Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Washington DC UFO “Merry-Go-Round”, the Australian connection and the VASCO “bright triple transient” event

Anyone who has an interest in UFOs, (or their current iteration UAP) should anchor themselves in serious historical scholarship.  I unashamedly highly recommend the massive book of excellent historical UFO/UAP scholarship, “UFOs and Government – A Historical Inquiry” (Anomalist Books, 2012) by “the UFO History Group”.  While it is heavily focused on the US experience, with principle authors Michael Swords and Robert Powell, ably supported by Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme and Jan Aldrich, and with heavy historical UFO/UAP scholarship on other parts of the planet from Clas Svahn (Sweden), Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos (Spain) and Bill Chalker (me, on Australia), and excellent photo/illustration editing from Steve Purcell, plus help and advice from William Murphy, Thomas Tulien and Franklin Woodward. 


From this excellent book, I have quoted extensively on its coverage of the famous July 1952 Washington DC UFO/UAP events, to give detailed, background context to two separate threads from that month – the Washington DC UFO “Merry-Go-Round” –  the Australian connection, and fascinating and puzzling VASCO find of “a bright triple transient that vanished within 50 minutes” on July 19, 1952.


Well now, from “UFOs and Government” some detailed, well researched historical context, but I urge you to get the book itself, because I’m only quoting parts of its Washington DC “Merry-Go-Round narrative.  There is much, much more.

The Washington DC UFO “Merry-Go-Round” from “UFOs and Government”


“We are now approaching a climactic event in UFO history. UFOs manifested themselves during two weekends in July (1952) over the nation’s capital and, in doing so, incited a chain of responses that would finally set the policy of government’s approach to the UFO phenomenon.”


The events got the tag the “Washington Merry-Go-Round.” “The Washington sightings are the most complicated and harried cases, perhaps, of all time. The Air Force was completely overwhelmed by the task of sorting things out and did a poor and very fragmentary job of doing so— concentrating nearly exclusively on the radar returns.”


1952, July 19:

“Meanwhile, between midnight and 1 a.m. there were several sightings recorded by Blue Book and the media up and down the East Coast. Around one o’clock, Washington National told a Capital Airlines pilot that radar indicated objects ahead. Vectored towards the objects, Captain Pierman described them as bright blue balls-of-light, six in number, hovering sometimes and rapidly moving at others. Back at National, Barnes’ radar saw both them and Capt. Pierman’s plane. The other National radar tracked a different object during this period. One of these tracks was good enough that the controllers thought that they could reasonably estimate speed: 7,100 mph.”


“Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., personnel at Andrews were tracking some unidentified objects and occasionally seeing them. There were also mistakes made visually, as excited airmen sometimes misinterpreted stars low to the horizon as unknown objects. One instance that was unlikely to be a mistake was an unidentified simultaneously detected on radar by Washington National, Andrews and Bolling AFB. The radar blip suddenly vanished from all three installations’ radars regardless of where it was. Soon thereafter, two Air Force interceptors flew into the area. We do not know what the Air Force thought about the coincidence, but it bothered ATC Harry Barnes. Once the interceptors left, the phenomenon returned sporadically until 5:30 a.m., when it finally ceased. Barnes, probably much to the Pentagon’s distress, had no qualms about talking to the newspapers:

“The only recognizable behavior pattern which occurred to me from watching the objects was that they acted like a bunch of small kids out playing. It was helter skelter, as if directed by some innate curiosity. At times they moved as a group or cluster, at other times as individuals over widely scattered areas.

“I could safely declare that they could make right angle turns and completely reverse their flight.

“I’m positive they were guided by some intelligence. If no planes were in the air, the things would fly over the most likely points of interest—Andrews Field, the aircraft plant at Riverdale, the (Washington) Monument, or the Capitol. One or two circled our radio beacons. But as soon as an airliner took off, several would dart across and start to follow, as if to look it over.”


“A spokesman of the Civil Aeronautics Administration gave an opinion that the Washington sightings could have been “weather.” Barnes et al. disagreed with this severely, and for years afterwards. The Air Force then denied to the press that Andrews AFB had ever tracked the unknowns, again lying in the interests of national security. Inside the Air Force, Mitchell AFB, New York, complained about having to deal with too many UFO reports while McGuire AFB, New Jersey, publicly encouraged people to report any sightings. Television coverage of the Democratic National Convention was actually interrupted to report on UFO sightings.

