The Man who saw the Men from Mars

Flying Saucers 1947: Chapter Two

UFO literature has thoroughly documented, retold, and embellished the Kenneth Arnold story ad nauseum. Another telling of the same events will not contribute anything new to what has already been narrated so many times. Nevertheless, the broader media story of the 1947 flying saucer wave hinges on that single event to such an extent that another recapitulation cannot be omitted. Even beyond his initial sighting, Arnold played a significant role in the strange drama that unfolded over the summer of 1947. Moreover, several points of his story require clarification, and objections raised by skeptics deserve some attention.

Publicity around Arnold’s sighting has never completely subsided. For the last seventy-three years, a steady stream of publications, books, documentaries, and programs on the history of the UFO phenomenon reference the Kenneth Arnold sighting and retell his story. Arnold himself was ultimately persuaded to contribute his own telling of the story in a sensationalized and partially fictionalized book he co-authored with Raymond Palmer, an editor of science fiction pulp magazines. He and Palmer titled the book The Coming of the Saucers.

The Man Who Started Mass Hysteria

According to the conventional version of the story, the great flying saucer wave of 1947 began when private pilot and businessman Kenneth Arnold reported an air-to-air sighting of nine resplendent flying objects in formation over the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. He described them as saucer-shaped. The Associated Press picked up Arnold’s saucer story, sending the sensational headlines to newspapers across the United States. The media dubbed the objects “flying saucers.” The story captured the imaginations of Americans and opened a floodgate to similar reports. People around country began to report their own sightings of similar aircraft. Within a few days, fueled by newspaper hype, a mass hysteria gripped the country, resulting in hundreds of sightings of flying discs and saucers, primarily during the last week of June and the first few weeks of July. Nearly every newspaper in America featured a daily flying saucer update on the front page, reporting both national stories and local sightings. The daily coverage only added accelerant to the hysteria, inflaming it to a fevered pitch through the early weeks of July, but by the end of the month, the story had run its course. The newspapers lost interest and so did the public.

That’s the conventional version of the story. Conventional wisdom dismisses the entire 1947 saucer phenomenon as merely the result of media hype and public hysteria, not unlike the panic that gripped the nation during the infamous Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds. Kenneth Arnold and anyone else claiming to have seen a flying saucer endured public ridicule. Almost as soon as the Arnold story appeared in the papers, skeptics offered speculation about what Arnold had really seen. Explanations included misidentified jets, rockets, secret military aircraft, geese, reflections on his canopy, snow blindness, and eye spots.

UFO debunkers still cite explanations like that today, insisting that Arnold saw some common aerial objects or natural phenomenon and only mistakenly assumed he saw saucers flying at supersonic speeds. From the skeptic’s perspective, the story of the 1947 UFO wave can be reduced to a simple misidentification which, thanks to media hype, ignited a wave of paranoid hysteria resulting in similar misidentifications such as the military’s mistaken report of a crashed disc near Roswell, New Mexico. Accordingly, the flying saucer craze of 1947 consisted of misidentifications, delusions, hoaxes, publicity stunts, and a lot of foolishness. That foolishness gave birth to the ongoing popular American mythology about flying saucers, UFOs, and extra-terrestrial visitors, but the whole enterprise started with one man mistaking a flock of birds for a fleet of supersonic saucers. So goes the conventional telling of the story. On closer examination, however, the conventional explanation for the 1947 flying saucer wave looks less plausible and a far more compelling story comes into focus.

American Boy

Kenneth Arnold with his CallAir A-2 mountain plane.
Kenneth Arnold with his CallAir A-2 mountain plane.

