Although the history of UFOs can be traced back to early cave drawings, pictures, and folklore, the modern era of the study of UFOs is usually believed to be the 1947 sighting report of nine "flying saucers" made by pilot Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947.

Arnold was aiding in the search for a missing plane when the sighting occurred. He did not believe his story would be believed, but swore that it was true. Arnold related his sighting to the Chicago Daily Tribune:

The first thing I noticed was a series of flashes in my eyes as if a mirror was reflecting sunlight at me...

I saw the flashes were coming from a series of objects that were traveling incredibly fast. They were silvery and shiny and seemed to be shaped like a pie plate...What startled me most at this point was...that I could not find any tails on them.

Arnold estimated that the objects were flying at an altitude between 9,500 and 10,000 feet, and at a great speed. After clocking them from Mt. Ranier to Mt. Adams, he arrived at an estimated speed of 1,200 miles per hour. "It seemed impossible," he said, "but there it is...I must believe my eyes."

The term "flying saucer" was coined, not by Arnold, but a reporter. Arnold made the statement that the objects moved, "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." East Orengonian newspaper reporter Bill Bequette paraphrased Arnold's statement when he placed the story on the AP news wire. Arnold's term "saucer-like" became "flying saucers."

The US military attempted to ignore the press reports of Arnold's sighting, but as the story grew, they felt compelled to take action. A meeting to discuss a course of action was held at the Pentagon on July 7, 1947, only a few days after the Roswell Crash. Taking charge was Chief of the Army Air Force Air Intelligence Requirements Division, General Schulgen.

The group made the decision to follow up on "qualified" observers' reports of flying discs. Three days later, Arnold received a request from Continental Air Command to appear for an interview, regarding his report. Two Counter Intelligence Corps investigators would carry out the investigation. The results of this session were included in Project Blue Book.

Arnold's report was one of the first of 850 different UFO reports to make US media by the end of July, 1947. More than anything else, Arnold was in the right place at the right time to forever be an important part of the history of UFOs.

The Story of the Sighting


I Did See the Flying Disks

The following story of what I observed over the Cascade mountains, as impossible as it may seem, is positively true. I never asked nor wanted any notoriety for just accidentally being in the right spot at the right time to observe what I did. I reported something that I know any pilot would have reported. I don’t think that in any way my observation was due to sensitivity of eyesight or judgment other than what is considered normal for any pilot.

On Tuesday, June 24th, 1947, I had finished my work for the Central Air Service at Chehalis, Washington, and at about two o’clock I took off from Chehalis, Washington airport with the intention of going to Yakima, Washington. My trip was delayed for an hour to search for a large Marine transport that supposedly went down near or around the southwest side of Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington. (This airplane has been discovered at the time of this writing - July 29, 1947).

I flew directly toward Mt. Rainier after reaching an altitude of about 9,500 feet, which is the approximate elevation of the high plateau from which Mt. Rainier rises. I had made one sweep of this high plateau to the westward, searching all of the various ridges for this Marine ship and flew to the west down and near the ridge side of the canyon where Ashford, Washington, is located.

Unable to see anything that looked like the lost ship, I made a 360 degree turn to the right and above the little city of Mineral, starting again toward Mt. Rainier. I climbed back up to an altitude of approximately 9,200 feet.

The air was so smooth that day that it was a real pleasure flying and, as most pilots do when the air is smooth and they are flying at a higher altitude, I trimmed out my airplane in the direction of Yakima, Washington, which was almost directly east of my position, and simply sat in my plane observing the sky and terrain.

There was a DC-4 to the left and to the rear of me approximately fifteen miles distant and, I should judge, at 14,000 feet elevation.

The sky and air were as clear as crystal. I had not flown more than two or three minutes on my course when a bright flash reflected on my airplane. It startled me as I thought I was too close to some other aircraft. I looked every place in the sky and couldn’t find where the reflection had come from until I looked to the left and the north of Mt. Rainier where I observed a chain of nine peculiar-looking aircraft flying from north to south at approximately 9,500 feet elevation and going, seemingly, in a definite direction of about 170 degrees north to south.

They were approaching Mt. Rainier very rapidly, and I merely assumed they were jet planes. Anyhow, I discovered that this was where the reflection had come from, as two or three of them every few seconds would dip or change their course slightly, just enough for the sun to strike them at an angle that reflected brightly in my eyes.

These objects being quite far away, I was unable for a few seconds to make out their shape or their formation. Very shortly they approached Mt. Rainier, and I observed their outline against the snow quite plainly.

I thought it was very peculiar that I couldn’t find their tails, but assumed they were some new type of jet. I was determined to clock their speed. I had two definite points - Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams - to clock them by, and the air was so clear that it was very easy to see the objects and determine their approximate shape and size as far as fifty miles.

I remember distinctly that my sweep-second hand on my eight-day clock, which is located on my instrument panel, read one minute to 3 P.M. as the first object of this formation passed the southern edge of Mt. Rainier. I watched these objects with great interest as I had never before observed airplanes flying so close to the mountain tops, flying directly south to southeast down the hog’s back of a mountain range. I would estimate their elevation could have varied a thousand feet one way or another up or down, but they were pretty much on the horizon to me which would indicate they were near the same elevation as I was.

They flew, as I have frequently observed geese fly, in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were linked together. They seemed to hold a definite direction, but swerved in and out of the high mountain peaks. Their seed at the time did not impress me particularly, because I knew that our army and air forces had planes that went very fast.

What kept bothering me as I watched them flip and flash in the sun right along their path was the fact that I couldn’t make out any tail on them, and I am sure that any pilot would justify more than a second look at such a plane.

I observed them quite plainly, and I estimate my distance from them, which was almost at right angles, to be between twenty to twenty-five miles. I knew they must be very large to permit me to observe their shape at that distance, even as clear a day as it was. In fact, I compared a zeus fastener or cowling tool I had in my pocket with them, holding it up on them and holding it up on the DC-4 that I could observe at quite a distance to my left, and they seemed smaller than the DC-4; but I should judge their span would have been as wide as the farthest engines on each side of the fuselage of the DC-4.

The more I observed these objects, the more upset I became, as I am accustomed and familiar with most all flying objects whether I am close to the ground or at higher altitudes. I observed the chain of these objects passing another high snow-covered ridge in between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, and as the first one was passing the south crest of this ridge the last object was entering the northern crest of the ridge.

As I was flying in the direction of this particular ridge, I measured it and found it to be approximately five miles, so I could safely assume that the chain of these saucer-like objects was at least five miles long. I could quite accurately determine their pathway due to the fact that there were several of them as well as higher peaks on the other side of their pathway.

As the last unit of this formation passed the northernmost high snow-covered crest of Mt. Adams, I looked at my sweep-second hand and it showed that they had traveled the distance in one minute and forty-two seconds. Even at the time this timing did not upset me as I felt confident that after I landed there would be some explanation of what I had seen.

A number of news men and experts suggested that I might have been seeing reflections or even a mirage. This I know to be absolutely false, as I observed these objects not only through the glass of my airplane but turned my airplane sideways where I could open my window and observe them with a completely unobstructed view.

Even though two minutes seems like a very short time to one on the ground, in the air in two minutes’ time a pilot can observe a great many things and anything within his field of vision probably as many as fifty or sixty times.

I continued my search for the Marine plane, for another fifteen or twenty minutes, and while searching for this Marine plane the things I had just observed kept going through my mind. I became more disturbed, so after taking a last look at Teton Reservoir I headed for Yakima.

I might add that my complete observation of these objects, which I could even follow by their flashes as they passed Mt. Adams, was around two and one-half or three minutes - although by the time they reached Mt. Adams they were out of my range of vision as far as determining shape or form. Of course, when the sun reflected from one or two or three of these units, they appeared to be completely round; but, I am making a drawing to the best of my ability, which I am including, as to the shape I observed these objects to be as they passed the snow-covered ridges at Mt. Rainier.

When these objects were flying approximately straight and level, they were just a thin black line and the only time I could get a judgment as to their size was when they flipped.

