a journalist about the sightings. It seemed that some sort of cover-up was already underway. Ruppelt flew straight to Washington and, after some wrangling, managed to be briefed at the Pentagon, which was already being besieged by the press. "Intelligence officers were standing on their heads trying to think of what to say," says Bennett. "Despite 'evidence' from the incidents, they sure as hell were going to think several times before any announcement that intelligently controlledvehicles not of human manufacture had invaded the night skies of Washington. The situation was not about a possible new Russian aircraft, a new spy revelation, contractual fraud. No, this was an inch away from admitting an alien invasion. It is no wonder that men used to dealing with somewhat more mundane matters found great difficulties in coping with a situation straight out of a B-feature film. "A press conference was called and Ruppelt agreed to play along with a story that a "bizarre weather phenomenon" had occurred. Out of the gaze of the media, however, he was determined to get to the truth of the matter. But when he attempted to investigate, he was frustrated at every turn. First of all, he was prevented from hiring a car, and told he should take the bus. "Forced to take the bus to investigate an alien invasion of earth!" says Bennett. Then he was accused of being AWOL from his base, even though he was simply doing his job. When he did manage to get close to anybody involved, he was turned away. He went to speak to three of the tower control operators on duty that night but, when he arrived at the base, was greeted by the chief of staff of the air force who once again reiterated the weather line. For weeks this went on, with more sightings followed by more denials by the authorities. For these men, eyewitness testimony and photographic proof meant absolutely nothing. "Ruppelt was getting frustrated and was being worn down by his constant battling with his superiors," says Bennett. "Eventually he became disillusioned, and the following year he left the air force without ever getting an official acknowledgement about what had actually gone on that July night. "Convinced that the truth needed to be known, Ruppelt eventually wrote a book about his experiences which, although long out of print, has proved to be an invaluable resource. Although some might say that Ruppelt failed, Colin Bennett believes instead that he was a hero whose tireless work laid the foundation for much of the research into UFOs conducted since.It is clear that Bennett sees himself as a similar sort of individual - a maverick whose dogged pursuit of the truth drives him on. "I believe that the universe is not as straightforward as scientists would have us believe," says Bennett. "I believe that there are hairline cracks in reality and that there is something out there trying to speak to us. We don't always understand the language but something is trying to speak."
For Bennett this is not just a theory - he also has first-hand experience of flying saucers. "It was 25 years ago that I saw my first UFO just outside that window," he says in the basement of his Notting Hill flat. "It was a Sunday night in 1981 and it turned out to be the most serious experience in my life.
"I had been out to the cinema and was just about to walk through the gate to my house when I saw a bright light. I didn't know what was happening so I called to my girlfriend, Karen, who was home. I thought, if she doesn't see what I'm seeing, then I'll have to see a doctor.
"Karen came out and was gobsmacked. We both just stood there with our mouths open. It was like a hypnotic disco light sitting right above the square. Suddenly we could make out through the light a Lancaster bomber sitting stationary in mid-air, and then it suddenly morphed into a triangular craft which vanished into the distance. We were shocked. We don't drink, we don't take drugs, and we didn't believe in this sort of thing, but it happened."
The pair stumbled inside their house, only to be confronted by another anomaly. "We walked inside, and there was a man in black on the settee. Apparently he'd turned up just before I arrived home, saying he was a friend of our neighbour, and asking if he could wait until the neighbour arrived home. "Karen had invited him in but, as soon as we both walked back in, he stood up, looked at us for a moment, and then walked out of the house." Colin even described the strange man to his neighbour the next day, but the neighbour claimed not to know such an individual. "Needless to say, Karen and I were both a bit stunned but there was more to come. I went upstairs to feed the cats, bent down to put the food in their bowl and then stood up again. It was then that I'd realised that that simple motion had taken me over 20 minutes. I'd lost 20 minutes of time and had no memory of where it had gone."After that night, I realised that not only was the universe a whole lot more mysterious than I had imagined, I also realised that I needed to find out more about UFOs."And so began a lifetime quest that has seen this mild-mannered Englishman explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy, all from the comfort of his cluttered front room. He haswritten books on thought control, scientific mavericks and conspiracies, all in an attempt to make sense of the strange events that occurred to him that night in1981. But it is this latest book on the events in Washington in 1952 that is the true culmination of his years spent in pursuit of the truth.
For Colin, his firm conviction that the public needs to know the truth about alien life forms goes hand in hand withoutrage at government attempts to obscure and hush-up the facts. "The US government said the sightings in 1952 were nothing more than a strange weather phenomenon!" says Colin, leaning forward with an arm raised. "Weather, for God's sake! How could they?" His hope is that this book will open people's eyes, and help them to be less accepting of government propaganda. Although he is still trying to understand what it was that happened to him on that strange Sunday night backin 1981, he is determined that his work will continue to uncover the truth.
These journals continue....Oct 30