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Volume 52

The Skeptics UFO Newsletter

Philip J. Klass

July 1, 1998

This volume is available as a PDF file. Download »

“Spaceships or Mirages Over Washington National Airport, 1952?” Report By Fund For UFO Research Distorts, Omits Key Facts

The error-ridden introduction to a 75-page report recently offered for sale by the Fund for UFO Research was written by FUFOR’s new chairman, Don Berliner. He confuses “temperature-inversion” effects which create spurious targets on radar with spurious visual images, called “mirages.” (Berliner coauthored with Stanton Friedman the Roswell crashed-saucer book “Crash At Corona.”) The FUFOR chairman’s introduction to the report begins as follows: “One of the flimsier excuses/explanations used by the U.S. Air Force’s unforgettable Project Blue Book was ‘temperature inversion.’ This meant that what the witness thought he saw flying through the sky was actually something on the ground. A mirage had allegedly distorted the location of the image of the ground object to make it look like it was high in the sky....

“The most memorable misuse of this explanation was in connection with the localized wave of [UFO] sightings over Washington D.C [July 19-20 and July 26-27, 1952]....When the rash of UFO sightings tracked simultaneously by radars at Washington National Airport, Bolling AFB and Andrews AFB drew enormous press interest by showing UFOs cavorting freely over the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon....The Air Force explanation was that the expert radar operators had been tracking images misplaced by a temperature inversion. And that visual confirming observations from the ground and from airliners over Washington were similarly the result of mirages created by temperature inversions. There was absolutely no scientific basis for this claim,” according to Berliner. (Emphasis added.)

The first half of the FUFOR report contains a transcript of a Pentagon press conference held on July 29, 1952, in the wake of the UFO incidents, which was presided over by Maj. Gen. John A. Stamford, the USAF’s Director of Intelligence. The transcript reveals the distortions in Berliner’s introduction. During the conference, Gen. Stamford said the USAF then suspected that the anomalous radar blips were the result of temperature inversion. This would later be confirmed by an investigation conducted by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), now the Federal Aviation Administration. The transcript shows that the USAF did not offer a mirage explanation for the visual UFO reports. The other half of the FUFOR report is an unclassified technical paper by USAF 1st Lt. Frederick V. Menkello, written in early 1969, which challenged the mirage explanation for some visual UFO reports that had been offered by Dr. Donald Menzel—a noted astronomer and UFO skeptic. During the press conference, in response to a question, Stamford expressed some reservations about Menzel’s theory.

Berliner omits any mention of the investigation conducted by Richard C. Borden and Tirey K. Vickers of the CAA’s Technical Development and Evaluation Center. Their April 1953 report concluded: “It was determined that targets which are known to operating personnel by various terminologies such as ‘ghosts,’ ‘angels,’ or ‘pixies’ do not represent new phenomena, nor are they peculiar to the Washington area. Correlation of controllers’ reports with U.S. Weather Bureau records indicated that a surface temperature inversion was almost always noted when such targets appeared on the radar.” CAA investigators reported that at Chicago’s Midway Airport “unidentified targets have been seen on many occasions, particularly when temperature inversions have been in effect...” And at Cleveland’s Municipal Airport, they reported, "Unidentified radar targets have been observed many times.” (Emphasis added.) CAA investigators found that anomalous radar targets had been spotted on Washington National Airport radar long before the July 19-20 and July 26-27 incidents during temperature-inversion conditions.

During temperature-inversion conditions, some of the energy from the radar’s transmitted pulses is reflected back to earth. If this energy illuminates a hard object, such as a concrete building or automobile, it can be reflected back to the radar via the patch of temperature-inverted air which is moving in the direction of the prevailing winds at that altitude. Conditions most conducive to temperature inversions occur during hot, humid weather which is often experienced in Washington during the summer months.

