Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Kenneth Arnold made what is generally considered the first major UFO sighting.
On June 24 1947, Arnold — a private pilot from Boise, Idaho and part time Search and Rescue Mercy Flyer — reported seeing nine unusual flying objects near Mount Rainier while he was searching for a missing military airplane in his CallAir A-2 . He described the objects as "bright", and their flight as "erratic" at "tremendous speed". Arnold's story was widely reported by the Associated Press, and is usually credited as the catalyst for modern UFO interest.
Shortly after his sighting Arnold landed in Yakima, Washington where he made a routine report to a Civil Aeronautics Administration representative. When he stopped on his way back to Boise to refuel in Pendleton, Oregon, he repeated his story to a group of curious listeners which included a newspaper reporter. Arnold told the reporter that "they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water" and the term "flying saucer" was born, despite the fact that his description referred to the objects' motion rather than their shape. In the weeks that followed, hundreds of reports of similar sightings flooded in from around the world — most of which described saucer-shaped objects. Arnold always felt that he had been misquoted, and he maintained that the objects were shaped like boomerangs or crescents rather than saucers.
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. 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 extra-terrestrial origin." Then he added "I don't think it's anything for people to get hysterical about." The extra-terrestrial speculation may have been motivated by a desire to allay public fears of the (seemingly) real possibility of a foreign invasion--Arnold's sighting was less than two years after the end of World War II and in the early stages of the cold war.
Arnold reported seeing the same objects three other times, and at least eight other pilots flying in the northwestern U.S. made similar reports. However, Arnold's original account was never corroborated; in fact, a pilot of a DC-4 some 10 miles away reported seeing nothing unusual. Nevertheless, Arnold was an experienced pilot who apparently had nothing to gain by fabricating the story. Indeed, he did not seem to enjoy the ensuing publicity, remarking "none of us appreciate being laughed at." Furthermore, his description remained fairly consistent, if somewhat vague (unlike other early UFO encounter stories, such as the purported Roswell UFO incident).
In 1952 Kenneth Arnold described his experiences in the book The Coming of the Saucers, which he and a publisher friend named Raymond Palmer published themselves.
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