Kenneth Arnold was born on March 29, 1915 in Sabeka, Minnesota. At the age of six, his family moved to Scobey, Montana. He grew up an all-American boy, collecting grasshoppers and diving into the local swimming hole. He attended school in Minot, North Dakota. At the age of twelve he became a Boy Scout and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout by the age of fourteen. He took his first flying lessons at the age sixteen and resolved to become a pilot. He was a natural athlete. A champion swimmer, he became a lifeguard and field representative for the American Red Cross in life saving. At 17 he was swimming and diving with such skill that he entered the U. S. Olympic trials. He so excelled on the Minot High School football team that he landed a scholarship to play for the University of Minnesota. His football career ended prematurely due to a knee injury. He married and settled on a ranch near Boise, Idaho, where he made a living as the owner of the Great Western Fire Control Supply company, selling and installing automatic fire-fighting equipment. In January of 1947, he purchased a 1947 CallAir mountain plane to use for his business trips. Utilizing a hayfield as an airstrip, he flew out to customers in five states. He quickly racked up thousands of hours in the air. In addition to flying sales calls, he volunteered for Idaho Search and Rescue flights and acted as a deputy sheriff for the Ada County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Aerial Posse.[1] By the time of his sighting, he was no stranger to flight.

The Sighting

This image from a 1952 issue of Coronet Magazine shows an illustration depicting Kenneth Arnold’s sighting. (Coronet Magazine)

On Tuesday, June 24, 1947, thirty-two-year-old Arnold flew out of Chehalis, Washington where he had just finished installing fire-fighting apparatus for a customer. His flight plan brought him in the vicinity of Mount Rainier. He hoped to spend some extra time in the air around the mountain looking for the wreckage of a lost C-46 Marine transport which had gone down in the area on December 10 the previous year. If he found it, he could claim a $5,000.00 reward that was being offered by the parents of the missing men on board. He did not find the lost plane, but he did discover something that would change his life dramatically.

The incident occurred as he flew near the mountain at a height of approximately 9,000 feet. It was 3:00 PM on a beautiful sunny day; the air was crystal clear. As Arnold continued his sweep of the area, a sudden bright flash startled him. The light flashed so brilliantly that it seemed to him “as if someone had started an arc light in front of my eyes.”[2] Assuming the sun had reflected off another aircraft, he craned his head around in alarm to see if he was in any danger of collision. He saw a DC-4 far to his left and rear, but he realized that the distant plane could not have been the source of the reflection. The bright flash hit him again, and this time, he caught the direction from which it came. Far in the distance, he observed a formation of bright, reflective objects coming from the vicinity of Mount Baker, skirting close along the mountain tops.

They appeared “‘flat like a pie pan and somewhat bat-shaped’ and so shiny they reflected the sun like a mirror.”

He counted nine objects flying diagonally in a loose, echelon formation. The objects appeared directly in front of him, some thirty miles distant at about 10,000 feet altitude. They did not look like conventional aircraft because they had no tails or discernable wings, nor did they look like rockets. Instead, he described them as nine brightly reflective “nickel plated” “saucer-like aircraft flying in formation.”[3] They were not completely round but tapered in the rear. They appeared “‘flat like a pie pan and somewhat bat-shaped’ and so shiny they reflected the sun like a mirror.”[4] By describing the objects as “somewhat bat-shaped,” Arnold did not mean to compare the objects to the shape of the flying mammal but rather to the ping-pong paddle-shaped objects used for marshalling aircraft during that era which were universally known to flyers as “bats.”[5] Most famously, Arnold compared the shape of the flying objects to that of saucers: “They were shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them.”[6]

Arnold observed that the formation spread out over what he later calculated to be five miles. The loose, straggling procession bore more resemblance to that of a flock of geese than a military formation:

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 … like skipped boats on rough water or similar to the tail of a Chinese kite that I once saw blowing in the wind … they fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces.[7]

At first glance, he actually thought the objects might be snow geese, but he quickly dismissed that possibility: “Geese don’t fly that high—and, anyway, what would geese be doing going south for this time of year?” He assumed the strange aircraft to be jet planes, but “there were no bulges or cowlings; they looked like a big flat disk. They were larger than the ordinary jet plane but slightly smaller than a DC4, if you don’t count the rear fuselage.”[8]

They looked something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear.

