The 1947 Sighting of Kenneth Arnold


On 24 June 1947, Kenneth Arnold was flying near Mt. Rainier on a business trip from Chehalis to Yakima Washington in a light aircraft when he spotted a string of nine shiny, flying objects that seemed to skip around like a rock skipping on a water pound.

Arnold estimated the objects to traveling at speeds up to 1,200 miles per hour.  These objects were flying from Kenneth’s left to the right of the aircraft and then they disappeared out of sight.

He referred to these objects as “saucers” skipping across a pond.  When the news media got hold of the story, someone coined the term “flying saucers”.  Thus for about 73 years, the term flying saucer became a standard for identifying something seen in the sky that was not immediately identifiable.  A new phenomenon was born from the 1947 sighting of Kenneth Arnold.

The Sighting

Kenneth Arnold departed from Chablis, Washington, which is near the coast of Washington state, at about 1415 hrs heading east to Yakima, Washington which is east of Mount Rainier.

The skies were clear and the wind was light at all levels.   He diverted from his intended route which would have taken him well south of Mt. Rainier to help search for a United States Marine Corps C-46 transport that had crashed near Mt. Rainier.  There was a financial reward to anyone spotting the downed aircraft.

The new route took him closer to Mt. Rainier in search of the C-46.  But he had no success in spotting the USMC aircraft so, around 1500 hrs, he turned southeast to resume his flight at 9,200 feet to Yakima.

Then there was a bright flash of light, similar to the sun shining on a mirror or polished metal.  He scanned all around him, thinking it was another aircraft very close to him.  There was a DC-4, 15 miles behind him and heading west.

Then about 30 seconds after seeing the first flash, Arnold saw a series of bright flashes off to his left or north of Mt. Rainier that he estimated to be about 20-25 miles away.

At first, Kenneth thought these bright objects might be a reflection on his window, so after conducting a few tests such as rocking the wings, removing his sunglasses and opening his side window, the bright objects remained there still as unknown flying objects (UFO).

He also thought they might be a new military jet aircraft but they had no tail and their speed was much faster than the new “jet aircraft” of that day.  Their shape, he said,  varied from time to time as he observed their flight.  Some of them were very thin,  others thicker like a pie tin or coffee cup saucer.

The object’s size was surprisingly large, maybe  3/4 the size of a DC-4 (a 4 engine airliner of the day), a little over 100 ft in circumference, as Arnold said they had to be that large to be seen at 20-25 miles away.

They were flying in an echelon formation.  This gave the impression of a military-type experimental aircraft, Arnold said.  As Arnold flew eastward, the nine objects were flying southbound from his left to his right.  Then he made a 90-degree course change to the south to be flying parallel with them.

Then another check, as he opened the side window so as not to have any reflection on the windscreen as he watched with amazement the objects flying by, 20-25 miles away.

American_Airlines_NC90423.jpg (1740×1160)
Douglas DC-4

They moved from Mt. Rainier south to Mt. Adams a distance of approximately 50 miles.  Kenneth noted on the aircraft clock on the instrument panel the time the objects were over  Mt Rainier and the time they disappeared over Mt. Adams was one minute and 42 seconds.

Kenneth Tells His Story

Kenneth told his friend and Airport Manager Al Baxter of his sighting.  At first, Al didn’t believe him but later on would accept Arnold’s story. The word that got around the airport,  was the objects flew at an incredible speed and their “saucer” shape.  This would sweep the nation in its time.

Kenneth Arnold in a few days flew to Pendelton, Oregon to an air show.  This is were he calculated initially, in the pilot briefing room, that the objects were traveling at 1,700 miles per hour.  He was not one hundred percent sure of the exact distance between Mt. Rainier and Mt Adams  As often can happen in initial witnessing of an event, the facts changed and he re-evaluated the object’s speed to be about 1,200 mph.

(Note:  At this time (1947) no one in the world had flown faster than the sound barrier of approximately  750 miles per hour depending on altitude and other meteorological conditions.)

Although many of his friends were skeptical, he wrote to the Army Air Force Intelligence of his experience.  They did not laugh or ridicule him but suggested that he had seen perhaps a new guided missile or some other new aircraft.

