Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting


The description of the movements of nine flat flying objects as "saucers skipping on water", which Kenneth Arnold mentioned after his witnessing flight near Mount Rainier in Washington State, resulted in the coining of the term "flying saucers" (or flying discs) by U.S. newspapers. The name stuck and popularized worldwide, thus translated into many other languages literally meaning the same thing. This term is barely used today since those objects sighted come in different shapes, not only in a saucer or in disc shape. Now they are most commonly called "UFOs".

The UFO sighting:

On June 24, 1947, at approximately 2:00 pm, Kenneth Arnold, an experience pilot with more than 9,000 hours of flying time, was flying in his CallAir A-2 airplane from Chehalis, Washington to Yakima, Washington on a business trip. While flying by Mount Rainier, he diverted from his flight plan when recalling that a $5,000 reward had been offered for the location and wreckage of a U.S. Marine Corps C-46 transport airplane that had crashed in the Cascades near the southwest slope of the mountain.

A few minutes before 3:00 pm, at about 9,200 feet (2,800 m) in altitude and near Mineral, Washington, the sweep of the area revealed nothing and Arnold resumed on his original course. Suddenly, he saw a bright flashing light, similar to sunlight reflecting from a mirror. Afraid he might be dangerously close to another aircraft, Arnold scanned the skies around him, but all he could see was a DC-4 to his left and behind him, about 15 miles (24 km) away. The skies were completely clear and there was a mild wind.

About 30 seconds after seeing the first flash of light, Arnold saw a series of bright flashes in the distance off to his left, or north of Mt. Rainier, which was then 20 to 25 miles (40 km) away. He thought they might be reflections on his airplane's windows, but he ruled this out when his airplane began rocking from side to side. After removing his eyeglasses, and later rolling down his side window, he noticed the reflections coming from some 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 the 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 in front of Mt. Rainier, usually appearing dark in profile against the bright white snowfield covering the mountain, but occasionally still giving off bright light flashes as they flipped around erratically. He stated that sometimes he could see them laterally so thin and flat, they were practically invisible. Arnold described them as being convex shaped objects, though later he revealed that one of the objects differed by being crescent shaped. At first, he described their movements as "saucers skipping on water", without comparing their actual shapes to saucers. At one point, Arnold said they flew behind a subpeak of Mt. Rainier and briefly disappeared. Knowing his position and the position of the unknown subpeak, Arnold placed their distance as they flew past Mt. Rainier at about 23 miles (37 km).

Arnold estimated their angular size as being slightly smaller than the DC-4 he had just seen, about 60 feet. He also realized that the objects would have to be quite large to see any details at that distance and later, after comparing notes with a United Airlines crew that had a similar sighting 10 days later (see below), placed the absolute size as larger than a DC-4 airliner or greater than 100 feet (30 m) in length. Army Air Force (at that time the air force was part of the army) analysts would later estimate their size as being 140 to 280 feet (85 m), based on analysis of human visual acuity and other sighting details such as estimated distance.

Arnold stated that the objects were moving on a more or less level horizontal plane and weaved from side to side "like the tail of a Chinese kite", 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 he suspected he had seen test flights of a new U.S. military aircraft.

As the objects passed Mt. Rainer, Arnold turned his plane southward on a more or less parallel course. It was at this point that he opened his side window and began observing the objects unobstructed by any glass that might have produced reflections. The objects did not disappear and continued to move very rapidly southward, continuously moving forward of his position. He began to time them as they moved from Mt. Rainer to Mount Adams. Using the clock on his instrument panel, he determined that they traveled between mountains in one minute and forty-two seconds. He later did the calculation to determine their speed.

Arnold shares the story:

Arnold landed in Yakima at about 4.00 pm, and quickly told friend and airport general manager Al Baxter the amazing story, and before long, the entire airport staff knew of Arnold's claims. He later wrote that Baxter didn't believe him.

Arnold flew on to an air show in Pendleton, Oregon, not knowing that somebody in Yakima had phoned in ahead to say that Arnold had seen some strange new aircraft. It was at this time that Arnold studied his maps to determine the distance between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. He learned that both mountains are about 50 miles (80 km) apart and using the timing done while in his aircraft (of one minute and forty-two seconds); he calculated the speed of over 1,700 miles per hour (2,700 km/h). This was about three times faster than any known aircraft in 1947. Not knowing exactly the distance where the objects faded from view, Arnold conservatively and arbitrarily rounded this down to 1,200 miles (1,900 km) an hour, still faster than any known aircraft, which had yet to break the sound barrier at that time. This supersonic speed, in addition to its unusual shape (the saucer or disk description); seem to capture people's attention.

