Kenneth A. Arnold (March 29, 1915
in Sebeka, Minnesota – January 16, 1984 in Bellevue, Washington) was
an American businessman and pilot.
He is best-known for making what is generally considered
the first widely reported unidentified flying object sighting in the United
States, after claiming to see nine unusual objects flying in a chain near
Mount Rainier, Washington on June 24, 1947. Arnold described the objects'
shape as resembling a flat saucer or disc (see quotes below), and also
described their erratic motion as resembling a saucer skipped across water;
from this, the press quickly coined the new terms "flying
saucer" and "flying disc" to describe such objects, many of which were
reported within days after Arnold's sighting. Later Arnold would add that
one of the objects resembled a crescent or flying
wing (image at right).
The U.S. Air Force formally listed the Arnold case
as a mirage; this is one of many explanations that have been rebutted by
critics, and researchers Jerome Clark
and Ronald Story both argue that
there has never been an entirely persuasive conventional explanation of
the Arnold sighting.
June 24, 1947
Arnold shares the story
and origins of term "flying saucer"
UFO reports after Arnold sighting
investigation of Arnold story
sightings by Arnold and his opinion
Arnold was born in Sebeka, Minnesota, but grew up in
Scobey, Montana. He attended the University of Minnesota. Arnold began
Great Western Fire Control Supply in Boise, Idaho in 1940, a company that
sold and installed fire suppression systems, a job that took him around
the Pacific Northwest.
Arnold was regarded as a skilled and experienced pilot,
with over 9,000 total flying hours, almost half of which were devoted to
Search and Rescue Mercy Flyer efforts.
He was an avid swimmer and diver -- and good enough
at the latter to try out for the U.S. Diving team. Arnold and his wife
Doris had four daughters.
On June 24, 1947, while flying near Mt. Rainer, Arnold
claimed to have seen nine unusual objects flying in the skies; this event
is discussed in more detail below. He claimed to have seen UFOs on several
other occasions afterwards, as well.
After the 1947 UFO sighting, Arnold became a minor
celebrity, and for about a decade thereafter, he was somewhat involved
in interviewing other UFO witnesses or contactees (notably, he investigated
the claims of Samuel
Eaton Thompson, one of the first contactees). Arnold wrote a book and
several magazine articles about his UFO sighting and his subsequent research.
By the 1960s, Arnold had little to do with UFOs. He
appearead at a 1977 convention currated by Fate to mark the thirtieth
anniversary of the "birth" of the modern UFO age. He ran unsuccessfully
for Lieutenant Governor of Idaho in 1962.
Arnold died in 1984.
Location of Mt Rainier,
June 24, 1947 UFO sighting
On June 24, 1947, Arnold was flying from Chehalis,
Washington to Yakima, Washington in a CallAir A-2 on a business trip. He
made a brief detour after learning of a $5000 reward for the discovery
of a U.S. Marine Corps C-46 transport airplane that had crashed near Mt.
Rainer. The skies were completely clear and there was a mild wind.
A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. at about 9,200 feet
(2,800 m) in altitude and near Mineral, Washington, he gave up his search
and started heading eastward towards Yakima. 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 back of him, about 15 miles (24
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 a few
quick tests (rocking his airplane from side to side, removing his eyeglasses,
later 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.
According to Clark Arnold said
that one of the objects was rather crescent shaped, while the other eight
objects were more circular, but initially Arnold's descriptions were only
of the latter disk-like shape.
At one point Arnold said they flew behind a subpeak
of Rainier and briefly disappeared. Knowing his position and the position
of the (unspecified) subpeak, Arnold placed their distance as they flew
past Rainier at about 23 miles (37 km).
Using a Zeus cowling fastener 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
(about 60 feet). Arnold also said he 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 analysts
would later estimate 140 to 280 feet (85 m), based on analysis of human
visual acuity and other sighting details (such as estimated distance).
Arnold said the objects were grouped together, as Ted
Bloecher writes, "in a diagonally
stepped-down, echelon formation, stretched out over a distance that he
later calculated to be five miles". Though moving on a more or less level
horizontal plane, Arnold said 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.
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. Curious about their speed, he began to time their
rate of passage: he said they moved from Mt. Rainer to Mt. 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.
When he later had time to do the calculation, the speed was over 1,700
miles per hour (2,700 km/h). This was about three times faster than any
manned 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. It was this supersonic speed
in addition to the unusual saucer or disk description that seemed to capture
Arnold shares the story
Arnold landed in Yakima at about 4.00 p.m., 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 discussed
the story with the staff, and later wrote that Baxter didn't believe him.