In a June 26 radio interview with Oregon’s Ted Smith of KWRC in Portland, Oregon, Arnold described his confusion over the shape of objects:

And as I kept looking at them, I kept looking for their tails. And they didn’t have any tails. I thought, well maybe I … something’s wrong with my eyes. And I turned the plane around and opened the window and looked out the window. And sure enough, I couldn’t find any tails on them. And the whole observation of these particular ships didn’t last more than about two and a half minutes. And I could see them only plainly when they seemed to tip their wing or whatever it was and the sun flashed on them. They looked something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear.[9]

Jet aircraft were still a novelty in 1947. Assuming he was witnessing some type of advanced jet, Arnold attempted to clock their speed.[10] He was able to determine their position when he saw a few of the objects disappear momentarily from sight as they flew behind a jagged peak jutting from the base of Mount Rainier. Fixing that position from Rainier, Arnold used the sweep hand of his timepiece to clock the formation as they flew the distance to Mount Adams: forty-two seconds. That information gave him the ability to triangulate and estimate speed of the objects:

I figure they were moving about 1,200 miles per hour because I clocked them with a stop watch during the time it took them to fly from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams. That’s 42 miles and they made it in one minute 42 seconds—about 1,205 mph.[11]

In June of 1947, the fastest speeds conventional aircraft had yet flown was 647 miles per hour, a record recently set by Colonel Albert Boyd in a P-80.[12]

Flying Saucers and Pie Pans

Initially, Arnold compared the objects to “saucers” and “pie pans.” Popular media reports began to speak of “flying saucers.” Later in life, Arnold shied away from flying-saucer associations. Perhaps embarrassed by the fringe-world of saucer hype and reluctant to be identified with flying-saucer kooks, Arnold disavowed the term “flying saucer.” In 1950, he claimed that he had never compared the craft to saucers except to say that their movement could be compared to that of saucers skipping over the water. He explained that the press misquoted him and invented the term flying saucer. These statements represent some personal revisionism on Arnold’s part. Contrary to his protests, Arnold’s early reports never described the motion of the objects as saucer-like, but he did, on several occasions, describe their shape by comparing them to saucers and pie pans. Some early newspaper reports spoke of “flying pie pans” instead of flying saucers. Arnold never claimed that the objects were perfectly round like a saucer, but he did compare their narrow profile to that of saucers. In later years, Arnold preferred to avoid the flying saucer associations by describing the objects as boomerang-shaped, but his earliest and most-reliable descriptions and drawings indicate something like a flat, elongated half circle that tapered to a point in the tail.[13]

The Newswire

Chicago_Sun_1947-06-26-2_Flying_Saucer_headline-thArnold assumed he had witnessed some advanced military craft on a test flight. On landing at Yakima, he told the pilots and flight instructors at the airfield about the encounter. One of the helicopter pilots offered a possible explanation, “It’s just a flight of those guided missiles from Moses Lake.” Arnold accepted that explanation and flew on to Pendleton, Oregon, but his story arrived in Pendleton before he did. When he landed, a small group of curious pilots and airport workers were waiting for him. He retold the story. No one could explain it.

The next morning, Arnold visited the Portland-based East Oregonian newspaper to see if anyone at the newspaper office could explain or identify the objects he had seen. The editor had no answers for him, but he agreed to write up the story for the Associated Press in hopes that some editor or newspaper reader might be able to explain the strange objects. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the press latched on to the story. More than 150 newspapers picked up the June 25 AP copy. Reporters started contacting the East Oregonian and asking for more details and information. The East Oregonian followed the initial short write up with a feature story that went to press on June 26. Again, the Associated Press carried the follow-up story to newspapers across the country.

Arnold complained that “reporters, newsmen, and press agencies of every conceivable description” immediately began to harry him.[14] By Friday June 27, it was already clear that the story had lit a fire of public interest. Numerous reports of other sightings were already appearing in the papers along with plenty of speculation and ridicule from skeptics. Arnold admitted that, if he had not seen it himself, he would be among the skeptics. It troubled him that he had no proof of the sighting with which he could refute scoffers. Before going aloft again, he purchased a movie camera with a telescopic lens. “Next time, I hope I’ll have a picture of what I see,” he said.[15]