He told a number of pilot friends, and later wrote that they did not scoff or laugh. Instead, they suggested that maybe he had seen guided missiles or something new, though Arnold felt this explanation to be inadequate. He also wrote that some former Army pilots told him that they had been briefed before going into combat "that they might see objects of similar shape and design (Foo fighters) as I described and assured me that I wasn't dreaming or going crazy."

Reporters didn’t interview Arnold until the next day (June 25) when he went to the office of the East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton. Any skepticism the reporters might have harbored evaporated when they interviewed Arnold at length; as historian, Mike Dash records: "Arnold had the makings of a reliable witness. He was a respected businessman and experienced pilot ... and seemed to be neither exaggerating what he had seen, nor adding sensational details to his report. He also gave the impression of being a careful observer ... These details impressed the newspapermen who interviewed him and lent credibility to his report".

Arnold would soon complain about the effects of the publicity on his life. On June 27, he was reported saying, "I haven't had a moment of peace since I first told the story." He then said a preacher had called and told him that the objects he saw were "harbingers of doomsday" and that the preacher was preparing his congregation "for the end of the world." But that wasn't half as bad as an encounter he had with a woman in a Pendleton cafe who looked at him and dashed out shrieking, "There's the man who saw the men from Mars." She ran out "sobbing she would have to do something for the children" Arnold was reported saying "with a shudder".

Arnold talks of possible non-earthly origins:

On July 7, 1947, two stories came out where Arnold again was raising the topic of possible extraterrestrial origins, both as his opinion and those who had written to him. In an Associated Press story, Arnold said he had received quantities of fan mail eager to help solve the mystery, none of it calling him a "screwball". Like the earlier doomsday preacher Arnold spoke of, many of the writers placed a religious interpretation on his sighting. But others, he said, "suggested the discs were visitations from another planet." Arnold added he had purchased a movie camera, which he would now take with him on every flight, hoping to obtain photographic proof of what he had seen.

Publicity and origins of term "flying saucer":

On June 25, Arnold's account first appeared in numerous newspaper editions in the U.S. and Canada. On June 26, it appeared in some foreign newspapers and thereafter, often on the front page. Without exception, Arnold’s story was initially published in a serious, evenhanded tone. The first reporters to interview Arnold were Nolan Skiff and Bill Bequette of the East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton, Oregon on June 25, and the first story on the Arnold sighting, written by Bequette, appeared in the newspaper the same day.

The term appears:

Starting 26 and June 27, newspapers first began to use the term "flying saucer" and/or "flying 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. Jerome Clark cites a 1970 study by Herbert Strentz, who reviewed U.S. newspaper accounts of the Arnold UFO sighting, and concluded that the term was probably due to an editor or headline writer. He personally did not use the term "flying saucers" or "flying discs" in the papers, only used words like "saucers" and "discs" to describe their shapes. However, Arnold was credited to have coined the terms "flying saucer" and "flying disc" when in actuality were U.S. newspapers who coined the term.

Arnold’s quotes in the press:

The following day (June 26) were the following quotations attributed to Arnold:

1) United Press: "They were shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them..."

2) Associated Press: "He said they were bright, saucer-like objects--he called them 'aircraft'. ...He also described the objects as ‘saucer-like’ and their motion 'like a fish flipping in the sun.’ ...Arnold described the objects as 'flat like a pie pan'."

3) Associated Press: "They flew with a peculiar dipping motion, 'like a fish flipping in the sun,' he said. ... He said they appeared to fly almost as if fastened together -- if one dipped, the others did, too."

4) Chicago Tribune: "They were silvery and shiny and seemed to be shaped like a pie plate... I am sure they were separate units because they weaved in flight like the tail of a kite."
On June 27 was the following quotation:

5) Portland Oregon Journal: "'They were half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. ...There were no bulges or cowlings; they looked like a big flat disk.’ ...Arnold said that the objects weaved 'like the tail of a Chinese kite'."

6) Two weeks later, Arnold was still referring to the shape of the objects as "saucers" or "saucer-like." In the Portland Oregonian newspaper on July 11, he was quoted saying, "I actually saw a type of aircraft slightly longer than it was wide, with a thickness about one twentieth as great as its width. ...I reckoned the saucers were 23 miles away."

Statement to the army:

In a written statement to Army Air Forces (AAF) intelligence the following day (July 12), Arnold annotated sketches of the typical craft in the chain of nine objects and 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." (See Arnold's drawing on the left) As to motion, Arnold wrote, "They flew like many times I have observed geese to fly in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were linked together. They seemed to hold a definite direction but rather swerved in and out of the high mountain peaks." He also spoke of how they would "flip and flash in the sun."  