CAA Investigators Spot Many “RADAR UFOs” and Monitor Their Movements

The CAA’s 1953 report noted that on the night of Aug. 13-14, 1952, its investigators monitored the scope of the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center’s radar. “Suddenly, at approximately 19:57 Eastern Standard Time, a group of seven strong stationary targets became visible about 15 miles north-northeast of the radar antenna. During the next two or three antenna revolutions, the area on the scope between Washington and Baltimore became heavily sprinkled with stationary targets in a belt about six miles wide. A group of additional targets became visible in an area approximately 10 to 15 miles south of the radar antenna. This was evidence of the beginning of a temperature inversion. Within the next minute, at approximately 19:58 EST, four unidentified moving targets showed up five miles southeast of the radar antenna and moved in a southerly direction away from it....Targets were uniformly small and usually had a weak, fuzzy appearance. However, the target intensity varied from sweep to sweep. Occasionally one or two very strong returns would be received in succession, followed by almost total blanking."

During the next four hours, many more anomalous blips showed up. CAA investigators plotted their paths and timing so they could later calculate their speed and direction. Subsequent analysis showed that all of the "radar UFOs” were moving in the direction of the prevailing wind and all but one was moving at twice the known wind velocity, as theory predicts. [If these radar-UFOs were ET craft, seemingly their remarkable propulsion systems had failed, forcing them to depend upon the winds aloft.]

USAF Pilot Sent To Intercept Washington “RADAR UFOs” Saw Nothing

In early 1978, I received a letter from John W. McHugo, former USAF pilot of one of two F-94 interceptors which had been dispatched to the Washington area on the night of July 26, 1952, to investigate the "radar UFOs” that had been spotted again by National Airport controllers. When the two F-94s arrived, they were directed to the locations of the unidentified blips on the airport radar scopes. McHugo wrote: “We saw nothing visually or on [the F-94’s] airborne radar,” which was designed to detect small enemy fighter aircraft. The second F-94 pilot, 1st Lt. William Patterson, who was flying at only 1,000 ft. altitude, reported seeing two or three lights that appeared to be at his level, but he reported they suddenly disappeared. McHugo said: “We were quite certain that Patterson simply confused lights from a ground vehicle with an airborne light. This is most easy to do when at low altitude. Lights from a vehicle climbing a gentle hill will get a pilot’s attention...” Patterson’s radar operator saw no airborne targets.

Ironically, one of the officials present at the July 29, 1952, press conference was Maj. Gen. Roger Ramey, then the USAF’s Director of Operations. Five years earlier Ramey was head of the 8th Air Force, based in Ft. Worth, Tex., where he had identified the Roswell/Brazel-ranch “crashed saucer” as the debris from a weather balloon and its kite-like radar target. If, as some claim, Ramey knew the Roswell debris really was from an extrater-restrial craft and might be the precursor of an ET attack, then the July 20 report of UFOs near the nation’s capital should have prompted Ramey to quickly mobilize dozens of interceptors to move in quickly to defend Washington if the UFOs returned. Yet a week later, on the evening of July 26, when “UFOs” again appeared on the National Airport radar scope, three hours would elapse before the first two F-94s arrived, and another two hours elapsed before a second pair of interceptors arrived. If Gen. Ramey knew UFOs were ET craft, then he was grossly derelict in failing to take appropriate measures to defend the nation’s capital.


Nearly five years after the Washington “radar-UFO” incident, the USAF’s Airways and Air Communications Service issued a lengthy report to technicians responsible for maintaining its then-new CPN-18 long-range surveillance radars. The report, dated 9 April 1957, began: “The number of reported difficulties with ‘Angels,’ ‘Pipsqueaks,’ ‘Anomalous Propagation’ and just plain false targets seem to be on the increase within this command. These phenomena are confusing our operators, increasing workload on radar mechanics, and in a few cases have become so serious that ATC [air traffic control] facilities have been NOTAMED out of operation [i.e., shut down]. When and if this condition occurs at your location, a lot of worried people are going to want to know where the targets are coming from and what is causing them to appear. We do not have the final answer to give. There have been a number of studies conducted on the cause and effect of these targets and to the best of our knowledge no one answer has been found that applies to all cases.” (Emphasis added.) But the report indicated that temperature inversion was a major cause.

