Kenneth Arnold

From Academic Kids

Kenneth Arnold made what is generally considered the first major UFO sighting.

On June 24 1947, Arnold — a private pilot from Boise, Idaho and part time Search and Rescue Mercy Flyer — reported seeing nine unusual objects flying in a chain near Mount Rainier while he was searching for a missing military airplane in his CallAir A-2. He described the objects as almost blindingly bright when they reflected the sun's rays, their flight as "erratic" ("like the tail of a Chinese kite"), and flying at "tremendous speed". Arnold's story was widely reported by the Associated Press and other news outlets, and is usually credited as the catalyst for modern UFO interest.

Shortly after his sighting Arnold landed in Yakima, Washington where he made a routine report to a Civil Aeronautics Administration representative. When he stopped on his way back to Boise to refuel in Pendleton, Oregon, he repeated his story to a group of curious listeners which included a newspaper reporter. Several years later, Arnold claimed he told the reporter that "they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water" and that was how the term "flying saucer" was born. Another commonly used term to describe the objects arising from the Arnold sighting was "flying disks" (or "discs"). Arnold felt that he had been misquoted since the description referred to the objects' motion rather than their shape.

Missing image
Kenneth Arnold's drawing to Army Air Force (AAF) intelligence, July 12, 1947
However the truth of Arnold's shape description is more complicated. Immediately after his sighting, he generally described the objects as thin and flat, rounded in the front but chopped in the back and coming to a point, i.e., more or less saucer- or disk-like. E.g., in a radio interview two days after his sighting, he described them as looking "something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear." ([1] ( In a United Press story the same day he was quoted saying, "They were shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them." In the Portland Oregon Journal the following day, Arnold's quoted description was "They were half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. ...they looked like a big flat disk."

In a written statement to Army Air Force (AAF) intelligence on July 12, Arnold several times referred to the objects as "saucer-like." At the end of the report he drew a picture of what the objects appeared to look like at their closest approach to Mt. Rainier. He wrote, "They seemed longer than wide, their thickness was about 1/20th their width."

Missing image
Kenneth Arnold showing crescent-shaped object
To complicate the story further, a month after his sighting, Arnold was to become involved in the bizarre Maury Island incident. In a meeting with two AAF intelligence officers, Arnold first revealed one of the nine objects was different, being larger and shaped more like a crescent coming to a point in the back (see picture at right).

Regardless, in the weeks that followed, several thousand reports of similar sightings flooded in from the U.S. and around the world — most of which described saucer-shaped objects. A sighting by a United Airlines crew of nine, disk-like objects over Idaho on July 4 probably garnered more newspaper coverage than Arnold's original sighting, and opened the floodgates of media coverage in the days to follow.

Adding intrigue to Arnold's story, the U.S. military denied having any planes at all in the area of Mount Rainier at the time of his sighting. Likewise, on July 6, speculation arose in newspaper articles that the objects being sighted were due to either the "flying wing" or "flying flapjack," a disc-shaped aircraft, both experimental planes under development by the U.S. military at the time (see military flying saucers). The military repeated that neither aircraft could account for the sightings.

The most famous UFO event during this period was the Roswell UFO incident, the alleged military recovery of a crashed flying disk, the story of which broke on July 8. To calm rising public concern, this and other cases were debunked by the military in succeeding days as mistaken sightings of weather balloons.

Despite this public debunkery, on July 9 AAF intelligence secretly began an investigation of the best sightings, with help from the FBI. Arnold's sighting, as well as that of the United Airline's crew, were included in the list of best sightings. Three weeks later they came to the conclusion that the saucer reports were not imaginary or adequately explained by natural phenomena; something real was flying around. This laid the groundwork for another intelligence estimate in September 1947 by Gen. Nathan Twining, commanding officer of the Air Materiel Command, which likewise concluded the saucers were real and urged a formal investigation by multiple government agencies. This is turn resulted in the formation of Project Sign at the end of 1947, the first publicly acknowledged USAF UFO investigation. Project Sign eventually evolved into the better known Project Blue Book.

One unusual aspect of Arnold's sighting that sets it apart from most is that Arnold calculated the speed of the objects by timing how long it took them to fly between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, 50 miles to the south. The objects faded out in the distance near Mt Adams after 1 minute and 42 seconds, yielding a computed speed of over 1700 miles an hour. Arnold conservatively rounded this down to 1200 miles an hour, still far faster than any manned aircraft of the time, which had yet to break the sound barrier . It was this supersonic speed in addition to the unusual saucer or disk description that seemed to capture people's attention.

Arnold's sighting was partly corroborated by a prospector on Mt. Adams, who wrote AAF intelligence that he saw six of the objects on June 24 at about the same time as Arnold, which he viewed through a small telescope. He said they were "round" and tapered "sharply to a point in the head and in an oval shape." An evaluation of the witness by AAF intelligence found him to be credible. A Seattle newspaper also mentioned a woman near Tacoma who said she saw a chain of nine, bright objects flying at high speed near Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately this short news item wasn't precise as to time or date, but indicated it was around the same date as Arnold's sighting. However, a pilot of a DC-4 some 10-15 miles north of Arnold en route to Seattle reported seeing nothing unusual.

Nevertheless, Arnold was an experienced pilot who apparently had nothing to gain by fabricating the story. Indeed, he did not seem to enjoy the ensuing publicity, later remarking "none of us appreciate being laughed at." Furthermore, his description remained fairly consistent.

In a 1950 interview with journalist Edward R. Murrow, Arnold reported seeing similiar objects on three other occasions, and said other pilots flying in the northwestern U.S. had sighted such objects as many as eight times. The pilots initially felt a duty reporting the objects despite the ridicule, he said, because they thought the U.S. government didn't know what they were. Arnold did not assert that the objects were alien spacecraft, although he did say: "being a natural-born American, if it's not made by our science or our Army Air Forces, I am inclined to believe it's of an extra-terrestrial origin." Then he added that he thought everybody should be concerned, but "I don't think it's anything for people to get hysterical about." The extra-terrestrial speculation may have been motivated by a desire to allay public fears of the (seemingly) real possibility of a foreign invasion--Arnold's sighting was less than two years after the end of World War II and in the early stages of the cold war.

In 1952 Kenneth Arnold described his experiences in the book The Coming of the Saucers, which he and a publisher friend named Raymond Palmer published themselves.

External links

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