The coming of the saucers

A documentary report on sky objects that have mystified the world

by Kenneth Arnold and Raymond A. Palmer (privately published by the authors, 1952, Boise, ID; Amherst, WI).

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Chapter I - How the "big story" happened

Arnold's Flight

It was Tuesday, June 24, 1947. I had just finished installing some fire fighting apparatus for Central Air Service at Chehalis, Washington. The job finished, I began a chat with Herb Critzer, chief pilot for Central Air Service. We talked, among other things, about the possible location of a lost C-46 Marine transport which had gone down in the mountains. I decided to look for it. It meant a $5,000 reward and I hoped that via my proposed route to Yakima, Washington, I might be lucky enough to find it. I decided to spend enough time in the air in the vicinity of Mount Rainier to make a good attempt at locating the wreckage.

I was flying a specially designed mountain airplane, and having had considerable experience in this type of flying, I felt qualified to undertake the dangerous search. I took off from the Chehalis, Washington airport at approximately two o'clock in the afternoon with the intention in mind of delaying my trip to Yakima for at least an hour, which I would spend on top, in and around the high plateau of Mount Rainier. I flew directly toward this plateau, which has an elevation varying from nine to over ten thousand feet.

There are a number of things that are extremely important in handling aircraft on a search mission over mountainous terrain. Number one is a meticulous ground inspection of your airplane before beginning; not one of the ordinary checks such as gasoline and oil, but inspection of all wiring and movable parts of the aircraft which in any way might cause a forced landing in treacherous country. This is very necessary. The consumption of gas is best judged in an aircraft not by gasoline gauge alone, but by knowing that your tank is full, knowing its capacity, and the number of gallons your engine consumes each hour. An eight-day clock with a sweep second hand is one of the essentials in my aircraft. By 1947 I had learned through experience that care and thoroughness of a planned flight is the best insurance that a pilot can have. I did plan this flight in this manner on June 24, 1947.

The Sighting

It was during this search and while making a turn of 180 degrees over Mineral, Washington, at approximately 9200 feet altitude, that a tremendously bright flash lit up the surfaces of my aircraft. I was startled. I thought I was very close to collision with some other aircraft whose approach I had not noted. I spent the next twenty to thirty seconds urgently searching the sky all around--to the sides, above and below me--in an attempt to determine where the flash of light had come from. The only actual plane I saw was a DC-4 far to my left and rear, apparently on its San Francisco to Seattle run. My momentary explanation to myself was that some lieutenant in a P-51 had given me a buzz job across my nose ant that hit was the sun reflecting from the surface of his wings as he passed that had caused the flash.

Before I had time to collect my thoughts or to find any close aircraft, the flash happened again. This time I caught the direction from which it had come. I observed, far to my left and to the north, a formation of very bright objects coming from the vicinity of Mount Baker, flying very close to the mountain topics and traveling at tremendous speed.

At first I couldn't make out their shapes as they were still at a distance of over a hundred miles. I could see the formation was going to pass directly in front of me, as it was flying at approximately 170 degrees. I watched as these objects rapidly neared the snow border of Mount Rainier, all the time thinking to myself that I was observing a whole formation of jets. In group count, such as I have used in counting cattle and game from the air, they numbered nine. They were flying diagonally in an echelon formation with a larger gap in their echelon between the first four and the last five.

Initial characteristics of the objects

What startled me most at this point was the fact that I could not find any tails on them. I felt sure that, being jets, they had tails, but figured they must be camouflaged in some way so that my eyesight could not perceive them. I knew the Air Force was very artful in the knowledge and use of camouflage. I observed the objects' outlines plainly as they flipped and flashed along against the snow and also against the sky. Since this formation of craft was at almost right angles to me and was traveling from north to south, I was in an excellent position to clock their speed. I determined to make an attempt to do so.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the giant bulks of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams made perfect markers. Now, clocking speeds by only your sweep second hand cannot be entirely accurate because several seconds could be lost in breaking your gaze to observe your clock. I recall that when the first craft of this formation jetted to the southward from the snow-based cleft of Mount Rainier my second hand was approaching the top of my hour dial and the time was within a few seconds to one minute of three. I can't distinctly remember whether the eight day clock on my instrument panel was set on Pacific time, Mountain time, daylight saving time, or slow time. I never thought of checking this with my wristwatch. I believe my eight day clock was on Mountain time.

