Sunday, June 03, 2012

Kenneth Arnold and the Flying Saucers

It has become a matter of conventional wisdom, that is, the idea that "flying saucer" is a misnomer, invented by a newspaper reporter who had been listening to Kenneth Arnold talk of a motion of nine objects he saw near Mount Rainier, Washington in June, 1947. It didn’t describe the shape of the objects, according to the skeptics, but the motion as they flew. They moved like saucers skipping across a pond and were not circular like a, well, saucer.

Bill Bequette is often credited with coming up with the term, "flying saucer," after Arnold described the motion of the craft. In later interviews, Bequette denied this, and it seems that the available written record bears this out.

According to one newspaper account, printed on June 25, Arnold was quoted as saying, "He said he sighted nine saucer-like aircraft flying..."

From the Hayward, California Daily Review of June 26, we see a quote attributed to Arnold. "They were shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them."

From San Antonio on the same date is "Arnold described the objects as "flat like a pie pan."

Bequette, in the East Oregonian reported, "...flat like a pie pan and somewhat bat-shaped..." which is a hint that there was something scalloped in the rear, like the wings of a bat.

On June 26, Arnold was interviewed on KWRC (radio, if it is necessary to make that distinction given the date... yes, I know there was commercial television but not much and certainly not in that area in 1947), and he said, "They looked something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the back."

Arnold's Drawing for the Army.
The point here is that all these statements were made, literally, within hours of seeing the objects (I suppose you could say that as much as 48 hours had passed, though I think the time was shorter than that). It wasn’t until The Coming of the Saucers was published in 1952 that the stylized, blunt-nosed and decidedly scalloped trailing edge was seen. This was, I believe, the firm hand of Ray Palmer. As an editor, he had a habit of re-writing and guiding articles in the direction that he wanted them to go. Arnold often said that he wasn’t much of a reader and had little time for the sorts of things that interested Palmer.

By June 28, the term, "flying saucer" was firmly affixed to the story. In one newspaper, the East Oregonian, the story began, "Kenneth Arnold said today he would like to got on one of his 1200-mile-an-hour ‘flying saucers,’..."

So, what did the damned things look like, when we examine those stories told in the hours and days after the event? Arnold provided, for the Army, a report on what he had seen and provided a signed drawing of the flying saucer. It certainly does have a rounded appearance, but the back end of it is flattened. There is no cut out on his drawing and the there is no hole, or cockpit in the center, as shown in the later versions.

Ray Palmer, who was in the process of creating Fate with Curtis Fuller, wanted a story from Arnold for the first issue of the magazine. On the cover were these yellow disks that had holes in the center because Palmer was pushing the Maury Island tale and those witnesses (well, alleged witnesses but admitted hoaxers, which makes them liars) said the objects they saw were donut shaped.

Then, with The Coming of the Saucers, the shape evolved into the classic crescent and bat-like trailing edge we see today. Gone is the hint of a saucer shape and while there is a cockpit on top, there doesn’t seem to be a hole through the center.

It seems to me that Arnold was describing something that was more saucer shaped than not, and that his description, though denied later, was of a saucer-shaped object. The drawing he made and sent to the Army is much more likely to be the best illustration of the object because it was the one made closest to the event. By 1952 and his book with Ray Palmer, all sorts of pressures had been brought, including Palmer’s attempts to validate the Maury Island nonsense.

The stylized Arnold "saucer."
Bequette, then, did not originate the term and the invention of it can be given to Arnold, based on his descriptions as published within a day or two (though I could have said hours here), and to headline writers who have a habit of attempting to lure readers to a story with something inspiring, graphic, spectacular or odd... or all of the above.

And flying saucers were born, not out of a misunderstanding about the shape of the objects seen, but out of the description supplied by Arnold.

It should also be noted that in following stories by other witnesses, objects were described as flying saucers that were cigar shaped, ball shaped (or spherical) triangular and a half dozen other ways. While these clearly were not saucer shaped, they were all lumped into the same grouping, here meaning unidentified objects in the sky and not necessarily anything else. But invention of the term comes directly from the Arnold sighting and the descriptions he gave to various reporters and not to a misunderstanding.