Objections and Explanations

Immediately after the story went national, speculation explaining the sighting began to appear in the papers. Seattle-based United Air Lines pilot Al Smith said Arnold had probably seen the reflection of his own instrument panel on his canopy. Another writer suggested that Arnold had been fooled by the reflection and refraction of sunlight on his own canopy. A meteorologist explained that a bright light, such as the sun, can temporarily burn the eyes and create the illusion of such objects in one’s field of vision. Another meteorologist chimed in, suggesting snow blindness from the mountain peaks might create such an effect.[16] The AP science editor noted that a distant plane, reflecting the sphere of the sun, would appear to be round in shape, like a disk. Another would-be expert explained that when geese or swans are seen in flight from above, their movement creates “a swirling motion that gives a disk-like effect, especially when the sunlight is reflected from just the right angle.” A Washington State iron works operator attempted to take responsibility for the Arnold sighting and the subsequent similar reports by claiming the disks were merely the aluminum centers of melted beer bottle caps which he had been blowing out of the chimney stacks at his foundry.

Seventy-three years after the event, we still have no explanation.

Explanations like these, which did not begin to satisfy the details of the sighting, only exasperated Arnold. Since then, attempts to offer prosaic explanations for the sighting have scarcely abated. In his book, Three Minutes in June: The UFO Sighting that Changed the World, Bruce Maccabee lists the conventional proposed explanations based on known objects and phenomena that have been offered to explain the Arnold sighting:[17]

  1. New US Air Force jet aircraft (Arnold and others).
  2. Soviet secret aircraft (Arnold and others).
  3. Quirks of eyesight (Howard Blakesless).
  4. Motes in the eye (in a press article).
  5. Reflections from mirrors (Dan Nelson).
  6. Large nearby airplanes (Allen Hynek).
  7. Blasts of snow (Donald Menzel).
  8. Haze reflection (Donald Menzel).
  9. Mirage (Donald Menzel).
  10. Orographic clouds (Donald Menzel).
  11. Wave clouds in motion (Donald Menzel).
  12. Water drops on the winshield (Donald Menzel).
  13. Meteors (Philip Klass/Leon Davidson)
  14. Geese/pelicans (Marting Kottmeyer, James Easten, et al).

The Air Force files suggested that the sighting could best be explanted as conventional aircraft. J. Allen Hyneck, scientific consultant to Project Blue Book, believed that Arnold’s statements about the distance and size of the objects must have been in error, and that the objects Arnold saw could have been fighter craft flying much closer to him than he assumed. Since they were closer to him than his calculations allowed, they only appeared to cover the distance he reported, accounting for what appeared to be their supersonic speed. A similar explanation from the Blue Book files, proposed by the Air Force in 1948, has it that Arnold experienced a mirage resulting from temperature inversion. The mirage explanation is also used to explain the erratic motion Arnold reported. If he misidentified conventional aircraft because he viewed them through some sort of atmospheric refraction, such as a shimmering heat mirage rising from hot pavement, the shimmer might make the aircraft appear to fly erratically. More recently, the misidentified white birds explanation, first proposed days after the incident, has been revived with the suggestion that Arnold saw a flock a American White Pelicans at a much closer distance than he had assumed. Other attempted proposals include balloons, droplets of water on the aircraft windshield, eye-spots, and so forth.

In an exhaustive and meticulously researched paper on the subject titled “The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold,” Martin Shough, a researcher with the National Aviation Reporting Center for Anomalous Phenomena, analyzes the most common explanations from the perspective of the relevant sciences.[18] The paper carefully reconstructs Arnold’s flight path from Arnold’s earliest detailed written narrative which was prepared in early July, 1947, for the Commanding General of the Army Air Force at Wright Field, Ohio. Correlating that report with topographical reference points, known times, distances, aircraft speed, performance, and altitude, Shough recreates the scene of the sighting. Using highly detailed maps and three-dimensional topographic renderings from Google Earth, Shough pins down the initial position of the objects along Mount Rainier’s slopes and plots what must have been their flight path. He correlates that information with Arnold’s relative position, speed, and range of vision. He then proceeds to analyze the common explanations for the sighting, beginning with J. Allen Hyneck’s theory that Arnold had misidentified conventional fighter aircraft flying at a range of only a few miles. Shough demonstrates that Hyneck based his theory on bad information obtained from a case summary (rather than a full report) and wrong information about the range of visual acuity. He goes on to refute the theory of atmospheric refraction (which was also intended to explain the erratic flight of the objects and why they seemed to flip and flash) as a condition not possible at 9,000 feet. At the same time, he eliminates the temperature inversion theory as a potential explanation. Likewise, he takes up each of the other conventional explanations, one at a time, and dismantles them through careful scientific and mathematical scrutiny. Even the American White Pelican theory falls apart under Shough’s analysis.