I was fascinated by this formation of aircraft. They didn't fly like any aircraft I had ever seen before. In the first place, their echelon formation was backward from that practiced by our Air Force. The elevation of the first craft was greater than that of the last. They flew in a definite formation, but erratically. As I described them at the time, their flight was like speed boats on rough water or similar to the tail of a Chinese kite that I once saw blowing in the wind. Or maybe it would be best to describe their flight characteristics as very similar to a formation of geese, in a rather diagonal chain-like line, as if they were linked together. As I put it to newsmen in Pendleton, Oregon, they flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.

Another characteristic of these craft that made a tremendous impression on me was how they fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces. At the time I did not get the impression that these flashes were emitted by them, but rather that it was the sun's reflection from the extremely highly polished surface of their wings.

Distance and speed of the objects

Even though they had a constant direction they swerved in and out of the high mountain peaks which are found on the hogsback of the Cascade mountains between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. I determined my distance from their pathway to be in the vicinity of twenty-three miles because I knew where I was and they revealed their true position by disappearing from my sight momentarily behind a jagged peak that juts out from the base of Mount Rainier proper. Considering that I was flying all this time in the direction of their formation, this determination can be only approximately, but it is not too far off.

Between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams there is a very high plateau with quite definite north and south edges. Part of this chain-like formation actually dipped below the near edge. As the first unit of these craft cleared the southernmost edge of this background, the last of the formation was just entering the northern edge. I later flew over this plateau in my plane and came to a close approximation that this whole formation of craft, whatever they were, formed a chain in the neighborhood of five miles long.

As the last of this group of objects sped past and seemed to gather altitude at a point beyond the southernmost crest of Mount Adams, I glanced at the sweep second hand of my instrument clock. As closely as I could determine, this strange formation of aircraft had covered the distance between Mount Rainier to the north and Mount Adams to the south in one minute and forty-two seconds.

I can say honestly that I was amazed, thinking all the time: what will these aeronautical engineers dream up next? Although readily explaining it all in this way in my mind, I definitely did have an eerie feeling about the whole experience. I tried to focus my mind on a continued search for the downed C-46 which had crashed some months earlier with thirty-two Marines aboard, but somehow the $5,000 didn't seem important. I wanted to get on to Yakima and tell some of the boys what I had seen.

Around airports pilots are continually arguing about how fast our Army and Navy jets and missiles really can go. Most pilots conceded that the fastest aircraft that had been invented at that time could to in the vicinity of seven hundred miles per hour. Up to this point I hadn't done any paper figuring on the distance and time, but I felt sure this formation of strange craft was traveling in excess of a thousand miles per hour.

First reactions to the story

It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when I landed at Yakima and went straight to Al Baxter, general manager of Central Aircraft. I met him in his outer office and rather breathlessly asked to see him in private. He dropped whatever it was he was doing and in his private office I related the story of my observation and drew him pictures of what I had seen. I recall that he looked at me in a rather puzzled way, but seemd quite positive that I hadn't gone crazy and wasn't seeing things. He called in several of his flight pilots and helicopter instructors to listen to my story.

The high point of my enthusiasm got its top knocked off when one of the helicopter pilots said, "Ah, it's just a flight of those guided missiles from Moses Lake."

Figuring the speed

I proceeded to gather my scattered wits together, got back in my airplane, and took off for Pendleton, Oregon. I remembered that I had forgotten to mention the fact that one of these craft looked different from the rest, was darker and of a slightly different shape, and that I hadn't told the Yakima boys that I had clocked the speed of this formation within fairly accurate limits. While flying to Pendleton I took my map from its snap holder on the extreme edge of my instrument panel, grabbed a ruler, and began figuring mathematically miles per hour. Figuring and flying my airplane at the same time was a little confusing, and I thought my figures were wrong and that I had better wait until I landed at Pendleton to do some serious calculating.

When I landed at the large airfield at Pendleton there was quite a group of people to greet me. When I got out of my plain no one said anything. They just stood around and looked at me. I don't recall just how the subject came up in those first few minutes after I landed, but before very long it seemed everybody around the airfield was listening to the story of my experience. I mentioned the speed I had calculated but assured everybody that I was positive that my mathematics were lousy.