The 1957 report cited a number of specific instances of spurious targets at a number of different locations. One USAF radar, located north of San Francisco, encountered so many spurious targets one month that it was shut down 15 times for a total of 84.7 hours. Based on a survey of USAF radar operators, the 1957 report concluded: “It is now clear that not all operators understood the phenomenon that was being investigated.” Reports of an unknown target that appeared to be traveling at extremely high speed were attributed to a radar operator’s erroneous “assumption that unrelated single returns [blips] appearing on the PPI [radar display] come from the same target.” [For example, during anomalous propagation conditions a blip might appear 10 miles east of the radar, then disappears on the next antenna scan 10 seconds later when a new blip appears 10 miles west of the radar. If a radar operator fails to recognize that these blips are the result of anomalous propagation and erroneously assumes that both blips were generated by a single target, then he can readily conclude that the target was flying at 7,200 miles/hour.] To familiarize radar operators and technicians with the problem, the USAF had produced a one-hour movie and the report told how to obtain a copy.

This spurious-target problem began to ease two decades ago when new military and civil radars began to use digital computers (processors) to perform “smart filtering.” As the use of this much-improved radar technology expanded, the number of “radar-UFO” reports has declined dramatically in recent years.


Some years ago, after an interview with an official of a major avionics company for an article on electronic warfare that I would write for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, he said he had read one of my UFO books and commented: “I used to create radar-UFOs when I was in the Air Force.” When I sought an explanation, he insisted on anonymity both for himself and his company, and I agreed. Mr. “X” explained that in his younger years he had been a radar technician/maintenance man in the USAF, assigned to air defense centers. Sometimes he would be assigned to the “graveyard shift,” from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., when there was scant civil or military air traffic to keep the radar operators occupied.

“The operators would be practically falling asleep in their chairs. If I had nothing better to do, I would slip into the room where the radar receiver and transmitter were located and incorrectly set the gain control of the MTI [moving target indicator]. This would generate spurious targets and send them zipping across several radar displays. When I returned to the operations room, it had come alive and operators were screaming about high-speed UFOs. I’d offer to check the radar and would then reset the MTI. Then when I returned I would report that I had checked and the radar seemed to be functioning properly. The next morning when the day-shift radar technician came in, he also would check the radar and report that it seemed to be OK.” I was so amused by Mr. “X’s” account that I forgot to ask him how many times he had created such "radar UFOs.”

UFO (Reportedly) “Swallows” Small Ultralight Craft In Flight

A small Ultralight-type aircraft and its pilot, flying low over a Burlington, Iowa, residential area in broad daylight, were reportedly gobbled up by a large cylindrical-shaped UFO, according to the lead story in the May issue of the MUFON UFO Journal. The case was investigated by Ms. Beverly Trout, MUFON’s state director for Iowa, assisted by two field investigator trainees. The incident reportedly occurred on Aug. 12, 1996, and the principal “witness” told Ms. Trout that he called the local newspaper the next morning to report the incident. But because he refused to provide his name, the reporter was not interested. The (alleged) witness—who is referred to as “John"—explained that he needed to remain anonymous because he was trying to get a job “with a sensitive installation in his area.”

It was not until more than a year later, on Nov. 24, 1997, that “John” reported the incident to Ms. Trout—four months after learning her name from an article published in the Des Moines Register. By this time “John” said he had accepted another job, but still did not want his name used in her MUFON report because he still hoped to obtain a position “with a sensitive installation.” Ms. Trout’s report does not indicate whether MUFON’s investigators tried to verify that “John” had applied for a position at a “sensitive installation.” Presumably no Ultralight pilot had been reported missing, but he could have been "regurgitated” by the UFO without any conscious memory of what had caused his “missing time.” According to Trout, a “major concern” was whether an Ultralight craft “could fit into a 20 ft. diameter cylinder,” which was “John’s” estimate of the UFO size. MUFON investigators concluded that it was possible.

“John” claimed that after seeing the UFO open its jaws-like nose section and swallow the small craft, he went into his house to get his son, who briefly watched the UFO before it had departed. When MUFON investigators asked to talk to the son, they were told that he was shy and did not want to be interviewed. Later, when the son was interviewed, he explained that his reluctance was due to his fear of the “Men in Black.” The witness’s “wife had also been very reluctant to have him report this incident.” Curiously, Trout said that "John” recently had again reported the incident to the Burlington newspaper and did give his name. But the incident has not been reported by the newspaper. However, MUFON’s state director concludes: “We believe, at this point in our assessment, that the primary witness and his son are credible.”

