The Beginning of the 1947 UFO Craze

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The UFO Craze

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold was flying a plane on a business trip from Chehalis, Washington to Yakima, Washington. He learned of a $5,000 reward ($61,000 in today's dollars!) for finding a crashed U.S. Marine transport aircraft near Mount Rainer. Arnold adjusted his course and went looking for the aircraft.

Around 3 pm Arnold was around Mineral, Washington. He gave up looking for the Marine aircraft, and headed east, resuming his original path to Yakima.

He saw a bright light, similar to sunlight reflected in a mirror. At first he thought the light was another aircraft, and looked around frantically trying to find it. The only other plane he saw was about 15 miles away from him, and it was toward the northwest.

About 30 seconds later, he saw more flashes...

They were on his left flying toward Mount Rainer, which was about 20-25 miles away from him. He performed a few quick tests to make sure they weren't reflections on his window: rocking the airplane from side to side, and he removed his glasses.

The reflections were coming off flying objects.

They were now flying in a long chain, and for a moment Arnold thought them to be geese. He had to rule it out, however, because they were moving too fast and the altitude was too high. There was also a bright glint, which indicated the objects were likely metallic.

He then thought they might be a new type of airplane, and looked closer for a tail on the objects — he was surprised when he couldn't find any. The objects sped toward Mount Rainer, and even though when they moved in front of its snow-covered top they appeared dark, they still flashed bright occasionally. Arnold sometimes saw them completely horizontal; he later said while horizontal they were so thin and flat, they disappeared.

Arnold thought their angular size was about 100 feet long, after he had compared notes with a United Airlines crew who had a similar sighting ten days later. Air Force analysts later estimated it was closer to 140-280 feet.

After the flying objects passed Rainer, Arnold turned his plane so they were flying in the same direction. He wanted to know how fast they were going, so he timed their flight from Rainer to Mount Adams. The objects covered the fifty-mile distance in a minute and 42 seconds: over 1,700 miles per hour. This is three times faster than any manned aircraft available in 1947.

He later rounded down to 1,200 miles per hour because he wasn't exactly sure when the objects disappeared, but that's still faster than any known aircraft.

After the encounter

After landing, Arnold told a few of his friends, who also were pilots, what he had seen up in the sky. They suggested he might have seen guided missiles or a new airplane being tested by the Army.

The next day (June 26), Arnold was interviewed by reporters at the East Oregonian in Pendleton, Oregon. At first the reporters were skeptic of him, but that soon evaporated. A Welsh historian later noted:

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.

Mike Dash  //  Historian

Arnold was also interviewed by the Associated Press. After his interview, he complained:

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  //  July 1947

There were multiple other people who corroborated Arnold's story in addition to the crew of a United Airlines flight: a man in Richland, Washington; a woman in Yakima; and a member of the Washington State Forest Service. Other newspapers around Seattle also had reports of seeing flashes in the sky on the same day. Throughout July 1947, Arnold thought more about what he had seen, and became even more convinced the flashes he saw were of extraterrestrial origin.

In 1949 he was interviewed by the Saturday Evening Post, and said "Since my first observations and report of the so-called 'flying disks' I have spent a great deal of money and time thoroughly investigating the subject... There is no doubt in my mind but what these objects are aircraft of a strange design, and material that is unknown to the civilization of this earth."

1950 rolled around, and Arnold did an interview with a broadcaster named Edward R. Murrow where he claimed he had three additional sightings of nine spacecraft since his first sighting.

Newspaper reports of Arnold's 1947 sighting coined the term we know so well today: "flying saucer."

Just over a week after Arnold's first encounter, a rancher near Corona, New Mexico brought debris found on his farm to the Roswell Sheriff's Office. He believed it to be from a UFO that crashed near his house a few weeks prior.

This month we're taking a closer look at the Roswell Incident. Join our newsletter to get notified as soon as the latest part of our investigation is posted!

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