Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting

June 1947

Why is this important?

This sighting is important because it was the first widely publicized UFO sighting of the post World War II era, and it came from a highly credible source. This occurred a couple of weeks before the Roswell Incident and from it, the term "flying saucer" was coined.

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Kenneth Arnold – businessman and aviator – allegedly encountered nine craft operating in unusual flight patterns and at high rates of speed on June 24th, 1947 in Washington State. The event coined the term "flying saucer" and kicked off a UFO craze in the United States in 1947.

On June 24th, 1947, Kenneth Arnold had a UFO encounter that would dramatically change the course of his life. Arnold, a businessman and pilot from Boise, ID, was flying his CallAir A-2 small plane from Chehalis, WA to Yakima, WA while performing a search operation. Arnold was pursuing a $5,000 reward for locating a downed U.S. Marine Corps C-46 Commando transport plane that had crashed near Mt. Rainier.

Near Mt. Rainier

At around 3PM, immediately after concluding the unsuccessful search mission, Arnold reported seeing a bright light flashing to his left, coming from the direction of Mt. Rainier. He visually surveyed the area and saw one other craft: a DC-4 flying at his 8 o'clock and roughly 15 miles away, to the southwest of the mountain. Moments later, Arnold again saw flashing lights, looked to his left, and saw nine craft flying in formation in front of Mt. Rainier, their sleek metallic profile and reflective surfaces catching his full attention. The craft were spread out over an area approximately five miles wide and were operating in a manner inconsistent with conventional aircraft; multiple times, Arnold reported the craft rotating on their axes or otherwise executing planar changes that would be unusual of a normal airplane. The craft were also reported to be moving at a high rate of speed. Arnold managed to time them as they traversed the 50 miles between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in 1 minute and 42 seconds–equivalent to over 1700 MPH–which would have set the world air speed record at the time by a wide margin.

This letter and annotated drawing was submitted to Air Force Intelligence by Kenneth Arnold on July 12, 1947.
This letter and annotated drawing was submitted to Air Force Intelligence by Kenneth Arnold on July 12, 1947.

Silver Saucer Shapes and One Dark Crescent Shape

The craft themselves were unusual in appearance. Eight of the objects were described to be a convex shape and silver, while the ninth (and lead) craft was described as being a crescent shape and darker in color. They were observed to be approximately 100 feet wide, which was slightly larger than the DC-4 transport plane Arnold was originally looking for. None of the craft were observed to have a tail assembly that would be typical of a standard plane. They flew at times in unison, and at times had the look of a Chinese kite tail. Arnold observed the craft for approximately two minutes before losing sight of them as they cornered around Mt. Adams.

The Term "Flying Saucer" is Born

Kenneth Arnold's sighting described in detail several days after his initial claim.
Kenneth Arnold's sighting described in detail several days after his initial claim.

The Kenneth Arnold case is unique in that it was the first UFO sighting in the United States to go viral. Upon landing his plane in Yakima, WA, Arnold began speaking with other pilots, ultimately leading to his being interviewed by the East Oregonian newspaper the following day. During that interview, Arnold described the craft as flying similar to a "saucer skimming across a pond"; the reporting from that interview first used the words "flying saucer", thus coining that phrase and launching it into imaginations the world over. This case was largely responsible for kicking off the UFO Craze of 1947, which hit a crescendo weeks later with the incident at Roswell, New Mexico.

Questions Remain

There would never be acknowledgement of craft – government or other – occupying airspace near Mt. Rainier or Mt. Adams that day. At least two other witnesses on the ground in Washington claim to have seen the craft at or about the same time as Arnold, who originally believed he may have seen secret US military missile testing. Over time, however, Arnold came to acknowledge the potential that his case may have been one of extraterrestrial encounters. Skeptic explanations for the event range from "mountaintop mirages" to thermal stratification to migrating pelicans.

Kenneth Arnold shot to fame immediately following the event. He also became a UFO investigator, notably called on site to investigate the 1947 Maury Island incident (which was likely a hoax). In 1950, Arnold was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow. In 1952, he published a book on the events with author Raymond Palmer, "The Coming of the Saucers". The events have been studied numerous times, including by famed physicist and UFOlogist Bruce Maccabee. Arnold later went on to a political career, running as the Republican nominee for governor of Idaho in 1962.


Official Explanation

No official explanation. Skeptics have put forth that the objects may have been mountain mirages, jet planes, meteors, and pelicans.

Counter Argument

Unidentified craft not of terrestrial origin.


Eyewitness account by Kenneth Arnold and at least two witnesses from the ground in Washington State.

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The OG of UFOs.

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