SUN Comment: If your next airline flight arrives late ("missing time”), conceivably your airliner was swallowed, and later regurgitated, by a giant UFO. We urge you to be skeptical if your pilot tries to blame the “missing time” on traffic congestion or bad weather.

Strieber’s New Book Focuses On “Alien Implants”

Whitley Strieber’s new book, “Confirmation,” reveals that he has adopted a different strategy to gain scientific credibility for UFOs since he published “Communion” in 1987 and its sequels, such as “Transformation” and “Breakthrough.” These previous books featured Strieber’s claims of his own wild encounters with “aliens” (ETs). For example, in “Breakthrough,” Strieber claimed that in mid-1993, he was visited by an ET who stayed for several months and slept in the guest room. Further, that the ET would awaken him several times during the night for joint “meditation sessions” [SUN #34/July 1995]. In that book, Strieber characterized these (alleged) personal experiences as “proof” and claimed it was “quite sufficient to pass the ‘reasonable man’ test.” In Strieber’s new book, most (but not all) of the weird experiences are attributed to others. He claims to have received more than 250,000 letters, including 30,000 which reported abduction-type experiences.

Strieber’s new book, subtitled “The Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us,” indicates that he is most impressed with “alien implants.” In “Communion,” Strieber told of ETs having insert-ed something into his brain—one of the first reports of an “alien implant.” In 1986, Strieber’s

psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Klein, suggested that Strieber undergo tests to determine if he was suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy, which can generate weird hallucinations. When the MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) showed white objects in temporal lobe, Strieber suspected they might be alien implants but, understandably, was unwilling to undergo surgery to have them removed for examination. In “Confirmation,” Strieber cites others whose tales are as exotic as those he reported in earlier books whose MRIs also showed white spots in the temporal lobe region of the brain.

Strieber details the “implant surgery” of Dr. Roger Leir, a California podiatrist, who on Aug. 19, 1995, removed two tiny objects from a woman’s big toe and an associate who removed a small object from the hand of a male subject. (Strieber concedes that “it isn’t all that uncommon for foreign objects to become embedded in feet and hands. So maybe these were just innocuous objects.”) On May 18, 1966, Dr. Leir and an unnamed surgeon removed BB-size objects from the legs of two women and a tiny triangular-shaped metal object from the jaw of a man. (When Dr. Leir reported on these “implant” surgeries at the 1996 MUFON conference in Greensboro, N.C., he said that rigorous analysis of the objects was expected shortly and the results would be reported promptly in respected scientific journals [SUN #41/Sept. 1996]. Two years have since elapsed without Leir’s promised publication. Strieber admits that “So far, none of the objects removed has appeared to be particularly unusual. All are made of known materials." More important, in SUN’s opinion, is the fact that not one of the “implants” ever recovered by Dr. Leir or anyone else has shown any evidence that it was fabricated by intelligent creatures for any useful purpose. Nor is there any pattern of “implant” locations. They range from toes to nostrils, and one man claims an implant in his penis.


Two years ago Strieber learned of an “abductee,” named Jesse Long, who claimed that he had been abducted as a young child in 1957—four years before the Betty/Barney Hill ab-duction incident. Jesse claimed that he and his brother had been abducted by “a tall man, very thin but human looking with large but otherwise normal eyes.” Jesse recalled experiencing pain in his left leg and a photo of young Jesse in Strieber’s book shows a scar on his left shin. In May of 1989, after reading Budd Hopkins’ book “Intruders,” Jesse became interested in “UFO abductions.” This, reportedly, prompted him to undergo surgery on his leg, which he had videotaped.

On June 18, 1996, Long visited Strieber in San Antonio and turned over to him what he said was the object that had been removed from his leg seven years earlier. Strieber admits: “When I first saw it, I was quite disappointed....It looked like nothing more than a sliver of glass.” The object was subjected to a variety of tests by Dr. William Mallow of the Southwest Research Institute, who reported that its composition was 99.3% silica. Strieber reports that Mallow was puzzled because the glass was electrically conductive, but provides no technical details.