Lastly, on the Friday of that frenetic week, the Washington Post stated:

Until now, the strongest argument against the objective reality of the flying saucers has been the absence of any support by radar observation. At last, however, that argument has been removed . . . [T]he best advice at this point would be to keep your mind open—and your fingers crossed.

“Everyone who paid attention was on edge. And so, that weekend, “they” came again.”

1952, July 26:

“At 8:15 p.m. on the evening of the 26th, Captain Berkow of National Airlines saw several objects that approached him from an altitude higher than his plane. He, and one of the stewardesses, saw several burning orange-red objects sail directly overhead. At 8:22 p.m. both Washington National and Andrews AFB had about twelve unknown objects on their radarscopes. These were tracked intermittently with occasional visual sightings almost to 9:00 p.m.Between 9:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. a B-25, which was coincidentally inthe air, was vectored to look for the unidentified objects. It was the B-25crew’s opinion that the radars must have picked up reflections of somesort from ground objects, as they saw nothing.

Somehow, the press was already alerted. Bob Ginna, the now-famous UFO-writer from Life Magazine, called Edward Ruppelt in Dayton to tell him that things were breaking loose in Washington again, and that Life, and several other media outlets, had reporters right in the National Air Traffic Control Tower watching the action as it happened. Ruppelt immediately phoned Fournet, who rounded up a Navy radar expert named Holcomb, and left for the tower. Public Information Officer Al Chop was already there. This must have been a surrealistic moment for the Pentagon. Their policy was, in part, management of public information with an emphasis on never encouraging overexcitement about the reality of unexplained phenomena. Yet here were national media reporters, in the presence of radar experts and even Air Force personnel, watching activities over the nation’s capital in real time. It would seem to be an unsolvable news management problem.


“Once again, the amount of action taking place was hard to get one’s mind (or one’s radars) around.

“We, surprisingly, have some portions of transmission transcripts between Washington National and Andrews, and, to give some of the flavor, here is a piece:


Washington Tower: Andrews Tower, do you read? Did you have an airplane in sight west-northwest or east of your airport east-bound?

Andrews: No, but we just got a call from the Center. We’re looking for it.

Washington Tower: We’ve got a big target showing up on our scope. He’s just coming in on the west edge of your airport—the northwest edge of it eastbound.

Andrews: What happened to your target now?

Washington Tower: He’s still eastbound. He went directly over Andrews Field and is now five miles east.

Andrews: Where did he come from?

Washington Tower: We picked him up ourselves at about seven miles east, slightly southeast, and we have been tracking him ever since then. The Center has been tracking him farther than that.

Andrews: Was he waving in his course?Washington Tower: Holding steady, due east heading.

Andrews: This is Andrews. Our radar tracking says he’s got a big fat target out there northeast of Andrews. He says he’s got two more south of the field.

Washington Tower: Yes, well the Center has about four or five around the Andrews Range Station. The Center is working a National Airliner—the Center is working him and vectoring him around his target. He went around Andrews. He saw one of them—looks like a meteor (garbled) . . . went by him . . . or something. He said he’s got one about three miles off the right wing right now. There are so many targets around here it is hard to tell as they are not moving very fast.

Andrews: What about his altitude?

Washington Tower: Well, must be over 8,000 feet as we don’t have him on radar any more.


“Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. there were many radar incidents, often of multiple returns. Andrews got some visuals. At 10:30 p.m., a chaplain of the Edgewood Arsenal in nearby Annapolis, Maryland saw a flyover. He described it as like a bolide (red-orange ball-of-fire traveling at jet-speed in a straight line). At 10:46 p.m., a CAA flight instructor saw five orange balls-of-light. At 10:52 p.m. all radar returns simply vanished. At this point, with code-based communications passing between pilots and towers, the press was asked to leave. Al Chop also, belatedly, thought that this was too big a deal to have the press witness everything as it occurred. At 11:22 p.m., the blips were back on the radar. The two jets were still in the vicinity and Lt. W.L. Patterson was directed to return. He saw four bright lights ahead. What happened next is not found in the Project Blue Book files. So that the reader knows (since this is rather astounding), our information comes from a taped interview with Al Chop, the Air Force’s Public Information Officer who was in the Tower at the time. Chop said that Patterson was pushing his plane, attempting, unsuccessfully, to close on the objects, when suddenly they approached and surrounded his position. The radar operators saw this, too. This situation, understandably, scared Patterson quite badly, and he radioed the Tower for advice on what he should do. No one had any ideas. After some frightening moments of silence, the objects (always appearing as balls-of-light) moved away and left him behind.