A variant object:

To complicate the shape descriptions further, a month after his sighting, Arnold was to become involved in the bizarre Maury Island incident. A magazine publisher dispatched Arnold to Tacoma to investigate it, although he eventually turned the investigation over to the AAF (Army Air Forces).

In a meeting with two AAF intelligence officers (the same ones who interviewed him on July 12 and for whom he wrote his report), 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. It was at this time that Arnold was also shown the Rhodes photos of a crescent-shaped object over Phoenix, which Arnold deemed authentic because of the unusual shape.

Some note the object in the drawing bears an uncanny similarity to the WW2 German design, the Horten Ho 229, sometimes further claiming it was captured German technology being tested. But there is no historical evidence of any kind supporting this.

Widespread UFO reports after Arnold sighting:

In the weeks that followed Arnold's June 1947 story, at least several hundred reports of similar sightings flooded the press in 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.

Bloecher collected reports of 853 flying disc sightings that year from 140 newspapers from Canada, Washington D.C, and every U.S. state except Montana. This was more UFO reports for 1947 than most researchers ever suspected. Some of these stories were poorly documented or fragmented, but Bloecher argued that about 250 of the more detailed reports (such as those made by pilots or scientists, multiple eyewitnesses, or backed by photos) made a persuasive case for a genuine mystery.

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. The military repeated that neither aircraft could account for the sightings, which are also borne out by historical records.

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 (this happened after the Arnold sighting). To calm rising public concern, this and other cases were debunked by the military in succeeding days as mistaken sightings of weather balloons. Just before the Roswell story came out, the Army Air Forces in Washington issued a press statement saying they had the matter under investigation and had decided the flying discs definitely were not "secret bacteriological weapons designed by some foreign power," "new-type army rockets," or "spaceships."

Other sightings by Arnold and his opinion:

In a 1950 interview with journalist Edward R. Murrow, Arnold reported seeing similar 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 extraterrestrial 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 first issue of Fate magazine (1948) featured the article The Truth About The Flying Saucers by Arnold. In 1952, he described his experiences in the book The Coming of the Saucers, which he and a publisher friend named Raymond A. Palmer published themselves.


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Although there have been many unexplained sightings in the town of Lajas, the situation there has been hyped by the amount of lies and exaggeration by a group of so-called, "ufologists" who ignore other areas of Puerto Rico to promote tourism in Lajas. That was evident when my wife and my daughter confronted a terrifying experience in the town of Aguada with extraterrestrials and that group of charlatans refused our plea for help. Of course, if it happened in Lajas they would have jumped on the opportunity for fame and tourism for that town. Those hoaxes and lies were approved and sanctioned by the then mayor of that town who named route 303 "The extraterrestrial route". The idea of building an "UFOport" (ovnipuerto), “la llorona sightings" and the biggest hoax of them all, "that a UFO crashed there" all this could only be found in a science fiction novel.

By Nelson C. Rivera
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The back of United States Quarters depicting Puerto Rico

About me

Ufologist, criminal investigator, musician, artist and writer.

I worked 20 years for the New York City Department of Correction. First as a Correction Officer for 4 years, Captain for 12 years, and as a Deputy Warden for 4 years. As a law enforcement officer and supervisor, I have conducted countless of criminal investigations, some for unimaginable allegations.

On June of 2005, after my retirement, I moved to Puerto Rico with my family where my wife and my daughter faced extraordinary experiences with extraterrestrials. These alien encounters, subsequent abductions of my wife and the lack of help from so-called, "ufologists" here on the island, prompted me to become involved in the field of ufology and in the need to help others who have had similar experiences.


PRUFON, Puerto Rico UFO Network, Inc., is a nonprofit organization which conducts serious no nonsense UFO investigations. Our aim is to find the truth and answers to some of the toughest questions pertaining to UFO sightings, alien encounters and alien abductions, etc. We are not affiliated with any other ufology organization in Puerto Rico or in the world. PRUFON was founded in the city of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico on September of 2009 to share with the public what we have accomplished and researched in the related fields of ufology.

This internet network (PRUFON.com) offers a different perspective on life, and works hard to keep you informed about unexplained phenomena occurring on the island of Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean. We collect and gather information dealing with the Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and other unusual events that the mainstream news media and science fail to expose to the public, fail to study or acknowledge.

Any unusual encounter or sighting that you have had and wish an investigation and/or wish to publish it on this website, contact PRUFON at prufon@gmail.com. You will remain anonymous if you state it in writing.

The complete story is on YouTube HERE