1947 was a landmark year in the history of Ufology. Not only because of the infamous Roswell crash, but also because of Kenneth Arnold's famous sighting from which the phrase 'flying saucer' originated.
However, Arnold's sighting was not one in isolation. There were numerous sightings in June and July '47, so it's perhaps more difficult to isolate one event from others that occurred within a close timeframe.
There were three main events that took place within a few weeks of each other so it's perhaps shrewd to step back from one particular case and examine them all.
It's difficult to link the various sightings together, if indeed they were in some way linked, so I'll describe them here in chronological order. To give you more of an overview, there were three significant sightings that we shall examine;
Bakersfield, Cascade Mountains and Maury Island.
The latter is located in a strip of water known as Puget Sound, off Tacoma, Washington. The Cascade Mountains incident is the famous Arnold Sighting, but we'll start by examining the first event; Bakersfield.
Whilst flying from Chicago to Los Angeles over Bakersfield, California on the afternoon of 14th June 1947, pilot Richard Rankin reported seeing ten flying discs, each averaging about 35' in diameter. He claimed they were travelling at approx 560mph and deployed in a triangular formation. Although only ten days before Arnold's sighting, Rankin's report is largely overlooked, and surprisingly little mention is made of it in Arnold's own book "The Coming of the Saucers".
A few days after Rankins sighting, on June 21st, a boatman called Harold Dahl and the crew of his small boat witnessed what was described as six unknowns shaped like huge inflated inner tubes (sometimes described as doughnut shaped). They appeared to be hovering above the boat at a height of of roughly 2000 feet.
At first the crew thought they were balloons, but without any movement. Dahl reported that five of the UFOs appeared to be moving around the sixth, which seemed to be malfunctioning. After a while the objects had dropped to approximately a couple of hundred yards above Dahl's boat, at which point the witnesses judged the objects to be approx 100' across.
Fearing a possible collision with a malfunctioning craft, Dahl beached his craft and the crew continued to watch the UFOs. As they watched, the 'malfunctioning' one suddenly expelled a flurry of aluminium foil-like chaff.
This glittering metal showered the entire area and was immediately followed by what was described as the discharge of a much bulkier, slag-like material which made the water below turn to steam when it hit it.
Indeed, some of the expelled material burnt Dahl's sons arm and killed their pet dog who was also on the boat. In total Dahl estimated that some "twenty tons of the debris had fallen". When the objects started slowly moving towards the horizon, and finally out of view, the crew radioed the patrol base but radio static prevented them from making contact. They then examined the damage to the boat and collected some samples of the strange debris that had dropped to earth.
On their return, Dahl's superior officer Fred L.Crisman was initially rather sceptical of the story, but nonetheless decided to visit the portion of beach where the debris was scattered, in order to investigate for himself.
He visited the island and did indeed find the shoreline strewn with "glassy, near-black rock and shiny foil".
He was amazed to witness himself, another UFO sighting which seemed to fit the description of Dahl's one seen the previous day. He later described it himself as "a brassy, almost golden, metallic aircraft with a burled finish which showed more brilliance than a polished surface would show."
It was again shaped like an inflated inner tube and flew with complete silence.
Arnold's own sighting occurred on June 24th 1947 and whilst not specifically spectacular itself, it is memorable mainly because of the media furore which arose from Arnold's description of the way the UFOs travelled through the air; "like saucers skimming over water" - hence the origin of the phrase 'flying saucers', which appears to be a reporters corruption of his actual words. None the less, the phrase has stuck ever since.
Arnold was president of a company which manufactured fire extinguishers, based in Boise, Idaho. At 2pm in the afternoon on June 24th he took off from Cherhalis airfield, Washington, bound for Yakima on what was to become a memorable flight.
His routine flight was disrupted for an hour whilst he diverted to take part in the search for a Navy transport plane which had apparently crashed in the vicinity of Mount Rainier.
After an unsuccessful search he resumed his flight towards Yakima, noticing a DC-4 travelling at about 15,000 feet as he relaxed on his flight. It was good weather and he commented himself, "That day the weather was so good that flying was sheer pleasure."
Barely two or three minutes after resuming his flight path a blinding beam of light was reflected by his aircraft. Initially he couldn't see the origin of the reflection but was then startled to see a row of nine strange flying objects to his left, to the north of Mount Rainier. They were travelling at such a speed, Arnold initially thought they were jets (taking into account that this siting occurred several months before the first commercial jet).
Every few seconds a couple of the objects banked or changed course, causing them to be struck by sunlight. Although they appeared to be following a specific course, they swerved around the summit of the mountain and Arnold reported that they were flying in a diagonal line, almost giving the appearance of being joined together. He approximated their range to be about 16 miles from his own aircraft and around 2/3rds the size of the DC-4 he had seen earlier.
Using the range of mountains as a measurement, the line of UFOs must have been around 5 miles long and as Arnold had timed them between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, some fifty miles to the south, their speed was calculated to be approx 1750mph.
In the evening, after his landing, he told reporters his infamous description of them sailing through the air "like saucers skimming over water", which took only hours to spread throughout the media, resulting in his bombardment with questions by the press.
It's unknown exactly what Arnold saw, alien craft or some secret US Air Force developmental craft? Either way, Arnold was no sensation monger, being an experienced pilot and respected businessman. His report also interested the FBI and Army Air Forces enough to perform their own investigation of the case.
According to an FBI memorandum to the Officer-in-Charge from Special Agent Frank M.Brown, filed on July 16th 1947, "It is the personal opinion of the interviewer that [Arnold] actually saw what he states he saw in the attached report. It is also the opinion of the interviewer that [Arnold] would have much more to lose than gain and would have to be very strongly convinced that he actually saw something before he would report such an incident and open himself up for public ridicule that would accompany such a report."1
The days and months following Arnold's sighting saw hundreds of reports of strange UFOs all over the US. Arnold himself became a firm believer in UFOs, later writing a book on the subject and interviewing other witnesses. It's also interesting to note that many of the reports come from pilots and other seemingly reliable witnesses.