Arnold flew on to an air show 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, determined the distance between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, and
calculated the rather astonishing speed. He told a number of pilot friends,
and wrote in his account to AAF intelligence 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 as I described and assured me that I wasn't dreaming or going
crazy." (See Foo
Arnold wasn't interviewed by reporters until the next
day (June 25) when he went to the office of the East Oregonian in
Pendleton. Any skepticism the reporters might have harbored evaporated
when they interviewed Arnold at length; as historian Mike
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 28 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".
He then added that, "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."
Arnold's sighting was partly corroborated by a prospector
named Fred Johnson on Mt. Adams, who wrote AAF intelligence that he saw
six of the objects on June 24 at about the same time as Arnold, which he
viewed through a small telescope. He said they were "round" and tapered
"sharply to a point in the head and in an oval shape." He
also noted that the objects seemed to disturb his compass. An evaluation
of the witness by AAF intelligence found him to be credible. Ironically,
Johnson's report was listed as the first unexplained UFO report in Air
Force files, while Arnold's was dismissed as a mirage, yet Johnson seemed
to be describing a continuation of the same event as Arnold.
The Portland Oregon Journal reported on July
4 receiving a letter from an L. G. Bernier of Richland, Washington (about
110 miles (180 km) east of Mt. Adams and 140 miles (230 km) southeast of
Mt. Rainier). Bernier wrote that he saw three of the strange objects over
Richland flying "almost edgewise" toward Mt. Rainier about one half hour
before Arnold. Bernier thought the three were part of a larger formation.
He indicated they were traveling at high speed: "I have seen a P-38 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."
The previous day, Bernier had also spoken to his local newspaper, the Richland
Washington Villager, and was among the first witnesses to suggest
extraterrestrial origins: "I believe it may be a visitor from another planet."
About 60 miles (97 km) west-northwest of Richland inYakima,
Washington, Mrs. Ethel Wheelhouse likewise reported sighting several flying
discs moving at fantastic speeds at around the same time as Arnold's sighting.
When military intelligence began investigating Arnold's
sighting in early July (see
below), they found yet another witness from the area. A member of the
Washington State forest service, who had been on fire watch at a tower
in Diamond Gap, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Yakima, reported seeing
"flashes" at 3:00 p.m. on the 24th over Mount Rainier (or the exact 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. 
A Seattle newspaper also mentioned a woman near Tacoma
who said she saw a chain of nine, bright objects flying at high speed near
Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately this short news item wasn't precise as to time
or date, but indicated it was around the same date as Arnold's sighting.
However, a pilot of a DC-4
some 10 to 15 miles (24 km) north of Arnold en route to Seattle reported
seeing nothing unusual. (This was the same DC-4 seen by Arnold and which
he used for size comparison.)
Other Seattle area newspapers also reported other sightings
of flashing, rapidly moving unknown objects on the same day, but not the
same time, as Arnold's sighting. Most of these sightings were over Seattle
or west of Seattle in the town of Bremerton, either that morning or at
night. Altogether, there were
at least 16 other reported UFO sightings the same day as Arnold's in the
Washington state area.
June 24, 1947
Sightings in Washington State
July 12 1947
Eight Arnold-like objects
photographed over Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 12, 1947 (from Tulsa Daily World)
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. The next day in
Seattle, Arnold met with the pilot, Cpt. E. J. Smith, and copilot and compared
sighting details. The main difference in shape was that the United crew
thought the objects appeared rough on top. This was one of the few sightings
that Arnold felt was reliable, most of the rest he thought were the public
seeing other things and letting their imaginations run wild. Arnold and
Cpt. Smith became friends, met again with Army Air Force intelligence officers
on July 12 and filed sighting reports, then teamed up again at the end
of July in investigating the strange Maury
Eight Arnold-like objects photographed over Tulsa, Oklahoma,
July 12, 1947 (from Tulsa Daily World)
A similar sighting of eight objects also occurred over
Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 12, 1947. In this instance, a photo was taken and
published in the Tulsa Daily World the following day (photo above).
Interestingly, the photographer, Enlo Gilmore, said that in blowups of
the photo, the objects resembled baseball catcher's mitts or flying wings.
He was of the opinion that the military had a secret fleet of flying wing
airplanes. He had been a gunnery officer in the Navy during the war, and
using information from another witness, also a veteran, he performed a
triangulation and arrived at an estimation of speed of 1,700 miles per
hour (2,700 km/h), or essentially the same estimate as Arnold's. One
of the objects, he said, seemed to have a hole in the middle.