Seventy-three years after the event, we still have no explanation.

Harbingers of the Apocalypse

Arnold, Kenneth-PhotoArnold believed that the objects he had seen were either top secret new planes or guided missiles. By Friday June 28, he regretted that he had said anything at all to anyone about the sighting. “All I wanted was an explanation of what I saw,” he said. Instead, he received unwanted fame and harassment. Unable to get any work done in Pendleton, he decided to escape the media and return home Boise. “I haven’t had a moment of peace since I first told the story,” he complained to the Pendleton reporters.[19] Among the phone calls for interviews and press statements, he received a call from a preacher in Texas who informed him that the objects he had seen were harbingers of the apocalypse and the end of the world. While eating at a local Pendleton café, Arnold found he had achieved celebrity status. One woman recognized him and shrieked, “There’s the man who saw the men from Mars.”

“This whole thing has gotten out of hand,” Arnold complained. “I want to talk to the FBI or someone.” That same day, armed with his new movie camera and telescopic lens, Arnold flew out of Pendleton and returned home to Boise.[20]

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson, the aviation editor for The Idaho Statesman newspaper called on Arnold for an interview. Johnson had a keen interest in all things relating to aviation. Before becoming a reporter, Johnson piloted a B-29 Bomber during World War II. Arnold considered him to be “a man of respected ability and intelligence in matters related to military and civilian aviation.”[21] Johnson was familiar with the latest advances in aviation, and he expressed his doubts about Arnold’s story. So far as he knew, the description of the craft did not sound like jets or rockets or any type of conventional aircraft. He also knew that the speed reported by Arnold far exceeded the performance ability of existing aircraft.

Johnson and Arnold became friends. As regional and national reports of similar sightings began to appear in the papers, they collaborated to try to solve the mystery. They spent time flying together, trying to capture a photograph of one of the elusive disks. Johnson’s flights resulted in one sighting at about 14,000 feet, several miles east of Boise, but the object was too distant to capture on film.

A better sighting occurred on July 4 when United Airlines Flight 105 out of Boise encountered two groups of four to five discs near the Oregon border on the evening of July 4. Captain E. J. Smith and his flight crew made headlines the next day, offering what appeared to be solid corroboration for Kenneth Arnold’s story. Arnold met Captain Smith and his copilot in Seattle, and they exchanged stories.

The Original X-Files Team

In early July, Arnold composed a thorough report for the military in the form of a letter to the Commanding General of Army Air Forces at Wright Field. The report details the entire sighting. By then, Arnold had read in the papers about dozens of similar sightings, and he had received letters from all over the United States written by people who professed to have seen the same or similar objects. He wondered why he had been contacted neither by the Army nor the FBI, and he expressed his frustration over the government’s seeming lack of interest.

 “This whole thing has gotten out of hand,” Arnold complained. “I want to talk to the FBI or someone.”

Unknown to Arnold, the Army Air Force had a keen interest in Arnold’s story and in the subsequent wave of sightings, but until the second week of July, the military did not have a department ready to take responsibility for researching unidentified aerial phenomenon over American airspace. About the same time that Arnold composed his report, the army was putting together its investigation. Army Air Force Chief of Staff General Carl Spaatz instructed Intelligence at Hamilton Field, California to open a file on the saucers following the multiple, phenomenal reports of sightings from July 4. Lieutenant Colonel Donald L. Springer of the A-2 section of the Fourth Air Force at Hamilton specially selected two talented, up-and-coming intelligence officers for the detail: Captain William Lee Davidson and First Lieutenant Frank Mercer Brown.