These objects were holding an almost constant elevation; they did not seem to be going up or to be coming down, such as would be the case of rockets or artillery shells. I am convinced in my own mind that they were some type of airplane, even though they did not conform with the many aspects of the conventional type of planes that I know.

Although these objects have been reported by many other observers throughout the United States, there have been six or seven other accounts written by some of these observers that I can truthfully say must have observed the same thing that I did; particularly, the descriptions of the three Western Air Lines employees of Cedar City, Utah, the pilot from Oklahoma City, the locomotive engineer in Illinois, John Corlett, a United Press correspondent of Boise, Idaho. Dave Johnson, news editor at the Boise Daily Statesman, Captain Smith, a co-pilot Stevens and Marty Morrow of United Air Lines, and Captain Charles F. Gebian and Jack Harvey of United Air Lines both of whom on July 28, 1947, made their observation on United Air Lines flight 105 westbound out of Boise.

It is my opinion that descriptions could not be very accurate taken from the ground unless these saucer-like discs were at quite a great height and there is a possibility that all of the people who observed peculiar objects could have seen the same thing I did; but, it would have been very difficult from the ground to observe these for more than four or five seconds, and there is always the possibility of atmospheric moisture and dust near the ground which could distort one’s vision while air observers I would judge to be much more accurate.

I have in my possession letters from all over the United States and Europe from people who profess that these objects have been observed over other portions of the world, principally Sweden, Bermuda, and California.

I would have given almost anything that day to have had a movie camera with a telephoto lens and from now on I will never be without one.

When I landed at Yakima, Washington airport I described what I had seen to my very good friend, Al Baxter, who is the General Manager of Central Aircraft Company. He listened patiently and was very courteous but in a joking way didn’t believe me.

I did not accurately measure the distance between these two mountains until I landed at Pendleton, Oregon, that same day where I told a number of pilot friends of mine what I had observed and they did not scoff or laugh, but suggested they might be guided missiles or something new. In fact, several former Army pilots informed me that they had been briefed before going into combat overseas that they might see objects of similar shape and design that I described and assured me that I wasn’t dreaming or going crazy.

I quote Sonny Robinson, a former Army Air Force pilot who is now operating dusting operations at Pendleton, Oregon: “What you observed, I am convinced, is some type of jet or rocket-propelled ship that is in the process of being tested by our government or it could even be by some foreign government.”

Anyhow, the news that I had observed these spread very rapidly and before the night was over I was receiving telephone calls from all parts of the world; and to date I have not received one telephone call or one letter of scoffing or disbelief. The only disbelief that I know of was what was printed in the papers.

I look at this whole affair as not something funny as some people have made it out to be. To me it is mighty serious and since I evidently did observe something that at least Mr. John Doe on the street corner or Pete Andrews on the ranch has never heard about, is no reason that it does not exist. Even though I openly invited an investigation by the Army and the FBI as to the authenticity of my story or a mental and physical examination as to my capabilities, I received no interest from these two important protective forces of our country until two weeks after my observation. I will go so far as to assume that if our Military Intelligence was not aware of what I observed and reported to the United and Associated Press and over the radio on two different occasions which apparently set the nation buzzing, they would be the very first people I could expect as visitors.

I have received lots of requests from people who told me to make a lot of wild guesses. I have based what I have written here in this article on positive facts and as far as guessing what it was I observed, it is just as much a mystery to me as it is to the rest of the world. I saw them and I know they are real.

My pilot’s license is 33489. I fly a Callair airplane, which is a three-place single-engine land ship that is designed and manufactured at Afton, Wyoming, as an extremely high-performance, high-altitude airplane that was made for mountain work. The national certificate of my plane is NC-33355.

of the
Flying Saucers


Site Meter

Kenneth Arnold was born March 29, 1915, in Sebeka, Minn. Educated at Minot, N. Dakota

Interested in athletics, was all-state end in 1932-33. Football under Bernie Bierman interrupted by knee injury. Employed by Red Comet, Inc., manufactures of automatic fire-fighting apparatus, in 1938. In 1940 established his own fire control supply company known as the Great Western Fire Control Supply. Handles, distributes, installs fire-fighting equipment in five states. Uses his plane in his work, landing in pastures and mountain meadows. He is married and has two children.



The Birth of the Myth of Flying Saucers

As seen by passing saucers

The Great Flying Saucer Wave of 1947


We must be cautious of the hubris of the present. When UFOs first appeared in numbers during the great flying saucer wave of 1947, few people made the jump to an extraterrestrial hypothesis.

For the best part of the summer of 1947 most serious minds studying the flying disc mystery considered that a domestic secret project might account for the sightings. After eliminating that possibility, the "foreign origin" option was exhaustively explored. By 1948 foreign origin became a catch word for visitors from outer space, but in 1947 it meant only one thing—Russians In fact, worries that the Soviet Union may have gleaned a Nazi super weapon at the end of the Second World War remained in the minds of Air Force officials up through 1952. But by late 1947 some aeronautical engineers began to consider that "flying saucers" may represent intelligently controlled machines from another world. Why? What was the mind set in 1947 that could rationalize such a conclusion? What was the perspective? Where was the proof?


Extensive media coverage of the first so-called "flying saucers" observed, on Jun. 24, 1947, near Mount Rainier by businessman Kenneth Arnold opened the floodgates to a deluge of similar sightings. Within three weeks of the Arnold incident, the U.S. military had logged 850 reports from around the nation. Most of these were readily accounted for in terms of astronomical objects, aircraft, hoaxes, and the like. However, inevitably, a few cases proved more difficult to resolve and these provided fertile ground for speculation.

Several factors conspired to see the United States, in the summer of 1947, firmly in the grip of saucer fever. It was only a decade since the mass panic instigated by the The War of the Worlds radio play. That broadcast had gone out on the eve of war in Europe, at a time when the sight and sound of Hitler's fanatical storm-troopers in Berlin was bringing home to people everywhere the very real possibility of invasion by a powerful, single-minded enemy. Now the War was over, Germany and Japan had been defeated, but a general nervousness pervaded America about the new threat of communism. The public and military alike were alive to the possibility of preemptive aerial attack by the Soviets, perhaps using weapons of advanced design smuggled out of Nazi Germany. It is not difficult to understand, following the media hype surrounding Arnold's sighting, people's preoccupation with what might be going on in the skies overhead, nor the ease with which, in all the excitement, it was possible for even commonplace phenomena to be misinterpreted. Those who believed the saucers (or "flying disks," as they were also known) were both real and artificial, could choose between the theory that they were man-made and the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

It is very difficult with our modern view of popular culture to consider a time when there was no extensive set of preconceptions on extraterrestrial life. Without a Steven Spielberg to help us dream, or a Star Wars trilogy and a thousand other such productions dating back to 1949, we would not have the present-day mind set that we do. Yet, that is not to say there was not already some basis for the consideration of alien visitation.

The best way for us to understand one early perspective is to look at Halloween night 1938. During that famous evening the dramatic actor Orson Welles produced and narrated a radio drama based on H.G. Wells' book, The War of the Worlds. Like the famous account of a Martian invasion, the radio play was a frightening success. Unfortunately for many East Coast listeners, it seemed so real that thousands flew into a panicked frenzy—actually believing aliens were landing in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. The nation was certainly in a vulnerable state of paranoia due to the brewing storm clouds in Europe. The Second World War would begin just one year later on September 1st and Americans knew that they would soon be impacted by Hitler's madness.

Many authors have used the panic caused by Orson Welles' radio drama as a foretelling explanation for later UFO sightings. In other words, a belief has arisen that the radio drama planted a seed in the public's mind—a self-fulfilling prophecy for extraterrestrial visitation. The historian, however, will realize the concept of extraterrestrial life had already been firmly ingrained in the public's mind since 1894 when Percival Lowell founded the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Lowell believed he saw signs through his huge telescope of canals on the Martian landscape -- proving to him the existence of intelligent life there. Some scientists agreed while others were skeptical, but until the first Mars probes of the 1960s and 1970s showed just how lifeless the planet's surface actually was, many people kept an open mind about the possibility. UFOs, never the less, continued to be seen after we realized the near planets were uninhabited. Why?

