Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 191
Publication Date: 1952
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Kenneth Arnold made what is generally considered the first widely reported unidentified flying object sighting in the United States, after claiming to have seen nine unusual objects flying in tandem near Mount Rainier, Washington on June 24, 1947. This is his story, written with the help of Raymond Palmer, who was the editor of Amazing Stories and Fate Magazine.
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It was Tuesday, June 24, 1947. I had just finished installing some fire fighting apparatus for Central Air Service at Chehalis, Washington. The job finished, I began a chat with Herb Critzer, chief test pilot for Central Air Service.
We talked, among other things, about the possible location of a lost C-46 Marine transport which had gone down in the mountains. I decided to look for it. it meant a $5,000 reward and I hoped that via my proposed route to Yakima, Washington, I might be lucky enough to find it. I decided to spend enough time in the air in the vicinity of Mount Rainier to make a good attempt at locating the wreckage.
I was flying a specially designed mountain airplane, and having had considerable experience in this type of flying, I felt qualified to undertake the dangerous search. I took off from Chehalis, Washington airport at approximately two o'clock in the afternoon with the intention in mind of delaying my trip to Yakima for at least an hour, which I would spend on top, and in and around the high plateau of Mount Rainier. I flew directly toward this plateau, which has an elevation varying from nine to over ten thousand feet.
There are a number of things that are extremely important in handling aircraft on a search mission over mountainous terrain. Number one is a meticulous ground inspection of your airplane before beginning; not one of the ordinary checks such as gasoline and oil, but inspection of all wiring and movable parts of the aircraft which in any might cause a forced landing in treacherous country. This is very necessary. The consumption of gas is best judged in an aircraft not by gasoline gauge alone, but by knowing that your tank is full, knowing it's capacity, and the number of gallons your engine consumes each hour. An eight-day clock with a sweep second hand is one of the essentials in my aircraft. By 1947 I had learned through experience that care and thoroughness of a planned flight is the best insurance that a pilot can have.
I did plan this flight in this manner on June 24, 1947. It was during this search and while making a turn of 180 degrees over Mineral, Washington, at approximately 9200 feet altitude, that a tremendously bright flash lit up the surfaces of my aircraft. I was startled. I thought I was very close to collision with some other aircraft whose approach I had not noted. I spent the next twenty to thirty seconds urgently searching the sky all around - to the sides, above and below me - in an attempt to determine where the flash of light had come from. The only actual plane I saw was a DC-4 far to my left and rear, apparently on it's San Francisco to Seattle run. My momentary explanation to myself was that some lieutenant in a P-51 had given me a buzz job across my nose and that it was the sun reflecting from the surface of his wings as he passed that has caused the flash.
Before I had time to collect my thoughts or to find any close aircraft, the flash happened again. This time I caught the direction from which it had come. I observed, far to my left and to the north, a formation of very bright objects coming from the vicinity of Mount Baker, flying very close to the mountain tops and traveling at tremendous speed. At first I couldn't make out their shapes as they were still at a distance of over a hundred miles. I could see the formation was going to pass directly in front of me, as it was flying at approximately 170 degrees. I watched as these objects rapidly neared the snow border of Mount Rainer, all the time thinking to myself that I was observing a whole formation of jets. In group count, such as I have used in counting cattle and game from the air, they numbered nine. They were flying diagonally in an echelon formation with a larger gap in their echelon between the first four and the last five.
What startled me most at this point was the fact that I could not find any tails on them. I felt sure that, being jets, they had tails, but figured they must be camouflaged in some way so that my eyesight could not perceive them. I knew that Air Force was very artful in the knowledge and use of camouflage. I observed the object's outlines plainly as they flipped and flashed along against the snow and also against the sky. Since this formation of craft was at almost right angles to me and was traveling from north to south, I was in an excellent position to clock their speed. I determined to make an attempt to do so.
It was a beautifully sunny afternoon and the giant bulks of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams made perfect markers. Now, clocking speeds by only your sweep second hand cannot be entirely accurate because several seconds could be lost in breaking your gaze to observe your clock. I recall that when the first craft of this formation jetted to the southward from the snow-based cleft of Mount Rainier my second hand was approaching the top of my hour dial and the time was within a few seconds to one minute of three. I can't distinctly remember whether the eight day clock on my instrument panel was set on pacific time, Mountain time, daylight saving time, or slow time. I never thought of checking this with my wristwatch. I believe my eight day clock was on Mountain time.
I was fascinated by this formation of aircraft. 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. As I described them at the time, their flight was like speed boats on rough water or similar to the tail of a Chinese kite that I once saw blowing in the wind. Or maybe it would be best to describe their flight characteristics as very similar to a formation of geese, in a rather diagonal chain-like line, as if they were linked together. As I put it to newsmen in Pendleton, Oregon, they flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.
Another characteristic of these craft that made a tremendous impression on me was how they fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternatively and emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces. At the time I did not get the impression that these flashes were emitted by them, but rather than it was the sun's reflection from the extremely highly polished surface of their wings.