Brown and Davidson were both in their early twenties when they took the assignment. They had orders to investigate sightings, interview witnesses, and keep their reports classified. The Army Air Force provided them with all necessary resources, including a pool of secretaries and assistants and two aircraft along with crews to fly them around: a Douglas A-24 and a stripped-down B-25. Together, Davidson and Brown conducted the government’s first official investigation into the UFO phenomenon—the original X Files team.[22]

Davidson and Brown flew their A-24 to Boise to interview Kenneth Arnold on July 12, just nineteen days after his sighting. They sought out character references from people who knew Arnold, and then the two officers met Arnold and his wife Doris at Boise’s downtown Hotel Owyhee where the Army Air Force treated the Arnold’s to dinner before conducting the interview. The Arnolds were impressed by the courtesy the officers showed them. The officers openly admitted that the government did not know what the flying saucers were, and they sympathized with Arnold over unwanted attention that the sighting had generated. First at the hotel and later in the privacy of the Arnold residence, they conducted a six-hour interview, carefully going over every detail of the sighting.

During the course of the dinner, Arnold mentioned that he wanted to stop by the Boise airport that evening to “say hello to Big Smithy.” Captain E. J. Smith of United Airline Flight 105 had a brief stopover in Boise that same night as part of his regular circuit, and Arnold had arranged to connect with him. Arnold had met Smith a week earlier in Seattle, and they had formed a friendship around their common interest in solving the riddle of the flying discs. The two Air Force investigators wanted to come along and meet the pilot. They were “highly elated with the opportunity to meet Captain Smith for, as Brown said, he was on their list to call on. It was like killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.”[23]

After dinner, the Arnolds and the two airmen drove out to Boise Municipal Airport to await Smith’s arrival. Arnold was surprised to find Dave Johnson, the aviation editor for The Idaho Statesman, already at the terminal awaiting Smith. Davidson and Brown were eager to meet with Johnson too. At some point during their stay in Boise, they conducted a private meeting with Dave Johnson, and they questioned him about his own recent air-born sighting of one of the objects. They asked him to write up a detailed report and submit it to the commanding officer of Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton. Then they asked Johnson for his opinion on Arnold’s credibility. Johnson vouched for Arnold, confirming him to be a sober and reliable witness.

The great flying saucer wave over America was in full swing. Numerous credible witnesses had come forward, claiming to have seen similar phenomenon.

When Captain E. J. Smith arrived, enthusiasm ran high. Arnold, Johnson, and Smith were all eye-witnesses in air-to-air sightings of the discs, and they were excited to have the attention of the men from the government. Arnold recalled, “Everybody was talking at the same time. As a result, during the brief stay that Smithy had between flights, none of us found out much.”

After Smithy flew out, Arnold and his wife invited Davidson and Brown to their home where they could conduct the rest of the interview. Arnold later recalled:

Our two children had been put to bed, and we had the house to ourselves. I fully realized the seriousness of their visit and tried to cooperate in every way I possibly could. I stuck absolutely to the fact. I didn’t consider my opinion important. I drew pictures for them and recounted my original observation as accurately as I could.[24]

Davidson and Brown compared Arnold’s story with the army’s aeronautical charts of the Cascade Mountain region, correlating the distances involved, the speed of the objects, the course of the objects, and the size of the objects, and they found no inconsistencies in the story. They assessed Arnold to be a highly credible witness. In his official report on the interview, Lieutenant Brown offered his personal impressions:

It is the personal opinion of the interviewer that Mr. Arnold actually saw what he stated that he saw. It is difficult to believe that a man of Mr. Arnold’s character and apparent integrity would state that he saw objects and write up a report to the extent that he did if he did not see them. To go further, if Mr. Arnold can write a report of the character that he did while not having seen the objects he claimed he saw, it is the opinion of the interviewer that Mr. Arnold is in the wrong business, that he should be writing Buck Rogers fiction … Mr. Arnold stated further that if he, at any time in the future, saw anything in the sky, to quote Mr. Arnold directly, “If I saw a ten story building flying through the air I would never say a word about it,” due to the fact that he has been ridiculed by the press to such an extent that he is practically a moron in the eyes of the majority of the population of the United States.[25]

Arnold provided Davidson and Brown with top and side view sketches of the objects. The top view depicts an elongated half-circle which tapers to a point in the rear. The side view presents a flattened, thin profile.

Arnold Drawing

Late that night, the Arnolds returned Brown and Davidson to their hotel. Arnold recalled, “Brown and Davidson quietly, but firmly impressed me with the idea that if anything of an unusual nature came to my attention or if I needed help in any way I was to phone them or wire them collect in care of A-2, Fourth Air Force, Hamilton Field, California.”