UFOs are just that, unidentified objects in the atmosphere. Most of these turn out to be identified or IFOs—always representing something of physical reality regardless of what they turn out to be. For years debunkers have tried to use science fiction stories as an impetus behind UFO reports. But the stimulus for the sightings is real, not imagined. Orson Welles had no more responsibility than Percival Lowell for UFOs because whatever they represent, they are a real phenomena. True, no proof has surfaced to tell us what the UFO phenomenon represents. In the case of UFOs it seems the truth may be very extraordinary. And for that reason it is perhaps best to remember the words of the late Dr. Carl Sagan who stressed that finding such extraordinary truths always requires extraordinary evidence.

No one can say if popular culture tainted the history of man's modern interpretation of UFO sightings. The point for the sake of objectivity has to be presented.

Since June 24th 1947 there had been a small number of unique stories in the press concerning sightings unidentifiable flying objects. At the time these were coined "flying discs" or "saucers" after private pilot Kenneth Arnold likened the nine objects he saw over the Cascade Mountains to "saucers skipping across the water." No one then used the phrase UFO so "saucers and discs" became the catch words. But it was not until that Independence Day weekend that the sightings dramatically increased in intensity and started to dominate news headlines. West Coast newspapers were the first to detail the stories, although, by Sunday of that weekend even the New York Times had a page-one feature on the discs and would do so for the next three days.

On July 6th the Sunday New York Times published an exclusive on the recent deployment of two reactivated B-29 bomber groups to the West Coast—and how their appearance coincided in place and time with many of the disc sightings. Up to this time the military had only issued a few and very contradictory statements on the incidents. On July 3rd, for example, Army Major Paul Gaynor stated that a preliminary investigation had been dropped for lack of evidence. Then that same day Boise Evening Statesman reporter Dave Johnson got a different slant from the commander of the Air Materiel Command, Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining. Twining, who had the T-2 Army Air Force Intelligence group under his command, commented that officials were indeed looking into the matter of flying discs. He stated that even the top secret research conducted at the aviation labs at Wright Field had not produced technology comparable to that being observed. Continuing, he added that a "reputable scientist" had seen one of the discs and that his report is being studied.

Shortly following that weekend other units of the Army Air Force were becoming interested in the sightings and in particular the Kenneth Arnold account. Fourth Army Air Force Intelligence officers, Captain William Lee Davidson and First Lieutenant Frank Mercer Brown, would even go so far as to interview Arnold for six hours, taking a lengthy detailed statement from him.

The Independence holiday accounted for a huge number of sightings. The term "flying saucers" had arrived and was here to stay.


In the summer of 1947 the phrase "flying saucer" entered the vocabulary of popular American culture. Before this period there were some rare and unverifiable stories of disc-shaped aircraft seen around the world, but only a few significant reports of any kind came to light after a series of so-called "phantom" airship" sightings in America around 1886 and 1887. The truly notable incidents, although not really describing saucers, centered around the "foo-fighters" of World War II and mysterious "ghost rockets" over Sweden in 1946. By 1947, the famous saucers had arrived and were here to stay.

When the sightings hit the headlines, they almost exclusively described flying objects in the shape of discs. Actually, when the primary accounts of many of these reports are studied, the researcher reads stories more descriptive of flying wings or delta and swept-wing shaped aircraft. Such aerodynamic forms did emerge at the end of World War II and without doubt generated numerous flying saucer reports.

Jets, of course, were still fairly new and posed a possible solution to the mystery. The German jet and rocket planes that came into service at the tail end of the war startled even experienced pilots not only for their swept-wing design but also for the absence of a propeller. Those German aircraft along with the British Meteor and American P-80 jet fighters had speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour. Such speeds, even two years after the war, still attracted great attention. But jets could account for only a few of the many saucer sightings that summer—which often involved velocities accurately calculated by qualified observers at greater than 1,000 miles per hour.

.....the Army was losing patience with the development problems at Northrop and Consolidated. Development of the B-36 was behind schedule, and the XB-35, which was even more of an engineering challenge, had yet to fly. So the production contract was canceled, leaving only two X (experimental) and 13 Y (service test) B-35s on order.

The XB-35 finally took to the air in June 1946, almost a year after Japan had surrendered. Company pilot Max Stanley flew it to Muroc Army Air Base. "No trouble," he reported. The same couldn't be said of the XB-35 thereafter: Its engines overheated, its propeller shafts vibrated, its propeller gearbox broke down, and its auxiliary power unit (a gasoline-powered electrical generator) failed."

Note the similarities to the Horten brothers' projects and note that they (the Americans, and Hortens?) were testing the YB-49 in 1947 - being very much like the Ho 229. Jet powered versions of these Northrop craft could thus also be realistic alternatives to the Arnold sightings; i.e., N-9M or YB/XB-35.

The Arnold sightings were most likely:

1 Guided missiles, and/or,
2.Some early experimental planes, possibly captured from Germany just after the war, or possibly developed by Northrop or some other American company - and not extra terrestrial (ET) aircraft, and the reason being: It is fairly unlikely that an ET tech. observed - e.g. by Arnold in those days, should be nearly identical to an existing, well known (however not yet really well-proven) and already developed American/German aircraft technology. (At least, the theory was well known.)

What is left here is to check unclassified US military records of possible flying tests which took place in those days. There is also a possibility that the sightings could be some Soviet developed aircraft or missiles/drones, having shapes to be nearly invisible on the radar screens, i.e., being fast-flying, flat, tail-less and oval/saucer/crescent-shaped, etc.

The USAF logged 853 reports of unidentified disc-shaped 'flying saucers' within three weeks of Kenneth Arnold's sighting being reported in American newspapers and on American radio programs. Presumably these witnesses believed that they were seeing the same kind of object that Arnold saw.

Ironically, though, Arnold never described his objects as discs or saucers. Indeed, the diagrams that he drew for the FBI looked more like the Focke-Wulf 'Schnellflugzeug' and the Horten Ho 229 - German terrestrial aircraft powered by conventional means.

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.

~Kenneth Arnold

Not only was this later remark misconstrued by the media and responsible for the mythology of 'saucer shaped' objects, as opposed to the 'bat-like' shape Arnold actually described, there's also been a misunderstanding that this simile related to each individual object.

It is pretty clear, in retrospect, that Kenneth Arnold actually saw was a formation of recently U.S.-acquired Horten flying wings, designs that lay somewhere between models HO IX and HO XVIII. This specially equipped flight of Horten "boomerang-shaped" ships was described as like a "saucer skipping over the water." From this description the term "flying saucer" was coined. And this is ironic, as these ships were NOT the traditional "saucer" shape at all.

The erratic (non-conventional) movement would have been induced by the gravity-field suppression coils surrounding the pilot's cockpit enclosures. Subsequent flying wing designs tended to crash a lot because the center of gravity in flying wings needs to be far forward to be stabile. Perhaps the lightening of the front end of these ships by the effect of these coils made them rather unstable in turbulent air. However, at 1200 mph these ships outstripped anything that the

United States or its allies had conceived of, let alone built.

Certainly no American civilian had ever seen anything so fast. Hence, Ken and a lot of other uninformed Americans latched onto the next best theory....ships from "outer space." And the government let them go on believing it, this was a perfect way to cover-up the truth. This "alien" cover-up proved to be so successful that it became the next best ploy; the best after the weather balloon and meteor and Venus excuses, that is.


Neither could other new aircraft designs answer all the questions raised by the disc mystery despite the fact that both the Germans and Allies had experimented with the flying wing concept. The Northrop company, for example, tested large flying wing bomber designs in 1947 known as the XB-35 and YB-49 prototypes, but their flights were always documented. Despite many sensational stories on the subject, the well known Horten brothers who designed flying wing aircraft in wartime Germany never saw their machines attain practical use. Nor did the Soviet Union ever utilize the radical Horten airfoil concept.


