Kenneth Arnold shows a drawing of one of the objects he reported seeing on June 24, 1947. Courtesy U.S. Air…

Kenneth Arnold shows a drawing of one of the objects he reported seeing on June 24, 1947. Courtesy U.S. Air Force 1947: Pilot Kenneth Arnold sights a series of unidentified flying objects near Washington’s Mt. Rainier. It’s the first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States, and, thanks to Arnold’s description of what he […]

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Courtesy of the United States Air Force 1947: Kenneth Arnold witnesses a series of unexplained flying objects near Mt. Rainier in Washington. It is the first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States, and the press coines the phrase flying saucer as a result of Arnold’s account of what he saw.

Arnold was a highly skilled pilot with over 9,000 hours of flight time. He’d deviated from his flight itinerary — Chehalis to Yakima, Washington — in order to look for a Marine Corps C-46 cargo jet reported down in the Cascades on Mt. Rainier’s southwest side. Arnold continued his previous trajectory after doing a survey of the area.

The day, Arnold said, was absolutely clear, and he was traveling at a height of 9,200 feet. He was surprised by something brilliant reflecting off his jet a minute or two after seeing a DC-4 approximately 15 miles behind and to the left of him. He first believed he had come dangerously close to colliding with another aircraft, but upon glancing in the direction the light had come from, he saw nine “unusual-looking” planes flying swiftly in formation toward Mt. Rainier.

As these strange, tailless craft flew between his plane and Mt. Rainier and then off toward distant Mt. Adams, Arnold noted their remarkable speed — he later calculated they were traveling at approximately 1,700 mph — and said he got a good look at their black silhouettes silhouetted against Rainier’s snowy peak. He subsequently characterized them as saucer-shaped disks… a description that the gentlemen of the press instantly grasped.

At the time, Arnold said, he was unconcerned with the sight of these flying saucers because he assumed they were some kind of experimental military aircraft. If they were, nobody in the War Department (which will shortly be absorbed by the Department of Defense) said it.

Indeed, the Army Air Corps’ official line was that Arnold had either seen a mirage or was hallucinating. He maintained that he was completely attentive and clear, adding that he was also not a media seeker. Additionally, he invited the Army and the FBI to conduct investigations.

The Army sent two officials to speak with Arnold. Despite their conclusion that “a guy of [his] character and apparent honesty” probably definitely observed what he claimed to have seen, the Army’s first finding stood.

As word of Arnold’s account spread, several witnesses came forward to claim they, too, had seen the objects. The most believable story may have come from a United Airlines crew, which claimed to have seen nine identical disk-shaped objects over Idaho only ten days following Arnold’s encounter.

Whether Arnold saw something or not, the news generated a global flurry of UFO encounters. The Roswell story surfaced less than two weeks after Arnold’s trip, and the UFO craze began.

Was it the power of imagination, or was 1947 a high travel year for tiny green men? You make the call.