(Although there wasn’t a lot of aviation testing areas in the United States in 1947, except Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton Ohio and some areas in the Southwest Desert, (no Area 51 yet!), why would the military be testing new aviation equipment in Washington-Oregon, a fairly populated area? New (maybe secret) aircraft would be tested away from the public to preserve the secrecy of the test aircraft.

Arnold talked with some former World War II pilot friends about these experiences, and they told him that they had been briefed about similar objects, that he was describing, before combat missions during the War;  Arnold said: “that this made him feel better and that I wasn’t dreaming or going crazy”.

Then next day June 25, that he was interviewed by Mike Dash of the East Oregonian after Arnold told Dash his story,  Dash said

     “Arnold had the makings of a reliable witness, he was a respected businessman and experienced pilot…. and seemed to neither exaggerate what he had seen or adding sensational ideas to his report.  He also gave the impression of a careful observer…  These details impressed the newspaperman who interviewed him (Mike Dash) and lent credibility to his report.”

Arnold soon complained about the publicity now on his life such as a preacher told him this was the beginning of “doomsday”, a woman who saw him left shrieking from a cafe “this man has seen men from Mars”.

Kenneth said “I haven’t had a moment of peace since I told my story.  This whole thing has gotten out of hand.  Half the people look at me as Einstein, Flash Gordon or a screwball.  I wonder what my wife thinks about all of this back in Idaho”.

However, Kenneth Arnold was the “man of the hour” and was interviewed by the Chicago Times, Arnold said:

     “I am not so certain that the strange contraptions are made on this planet ”  He went on to say “I hope the devices are the work of the United States Army. I  hope if our government knows anything about these devices the people should be told at once.  A lot of people out here are very much disturbed”.

     “Some think that these things may be from another planet  But they are not harming anyone, I think it would be the wrong thing to shoot one of them down–even if it could be done”.  Arnold continued:  “If these discs are possibly from another world, but regardless of their origin, they were apparently traveling to some reachable destination”. 

     “Whoever was controlling them obviously wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.  I observed that the discs were making turns so abruptly in rounding peaks it would have been impossible for human pilots to survive the pressure (of the maneuver).    I too think that they are controlled from elsewhere, regardless of whether it is Mars, Venus or our own planet”.

Then  on 19 July 1947, Associated Press published an interview with Kenneth Arnold:

“The ex-Minnesota swimmer and football player says he believes:
1.  The disks are not from any foreign country.
2.  The Army could give the answer if it would—   
if they don’t have            the explanation now they certainly could do something to find out.
3.  If the Army has no explanation then the disks must be—and I                 know this sounds crazy—from another planet.

In an April 1949  article in the Saturday Evening Post, “What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers”, Kenneth Arnold was quoted:

     “Since my first observation of the so-called ‘flying disks’, I have spent a great deal of time and money thoroughly investigating the subject.  There is no doubt in my mind but these objects are aircraft of strange design and material that is unknown to the civilization of the earth.”

The article continued:

     “Arnold himself has been conducting a one-man campaign to prove that he did see something out of the ordinary that day over Mount Rainier.  Arnold has written other articles for the magazine Fate–one titled “Phantom Lights Over Nevada” and another one “Are Space Visitors here?  In the latter article, he discussed a fisherman’s report of seeing weird purplish spheres with portholes maneuvering over the Crown River, in Ontario.  Arnold said: “Once again we can be sure that these Canadian blue-green globes are not meteors, nor are thy fragments of a comet or the planet Venus.  What then are they?  Spacecraft from another world?”

Arnold’s sighting was partly corroborated by a prospector named Fred Johnson who was on Mount Adams who wrote Army Air Force Intelligent office that he saw six of the objects about the same time Kenneth Arnold did.  Adams had a small telescope in which he viewed the objects as round and tapered sharply to a point and oval in shape.

The primary corroborative sighting occurred on 04 July 1947 when a United Airlines was flying over Idaho,  en route to Seattle.  The crew saw 5 to 9 disks pacing their aircraft for about 15 minutes then the disks suddenly disappeared.

The next day in Seattle,  Kenneth Arnold met with Captain Emil J. Smith and his co-pilot and compared sighting details.  The main difference was the United Airlines crew that the top of the disks looked to be a rough texture.