Two or three photos of a similar, solitary object were
taken by William
Rhodes over Phoenix, Arizona on July 7, 1947, and appeared in a local
Phoenix newspaper and some other newspapers. The
object was rounded in front with a crescent back. These photos also seem
to show something resembling a hole in the middle, though Rhodes thought
it was a canopy. 
Rhode's negatives and prints were later confiscated by the FBI and military.
However, the photos show up in later Air Force intelligence reports. 
Arnold was soon shown the Rhode's photos when he met
with two AAF intelligence officers. He commented, "It was a disk almost
identical to the one peculiar flying saucer that had been worrying me since
my original observation—the one that looked different from the rest and
that I had never mentioned to anyone." As a result, Arnold felt that the
Rhode's photos were genuine.
Eight Arnold Like Disks
July 12th 1947 Tulsa Oklahoma
Close up showing hole
Publicity and origins of term
Arnold's account was first featured in a few late newspaper
editions on June 25, appeared in numerous U.S. and Canadian papers (and
some foreign newspapers) on June 26 and thereafter, often on the front
page. Without exception, according to Bloecher, the Arnold story was initially
related with a serious, even-handed tone. The first reporters to interview
Arnold were Nolan Skiff and Bill Bequette of the East Oregonian
in Pendleton, Ore. on June 25, and the first story on the Arnold sighting,
written by Bequette, appeared in the newspaper the same day.
Starting June 27, newspapers
first began using the terms "flying saucer" and "flying disk"
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:
the body of the early Arnold news stories did not use the term "flying
saucer" or "flying disc." However, earlier stories did in fact credit Arnold
with using terms such as "saucer", "disk", and "pie-pan" in describing
the shape. (see quotes further below)
Years later, Arnold claimed he
told Bill Bequette that "they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it
across the water." Arnold felt that he had been misquoted since the description
referred to the objects' motion rather than their shape. Thus Bequette
has often been credited with first using "flying saucer" and supposedly
misquoting Arnold, but the term does not appear in Bequette's early articles.
Instead, his first article of June 25 says only, "He said he sighted nine
saucer-like aircraft flying in formation..."
The next day in a much more detailed article, Bequette
wrote, "He clung to his story of shiny, flat objects racing over the Cascade
mountains with a peculiar weaving motion ‘like the tail of a Chinese
kite.' ...He also described the objects as 'saucer-like' and their motion
'like fish flipping in the sun.' ...[Arnold] described the objects as 'flat
like a pie-pan and somewhat bat-shaped'." It wasn't until June 28 that
Bequette first used the term "flying disc" (but not "flying saucer").
A review of early newspaper stories indicates that
immediately after his sighting, Arnold generally
described the objects’ shape as thin and flat, rounded in the front but
chopped in the back and coming to a point, i.e., more or less saucer- or
disk-like. He also specifically used terms like "saucer" or "saucer-like",
"disk", and "pie pan" or "pie plate" in describing the shape. The motion
he generally described as weaving like the tail of a kite and erratic flipping.
For example, in a surviving recorded radio interview
from June 25, Arnold described them as looking "something
like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle
in the rear." His motion descriptions were: "I noticed to the left
of me a chain which looked to me like the tail of a Chinese kite, kind
of weaving... they seemed to flip and flash in the sun, just like a mirror...
they seemed to kind of weave in and out right above the mountaintops..."
The following day (June 26) were the following quotes
attributed to Arnold: 
On June 27 was the following quote:
United Press: "They were shaped like saucers and were
so thin I could barely see them..."
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'."
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."
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."
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'."
The letter with a drawing
of flying saucers or flying disks submitted by pilot
Kenneth Arnold to Army Air
Force intelligence on July 12, 1947. Credit: USAF
Two weeks later, Arnold was still referring to the shape
of the objects as "saucers" or "saucer-like." In the Portland Oregonian
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."
Kenneth Arnold's written report
to Army Air Forces (AAF) intelligence, July 12, 1947, with drawing of objects
In a written statement to Army Air Forces (AAF) intelligence
the following day(July 12), Arnold 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." (document with Arnold's drawing at right) 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."
of written report - Project 1947
To complicate the shape descriptions further, a month
after his sighting, Arnold was to become involved in the bizarre Maury
Island incident. Arnold was dispatched by a magazine publisher to Tacoma
to investigate it, although he eventually turned the investigation over
to the AAF. 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 (see picture
at article top). It was at this time that Arnold was also shown the Rhode's
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
Widespread UFO reports after
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
Bloecher collected reports of 853 flying disc sightings
that year from 140 newspapers from Canada, Washington D.C, and every U.S.
state save Montana. This was more UFO reports for 1947 than most researchers
ever suspected. Some of these stories were poorly documented or fragmentary,
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 (see military
flying saucers). The military repeated that neither aircraft could
account for the sightings, which is also born out by historical records.