When Dewey Fournet and Lt. Holcomb arrived at Washington National at about midnight, blips from the unknowns still frequented the radar screens. Holcomb checked the sets and the returns and pronounced at least seven of the blips as “solid.” He called for weather data, and although he noted a small temperature inversion at about 1000 feet, he said this could not produce these effects due to “false echoes.” Holcomb, Fournet, and everyone else in the Tower agreed that these returns were not like weather-influenced illusions, and strongly resembled those coming from solid metallic objects. Fournet noted that there were weather-related returns elsewhere on the scopes and that they were noticeably different, and that no one paid any attention to them. Here are two formal quotes given to Fournet by the two groups of controllers to put into his report:

1. Washington National:

ARTC crew commented that, as compared with unidentified targets picked up in the early hours of 20 July 52, these returns appeared to be haphazard in their actions, i.e. they did not follow a/c around nor did they cross the scope consistently on the same general heading. Some commented that the returns appeared to be from objects ‘capable of dropping out of the pattern at will.’ Also that returns had a ‘creeping appearance.’ One just ‘disappeared from the scope’ shortly after the F-94 started pursuing. All crew members were emphatic that most unidentified returns were ‘solid.’ Finally, it was mentioned that unidentified returns had been picked up from time to time over the past few months but never before had they appeared in such quantities over such a prolonged period and with such definition as the experiences on the nights of 19/20 and 26/27 July 52.

2. Andrews AFB:

We observed and noted a great many targets, some of which later were identified as aircraft (conventional). We continued to maintain sharp lookout and observed targets following very erratic courses, sometimes appearing to stop, then reverse course, accelerating momentarily, and then slowing down. Target sightings were all coordinated with Washington ARTC and verified, using radar facilities.

Another peculiarity noted was the sudden disappearance of targets then suddenly reappearing 8-10 miles further along the same course.


“The Washington sightings produced two of the most significant occurrences in UFO history: one, internal to the intelligence community, was the direct involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in an attempt to get this problem under control; two, in the realm of the public, was a major press conference featuring Air Force Director of Intelligence John Samford himself.”


“When the conference ended, Donald Keyhoe had easily seen through what Samford had tried to do, but Samford’s ruse was successful with most of the reporters. The flying saucers and any threat that might accompany them seemed unreal. Keyhoe even wrote admiringly that the Air Force officers had gone through the stress of the press conference and “obviously they had acted for the good of the country.” Ruppelt was a bit more terse and pragmatic, saying that it “got the press off our back.”


“After the press conference, Donald Keyhoe began to receive unlikely cooperation from persons high up in the Pentagon, through his contact, Al Chop, at the press desk. This support, which included the release of high quality selective case reports directly from Project Blue Book, could almost be called deliberate leaks. It is not known exactly who the Pentagon higher-ups were who authorized this, whether it was official, or if so what their agenda was. The leaks were going on precisely while the CIA was intensely seeking UFO information from the Air Force authorities. Keyhoe even received a magazine draft on the subject of extraterrestrial migration to other planets such as Earth, by a Pentagon officer, Colonel O’dell.”


A excellent new book “Against the Odds – Major Donald E. Keyhoe and His Battle to End UFO Secrecy” by Linda Powell (Anomalist Book, 2023) get heavily into all that and a whole lot more. I’ve have been reading it and highly recommend it. It opens with this question:

“From where did the widespread belief come that UFOs represent extraterrestrial technology and the government is hiding this truth from us? The man perhaps most responsible for these twin pillars of current UFO belief is Donald E. Keyhoe.”

The Australian connection


Now, I should have included the Australian connection with the Washington DC UFO “Merry-Go-Round” in my contribution to “UFOs and Government”, but I was concentrating on what was happening “down under” in “Oz” (Australian and the region).  Read my chapter “The Australian Military and the Official Government Response”. 

Probably current incumbents in Australian military, politics & intelligence might even get something out of it, given their current public myopic views.


I revisited this connection when I was re-examining my interview notes with Australian Defence Intelligence scientist Harry Turner taken in July 2001. While focusing on his deep involvement in “sub rosa” interests in the Australian UFO experience.  He knew and worked with the Maralinga/Woomera range superintendent, army officer Colonel Richard Durance from 1956.  Durance told him that as an Army Major he was preparing for his role as Australian Army liaison officer in Washington DC during 1952. Durance said he was a witness to the 1952 Washington sightings.  Turner told me that Durance possibly knew someone, as he was invited into the Washington Tower room apparently on both Saturdays, the first session described as fairly open, with only limited restricted discussion. The next Saturday, “outsiders” were embargoed.  He was permitted to stay. Turner told me, Durance “was absolutely convinced, not our side, (they were) beyond known Defence capabilities.”