Balloons, although a much lower level of technology, generated other reports as scientists began using this old invention by the thousands to conduct weather and cosmic ray studies of the stratosphere in the 1940's. The early balloons were made from neoprene which would turn smoky gray or black in the sunlight—just as some witnesses of suspected flying saucer events described seeing. The military and their civilian contractors also used balloons for a whole host of research and intelligence gathering duties. By July of 1947 many of these were no longer small gas bags, but huge silver (and sometimes clear) plastic envelopes made from polyethylene. These  would appear cone-shaped before their helium gas expanded and rounded out their internal volume at high altitude. Many times these and the older, neoprene balloons were tied together in clusters which could resemble formations of discs. Some of these larger polyethylene balloons could be seen by the naked eye at altitudes as high as 60,000 feet. Many saucer sightings, especially after a lot of news play on the subject, were undoubtedly the result of balloon launches. Perhaps as many as seventy percent of all early UFO sightings are attributed to balloons. Yet, balloons cannot explain away, accounts of flying-wings or discs with extraordinary flight characteristics. Balloon experts had disc sightings themselves.


The disc reports came from all over North America and around the world in 1947. Many were seen traveling at tremendous speeds, flying extremely high, sometimes hovering, and on numerous occasions making controlled changes in their flight path. These cases remain a mystery because missiles of the day were only being tested in specific designated areas and had little endurance or range. The next generation of rockets like Sputnik, that were capable of intercontinental flight or earth orbit, were still a decade away. Aircraft, on the other hand, had not yet attained reliable means of reaching supersonic speeds, altitudes above 40,000 feet, or developed methods to hover. Because a large percentage of the first disc sightings occurred during daylight hours, astronomical events are difficult to associate with any but a few of the reports. Thus, 1947 has become a very important period to study. Accounts from reputable witnesses during the time are also significant because they had not yet had the opportunity to have their observations tainted by a vast body of previously published UFO lore.

The military started a formal UFO investigation by the end of 1947, although, as early as July Army Air Force and Naval Intelligence as well as the FBI had studied some of the more well publicized reports. As in later waves, however, only a small percentage of the total number of sightings were reported to authorities. Less than five percent of the 1947 incidents were even indexed in military files. Many of those can be found in the National Archives' holdings of USAF Project Blue Book files. (Although a later effort, Blue Book included what records survived from the 1947 period in its files). Some paperwork dealing with UFOs are also located at the Air Force Historical Center at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, Alabama, which primarily deal with records of the Fourth Air Force. Nine hundred and ten pages of lost Air Force documents from the late 1940s have also come to light from the National Records Center in St. Louis Missouri—via Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Microfilms of early intelligence files have surfaced as well but are now held in private hands although are becoming available for sale to researchers. Recently released FBI files provide a very good insight into some of the early investigations too. Despite dedicated efforts to locate Naval records containing UFO cases by historian and researcher Jan Aldrich, these files are in large part still missing.

Another very good source dealing with 1947 comes from a book by Ted Bloecher entitled Report on the UFO Wave of 1947. In his work Bloecher surveyed 853 North American newspaper accounts of flying saucer sightings. Regrettably, many of those stories were not taken seriously by the newspapers themselves and lack details. In fact, after some news play on the subject a great deal of silliness arose in the press. Often it becomes hard to weed out the serious stories from that madness. Because most accounts were not followed up on at the time, the articles remain as the only documentation to many of the early UFO sightings. Mr. Aldrich is engaged in a compilation known as Project 1947 that significantly expands on Bloecher's work. Aldrich has screened over 3,200 North American newspapers and others from all over the world for UFO reports. Aldrich's recent book, Project 1947: A Preliminary Report On The 1947 UFO Sighting Wave, is by far the most extensively researched publication available on the period. Today his work continues, searching out UFO accounts long lost in over 11,000 newspapers that were in print in the United States alone in 1947. When reading those accounts it is important to realize that UFOs were still not yet called unidentified flying objects. As stated, the term UFO simply did not yet exist. The media dubbed the strange objects "flying saucers" and "discs" following the Kenneth Arnold sighting. Those terms would predominate in the popular press until well into the 1950s.

The most important historical hindsight a reader can possess concerns the nature of what flying saucers then represented. Very few made the assumption that these discs represented extraterrestrial intelligence. Belief in so-called "alien visitation" did not mature until 1949 and then mainly in the cinema and tabloid-like magazines printed on pulpwood paper—"the pulp fiction." In 1947 flying saucers were assumed to mean scientific balloons or most likely classified military test craft. What else could a rational individual who had just lived through the wartime environment of secret weapons development think? Most people just hoped they were American and not Soviet—especially the military.

Colonel Howard M. McCoy, said that November:

The possibility that the reported objects are vehicles from another planet has not been ignored.

[FOIA request I-NAIC-97-053, Project Sign and Grudge documents 1948-1949, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio]

But that was not a topic of discussion in the summer of 1947.

Although saucers were indeed very hot news by early July, they were not the only focus of the nation by any means. The Cold War had begun to heat up in late 1946 as tensions grew tighter each day. In that year, while responding to an invitation from President Truman to speak in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill brought the phrase Iron Curtain into general use. Although voted out of office by that point, his beloved Britain then had to institute bread rationing in order to export enough grain to keep food riots from erupting in Allied occupied Germany. That was a hardship English citizens had not even had to endure during the darkest days of the war. Subsequent pressure on Parliament led Britain to abandon efforts to check Communist expansion in the eastern Mediterranean. President Truman felt America had to fill that vacuum. To drum up Congressional support for aid to Greece and Turkey as well as aid to Europe, the Truman administration intentionally exploited public anxiety. The battleship Missouri sailed to the Mediterranean. [David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992)]. But as the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan took shape in 1947, real fears over a blockade of Berlin were already in the news.

The Berlin Crisis would only be a year off. President Truman would send a flight of B-29 bombers to England the next summer to dissuade ongoing Soviet threats to close the divided city from the West. The B-29s had no nuclear weapons, but the administration made every effort to suggest that they did. In fact, when the (Army) Air Force officially became involved with UFOs, they did so largely out of fear of foreign, but earthly, intrusions into American air space. The American military, after all, had already started mapping Soviet defenses on the Siberian frontier via the North Pole in converted B-29s. Recently declassified Air Force files even document US efforts to locate land masses in the Polar region that could be used for bomber bases. When the British later flew nighttime radar mapping reconnaissance missions over major Russian cities with American RB-45C jets out of England, it only stood to reason that the Soviets would try to do the same. [Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun, The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995); and Paul Lashmar, Spy Flights of the Cold War (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1996)].

The crucial point so often missed, concerns the significance of the 1947 sightings. If the nation believed they were seeing experimental aircraft or spy planes, then they were in fact seeing something. Today we know they were not Soviet—the USSR made no early incursions into continental US air space. But what were they? Undoubtedly many were misidentifications of domestic aircraft, balloons, and astronomical events—probably as many as eighty percent. But even the military came to the conclusion that there was a disturbing number of unexplainable events. By September 1947 Air Materiel Command, Wright Field, commander, Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining, produced a memo. It characterized the discs as "real and not visionary." Future Air Force Intelligence Chief Major General Charles P. Cabell even stated in regard to the discs, "The conclusion appears inescapable that some type of flying object has been observed." Wright Field Intelligence Chief Colonel McCoy then concurred, "it is obvious that some types of flying objects have been sighted." [FOIA request I-NAIC-97-053].

From July 4-11, 1947 UFO reports dominated the newspapers, often featuring flying saucer sightings on their front pages. The stately New York Times ran four continuous days of page-one features starting on July 6th, this at a time when editors jealously coveted space for stories dealing with Berlin, the Marshall Plan, and serious flooding in the Midwest—which was a significant domestic news story. National Guard air units, the Army Air Force, and Navy were sufficiently concerned to send up "saucer patrols" along the Pacific Coast. That is significant alone because the regular military then had what they perceived to be a need to conserve fuel for upcoming Air Force Day celebrations. The sightings attracted such attention because most of them took place in broad daylight. This stood in great contrast to earlier and later UFO cases, many of which occurred at night or generated vague descriptions of objects that appeared so luminous or distant that they did not seem to be of substance. During this period many accounts describe very solid-looking objects maneuvering with the performance that some aircraft lack today. The reports do not all involve flying wing and saucer-shaped craft. The 1947 wave encompassed a great variety of observed phenomena including cigar-shaped rocket-like objects. Other forms include luminous balls, fan blades, boomerangs, triangles, diamonds, and light phenomena.

