Friday, June 20, 2014

The Man Who Introduced the World to Flying Saucers

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Kenneth Arnold

By Megan Garber
The Atlantic

Kenneth Arnold saw something, said something, and ushered in the UFO-industrial complex

. . .

Nine Flashes of Light

     If you wanted to put a precise date on the origins of our obsession with saucers, the most-cited contender is June 24, 1947. That was the day that Kenneth Arnold, an amateur pilot from Idaho, was flying his little plane, a CallAir A-2, over Mineral, Washington. The skies were clear; there was a light breeze. Arnold, who was en route to an air show in Oregon, was doing a little exploring on the side, near Mount Rainer: A Marine Corps C-46 transport airplane had gone down in the area recently, and there was a $5,000 reward for the person who found the wreckage.

Suddenly, as Arnold would later recall, he saw a bright light—just a flash, like a glint of sun as it hits a mirror when the glass is angled just so. It had a blue-ish tinge. At first, he thought the light must have been coming from another plane; when he looked around, though, all he could see was a DC-4. It seemed to be flying about 15 miles away from him. It was not flashing.

What did Arnold see that day? Or, more to the point, what would he say that he’d seen? As Ted Bloecher writes in his Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, released in 1967, Arnold would later describe the airborne objects as flying in "a diagonally stepped-down, echelon formation," the entire assemblage "stretched out over a distance that he later calculated to be five miles." The objects seemed to be flying on a single, horizontal plane, but they also weaved from side to side, occasionally flipping and banking—darting around, Arnold would say, like “the tail of a Chinese kite.” They moved in unison, Arnold said. They didn't seem to be piloted, he said. Once Arnold realized the objects were not, in fact, commercial jets—or, as he’d also thought for a moment, a skein of geese—he figured he was witnessing the testing of military aircraft.

If so, though, the objects would be very advanced aircraft. Arnold, still trying to figure out what he was looking at as he flew over Mount Rainier, decided to focus on the vehicles’ speed. He calculated the time it took the objects to travel between Mount Rainer and Mount Adams, a distance of about 50 miles: a minute and 42 seconds. Which was a rough approximation—but which would also mean that the objects were traveling at a rate, rough-approximation-wise, of 1,700 miles per hour. Which would mean that they were traveling around three times faster than any aircraft was capable of at the time. The formation of flying objects was flying, actually, more than twice the speed of sound. Chuck Yaeger wouldn’t make his supersonic flight—the one generally acknowledged to be the first—until later that year, in October.

Flying Objects, Unidentified

Arnold wasn’t sure what he’d seen; the flying objects he’d go on to describe remained, in the most literal sense, unidentified. What he did know was that the sighting gave him, he would later say, an "eerie feeling.” . . .

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