City Desk

Maybe UFO in Centreville Was a ‘Temperature Inversion’?

Egads! Sort-of breaking news from Grover's Mill, N.J., err, Centreville, Va., from earlier this week. Blue lights were moving erratically over Lee Highway! It was caught on camera, too.

Was it a UFO? Or something else?

The most famous D.C.-area UFO sightings were during July 1952, when air traffic control at National Airport picked up some unusual "radar blips." The sightings increased during the month as did the public intrigue. One U.S. Air Force official, at a press conference trying to explain what may have happened, said the lights were likely a "temperature inversion."

According to How Stuff Works, "[t]his 'explanation' got absolutely no support from those who had seen the objects either in the air or on the radar screens, and the U.S. Weather Bureau, in a little-noted statement, rejected the theory. In fact, the official Air Force position, which it had successfully obscured, was that the objects were 'unknowns.'"

On July 28, 1952, The Washington Post ran with the headline, "'Saucer' Outran Jet, Pilot Reveals," reporting that "a jet pilot sent up by the Air Defense Command to investigate the objects reported he was unable to overtake the glowing lights moving near Andrews Air Force Base."

The Post's Paul Sampson wrote at the time:

Although "unidentified objects" have been picked up on radar before, the incidents of the last two [S]aturdays are believed to be the first time the objects have been picked up on radar-while visible to the human eye.

Besides the pilots, who last [S]aturday saw the lights, a woman living on Mississippi Ave., told the Post she saw a very "bright light streaking across the sky towards Andrews Air Force Base about 11:45 PM. Then a second object with a tail like a comet whizzed by, and a few seconds later, a third passed in a different direction toward Suntland [sic], she said.

Radar operators plotted the speed of "saturday night's visitors" at from 38 to 90 mph, but one jet pilot reported faster speeds for the light he saw.

The jet pilot reported he had no apparent "closing speed" when he attempted to reach the lights he saw near Andrews Air Force Base. That means the lights were moving atleast as fast as his top speed-a maximum of 600 mph.

One person who saw the lights when they first appeared in this area did not see them last night. He is E.W. Chambers, an engineer at Radio Station WRC, who spotted the lights while working early the morning of July 20 at station's Hyattsville tower.

Chamber's said he was sorry he had seen the lights because he had been skeptical about "flying saucers" before. Now he said, he sort of "wonders" and worrys [sic] about the whole thing.

Are they back? Are UFOs subject to Fortress Washington's protected airspace? Or is that why the sighting was out in Centreville?

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  • dave

    wow, thanks for the thoughtful article. it would be nice to see this subject get serious treatment like this from the mainstream media establishment. perhaps even *gasp* an actual investigation into a case by a professional journalist. the Centreville sighting might be a place to start. any takers?

  • David

    First multiple sightings in China and now multiple ones in the US - New York, El Paso, Richmond and this in Centreville. Looks like the aliens are targeting the two largest economies. Maybe they think it is time for the truth to come out. It is the US military/intelligence community that does not want the truth about advanced aliens visiting from outer space to be revealed, since that would undermine US military and economic dominance of the world. This elaborate coverup has been going on for almost 60 years. See for more info

  • Frank

    DC '52 was an incredible case. It is also the only UFO case that led directly to a definitively documented White House meeting, clearly substantiated on President Harry S. Truman's calendar and available in his presidential library's online archives to this day.

  • Richard

    Not mentioned in the article was the fact that when the jets appeared on the radar in 52, the 'temperature inversions' disappeared from the radar. When the jets turned back, as soon as they disappeared from the radar, the 'temperature inversions' reappeared on the screen to continue their agenda. Further not mentioned was how during one of the attempted intercepts, one of the F-94s was surrounded by the 'temperature inversions' for a short period before they streaked off into the night, leaving the pilot quite rattled. The conclusion we are left to draw from this: 'temperature inversions' are obviously a direct threat to national security. Too bad the air force official who conducted the press conference concerning these incidents back then didn't just state that. Instead, the officer did what the military always does in these instances- he said nothing in fifty thousand words or less.

  • Bruce Maccabee

    Want more info on the 1952 DC sightings and the huge "flap" of sightings in the summer of 1952? See
    or go to the above website and scoll down to "The Legacy of 1952"

  • katwoman

    How the heck does a temperature inversion cause a blue light? The science doesn't make sense to me. White from reflections off of ice maybe, and maybe even red from the slower wavelength, but bright blue?