I don't know how many fellows sat down and started figuring out. When it kept coming out in excess of seventeen hundred miles an hour I thought, "Holy smoke, we're taking the measurement of the distance far too high up on both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams." So we took a measurement of the very base, as closely as it could be determined, which I knew from the map was far below the snow line. The distance was 39.8 miles. Even covering this distance, which was so far on the conservative side that I knew it was incorrect, we still had a speed of over thirteen hundred and fifty miles per hour. To me, that evening, that was that. They were guided missiles, robotly controlled. I knew that speeds of this velocity the human body simply could not stand, particularly considering the flipping, erratic movements of these strange craft.

Reaction of the press

After talking to the editor of the East Oregonian newspaper, I was fairly convinced that it was some new government invention along the line of guided missiles. I could almost tell what this editor thought when the story went scudding over the news wires--that the government had taken this way to announce a new principle of flight.

I could have gone to sleep that night if the reporters, newsmen, and press agencies of every conceivable description had left me alone. I didn't share the general excitement. I can't begin to estimate the number of people, letters, telegrams, and phone calls I tried to answer. After three days of this hubbub I came to the conclusion that I was the only sane one in the bunch. From then on, if I was to go by the number of reports that came in of other sightings and of which I kept close track, I thought it wouldn't be long before there would be one of these things in every garage. In order to stop what I thought was a lot of foolishness and since I couldn't get any work done, I went out to the airport, cranked up my airplane, and flew home to Boise.

It wasn't long after I arrived home when Dave Johnson called on me. Dave Johnson is aviation editor of The Idaho Statesman newspaper, and a man of respected ability and intelligence in matters related to military and civilian aviation. When I caught the look in his eye and the tone of his words, flying saucers suddenly took on a different and a serious significance. The doubt he displayed of the authenticity of my story told me, and I am sure he was in a position to know, that it was not a new military guided missile and that if what I had seen was true it did not belong to the good old U.S.A. It was then I really began to wonder.

(...)

It was on the morning of July 29, 1947 that I took off from a private cow pasture near my home.

[...]

It was a perfect day to fly. The air was sharp, moist, clear as crystal and smooth as silk. There is something of a real thrill in flying on a day like that.

[...]

Within an hour I was over Baker, Oregon.

[...]

I began to let down over North Powder, Oregon in preparation to land at La Grande when I noticed above me and about ten miles to the right the Empire Airline's old Boeing, also coming in to land at La Grande. There is something about having company in the air that always seems pleasant and friendly. I rocked my wings at him in a gesture of hello and continued my let down until I was directly over Union, Oregon at 5,000 feet.

I recall looking at my instrument clock which read about five minutes to seven. As I looked up from my instrument panel and straight ahead over the La Grande valley, I saw a cluster of about twenty to twenty-five brass coloured objects that looked like ducks.

They were coming at me head on and at what seemed a terrific rate of speed. I grabbed my camera and started rolling out film. Even though I thought they were ducks when I first saw them, I wasn't taking any chances.

The sun was at my back and to my right. These objects were coming into the sun. I wasn't sighting through the viewfinder on my camera but was sighting along the side of it. As the group of objects came within 400 yards of me they veered sharply away from me and to their right, gaining altitude as they did so and fluttering and flashing a dull amber color. I was a little bit shocked and exited when I realized they had the same flight characteristics of the large objects that I had observed on June 24. These appeared to be round, rather rough on top, and to have a dark or a light spot on top of each one. I couldn't be absolutely positive of this because it all happened so suddenly. I attempted to make a turn and follow them but they disappeared to the east at a speed far in excess of my airplane. I knew they were not ducks because ducks don't fly that fast.

[...]

I heard later that several farmers in the vicinity of Union had observed what they thought a peculiar cluster of birds that same morning. I did not know of this until much later. Actually, they flew in a cluster more like blackbirds than ducks but each one was larger than a duck. I should judge some twenty-four to thirty inches in diameter. They rather wheeled on edge, flipping as they went as efficiently as when they were flat in reference to the surface of the ground. That morning I was pretty disappointed that no one around the airfield had seen them, to my knowledge.

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