Sightings suddenly slowed in frequency after July 11th. Several dozen notable sightings would follow to end out the year, but whatever happened took place primarily between June 24th (and in force from July 4th) to July 11th. Granted, after the 11th, the news media did seem to lose interest in the story, but this alone cannot account for the marked decrease in reported activity after that initial onslaught of sightings. Some sort of phenomenon predominated in those very critical days of late June to early July.

Many claim it to be a form of mass hysteria generated by the widely publicized Kenneth Arnold sighting. If so, why did the sightings encompass the entire globe in a matter of only days with too little time for most people in foreign countries to read news accounts of the first American saucers? Why were there sightings before Arnold's? Would Arnold's story have become so publicized if not for actual incidents immediately following his event? Why did the intensity of the phenomenon end so suddenly after the 11th? If people were indeed caught up in a worldwide craze generated by media coverage, would not large numbers of reports still come in on the 12th instead of dozens the day before and only a handful until 1948? Many of the UFO incidents of that year resulted in specific actions taken by the military to formulate an investigation.

Edward J. Ruppelt's personal papers do vaguely detail two fighter intercepts on a "violently maneuvering" UFO near England on January 16-17, 1947; and an undated post-war account of "disc-shaped aircraft" near Habberbishopshiem, Germany. (Ruppelt's private papers, File R104, courtesy of Professor Michael Swords.)

By the second week in July these reports were being widely talked about in military circles by that point. Intelligence at Wright Field saw this as proof that the disc mystery was real and not simply the result of news play on the Kenneth Arnold story.

To this day these cases are misquoted in virtually every book. They actually represent three separate incidents which took place during a six month period prior to mid-April. They were witnessed by Weather Bureau meteorologist Walter A. Minozewski at the Richmond, Virginia, weather station. In all of these curious events he described seeing a "silver disc" with distinct differences in shape and performance to that of a balloon. At some point after the events he reported the incidents to his superiors.

The last sighting occurred one April morning when Minozewski and his staff caught sight of a very bright metallic elliptical disc while they were tracking a small "Pi Ball" (or wind measuring) meteorological balloon then at 15,000 feet. He checked his observations through a theodolite telescope. (A theodolite is an optical device used for measuring horizontal and vertical angles—in this case used to track weather balloons.) The disc flew just below the balloon and remained in sight for fifteen seconds, appearing much bigger than the balloon with a flat level bottom and a dome on top. It remained on a westward heading at high speed until vanishing off into the distance. [Edward J. Ruppelt, Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1956 and "Air Intelligence Report No. 100-203-79, Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the US, Air Intelligence Division Study No. 203, 10 December 1948, Directorate of Intelligence and Office of Naval Intelligence," and United States Air Force, "Project Grudge, Final Report No. 102 AC 49/15-100," Appendix B and Appendix I, Final Report by J.A. Hynek, Project Blue Book Files, National Archives, Record Group 341, Microfilm Pub. No. T-1206, Roll No. 85, Administrative Files, Box 1, listed as incident 79 in 1947 era documents.

For some unexplained reason disc sightings often occurred in connection with balloon tests. It is ironic, because if it was not for the presence of highly trained balloon men in those instances, no one would believe the observations to be anything other than misidentifications of their own balloons. For that reason, and the expertise of such men, there was special interest in all investigations involving balloon technicians.

As another side note, it should be mentioned that there is some mystery concerning the Minozewski sightings. In January of 1967 researcher Ted Bloecher reviewed the Minozewski case file at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, thanks to the assistance of Lieutenant Colonel George P. Freeman Jr. who arranged his visit. Bloecher's associate, atmospheric physicist Dr. James McDonald of the University of Arizona, then contacted Minozewski to confirm the details of the report with him. Minozewski recounted the fine points of the case just as they appeared in Air Force files but was baffled because he said he had never reported the incidents to the military. Equally perplexing is the fact that the Minozewski sightings are not now part of the Blue Book index released to the National Archives nor does the case file appear as complete as when Bloecher reviewed it thirty-two years ago. It is apparent that sometime during or after the close of the twenty-two year long Air Force investigation into UFOs that followed 1947, a conscious effort was made to downplay any sighting which occurred prior to the Kenneth Arnold incident. Those after Arnold's sighting were then often claimed to be the result of simple hysteria generated from his highly publicized account.

Only a few very sketchy reports can be found in May in any type of records, most without exact dates or times. Few of these came to the attention of the early investigators because they were not recorded until after the Kenneth Arnold sighting, and only then detailed in obscure newspaper articles. Others were not documented until private researchers started doing investigative work years later. A few were then investigated by local military intelligence officers. In the following case an Army Air Force security officer out of Tinker Field, Oklahoma, made a report and later the incident was reinvestigated by the FBI. This particular sighting impressed the military due to the reliability of the witness, Byron Savage.

A businessman and private pilot from Oklahoma City, Savage observed sometime on or about May 17th to the 21st a shiny disc-like object flying over the city. It was dusk, at the time of the sighting as Savage and his wife had just started to walk out to their car. At first he commented to his wife that a big white plane was coming over. He continued to watch the craft because it soon became evident that this thing was no ordinary aircraft. The object was as big as six B-29 bombers! It flew between 10,000 and 18,000 feet toward the northwest at a speed estimated at more than three times that of a jet, which in those days flew about 500 miles per hour. The disc reportedly made no noise except for a very faint "swishing sound." It passed over in a matter of fifteen to twenty seconds and had the appearance of a "perfectly round and flat" frosty white elliptical object. ["Fast Flying Disks Reported in West," Associated Press news service, 27 June 1947]. Savage stated to FBI investigators that "he was sure this object was not a meteor and in his opinion it must be radically built and powered, probably atomic." [Documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dated 24 July 1947]. This was one of the first reports that ended up in Wright Field's (later the Blue Book) records.

Similar objects appeared over Manitou Springs, Colorado, on the 19th when witnessed by Pike's Peak Railway mechanics Dean A. Hauser (a navy veteran), Ted Weigand, Marion Hisshouse, T.J. Smith, and L.D. Jamison. They were on their lunch break around 12:15 P.M. MST as the men noticed some sort of shiny metal-like craft overhead. It flew around the area for over twenty minutes making erratic aerial maneuvers that no aircraft they knew of could undertake. [Bloecher, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947]

While the news accounts on this incident are brief, a very interesting remark in one of the stories indicates that representatives of the 15th Air Force, then part of the Army Air Force, interviewed the rail workers on June 29th and sent their findings to Washington. This would certainly be one of the first indications of military interest in a UFO sighting. In fact, those who had the opportunity to view the Air Force files before they were released to the public in 1976 speak of this as one of its cases. Today, however, the file along with a notable number of other early cases is officially "missing." The National Archives lists them in the Air Force index but do not have them in their collection of declassified files turned over to them by the military in late 1975. Unfortunately, further details of this case are lost with many others.

Other early accounts come from overseas. According to the Times of India, flying discs were seen over Bombay as early as June 7th with other saucer-like accounts coming from South America. [Fortean Society's Doubt, 19 (Spring-Summer 1947] Disc reports outside the United States are very rare prior to July of 1947, but at 3:30 P.M. local time on June 10th, Hungarian citizen Gyorik Ference saw four "yellow-red platter-like objects" fly over Budapest. They were sphere-shaped and silver in color, traveling at high speeds. ["Project Sign, Report No. F-TR-2274-IA," Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 85, Administrative Files, Box 1].

Although it was in the United States that pilot Richard Rankin, a veteran flyer with more than 7,000 hours in the air, had the most notable flying saucer sighting prior to Arnold's. As with other early witnesses, he did not report it until others like Arnold had admitted to seeing such strange objects. Contrary to later accounts of the Rankin Case, his observation did not happen on the 23rd, but on the 14th, and did not occur at 2:15 P.M. but at 12:00 noon PST. Nor was Rankin in flight at the time, but saw the objects while watching a boy mow the lawn outside his friend's home in Bakersfield, California.

