gleefully clapped their hands. The gleeful handclaps were from those people who wanted the UFO's to be socially recognized, and they believed that if they couldn't talk their ideas into being they might be able to force them in with the help of this type of publicity.
The temporary lull in reporting that Project Blue Book had experienced in early July proved to be only the calm before the storm. By mid-July we were getting about twenty reports a day plus frantic calls from intelligence officers all over the United States as every Air Force installation in the U.S. was being swamped with reports. We told the intelligence officers to send in the ones that sounded the best.
The build-up in UFO reports wasn't limited to the United States-- every day we would receive reports from our air attaches in other countries. England and France led the field, with the South American countries running a close third. Needless to say, we didn't investigate or evaluate foreign reports because we had our hands full right at home.
Most of us were putting in fourteen hours a day, six days a week. It wasn't at all uncommon for Lieutenant Andy Flues, Bob Olsson, or Kerry Rothstien, my investigators, to get their sleep on an airliner going out or coming back from an investigation. TWA airliners out of Dayton were more like home than home. But we hadn't seen anything yet.
All the reports that were coming in were good ones, ones with no answers. Unknowns were running about 40 percent. Rumors persist that in mid-July 1952 the Air Force was braced for an expected invasion by flying saucers. Had these rumormongers been at ATIC in mid-July they would have thought that the invasion was already in full swing. And they would have thought that one of the beachheads for the invasion was Patrick AFB, the Air Force's Guided Missile Long-Range Proving Ground on the east coast of Florida.
On the night of July 18, at ten forty-five, two officers were standing in front of base operations at Patrick when they noticed a light at about a 45-degree angle from the horizon and off to the west. It was an amber color and "quite a bit brighter than a star." Both officers had heard flying saucer stories, and both thought the light was a balloon. But, to be comedians, they called to several more officers and airmen inside the operations office and told them to come out and "see the flying saucer." The people came out and looked. A few were surprised and took the mysterious light seriously, at the expense of considerable laughter from the rest of the group. The discussion about the light grew livelier and bets that it was a balloon were placed. In the meantime the light had drifted over the base, had stopped for about a minute, turned, and was now heading
north. To settle the bet, one of the officers stepped into the base weather office to find out about the balloon. Yes, one was in the air and being tracked by radar, he was told. The weather officer said that he would call to find out exactly where it was. He called and found out that the weather balloon was being tracked due west of the base and that the light had gone out about ten minutes before. The officer went back outside to find that what was first thought to be a balloon was now straight north of the field and still lighted. To add to the confusion, a second amber light had appeared in the west about 20 degrees lower than where the first one was initially seen, and it was also heading north but at a much greater speed. In a few seconds the first light stopped and started moving back south over the base.
While the group of officers and airmen were watching the two lights, the people from the weather office came out to tell the UFO observers that the balloon was still traveling straight west. They were just in time to see a third light come tearing across the sky, directly overhead, from west to east. A weatherman went inside and called the balloon-tracking crew again--their balloon was still far to the west of the base.
Inside of fifteen minutes two more amber lights came in from the west, crossed the base, made a 180-degree turn over the ocean, and came back over the observers.
In the midst of the melee a radar set had been turned on but it couldn't pick up any targets. This did, however, eliminate the possibility of the lights' being aircraft. They weren't stray balloons either, because the winds at all altitudes were blowing in a westerly direction. They obviously weren't meteors. They weren't searchlights on a haze layer because there was no weather conducive to forming a haze layer and there were no searchlights. They could have been some type of natural phenomenon, if one desires to take the negative approach. Or, if you take the positive approach, they could have been spaceships.
The next night radar at Washington National Airport picked up UFO's and one of the most highly publicized sightings of UFO history was in the making. It marked the beginning of the end of the Big Flap.