On May 24, 1995, around 3:15 a.m., while Whitley and his wife Ann were sleeping in their cabin in upper-state New York, he reports being awakened by “the distinctive sound of car tires crunching on our gravel driveway outside....There was a locked gate halfway down the drive, well away from the house. But this car was here....Then I heard the garage door going up, which couldn’t happen without the alarm going off. But it was happening. As I opened my eyes, I heard a voice behind the house, on the opposite side of the driveway, say, quite clearly in the silence, ‘Condition Red.'” Shortly afterwards, Strieber reports, “two people moved into the room, a young woman in black, featureless clothing, and behind her a man, taller, with a full beard....They came close to the bed. The woman looked perfectly human....Somebody began doing something to my [left] ear, and all the while there was a voice speaking in a sort of singsong.”

The next day, Whitley noted that his left ear was sore and his wife noted it was red. Although there was no incision mark or scab, Strieber says: “I thought: implant.” However, it would be more than two years later, on Oct. 9, 1997, before Strieber opted for surgery. Two objects removed from his ear lobe were analyzed by Dr. Mallow. He reported that one of the objects was ordinary cartilage while the other appeared to be collagen with microscopic crystals. Strieber comments: “I could not conclude from my surgery and the analysis of the material removed if it was all natural and explainable or if it was really something unknown.” Less than three weeks after Strieber’s ear surgery, his surgeon underwent surgery to remove a lump from his back. Strieber said his surgeon subsequently informed him that the “small gray inclusion was unlike anything that the dermatologist had ever seen before.” Strieber was disappointed that the surgeon had not saved the “lump” for further analysis that might have revealed it to be an “alien implant.”


No UFO Tale Is Too Wild For Dr. Steven Greer, CSETI’s Director

Even those who support Dr. Steven Greer, the medical doctor whose Center for the Study of Exterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI) offers training courses in how to communicate with ETs [SUN #45/May 1997], are embarrassed by his wild claims and try to keep them under cover. For example, in late February CSETI’s Website carried the following item: “A recent attack by covert [U.S.] forces with a deadly Sarin-like nerve gas on the ET spaceport under 14,345 ft. Mount Blanca, Colorado, ended in disaster when the attacking forces were overcome by gas and a quarter of the personnel involved had to be medically evacuated.... According to Greer, around ‘30 people [in the CSETI group] saw ET craft flying nearby.’ Greer, and late-director Shari Adamiak, went up the trail alone, and ‘remote viewed the ETs inside the mountain.’ Came back down the trail to get the group and all went back up to spot where they had remote-viewed on the trail. People in the group saw Greer disappear in a ‘gold light’ which seemed to be coming from above them. Then, a ‘semi-circle of a dozen ET elders, all different sized,’ that were visible with the naked eye, surrounded Greer who seemed to then disappear. ETs ‘communed’ with Greer. They [ETs] said they were ‘under attack in the mountain by covert military forces.'”

One of Greer’s admirers—Steve Moreno—recognized that these claims would damage Greer’s credibility and communicated with Greer, who agreed to withdraw this report from CSETI’s Web-Site. Moreno then requested that anyone who had downloaded Greer’s wild report not distribute it. Moreno explained: “While there are tangents of truth to this incredible report, it is premature at this time for Dr. Greer to release such information...” Moreno expressed concern that Greer’s tale might jeopardize his effort to get Congress to hold an open hearing on Greer’s claim that the government is engaged in a UFO coverup.

Santilli Controversial Autopsy Movie (SCAM) Lawsuit Terminated

Kiviat Productions and Trimark Corp., who had acquired U.S. rights to Ray Santilli’s “Alien Autopsy” movie, have withdrawn their $60 million lawsuit against talk-show host Chuck Harder for selling a video which contained a few brief scenes from the TV show produced by Kiviat and shown on the Fox TV network in mid-1995. Their action avoided a Federal court decision on the validity of Santilli’s claimed copyright on film which he claims was shot by a U.S. Air Force cameraman, which would make it the property of the U.S. government.