At the time of the sighting it was a clear and sunny day when both he and the boy saw ten round objects or "saucers" fly over in a loose "V" formation with one straggling in the rear." They were heading north, but seven of the discs then reversed direction and came back over them toward the south. Their diameters appeared to be from 30 to 35 feet, and they were traveling at an estimated speed of 350 miles per hour around 8,500 feet. At the time of the sighting Rankin thought the craft must be some sort of new Army or Navy test vehicle much like the oval-shaped XF5U-1 "flying flapjack" and even commented as much to the lad mowing the lawn. Yet, military intelligence concluded Rankin's sighting represented no known aircraft type. [ Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 1, Case 7, listed as Incident 29 in 1947 era documents; and "Pilot Recalls Seeing Discs," The (Portland) Oregonian, 3 July 1947, p. 11; and "Pilot Vet Reports Seeing 'Flying Saucers' June 23," Denver Post, 2 July 1947; and documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dated 3 July 1947]. No XF5U-1 were airworthy at that time.) [

USAF Museum Files, Wright-Patterson USAFB].

The Fourth Army Air Force in connection with the FBI first investigated the case, surely struck by the similarities of the incident to others. The hallmarks of these included shiny saucer or wing-like objects flying fast and silently, often in groups or in special formations.

The truth is, they never were 'saucers.'

June 24 marks the anniversary of the day UFOs were discovered, or else invented, whichever you prefer. On that date in 1947, pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine airborne objects, and the era of "flying saucers" was begun. Lost in all the excitement was a very simple, yet fundamental error. As skeptic Marty Kottmeyer points out, Arnold didn't say that the objects looked like saucers. Instead, Arnold told a reporter that "they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water." Actually, what he said was that they looked like boomerangs, but the reporter's account called them "flying saucers." And since newspapers were soon filled with reports of "flying saucers" in the skies, "flying saucers" are what people reported seeing, not "flying boomerangs." Seldom has the power of suggestion been so convincingly demonstrated. Kottmeyer asks, "Why would extraterrestrials redesign their craft to conform to [the reporter's mistake?"

By now, however, the Arnold sighting has been forgotten by all but the long-time saucer fans. Sightings alone fail to excite the masses, at least in North America: to be newsworthy these days, a saucer must either abduct and molest somebody, or better yet, crash. (In other countries, UFOs can still make big headlines by merely flying around).

From Tuesday, June 24th to July 11th, hundreds of flying discs were seen in every corner of the globe by people of all walks of life. Most remember it beginning with a UFO sighting by private pilot Kenneth Arnold. As a result, the Kenneth Arnold Sighting officially marked the starting point of what is now called the modern UFO era.

The incident took place during a flight Arnold made in his small private plane from Chehalis to Yakima, Washington. Shortly into the trip at 2:59 P.M. PST he decided to take some extra time and keep an eye out for a Marine Corps transport reported down several days earlier. Soon eastward bound at 9,000 feet and nearing the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, he hoped that he might catch sight of it. Instead, he saw something quite different. Something that he would never forget.

At a right angle to his aircraft nine very bright disc-shaped objects came into view. They were flying extremely fast in a reversed echelon formation north and to the left of Mount Rainier. At first he assumed they must be some form of new military jet aircraft, but in the clear mountain sky he detected no tail surfaces or wings, just round all wing-like bodies. Arnold compared eight of them to "pie-pans," somewhat cloverleaf-shaped, with surfaces so bright they reflected the sun like a mirror. The ninth object looked heel-shaped.

He then picked up a cowling tool to compare them in size to a DC 4 just off to his upper left at about 1,400 feet. [The pilot of the DC-4 reported seeing nothing unusual during his flight]. Arnold estimated the discs to be 45 to 50 feet in length, traveling north to south 20 to 25 miles ahead of his aircraft. It was no reflection or mirage because the formation clearly could be seen to weave in and out of mountain peaks at speeds estimated at 1,700 miles per hour! He derived this velocity by recording the time it took the objects to pass the 47 mile stretch between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. Arnold reasoned that the disc formation was five miles in length and passed the 47 mile distance in one minute and 42 seconds. [Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 1, Case 10, listed as Incident 17 in 1947 era documents; and "'Flying Pies' Stir Skepticism," Hartford (Connecticut) Times, 26 June 1947]. The calculation was simple, but barring minor discrepancies just as equally fool proof.

Prior to making his computations, Arnold felt certain he could determine what type of aircraft they were. Yet these figures defied explanation. No manned aircraft then in existence flew that fast. Even the new P-80 jets had only reached 623 miles per hour at the Muroc test range in California. Arnold knew aviation well and by then knew equally well that he had witnessed something incredible. Others would soon come to that realization too, but the primary line of thought would not be spaceships from another world, but some sort of new military test vehicle.

Arnold mentioned his sighting to the ground crew after he landed in Yakima and talked about the incident with Al Baxter, the manager of Central Aircraft. While Arnold talked with Baxter in his office they were joined by pilots Les Mills, Carl Apts, and Jacques Filliol. [Research conducted by Pierre Lagrange, 13, rue de Buci, 75006 Paris, France]. By the time Arnold flew on to Pendleton the story had already preceded him. After detailing the sighting to newsmen Bill Bequette and Nolan Skiff at noon on the following day, newspapers soon made famous the term "flying saucer" by an off-handed remark of his—comparing the objects to "saucers skipping on the water." His sighting went on to be the first to receive national media attention in more than 150 newspapers, being treated as a serious news story. This was due in part to the fact that Arnold was not only an experienced mountain flyer, but a licensed air rescue pilot, a deputy sheriff, and a respected businessman. But it is equally important to remember that the story would not have gained the fame it did unless a host of other saucer sightings had not soon followed. Many of the observers to those incidents talked about what they saw before ever hearing news of Arnold's incident. Arnold's account has thus often been mislabeled as the first flying saucer encounter merely because it became the first well-known and the first believable sighting. [ Herbert Strentz, ''An Analysis of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947-1966" (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1970)].

The Army Air Force soon became interested in Arnold's account. On July 12th intelligence officers Captain William Lee Davidson and First Lieutenant Frank Mercer Brown interviewed Arnold for six hours, taking a lengthy detailed statement from him at Boise's downtown Hotel Owyhee. Just prior to that, Brown and Davidson had tracked down a well-known acquaintance of Arnold's, David N.

Johnson. Johnson was an aviation reporter for the Boise Evening Statesman and a widely respected wartime B-29 bomber pilot. Johnson gave Arnold a good recommendation as did many others who knew him. In fact, Intelligence officers took an immediate liking to Arnold — probably due to his aviation background. Brown and Davidson came to confide details of other cases to him because he had expressed such an interest and need to prove his own story. Arnold even claimed that they had told him that some in military Intelligence had become aware of saucer stories as early as April. [Pendleton, Oregon, East Oregonian, 17 July 1947].

That first effort to look into the discs sightings by Intelligence was spearheaded by the A-2 section of the Fourth Air Force out of Hamilton Field, California with Lieutenant Colonel Donald L. Springer in command. Brown and Davidson, under Springer's supervision, would draw most of the duty, interviewing many of the early witnesses. They were considered extremely bright and talented officers. Both were young men in their twenties who first received orders to investigate the disc reports following some spectacular sightings on July 4th. That directive came down from Army Air Force Chief of Staff General Carl Spaatz who wanted Hamilton Field Intelligence to "open a file." Although he specified that they should then report their findings to Intelligence at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Some work on the disc mystery apparently also took place at Mitchel Field, New York, the headquarters of all air defense — once termed the Continental Defense Command and by mid 1947 referred to as the Air Defense Command. The FBI would soon enter the investigations too. Brown and Davidson were given orders to keep their reports classified and provided with ample assistance to do investigative work. This included a steno pool and two aircraft, an A-24 and a stripped-down but aging B-25. Unfortunately, both Brown and Davidson were tragically killed after that B-25 crashed on the way back from a case investigation during the early morning of August 1st.

