Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting

Kenneth Arnold claimed that he saw a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects

The Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting occurred on June 24, 1947, when private pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed that he saw a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects flying past Mount Rainier at speeds that Arnold estimated at a minimum of 1,200 miles an hour

This was the first post-World War II sighting in the United States that garnered nationwide news coverage and is credited with being the first of the modern era of UFO sightings, including numerous reported sightings over the next two to three weeks. Arnold’s description of the objects also led to the press quickly coining the terms flying saucer and flying disc as popular descriptive terms for UFOs.

With clear skies and hardly any wind, Kenneth Arnold flew his CallAir A-2[1] from Chehalis, Washington, to Yakima, Washington on a business trip. He made a detour to look around Mount Rainier for a U.S. Marine Corps C-46[2] transport airplane that had crashed.

It was worth a look since the military offered a $5,000 reward (equivalent to $61,000 today) for finding this aircraft. A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. at about 9,200 feet in altitude, and near Mineral, Washington, he discontinued the search and headed toward Yakima.

This is when he saw the first flash of light and thought he might be flying close to another aircraft. He started scanning the skies and did see a DC-4[3] to his left and behind him, about 15 miles away. Thirty seconds passed and then he saw a series of flashes off to his left, north of Mount Rainier, which was then from 20 to 25 miles.

He thought they might be reflections on his airplane’s windows but after a few quick tests:

  • rocking his airplane from side to side
  • removing his eyeglasses
  • rolling down his side window

ruled this out. The reflections came from flying objects. They flew in a long chain, and Arnold for a moment considered they might be a flock of geese, but quickly ruled this out for a number of reasons, including the altitude, bright glint, and obviously very fast speed. He then thought they might be a new type of jet and started looking intently for a tail and was surprised that he couldn’t find any. They quickly approached Rainier and then passed in front, usually appearing dark in profile against the bright white snowfield covering Rainier, but occasionally still giving off bright light flashes as they flipped around erratically. Sometimes he said he could see them on edge when they seemed so thin and flat they were practically invisible.

Arnold described them as convex shapes (a shape that curves or bulges outward) with one object differing being crescent-shaped (resembling the new moon). He likened their movement to saucers skipping on water, without comparing their actual shapes to saucers. His initial quotes from him do indeed have him comparing the shape to a “saucer”, “disc”, “pie pan”, or “half moon”, or generally convex and thin.

Using a Dzus cowling fastener[4] as a gauge to compare the nine objects to the distant DC-4, Arnold estimated their angular size as slightly smaller than the DC-4, about the width between the outer engines, 60 feet. After comparing notes with the United Airlines crew, who also saw them, he re-estimated them to be about 100 feet.

Army Air Force analysts would later estimate 140 to 280 feet, based on analysis of human visual acuity and other sighting details (such as estimated distance). He stated that the objects were grouped together in a diagonally stepped-down, echelon formation, stretched out over a distance that he later calculated to be five miles.

The objects weaved from side to side (“like the tail of a Chinese kite” as he later stated), darting through the valleys and around the smaller mountain peaks. They would occasionally flip or bank on their edges in unison as they turned or maneuvered causing almost blindingly bright or mirror-like flashes of light.

The encounter gave him an “eerie feeling”, but Arnold suspected he had seen test flights of a new U.S. military aircraft. Curious about their speed, he began to time their rate of passage: he said they moved from Mount Rainer to Mount Adams where they faded from view, a distance of about 50 miles (80 km), in one minute and forty-two seconds, according to the clock on his instrument panel.

This whole thing has gotten out of hand. I want to talk to the FBI or someone. Half the people look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon and screwball. I wonder what my wife back in Idaho thinks.

Kenneth Arnold – to the Associated Press right after the incident

Flying Saucers

Starting June 26 and June 27, newspapers first began using the terms “flying saucer” and “flying disk” (or “disc”) to describe the sighted objects. Thus the Arnold sighting is credited with giving rise to these popular terms. The actual origin of the terms is somewhat controversial and complicated.