In subsequent communication with Wright Field, Arnold expressed frustration that the officers had not been able to identify the aircraft: “It is with considerable disappointment you cannot give the explanation of these aircraft as I felt certain they belonged to our government.”[26] Davidson and Brown could only confirm what Dave Johnson of the Idaho Statesman had already suspected. Whatever Arnold had seen, they were not American aircraft.

That conclusion disappointed Arnold because he had hoped that the government could vindicate him and prove to the scoffers, once and for all, that he was neither delusional nor suffering from eye spots. If the government could not provide the verification he sought, at least Arnold could find solace in the fact that he was not alone. In addition to corroboration offered from eye-witnesses like Captain Smith and Dave Johnson, hundreds of others had, by then, reported seeing similar objects in the sky. The great flying saucer wave over America was in full swing. Numerous credible witnesses had come forward, claiming to have seen similar phenomenon. Arnold took consolation in knowing that others had seen the same things and that the government was finally taking the matter seriously.

Before they left, Davidson and Brown confided in Arnold, telling him a few details about other cases they were investigating. Arnold was surprised to learn that he was not the first to have seen the saucers. Some had been reported as early as April of that year.

Read the whole story of the 1947 UFO Wave, “Flying Saucers 1947.”


[1] Kenneth Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers (Point Pleasant, West Virginia: New Saucerian Books), 1-2; “Flying Disc Tale Stands,” Tucson Daily Citizen, Arizona, June 28, 1947.

[2] “Boise Flyer Maintains He Saw ‘Em,” East Oregonian, Oregon, June 26, 1947.

[3] “Impossible! Maybe, But Seein’ Is Believin’, Says Flier,” East Oregonian, Oregon, June 25, 1947.

[4] East Oregonian, Oregon, June 26, 1947.

[5]  Martin Shough, “The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold,” 121.

[6] “Man Reports ‘Saucer-Shape Plane,’ Hayward Daily Review, California, June 26, 1947.

[7] Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers, 11.

[8] “Arnold Insists Tale of Flying Objects O.K.,” Oregon Journal, Oregon, June 27, 1947.

[9] Ted Smith KWRC interview. Transcript online at

[10] “Boise Flyer Maintains He Saw ‘Em,” East Oregonian, Oregon, June 26, 1947.

[11] “Man Reports ‘Saucer-Shape Plane,’ Hayward Daily Review, California, June 26, 1947.

[12] “Harassed Saucer-Sighter Would Like to Escape Fuss,” Statesman, Boise, Idaho, June 28, 1947.

[13] Martin Shough, “The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold,” Appendix 4, 113-147.

[14] Arnold, Coming of the Saucers.

[15] “Pilot Still Puzzled By Aerial Objects,” Miami Daily News-Record, June 27, 1947.

[16] “More See Flat, Fast Discs Cavorting In Sky,” San Antonio Express, Texas, June 27, 1947.

[17] Bruce Maccabbee, Three Minutes in June: The UFO Sighting that Changed the World (Rochester, New York: Richard Dolan Press, 2017), 84-85. See also Ruppelt’s summary of government speculation and explanations, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects: The Original 1956 Edition (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2011), 17–19.

[18] Martin Shough, “The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold.”

[19] “Harassed Saucer-Sighter Would Like to Escape Fuss,” Statesman, Boise, Idaho, June 28, 1947.

[20] “Reaction to His Story of Flying Saucers Causes Idaho Businessman to Shudder,” Saturday Morning, June 28, 1947.

[21] Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers, 15.

[22] Michael Hall & Wendy A. Connors, Alfred Loedding & the Great Flying Saucer Wave of 1947 (unpublished), 25. According to Kenneth Arnold, they flew a A-26 bomber. (The Coming of the Saucers, 22).

[23] Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers, 22.

[24] Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers, 22.

[25] Cameron Pack, Restored Project Blue Book UFO Files: June 1947 & Before (Cameron Pack, 2013). File Number 15, “Memorandum for the Officer in Charge.”

[26] Ibid.

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