Arnold, Kenneth (1915–1984)

Kenneth Arnold

Kenneth Arnold was a businessman, part-time deputy sheriff, and accomplished private pilot whose sighting of luminous objects, while flying his own Callair plane, over the Cascade Mountains, marked the start of the great saucer flap of 1947.


Arnold was returning from Chehalis to Yakima, Washington, after a business trip, when he heard that a C-46 transport plane belonging to the US Marine Corps had come down near Mount Rainier. In the hope of claiming a $5,000 government reward, he determined to spend an hour or so searching for the wreckage. While making a 180-degree turn above the town of Mineral, at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,200 feet), "a tremendously bright flash lit up the surfaces of my aircraft." At 2.59 p.m., he observed "a formation of very bright objects coming from the vicinity of Mount Baker, flying very close to the mountaintops and traveling at tremendous speed." Using the clock on his instrument panel, and Mounts Rainier and Adams as markers, and estimating that the formation would pass about 35 km (23 miles) in front of him, Arnold calculated that the objects were traveling at over 2,720 km/h (1,700 mph). Since they appeared to be flying in formation and, therefore, in Arnold's view artificial, this speed was astounding. Only later that year would the sound barrier, of about 1,200 km/h (750 mph), be broken by Chuck Yeager in a jet aircraft.


Commented Arnold: "They didn't fly like any aircraft I had seen before ... They flew in a definite formation, but erratically ... like speed boats on rough water or similar to the tail of a Chinese kite ... they fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces." It was while describing his encounter to reporters later the same day that the term "flying saucer" was coined.