by Chris Rutkowski
At 2:00 p.m. on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold finished his work as a fire control engineer at the Central Air Service in Chehalis, Washington. He took off from the Chehalis airport in his own Callair aircraft for a short trip to Yakima and, because it was on his way, also decided to assist in the search for a marine transport plane that was reported lost somewhere near Mount Rainier.
Arnold flew around the area, looking into the numerous rocky crags and ridges before turning east towards Yakima. His altitude was about 9,200 feet and he noted the sky was “crystal clear.” It was a “perfect day for flying.” He noted a DC-4 in the air about 15 miles away, but at a much higher altitude.
According to his testimony, a bright flash suddenly attracted his attention. He looked around for its source and eventually saw nine “peculiar” aircraft flying south at about the same altitude as his own plane. He noted they were flying very fast, approaching the mountain, and he thought they were probably jets. The objects occasionally dipped and adjusted their flight slightly, catching the bright sun.
Initially Arnold couldn’t tell what kind of aircraft they were because they were too far away, but as he closed on them nearer the mountain, he could see them outlined against the snow. He was surprised to see that the objects didn’t have tails or stabilizers like jet aircraft. When he timed their speed with the clock on his dash and a distant reference point, Arnold realized they were going very fast – as fast as, or faster than, some military planes, about 1,200 mph.
To make sure that he was not seeing a mirage or reflection, Arnold opened the cockpit window and watched them through the clear high air. After about three minutes, the formation of unusual aircraft had passed behind a distant ridge of mountains and disappeared out of sight. Arnold had a good enough look at the objects in flight that he could determine they were roughly disc-shaped, with a missing chord at their trailing edges that made them look like chubby crescents.
When he landed at the Yakima airport, Arnold told his story to ground crew there. He then flew to Pendleton, Oregon, and when he landed many people wanted to hear his story.
The Story Spreads
Although he was told by some skeptics he had just seen guided missiles, Arnold was certain he had seen something more unusual and thought he should report his observation. He went to Pendleton’s newspaper office to speak with reporters and the result was a wire service news story written by reporter Bill Bequette. It read:
Pendleton, Ore., June 25 (AP) — Nine bright saucer-like objects flying at “incredible speed” at 10,000 feet altitude were reported here today by Kenneth Arnold, a Boise, Idaho, pilot who said he could not hazard a guess as to what they were.
When the wire story went out to newspapers across the continent, headline writers handling the story in their local papers created the phrase “flying saucers” from a quick reading of the news copy, even though neither Arnold nor Bequette actually called the objects that at all.
Skeptics and Debunkers
Several explanations for Arnold’s sighting have been put forth over the years by skeptics and debunkers, all of which seem inadequate.
In 1977, Harvard University astronomer Dr. Donald Menzel proposed that the discs Arnold observed were actually raindrops on the Callair’s windows. This, of course, makes no sense when Arnold’s own testimony is read, which clearly indicates it was crystal clear and he had opened the window, thus ruling out this explanation.
If one was to propose a more reasonable explanation for Arnold’s sighting, it is more likely that what he observed was a group of secret military test vehicles, perhaps even missiles with their fins and/or ailerons rendered invisible by the bright sunlight reflecting off their surfaces. However, no evidence uncovered through any investigation of the case has been offered that would support this contention.