Smith and Arnold became friends in filling sighting reports and investigating another incident of Maury Island.

In another incident not was related directly to Kenneth Arnold, occurred on 12 July 1947 in the night skies over Tulsa, Oklahoma, eight objects were photographed by Enlo Gilmore of the Tulsa Daily World.  Gilmore said the “objects looked like flying wings or even a catcher’s mitt”.

He and a friend had been gunnery officers in World War II and they triangulated the movement of the objects to be about 1,200 miles per hour the same as Kenneth Arnold’s estimate in the original sighting.

Another sighting occurred over Phoenix, Arizona on 07 July 1947 and photographed by William Rodhes who said this object was just a single object and not a formation of objects.  Rhode’s photo was confiscated by the FBI and Army Air Force officials.

A little later on,  Arnold was shown these photos and commented: “It was a disk almost identical to the one flying saucer that had been worrying me ever since my original observation.”  After observing these photos, Arnold felt that these photos were genuine.

The Origin of the Term Flying Saucers

On 26 and 27 June, 1947 newspapers started using the term “flying saucers” or “flying disks” or occasionally  “pie-pan”.

So it is difficult which newspaper or writer was the first to use the “flying saucer” but the term was rapidly picked up by the news media across the country including the AP (Associated Press) and  UPI (United Press International).

However Arnold in his original report never actually called them “flying saucers” but described them as “saucers skipping across a pond or lake”  What he did also say was they were “saucer-like objects flipping in the sun like fish”.

It is safe to say that the news media coined the term.  Kenneth Arnold still believed the objects were some type of aircraft  In the Portland Oregonian on 11 July 1947, Kenneth Arnold was quoted:

“I actually saw a type of aircraft slightly longer then it was wide, with a thickness about one-twentieth as great as its width.   They flew like, many times I have observed geese in a rather diagonal chain-like link as if they were linked together.  They seemed to hold a definite direction but then would swerve in and out of the high mountain peaks.  I reckoned the saucers were about 23 miles away”. 

Kenneth Arnold was asked by a publisher in Tacoma, Washington to investigate a bizarre incident at Maury Island, but drifted back to his sighting with a new comment that the “objects” were-like a crescent shape swept back to point in the back.

He was shown the Phoenix incident photos and said they were authentic shapes (crescent).

UFO Reports After Arnold’s Initial Sighting

After Kenneth Arnold’s initial June sighting, several hundred UFO reports appeared in newspapers across the country in the weeks following.  The United Airlines account of UFOs over Idaho received more newspaper coverage then Arnold’s original sighting.

Ted Bloecher (Author of a 1947 book “UFO Wave of 1947”) collected more than 853  UFO reports in 1947 from every state (including Washington DC) in the country except Montana.

Many of the reports were sketchy and incomplete, perhaps just attention-getting individuals that thought they saw something or outright hoaxes.  Bloecher said about 250 of the reports were creditable enough to be considered evidence of a mystery.

Adding to the intrigue was the U.S. military’s denial of any military aircraft in the Mt. Rainier area at the time of Arnold’s sighting.  The military did admit that a “flying-wing” type aircraft was being developed at the time.

Two things wrong with the idea that the objects could have been U.S military aircraft being tested,  #1 the military doesn’t test new aircraft in populated areas, #2 the actual “flying wing” never could achieve speeds above the sound-barrier, let alone be in the range that Arnold calculated.

The most famous of the reports of strange events or sightings have to be the Roswell New Mexico sighting on 02 July 1947.  Even today it is a highly controversial subject.

At the time, a Top Secret military project called Operation Mogel involving high altitude spy balloons was in force.

It was about 45 years later when a nuclear physicist by the name of Stanton Friedman opened the door to the Roswell mystery by interviewing Jesses Marcel’s son and others.  (Jesse Marcel was the original investigating officer in 1947) This presented the two sides of Roswell–pro and con, still a controversy to this day.

The Military’s Investigation of Arnold’s Story

Kenneth Arnold was investigated on 12 July 1947 by two Army Air Force officers Lt. Brown and Capt. Davidson from Hamilton Field in California.  Their report was:

     “It is the present opinion of the interviewer that Mr. Arnold actually saw what he stated he saw.  It is difficult to believe that a man of this character and apparent integrity would state that he saw objects and write up a report to the extent that he did, if he did not see them”.