Then a really noteworthy case emerged. It came from a Portland prospector, Fred M. Johnson, who reported a disc sighting to Army officers after returning from the same mountainous area that Arnold had flown over. Johnson made his observation the same day and time as Arnold's when he had his attention drawn skyward by a brief flash and noticed five to six shiny round objects. The craft looked to have "tails" as they silently flew by at about 1,000 feet toward the southeast. They remained in view for about 45 to 60 seconds during which time the prospector examined one of them through a hand-held telescope. With the aid of the spyglass he could tell they were definitely real objects, round and about 30 feet in diameter but "tapering sharply to a point in the head end in an oval shape." He also observed some type of object in their tail shifting from side to side.

About that time Johnson looked down at his watch which had a compass attached to it and noticed that its needle fluctuated wildly. Johnson also confirmed the time to be around 3:00 P.M. PST, the same period in which Arnold made his sighting. Johnson concluded in his statement that they flew off faster than anything he had seen before and resembled no object he had been witness to in his 40 years of prospecting the mountains.

Ironically, while the more famous Arnold sighting was investigated in far greater detail, it would be classified as a mirage. The Portland prospector case eventually found its way into Air Force records as the first unidentified case of an eventual 587 officially given that designation. (At one time Air Force files listed 701 unidentifieds but today only 587 are noted in the declassified index.) The unidentified classification (once termed unknown) was not lightly given and placed only on files that investigators could not attribute to a known cause. Witness reliability also served as a key factor. In this instance the records of both the Army and FBI considered Mr. Johnson of high reliability and character. [Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 1, Case 11, listed as Incident 68 in 1947 era documents; and thanks must be given here to Jan L. Aldrich for forwarding documents on the Portland prospector case which are not in the National Archives' Blue Book collection. (See Declassified FBI files and Fourth Air Force Files, "microfilm record 33764-1036," US Air Force Historical Agency, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama].

That afternoon at around 2:30 P.M. PST, in Richland, Washington, Leo Bernier reported several silvery-shaped discs high in the sky heading west by southwest. He stated they were traveling as fast as a P-38 fighter or about 400 miles per hour. Bernier was one of the first witnesses to suggest an extraterrestrial link. He was quoted in a July 3rd newspaper article, stating: "I believe it may be a visitor from another planet." ["Flying Disks Are Seen Here," Richland, Washington Villager, 3 July 1947, p. 1; Portland, Oregon, Journal, 4 July 1947].

A report as unique as Kenneth Arnold's took place on Saturday 28 June. The Army, however, paid more attention this time. They did so because it involved one of its own Air Force pilots, First Lieutenant Eric B. Armstrong, who was flying a P-51 fighter from Brooks Field, San Antonio, to Portland, Oregon.

During that flight while 30 miles north of Lake Meade, Nevada, at 1:15 P.M. PST, Armstrong spotted five to six round white discs in a close formation. He stated that they were about 4,000 feet below him at an altitude of 6,000 feet moving smoothly at his same air speed of 285 miles per hour toward the southeast. But they must have actually been moving at a faster rate because they soon passed out of sight on an angular course to his aircraft.

Armstrong estimated that the discs appeared about three feet in diameter and for that reason the Air Force finally concluded he must have seen a balloon cluster. Yet it is known that serious discussion of this incident took place in the Pentagon. Several years following the event Edward Ruppelt, when assuming command of UFO investigations in 1951, learned that this had been a notable sighting in the military's early consideration of the problem. [ Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 1, Case 16, listed as Incident 53 in 1947 era documents; a document that appears to be a lost file from the National Archives' Blue Book collectione Book collection].

Edward Ruppelt.'s landmark book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, documents not only the great UFO flap of 1952 but also gives many insights on the 1947 saucer wave. This is ironic because during the summer of 1947 Ruppelt hoped he had seen the last of the Air Force. In WWII he served a long stint as a bombardier and radar operator during the entire B-29 bombing offensive against

Japan. He certainly had earned his GI bill that he was then going to school on—having survived some hard combat and winning a fist full of medals the hard way. Now he was working just as hard toward a degree in aeronautical engineering at Iowa State College—a happy civilian.

On Monday 30 June 1947, Ruppelt was in Yellowstone Park, enjoying the first lazy holiday in a long time. That's when he heard the new word "flying saucer." Just outside the lodge kids were sailing paper plates into the air yelling "saucer, saucer!" He soon read the news reports which filled him in on the unusual phrase, but little did he realize that three years later he would be back in the Air Force as project head of UFO investigations in Dayton.

Something very unusual crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, on or near the evening of July 2, 1947.


To date the Air Force is still covering up what really happened. Since 1947 they have released four different versions of the incident, the first stating that a "flying disc" had in fact crash landed. Then a weather balloon was blamed, but in 1994 they claimed the weather balloon had been used as a cover story for what was actually the crash of a high altitude "Mogul balloon."

Mogul balloons were part of an extremely secret project designed to scan for shockwaves in the upper atmosphere, indicating possible Soviet nuclear testing. The only problem with this scenario is that although two Mogul balloons definitely did go down near Roswell, the records of the Air Materiel Command show that these incidents occurred only on June 7th and July 5th. Aside from that, recently declassified FBI files clearly show that the Mogul project was known of (by name) even by low level intelligence units.

By the 6th of July the nearby 509th bomb group was already notified of an aircraft crash of some sort on a nearby sheep ranch. Manager of the ranch, W.W. (Mac) Brazel, had reported the incident to the sheriff's office by the 5th, stating that he found a wide area of aircraft-like debris on the morning of the 3rd following a severe storm the night before. (Other accounts state Brazel found the debris in mid June, and still others place his discovery on the 4th of July.)

Today there are many sensational stories circulating about the Roswell Incident. Most are to the effect that the propulsion unit of one or two flying saucers (perhaps after a collision) exploded and showered-down the debris found by Brazel. The main body of at least one disc is said to have then crashed, complete with four occupants, 75 miles northwest of Roswell. While there are a remarkable number of collaborating stories from many of those known to have been involved in the incident, there is no physical evidence to substantiate their claims.

Recently the Air Force posed its fourth explanation for Roswell, stating that test dummies dropped from a high altitude aircraft accounted for the mysterious alien bodies. The problem this time is that the exercise occurred more than twelve years after the supposed incident. And it is no coincidence that the Air Force made this recent revelation on the morning of the 50th anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold sighting—completely overshadowing that historic event.

Recent discoveries of government documents confirming a saucer crash and even an autopsy film have not been authenticated. These tidbits of evidence, known as the MJ-12 papers and the Santilli film, are nevertheless very intriguing. One thing that makes them so remarkable is that, if they are fakes or hoaxes, they have been done at tremendous expense utilizing exceptionally specialized skills. Some have even speculated that the most frightening scenario of all would be if the Roswell "evidence" was a fake. If so, who or what group would have the finances and resources at their disposal to produce this kind of disinformation, and why? And contrary to popular belief, no UFO hoax has ever produced a profitable outcome for anyone.

Few believe the sensational stories, but something very real is known to have been collected from the desert by the 8th Army Air Force 509th composite bomb group based in Roswell. This is startling for that reason alone because the 509th was the only squadron then in existence authorized to carry atomic weapons. Whatever crashed near this high security nuclear base was then flown to Carswell Army Air Force base in Fort Worth, Texas, and then to Wright Field (renamed Wright-Patterson AFB by 1948) in Dayton, Ohio.

In all likelihood the commanding officer of the 509th, Colonel William "Butch" Blanchard, who authorized the release of the "disc crash" story by July 8th did not initially realize the implications of the event. When his intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel told him they had found the scattered debris of a flying disc, Blanchard probably first thought of a balloon crash or some such explainable event. The Arnold story was only eight days old and still being talked about. On the evening of July 2nd, local retailer Dan Wilmot even had a saucer sighting. In 1947, however, flying discs or saucers had not yet assumed the image of extraterrestrial visitors that they have taken on today. Almost everyone then took it for granted that flying saucers were research balloons or military experiments of some sort. Colonel Blanchard probably innocently thought their recovered disc would be just one more story added to the many already being reported in the news media.

