The Kenneth Arnold UFO Incident

The Kenneth Arnold UFO incident is, when it comes to modern (post-WW2) UFO sightings, the one that started it all.

A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. on June 24, 1947, while flying a CallAir A-2 from Chehalis, Washington to Yakima, Washington at a height of about 9,200 feet (2,800 m) and having made a slight detour to see if he could spot a downed U.S. Marine Corps C-46 transport plane Arnold saw a bright flashing light in the sky nearby. Uncertain of what it was but fearing it might be reflected sunlight from another plane he scanned the skies, but other than a DC-4 some 15 miles (24 km) to his rear the sky was empty.

The first flash was followed, less than a minute later, by a string of flashes in the direction of Mt. Rainier at the time about 20 to 25 miles (40 km) away. Thinking it might be a reflection on his aircraft’s windshield he initiated a series of rocking motions, the maneuver and a glance through an open side window apparently ruling that out.

The lights now (according to Arnold) definitely objects, the flashing less prominent, passed in front of Rainer their silhouette appearing dark against the white flanks of the snow covered mountain. According to writer Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Arnold described them as a series of nine objects, eight convex in shape with one crescent shaped. In Arnold’s initial description he likened their movements to saucers skipping on water but did not compare their actual shapes to saucers as was later quoted by reporters [1]

Arnold, using means albeit neither all that accurate or scientific, guesstimated the speed and size of the objects placing the speed at 1700 mph (2700 km/h) and the size as slightly smaller than the trailing and distant DC-4 (a  United Airlines crew, having a similar sighting 10 days later, placed the size of the objects as some 100 feet (30 meters) in length, slightly larger than a DC-4).

Arnold’s sighting was corroborated  by a number of independent witnesses:

A prospector, Fred Johnson, viewed six of the objects from nearby Mt. Adams at about the same time as Arnold‘s encounter.

A woman, in Yakima, named Ethel Wheelhouse also saw several flying disks traveling at extreme speed reportedly about the same time as Arnold‘s encounter.

A member of the Washington state forest service, who had been on fire watch about 20 miles (32 km) south of Yakima,  reported seeing flashes at 3:00 p.m. on the 24th over Mt. Rainier.

Also at 3:00 p.m. Sidney B Gallagher, exact location unknown, reported seeing nine shiny disks flash by to his north.

In all there were at least 16 reported sightings, of flashing unidentified objects, on June 24 in the Washington state area

By contrast the pilot of the DC-4, trailing Arnold, reportedly saw nothing and the Army Air Force’s response was that Arnold had seen a mirage. [2] [3]

The dubious have offered the following:

The original sightings were a fabrication on the part of Arnold.

The objects were meteors.

The objects were pelicans.

The objects were seagulls.

The objects were an illusion, a creation of wind blown snow.

Arnold himself apparently believed the objects were either of extraterrestrial origin or
a product of the American military (a tailless jet, similar perhaps to the prototype German WW2 Horten Ho-229 turbojet flying wing).

[1] In an April, 1950 interview, with Edward R Murrow a CBS newsman, Arnold was later to state: “In the excitement of it all . . . nobody new exactly what they were talking about . . . They said that I said they were saucer like; I said that they flew in a saucer like fashion.”

[2] In the immediate aftermath of the June 24, 1947, sighting the number of UFO incidents increased dramatically with arguably the most famous the (alleged) military recovery of a crashed flying disk at Roswell.

[3] In reality it appears the Army Air Force (AAF) took Arnolds and the subsequent sightings seriously, coming to the conclusion that the saucer reports were neither imaginary nor adequately explained by natural phenomena. This in turn led (publicly) to Project Sign, Project Grudge, project Blue Book, and purportedly, in secret, to Majestic-12.

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