On 09 July 1947, the Army Air Force along with the FBI  went into in-depth investigations of the best UFO sightings including Arnold’s.

Three weeks later they concluded that the reports were not imaginary or adequately explained by natural phenomena but something unknown was flying in the skies.

Further confirmation came from  General Nathan Twining that “flying saucers are real”.  He urged a formal investigation by government agencies.

This investigation evolved from Project Sign  (1947-1949) to Project Grudge (1949) to finally, Project Blue Book (1952-1969).

Major Edward Ruppelt said of the Project Sign conclusions:

I found that there was a lot of speculation on this report by the Project Sign personnel.  There were two factions with two lines of reasoning.  One side said that Arnold had seen everyday jet airplanes flying in formation, the other side didn’t buy this idea at all.  They based their argument  on the fact that Arnold knew what the object was (or wasn’t) when he timed them.”

(Authors note:  Jet aircraft were sub-sonic in 1947 could not have flown at speeds estimated by Arnold at 1,200 mph)

Attempts at Explanations at Arnold’s Sightings

There several attempts at well-meaning individuals to explain Arnolds’ sightings.
1a.   One account was that Arnold saw snow blowing off the ridges of the nearby- mountains.
1b,.  Arnold already has discounted any rain, snow or any other natural mirage in previous reports.  The objects were far too bright to be snow showers (blowing snow off peaks).
2a.  Another account says Arnold saw meteors, although it was day time, they could be very bright in re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
2b.  The problem with this explanation is that meteors travel in a vertical direction (from the sky to the earth) not horizontal.  Meteors also move at much higher speeds then Arnold described the noted objected.  The objects traveled in a horizontal direction for over 90  seconds, never descending downward.
3a. Then there was the bird (Cranes) scenario where a flock of birds flew across Arnolds’ line of vision.
3b.   While certain type birds could be flying at Arnold’s altitude of 9,200 feet, they could not possibly fly at the speeds that Arnold calculated the object to be flying at.  Even though his light aircraft was not very fast (102 mph), it was a lot faster than any bird could fly at.

There are some other attempts to explain but none make much sense.  So what happened?   But this was not an isolated event.   Arnold reports that on 3  other occasions he saw similar objects, so did several other pilots in the Great Northwest, within a few years of the original sighting.  What did he see?  A space ship from outer space (UFO)? Not likely.

Is this a government cover-up, I highly doubt it.    When a government official (at any level) doesn’t know about something, they tend to say “it didn’t happen” rather than to say “they don’t know”.   This is simply called CYA (covering your “backside”)

I am convinced that Kenneth Arnold saw something very unusual.  But to make a sensible, believable explanation is probably not possible.  I think there are things in the earth’s make-up that no one has discovered or looked into.

Maybe someday there will be a logical explanation. of all UFO sightings.


Specifications Callair (A-2)

Data from Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1947[1]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1 pax
  • Length: 23 ft 5 in (7.15 m)
  • Wingspan: 35 ft 10 in (10.91 m)
  • Height: 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) tailup
  • Wing area: 181.6 sq ft (16.87 m2)
  • Empty weight: 975 lb (442 kg)
  • Gross weight: 1,550 lb (703 kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 30 US gal (25 imp gal; 110 l)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Lycoming O-290B or C 4-cyl. horizontally-opposed air-cooled piston engine, 125 hp (93 kW) at2,600 rpm
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Sensenich fixed pitch wooden propeller


  • Maximum speed: 112 mph (180 km/h, 97 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 102 mph (164 km/h, 89 kn)
  • Landing speed: 42 mph (36 kn; 68 km/h)
  • Range: 332 mi (534 km, 289 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 17,500 ft (5,300 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 8.53 lb/sq ft (41.6 kg/m2)
  • Fuel consumption: 0.458 lb/mi (0.129 kg/km)
  • Power/mass: 12.4 lb/hp (7.51 kg/kW)
  • Take-off run: 142 yd (130 m)
  • Landing run: 100 yds (91 m)


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