The most famous UFO event during this period was the
UFO incident, the alleged military recovery of a crashed flying disk,
the story of which broke on July 8, 1947. To calm rising public concern,
this and other cases were debunked by the military in succeeding days as
mistaken sightings of weather balloons.
Military investigation of Arnold
The first investigation of Arnold's claims came from
Lt. Frank Brown and Capt. William Davidson of Hamilton Field in California,
who interviewed Arnold on July 12. Arnold also submitted a written report
at that time. Regarding the reliability of Arnold's sighting, they concluded:
"It is the present opinion of the interviewer that
Mr. Arnold actually saw what he stated he saw. It is difficult to believe
that a man of [his] character and apparent integrity would state that he
saw objects and write up a report to the extent that he did if he did not
Despite this, the Army Air Force's formal public conclusion
was that Arnold had seen a mirage.
In addition, on July 9 AAF intelligence, with help
from the FBI, secretly began an investigation of the best sightings, mostly
from pilots and military personnel. Arnold's sighting, as well as that
of the United Airline's crew, were included in the list of best sightings.
Three weeks later they came to the conclusion that the saucer reports were
not imaginary or adequately explained by natural phenomena; something real
was flying around. This laid the groundwork for another intelligence estimate
in September 1947 by Gen. Nathan Twining, commanding officer of the Air
Materiel Command, which likewise concluded the saucers were real and urged
a formal investigation by multiple government agencies. This in turn resulted
in the formation of Project Sign at the end of 1947, the first publicly
acknowledged USAF UFO investigation. Project Sign eventually evolved into
Project Grudge, and then the better known Project Blue Book.
The personnel of the U.S. Air Force's Project Sign
(1947 - 1949) also later studied Arnold's story. According to Major Edward
I found that there was a lot of speculation on this
report [amongst Sign personnel]. Two factions ... joined up behind two
lines of reasoning. One side said that Arnold had seen plain, everyday
jet airplanes flying in formation ... The other side didn't buy this idea
at all. They based their argument on the fact that Arnold knew where the
objects were when he timed them ...
There was an old theory that maybe Arnold had seen
wind whipping snow along the mountain ridges, so I asked [Air Force investigators]
about this. I got a flat "Impossible."
One skeptical objection raised is that Arnold was suspiciously
precise in his descriptions (for example, "approaching Mt. Rainier at about
107 degrees" and "passed almost directly in front of me, but at a distance
of about 23 miles"), perhaps calling into question Arnold's reliability
as a witness. However, Arnold's
"about 107 degrees" was clearly not meant to be exact but an estimate,
based on judging flight bearings from thousands of hours of flying experience.
Arnold was also explicit from the beginning that his 23-mile (37 km) distance
figure was based on seeing the objects momentarily disappear behind a sub-peak
of Rainier of a known distance.
Skeptic Steuart Campbell has argued that the objects
Arnold reported could have been mirages of several snow-capped peaks in
Cascade Range. Campbell's calculation of the objects' speed determined
that they were travelling at roughly the same speed as Arnold's plane,
indicating that the objects were in fact stationary. Mirages could have
been caused by temperature inversions over several deep valleys in the
line of sight.
It is true that when Arnold had turned the plane so
as to fly parallel to the apparent N-S course of the objects the relative
bearing to very distant mountains would change at a much slower angular
rate than the bearings to nearby peaks, i.e. as nearby landmarks fell aft
of the left wing parallax would cause distant landmarks to be relatively
displaced in the opposite direction. Because mirage affects visual elevation
but preserves visual bearing, detached mirage images of distant peaks could
appear to pace the plane. However, Arnold said that he first saw the objects
crossing the nose of the plane at speed from N - S before he turned S in
order to watch them through the open side canopy. Parallax does not explain
this. He also said he saw the objects fly in front of Mt. Rainier; they
could be seen in profile and also flashing brightly against the snowfields
of Rainier. That would be impossible for mirages of mountain peaks dozens
of miles away to the south.
UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass
cited an article by Keay Davidson of the San Francisco Examiner
in arguing that Arnold might have misidentified meteors on June 24, 1947.
In rebuttal, optical physicist Bruce Maccabee pointed out a meteor theory
would require impossibly slow speeds and durations for brightly glowing
meteors on a horizontal trajectory. 
was the first of several skeptics to suggest that Arnold may have misidentified
pelicans: the birds live in the Washington region, are rather large (wingspans
of over three meters are not uncommon), have a pale underside that can
reflect light, can fly at rather high altitudes, and can appear to have
a somewhat crescent-shaped profile when flying.