Colonel Richard Dick Durance Source Par Oneri Number 12
The Journal of the Royal Australian Corps of Transport

(From a recent Powerpoint lecture I gave on Harry Turner)

When I was able to organise an Australian Disclosure videoed interview with Harry Turner on 9 June, 2004 (the Australian Disclosure representative Dominic McNamara) the Durance story was addressed.  Unfortunately, the Australian Disclosure video has since been lost. Luckily I was also running my own video of the interview as a backup and got a digital transfer copy done recently.

Harry Turner during the 2004 interview

From my video copy:

Harry Turner: I had an interesting interlude with the range commander, a chap named Dick Durance, who had previously been the Army Attache in Washington at the time of the July sightings – the Washington sightings … there were 2 consecutive Saturday nights, the second Saturday night he had been asked out to, into the radar room to see the thing, and he was totally impressed, and totally convinced.

Bill Chalker: So Durance was actually in the radar room during the Washington flap?

Harry Turner: Yes… 

(After stopping due to a person using a chain saw in the garden, the Durance story continued)

B C: We were talking principally about Durance.

H T: Yeah, he was very impressed with the sighting.

B C: Did he talk directly to you about it?

H T: Oh yes, we were like, directly across across a desk.

B C: So what did he have to say about the Washington sighting?

Harry Turner: Well certainly it convinced him, he was absolutely positive that these were something that were real.  I don’t know how much he knew about radar.  He didn’t say anything about that.  Probably as an army man like that, he probably didn’t know much about it.  He had, sort of, trained people with him, because there were a number of PPIs, I presume they still call PPIs in those days.  They had a number they were sharing and he was (there – unclear) hours long, many hours, so he would have had time to discuss it with a lot of people … this was the time when the newspaper people were kept out.  The first Saturday night the media was allowed in, strangely enough. The second time they were kept out on some pretext, but the military people they had a clear go….


So Harry Turner confirmed the basics of Durance’s possible presence in the Washington DC radar room during July 1952.  Maybe further research will confirm this story through Army Attache records or through Durance family records.


The VASCO “bright triple transient” event


Beatriz Villarroel, assistant professor of Physics, Stockholm University, drew attention to a July 19 1952 possible correlation or coincidence in an article on The Conversation web site, entitled “UFOs: how astronomers are searching the sky for alien probes near Earth”, published December 7, 2023.


She wrote,

“How can we test whether there are extra terrestrial probes near Earth, and whether they can be tied to the possible UFO phenomenon? There are many options. Analysing materials from potentially crashed UFOs could give irrefutable proof. This would require state-of-the-art techniques to determine if these wrecks exhibit exotic or distinctly different characteristics of manufacture.

“Obtaining such exotic samples, if they indeed exist, may prove challenging – they are rumoured to be in the hands of private companies. But newly proposed legislation might offer a solution to that problem in United States by mandating that all artificial materials from any non-human intelligence be surrendered to the US government.

In the projects I lead, we are searching for artificial non-human objects by looking for short light flashes in the night sky. Short flashes typically occur when a flat, highly reflective surface — such as a mirror or glass — reflects sunlight. It could, however, also result from an artificial object emitting its own internal light.

“Such short light flashes sometimes repeat and follow a straight line as the object tumbles in space during its orbit around the Earth. This is why satellites often appear as repeating light flashes in images.

“Historical photographic plates taken before the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 have revealed the presence of nine light sources (transients) that appear and vanish within an hour in a small image, defying astronomical explanations. In some cases, the transient light sources are even aligned, just like when short flashes come from moving objects.

“The most recent finding of this kind shows three bright stars in an image dated July 19, 1952 (coincidentally, the same time as the famous Washington UFO flyovers). The three stars were never seen again.”

That paper describing this finding, A bright triple transient that vanished within 50 minutes by Enrique Solano, Geo rey W. Marcy, Beatriz Villarroel, Stefan Geier,

Alina Streblyanska, Gianluca Lombardi, Rudolf E. Bär, Vitaly N. Andruk, can be read at this link:

From "A bright triple transient that vanished with 50 minutes by Solano
Coincidence or a connection? Perhaps the famous Washington DC July 1952

 UFO milieu has a bigger story to be revealed.


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