Harder’s attorney, Robert Persante, also challenged the $60-million in damages which Kiviat and Trimark claimed they suffered, because Harder sold fewer than 6,000 copies of his video while Trimark sold 100,000 of its videos. After Harder/Persante filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Kiviat/Trimark case and require Kiviat and Trimark to underwrite Harder’s $150,000 legal expenses, attorneys for Kiviat and Trimark asked the court to dismiss their case with prejudice, meaning they could never refile their complaint. The court agreed to dismiss the Kiviat-Trimark case but suggested the two sides negotiate Harder’s request to be reimbursed for legal expenses.

Bob Shell, editor of Shutterbug magazine, who made his debut in the UFO field three years ago as an appraiser of Santilli’s Controversial Autopsy Movie (SCAM)—and who then said he was 95% confident that the movie was authentic—is now “leaning toward the conclusion that the Alien Autopsy movie is an elaborate hoax.” Shell told SUN that his current view “is based on Santilli’s behavior—not the film itself.” In mid-1995, according to Shell, Santilli agreed to provide him with a small film sample for analysis by Eastman Kodak [SUN #38/Mar. 1996], but has never done so. Also for several years Santilli has been promising to arrange an interview for Shell with the (alleged) SCAM cameraman, but it has never materialized. Shell says that Santilli refuses to accept his telephone calls and does not answer Shell’s E-mail messages. One of the first UFO researchers to denounce “Alien Autopsy” as a hoax was Kent Jeffrey, who coined the acronym SCAM (Santilli’s Controversial Autopsy Movie).

Lt. Col. Corso Agrees To Aid UFO-Lawyer Gersten In FOIA Litigation

UFO lawyer Peter Gersten says that former Lt. Col. Philip Corso has signed an affidavit attesting to the truth of claims made in his book, “The Day After Roswell,” to help Gersten press his recently filed Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Army. Corso’s affidavit affirms that he not only saw ET bodies in 1947, but that he saw their autopsy reports in 1961 while he worked in the Pentagon. Corso’s affidavit could result in his being called to testify under oath in Federal Court, subject to legal consequences for perjury.

Numerous false claims in Corso’s book which involve non-UFO matters were detailed in SUN #49/Jan. 1998, a copy of which we provided to Gersten. Another critical review of Corso’s claims, authored by UFO researcher Karl T. Pflock, was published in the July 1997 issue of the MUFON UFO Journal. It included a statement released by Sen. Strom Thurmond, saying Corso had misled him into writing an introduction for the book. Thurmond said: “I did not and would not [knowingly] pen the forward to a book about, or containing, a suggestion that the success of the United States in the Cold War is attributable to the technology found on a crashed UFO. I do not believe in UFOs, do not believe that the U.S. is in possession of such a vehicle, and do not believe that there has been any government cover-up of a UFO crash.”

If Gersten took time to read the once “SECRET” documents that the Central Intelligence Agency declassified and released in late 1979, in response to his FOIA request, Gersten should know that as a result of the July 1952 radar-UFO incidents near the nation’s capital, the White House asked the Director of the CIA to conduct an independent analysis of the UFO issue. (If an ET craft had been recovered in 1947 near Roswell, surely the President would have been promptly informed. And it is unlikely that the President would forget such an incident and request the CIA’s assessment of UFOs.) On Aug. 14-15, 1952, the CIA’s top officials were briefed on the results of the agency’s analysis of the USAF’s UFO data. The briefing offered several possible explanations for what UFOs might be, including the following: “The third theory is the man from Mars—space ships—interplanetary travelers. Even though we might admit that intelligent life may exist elsewhere and that space travel is possible, there is no shred of evidence to support this theory at present.” (Emphasis added.) Other once “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET” documents—some of which have been declassified for more than a decade—offer additional evidence that Corso’s Roswell claims are hogwash.

Short Shrift:

NOTE: Opinions expressed in SUN are those of its editor—unless otherwise noted—and do NOT necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he is affiliated—or his spouse. We thank DR. GARY POSNER for help in proofreading.

Philip J. Klass

Phil Klass was a UFO researcher with a background in electrical engineering. He was author of seven books on UFOs, including UFOs Explained and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. He was also editor of the SUN newsletter, a UFO-related publication.