Similarly, Richard Carrier recently claimed 
to have seen the same UFOs as Arnold described, "ovoid objects flying in
formation" "rotating along their axis of motion, like footballs, with one
side black and one bright white, so they alternated in color while they
spun." Then he realized it was an optical illusion and a flock of seagulls
of which he misgauged the speed. He further claimed that Arnold's account
showed that Arnold was incorrectly estimating his height, believing himself
level to mountains four thousand feet below him giving him erroneous estimates
of the level, distance, and speed of the objects. Birds unable to meet
these erroneous estimates are ruled out by the minds eye as a possible
explanations for the object and aren't recognized.
Rebutting the various bird explanations, Maccabee,
argues it is physically impossible for a bird to be blindingly bright as
reported by Arnold—the objects; brilliant brightness being what initially
attracted Arnold's attention. Further, Arnold was flying at roughly 110
miles (180 km) an hour on a parallel course to the objects. Arnold reported
the objects rapidly moving forward of his position as he observed them
flying southward on a parallel course between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams.
However, no bird could possibly fly faster than Arnold's plane; instead
birds would have steadily moved backward, not forwards, relative to his
Donald Menzel's explanations
Menzel was a Harvard astronomer and one of the earliest UFO debunkers.
Over the years, he offered several mutually exclusive explanations for
the Arnold's 1947 UFO sighting. Bruce
Maccabee rebutted Menzel's explanations in a 1986 monograph, arguing
that Menzel often left out data that conflicted with a given 'explanation'.
In 1953, Menzel argued that Arnold had seen clouds of
snow blown from the mountains south of Mt. Rainier. Maccabee noted that
such snow clouds have hazy light, not the mirror-like brilliance reported
by Arnold. Further, such clouds could not be in the rapid motion reported
by Arnold, nor would they account for Arnold first seeing the bright objects
north of Rainier.
In 1963, Menzel argued that Arnold had seen orographic
clouds or wave clouds; Maccabee noted that this conflicted with testimony
from Arnold and others that the sky was clear, and again can't account
for the brightness of the objects or their rapid motion over a very large
In 1971, Menzel argued that Arnold had merely seen spots
of water on his airplane's windows; Maccabee notes that this contradicts
Arnold's testiomony that he had specifically ruled out water spots or reflections
shortly after seeing the nine UFOs. For example, the early Bill Bequette
article of June 26 in the Pendleton East Oregonian has Arnold saying
he at first thought that maybe he was seeing reflections off his window,
but "he still saw the objects after rolling it down."
Other sightings by Arnold and
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 (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.
Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Visible
Ink, 1998. ISBN
Story, Ronald, editor, The Encyclopedia of UFOs,
Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1980, ISBN
Diana Palmer Hoyt, "UFOCRITIQUE: UFO's, Social Intelligence
and the Condon Committee"; Master's Thesis, Virginia
Polytechnic Institute, 2000; read
UFO Wave of 1947 by Ted Bloecher, 1967; URL accessed March 7, 2007
Dash, Mike, Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of
the Unknown; Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2000; ISBN
Bremerton (Washington) Sun, June 28, 1947, p. 1
Oregon Journal, Portland, July 4, 1947, p. 2
Michael D. Hall & Wendy A. Connors, Alfred
Loedding & the Great Saucer Wave of 1947, online,
Hall & Connors, 27
Hall & Connors, 27-28
Daily Times, June 27, 1947, p. 1; Bremerton
June 28, 1947, p. 1
reprinted in Bloecher, 1967
Edward J. Ruppelt; Report On Unidentified Flying Objects;
New York: Doubleday 1956
see Story, 1980
Chapter 5 ("The first flying saucers") in The UFO Mystery
Solved (1994) ISBN
Skeptics UFO Newsletter (SUN) #46, July 1997 URL accessed March 13,
Maccabee, "Another Failed Explanation for the Kenneth Arnold Sighting"
"Kenneth Arnold and the pelicans" (Wednesday, April 4, 2007); URL accessed
June 27, 2007
saw a UFO" (Wednesday January 23, 2008); URL accessed January 24, 2008
account of Arnold sighting with critique of skeptical explanations
see Clark, 2005 for more details and Maccabee's website
Clark, Jerome, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon
from the Beginning, Volume 2, A-K, Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998 (2nd
edition, 2005), ISBN
Campbell, Steuart, The UFO Mystery Solved, Explicit
Books, 1994, ISBN
Statesman, January 22, 1984