If the debris did come from something terrestrial, but secret, it would make sense that General Roger M. Ramey, commander of the 8th, would have then retracted Blanchard's disc story with a weather balloon explanation. It would make all the more sense if it was not just a low-level research experiment as Blanchard probably assumed, but a highly classified project, or a nuclear accident, or perhaps even something of Soviet origin. This would conceal the indication of any such event and thus prevent public embarrassment at a time of mounting Cold War tensions. It would also conveniently and completely defuse the situation—which it immediately did.

Of course, in order to accomplish that goal some very high ranking pressure from the Pentagon had to be placed on the owner of the local radio station, warning that his federal broadcasting license would be immediately revoked if he did not cease covering the story. Coercion was also used on local civilian witnesses who were, in certain instances, threatened with violence if they did not refrain from talking about the incident. Mac Brazel, in fact, was held incommunicado by intelligence agents for over a week. He went to his grave fearing to tell even family members what he had learned.

While such events show something very important was definitely being covered up, they do not suggest a crashed spaceship. Nor do they disprove the theory. Whatever went down in the desert near Roswell on July 2nd was something that Washington, for what ever reason, seemed to know a lot about by the 8th—the same day Blanchard innocently approved release of the story during his haste to get ready to begin his leave. To his immediate regret, he received a "blistering rebuke" from Deputy Army Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Maybe Vandenberg was just tired of hearing more crazy reports about flying saucers, or maybe he already knew what had happened.

Yet if a spaceship of some kind had actually crashed, especially if it was in as many pieces as witnesses first claimed, months would have transpired before anyone would have become fully aware of what they had. Even if they had recovered an intact section from a second crash sight—would there not be at least a brief period in which the military might speculate about a Soviet connection only if they theorized it may simply be a communist hoax to perpetrate disinformation or panic? How long would it take for scientists in 1947 to identify crash debris far in advance of current human technology—if indeed some was recovered?

Whatever went down near Roswell was identified by the chain of command quickly enough to stop it from becoming public knowledge. That fact is clear. Someday, perhaps soon, the story will finally come out. [Retired Air Force Captain Kevin D. Randle; and Headquarters, United States Air Force, The Roswell Report, Fact Versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert, 1995, US Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington DC, 20402-9328; and Headquarters, United States Air Force (Captain James McAndrew), The Roswell Report, Case Closed, 1997, US Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington DC, 20402-9328].

Perhaps a spaceship did crash that stormy July night. Playing Devil's Advocate, it would certainly answer many questions—the most perplexing surrounding the question why discs sightings increased so dramatically by July 4th. Perhaps there was a reason for the saucers to come out that day and up through July 11th. Were they, in other words, looking for a missing disc? Is that an over simplistic hypothesis?


Vought-Zimmermann V-173 “flying flapjack’

Charles Zimmerman and his "Skimmer"

Flight Journal, Apr 2005 
by Frank Gudaitis

In November 1942, a strange object was seen in the sky over Bridgeport, Connecticut. Astonished residents (including me) saw their first flying saucer. It was actually a Chance Vought V-173-a prototype of the XF5U-1, which was the U.S. Navy's most radical fighter. The aircraft had the potential to be flown, under control, at speeds of from less than 20 to 500mph.

The V-173 was the product of a brilliant original thinker-Charles Norton Zimmerman. A farm boy from Olathe, Kansas, in the mid-1920s, he worked his way through school to earn an engineering degree. Like many young men of his generation, he was very interested in aviation, and his long-range goal was to develop safer, heavier-than-air flying machines.

Toward this end, in 1929, he joined the research staff of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Langley Memorial Laboratory. He was eventually responsible for designing the laboratory's famous flight and free-spin wind tunnels.

As early as 1933, Zimmerman's expertments revealed that in some applications, low aspect ratio wing designs were more efficient than the widely accepted, conventional, long, narrow wings. Zimmerman's concept of controlling the wing vortices with propellers was the key to the project's success, and it was tested on the V-173.

The V-173 was made of wood covered with fabric. Two air-cooled 80hp Continental engines each drove a large, three-blade propeller. The wingspan was 23 feet 4 inches, and the wing area was 427 square feet. The airfoil sections were symmetrical NACA 0015 forms without dihedral or wing twist.

Before the V-173 was flight-tested, the full-size aircraft was put through its paces in the Langley Field wind tunnel. Vought's chief test pilot, Boone Guyton, Richard Burroughs and several Navy pilots flew it for a total of 131 hours. It also made several forced landings because of mechanical problems, but there was little damage because it flew so slowly. Following numerous successful V-173 test flights in 1943, the design work on the XF5U-1 full-power Navy fighter was begun.

In planform, size and configuration, the XF5U-1 was identical to the V-173 prototype. The differences between the two lay in engine power and weight The V-173 weighed 2,250 pounds and-had 160hp. The XF5U-1 weighed five times as much and was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2000-7 air-cooled radial engines, each capable of 1,600hp. Propeller feathering could be adjusted by the pilot, and the articulation self-adjusted through 20, 1-degree arc positions.

The XF5U-1 was designed to carry bombs or belly tanks on pylons under its wing. Its armament consisted of six, 20mm cannon, and its top speed was calculated to be around 500mpb with a range of approximately 1,000 miles.

By March 1948, the work had been completed, but when further test were canceled, the Navy ordered Vought to destroy this remarkable aircraft and all the drawings and photographs pertaining to it! Fortunately, some photos and drawings did survive. The official explanation of the Navy's seemingly irrational decision to destroy all traces of the XF5U-1 was that it could now operate jet aircraft from its carriers. It considered propeller-driven fighters to be obsolete.


Although it can't be substantiated, a more logical rationale for the destruction of the XF5U-1 might be found by taking a closer look at the official explanation. After the end of WW II but before the conflict in Korea, Congress was understandably reluctant to spend more money on the military. The Navy was seeking appropriations for additional carriers. If the honorable gentlemen on the hill were to learn that the Navy had a high-performance fighter that could be flown off any small vessel, why would any new aircraft carriers be needed?


We can only empathize with Charles Zimmerman and imagine what he must have felt as he watched 15 years of pioneering work destroyed by a wrecking crew's steel ball. The real loss, however, is discovered in the realization that more than half a century ago, we were offered a new, potentially safer, form of flying.


After the "Skimmer" program was ended, Charles Zimmerman returned to the Langley Research Center in Virginia and was eventually appointed director of aeronautics at NASA headquarters.


One of Zimmerman's most intriguing theories was that of the vector flight principle. Canadian engineer Lewis McCarty adopted it to design and build one of the world’s simplest helicopters. With the DeLackner Aircraft Co., he built and successfully flew a number of very unusual rotary-wing aircraft.


Luckily, the V 173 was spared the fate of the XF5U-1 and is now in the possession of the National Air Museum. Plans are in the works for a group of Vought retirees in Dallas, Texas, to restore this rare old bird.


Before he died in 1996, Charles Zimmerman's lifetime achievements were recognized when he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; he was also awarded the Wright Bothers Medal.


BOEING B.390/391


Boeing B.390 art by Jared Zichek

The success of the Vought-Zimmermann V-173 "flying flapjack" circular aircraft lead rival Boeing in 1943 to perform similar research on a thick long-chord, low-aspect ratio oval wing design for a proposed shipboard fighter.

The B.390 STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) naval single-seat fighter project, however, differed greatly from the Vought design by installation of a single piston engine driving a six-blade, counter-rotating prop at the airplane’s nose instead of the two separate engines mounted on the tips of the V-173 circular wing.

The design, with its high forward cockpit (also similar to the latter Vought XF5U-1), was planned to solve the problem of pilot vision over the nose in carrier landings (the reason the F4U Corsair was initially rejected for carrier duty).

The B.390 was to have a centrally-located Pratt &Whitney R-3350 and a designed speed of 425 mph while the B.391 would have mounted a 3,000hp R-4360 engine for an estimated 452 mph.

Deemed as impractical, neither were produced.

~Rob Arndt


Boeing B.390 model by G. Arnold