The infamous UFO crash that occurred in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico, is the extraterrestrial sighting that brought aliens into mainstream conversation. But the UFOs spotted just weeks before Roswell are even more fascinating, and much more carefully documented. Kenneth Arnold didn’t just experience one of the most interesting and well-researched UFO sightings of the 20th century — his sighting is ground zero for UFOs. After he saw nine unidentified crafts tearing across the sky near Mt. Rainier, Washington, in 1947, reports of UFO sightings dramatically increased, along with the now-colloquial term "flying saucers." The world would never be the same.
Most of the people who have seen UFOs sensationalize their stories in one way or another. Either they have weird alien stories, make any manner of surrealist claims, or even spin legends about Area 51 via abduction. However, Kenneth Arnold is one person who did not. Throughout his life he stuck to the relatively subdued and original flying saucer sighting facts that he had first stated in 1947. The fact that he never changed a word of his story is enough to make you wonder what he really saw flying over Washington in 1947, and if it really was a legion of flying saucers.
On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold was flying his small private plane over Mineral, Washington, near Mt. Rainier. He was looking for a downed C-46 transport airplane for which the military was offering a $5,000 reward. Suddenly, he saw nine flashes of light. Arnold said the ships that he saw were flying in a strange formation, with each one positioned diagonally to the right of its counterpart. He later reported that they were also weaving from side-to-side in their formation, somewhat "like the tail of a Chinese kite."
Upon landing for fuel, he told the crew at the Yakima airport what he saw and they suggested that he saw missiles or maybe an experimental aircraft. Reporters were called in to interview him, but no one could shed any light on what Arnold claimed to have seen that day. Until his death in 1984 Arnold would maintain that the objects he saw over Mt. Rainier were of unknown origin.
At the time of Arnold's initial report, the military expressed genuinely interest in what he had to say. According to articles released at the time, Arnold was treated fairly and not ostracized for what on its face seemed like a pretty bizarre claim. It probably helped that Arnold was a respected and experienced pilot whom everyone seemed to admire. Additionally, at the time, there wasn't yet a stigma surrounding people seeing UFOs. Even though there was some incredulity from the military about Arnold's observations, he believed it was because the media continued to report on the copycat sightings that followed his legitimate sighting. In the end, the military came to the conclusion that "a man of [his] character and apparent integrity" wouldn't lie about seeing something.
Everything about the objects that Arnold saw defies reality, but the thing that makes the least amount of sense is the speed at which they were traveling. In 1947 he told the Chicago Tribune,
"Their speed was apparently so great I decided to clock them. I took out my watch and checked off one minutes and 42 seconds from the time they passed Mount Rainier until they reached the peak of Mount Adams . . . All told the objects remained in view slightly less than two minutes from the time I first noticed them."
While in his plane, Arnold was able to work out how large the crafts were, how far away they were from his plane, and their speed — which worked out to about 1,700 miles per hour. In 1947 Chuck Yeager was just breaking the sound barrier which is a little over 700 mph. Whatever Arnold saw was much more advanced than what the government was working on at the time.
His mathematical calculations and knowledge about flight and piloting lent credibility to his claims, but ultimately didn't help solve the mystery.
Throughout the initial phases of Kenneth Arnold's fame he faced a number of skeptics who looked to debunk what he claimed to see. The most curious of these debunkers are the people who believe that Arnold saw crafts, but that they were piloted remotely. When interviewed by the Chicago Times, a United Airlines pilot said that he thought that the UFOs were piloted by someone on the ground. He also believed that the crafts were manmade and that they were being used in "experimental operations" by the armed forces.
To Arnold's credit, he agreed that the crafts could have been piloted remotely, he didn't really care if the UFOs belonged to aliens or not. The issue that stuck with his was that if the crafts were being used by the US Army, then the American people deserved to know.