When he later had time to do the calculation, the speed was over 1,700 miles per hour, three times faster than any 1947 aircraft. Other sitings came too. About 60 miles west-northwest of Richland in Yakima, Washington, a woman named Ethel Wheelhouse likewise reported

sighting several flying discs moving at fantastic speeds at around the same time as Arnold’s sighting. A member of the Washington State forest service, who had been on fire watch at a tower in Diamond Gap, about 20 miles south of Yakima, reported seeing “flashes” at 3:00 p.m. on the 24th over Mount Rainier (or exactly the same time as Arnold’s sighting), that appeared to move in a straight line. Similarly, at 3:00 p.m. Sidney B. Gallagher in Washington state (exact position unspecified) reported seeing nine shiny discs flash by to the north.

The primary corroborative sighting, however, occurred ten days later (July 4) when a United Airlines crew over Idaho en route to Seattle also spotted five to nine disk-like objects that paced their plane for 10 to 15 minutes before suddenly disappearing. L. G. Bernier of Richland, Washington

(about 110 miles (180 km) east of Mount Adams and 140 miles (230 km) southeast of Mount Rainier) saw three of the strange objects over Richland flying “almost edgewise” toward Mount Rainier about one half-hour before Arnold.

I have seen a P-38[5] appear seemingly on one horizon and then gone to the opposite horizon in no time at all, but these disks certainly were traveling faster than any P-38. [Maximum speed of a P-38 was about 440 miles an hour.] No doubt Mr. Arnold saw them just a few minutes or seconds later, according to their speed.

L. G. Bernier

UFO Reports

In the weeks that followed Arnold’s June 1947 story, at least several hundred 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 another 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. 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, 1947.

I found a few books on the subject like “The Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting: Men In Black, Intimidation and Mind Control”, “The First UFO Sighting: Kenneth Arnold’s Secret Papers from the FBI and Project Blue Book by Carlos Allende, and Three Minutes in June: The UFO Sighting that Changed the World by Dr. Bruce Maccabee.

  1. The CallAir aircraft was designed by the Call family of Wyoming in the 1940s. As working ranchers, the Call family designed and built a robust aircraft that was capable of short and rough field operations. The Port Townsend Aero Museum’s CallAir is a two-place A-2 model that has been upgraded from the original Lycoming 0-290 125hp engine to a Lycoming 0-320 150hp engine. This CallAir A-2 is one of only 16 that were produced. Maximum speed is 112 mph, landing at 42 mph, and weighing 1550 pounds. [Back]
  2. The Curtiss C-46 Commando is a twin-engine transport aircraft derived from the Curtiss CW-20 pressurized high-altitude airliner design. Early press reports used the name “Condor III”, but the Commando name was in use by early 1942 in company publicity. It was used as a military transport during World War II by the United States Army Air Forces and also the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps, which used the designation R5C. The C-46 served in a similar role to its Douglas-built counterpart, the C-47 Skytrain, but it was not as extensively produced as the latter. [Back]
  3. The Douglas DC-4 is an American four-engined (piston), propeller-driven airliner developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Military versions of the plane, the C-54, and R5D, served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift, and into the 1960s. From 1945, many civil airlines operated the DC-4 worldwide. [Back]
  4. The Dzus fastener, also known as a turn-lock fastener or quick-action panel fastener, is a type of proprietary quarter-turn spiral cam lock fastener often used to secure skin panels on aircraft and other high-performance vehicles. It is named after its inventor William Dzus. [Back]
  5. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning is an American single-seat, twin-piston-engined fighter aircraft that was used during World War II. Developed for the United States Army Air Corps by the Lockheed Corporation, the P-38 incorporated a distinctive twin-boom design with a central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament. Along with its use as a general fighter, the P-38 was used in various aerial combat roles, including as a highly effective fighter bomber, a night fighter, and a long-range escort fighter when equipped with drop tanks. The P-38 was also used as a bomber pathfinder, guiding streams of medium and heavy bombers, or even other P-38s equipped with bombs, to their targets. Used in the aerial reconnaissance role, the P-38 accounted for 90 percent of the aerial film captured over Europe. [Back]

Further Reading


Port Townsend Aero Museum

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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