David Rudiak said...

Kevin, I agree with everything here. My own review of the stories in the first few days after Arnold's sighting shows that he was indeed using terms like "saucer", pie-plate, half-moon, etc. to describe the shape.

Bill Bequette originally reported on June 25 that Arnold described the shape as "saucer-like" or "flat like a pie-pan". He used the term "flying disc" on June 28, but not "flying saucer".

The first use I found of "flying saucer" itself was the Chicago Sun on June 26 in a headline for the AP story that read: "Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot". I have not seen "flying saucer" in any other newspaper on June 26, but remember another instance on June 27.

It may be that the Sun invented the term on June 26. It certainly was not Bequette. He only reported "saucer-like".

Another thing I discovered when I went through Chicago papers when I was in Chicago last year was in interview with Arnold in the Chicago Times on July 7. Arnold was already talking about the extraterrestrial hypothesis in that interview because of the extreme maneuvers of the objects he witnessed that no human pilot could endure. The only other possibility he thought was an unknown, remote-controlled experimental military craft.

Also on July 7, in an AP article, Arnold was talking about his fan mail and how some of them were likewise proposing the ETH for the origins.

On June 27 was another AP story where Arnold was discussing a disturbing encounter with a woman in a diner in Pendleton, Oregon. She recognized who he was and ran out of the restaurant near-hysterical, saying "There's the man who saw the men from Mars" saying she wanted to be home with her children.

The idea of extraterrestrial origins was in the mind of Arnold (and others) right from the beginning, not something Arnold considered only in succeeding years, as has sometimes been written.

30 years later (June 22, 1947), Arnold was a keynote speaker in the International UFO Conference in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported Arnold saying he wasn't at all surprised that people were still seeing them. He was sure at the time that they were here to stay.

(The Tribune story also alludes to Roswell a year before Stan Friedman stumbled on it again. No doubt Stan went back in time and made them do it.)

Don said...

'Saucer' is a generic term. All sorts of things besides crockery get called saucers, including hockey pucks and skeets, which are often described as 'flying saucers' on the sports page, at least back in 1947. The earliest reference to a flying saucer I've found is 1912, in a story about skeet shooting.

Arnold wrote that the drawing made by Lt Brown reminded him of one of the nine he thought looked different than the others, but had thought the difference might have been due to the angle of view he had, and therefore, being unsure, did not mention it to anyone. Brown's and Davidson's confidence in the authenticity of the photos convinced him the one saucer actually was different looking than the others.

It took me a while, but I think I can see the Rhodes photographs as Arnold saw them, and how well seeing them that way matches with his batwing design.

If we consider all the possible eliptical views, all the possible angles of view of a disk, then nearly every reported instance during the wave was a 'saucer'. Even the Rhodes object, at its lowest approach (or probably the Arizona Republic's photograph of its lowest approach) was described as seeming shaped somewhat like a cigar. and in the second photo as heel shaped. Those two perceptions may be no more accurate than Arnold's batwing.



Sarge said...

A friend of mine once described a UFO she saw late one night on her way home from work at a local war plant. The period should have been the late summer between 1944 and 1946.
She described the object as looking like a washer that had been in a furnace. When asked she described a flat round, red or orange glowing object with a hole, or dark spot, in the center.
The donut description would apply to that one.

cda said...

DR wrote:

"The Tribune story [1977] also alludes to Roswell a year before Stan Friedman stumbled on it again. No doubt Stan went back in time and made them do it."

There were much earlier references to Roswell in occasional books and articles, although I cannot give precise dates. Bloecher's 1967 book is one, FSR in 1955 (letter from Hughie Green) is another. So there is nothing surprising in this. But none, to my knowledge, hinted at ETs. They were only brief mentions that something had landed and been recovered.

If the Chicago Tribune story is anything more than a brief mention, perhaps DR can quote it in full for us.

No, Stan Friedman is not capable of time travel. If he was, he would certainly have put this in his various books and papers.

Had the Scandinavian ghost rockets occurred a year later, they would have been lumped into the overall name 'flying saucers' and never called 'ghost rockets'.

David Rudiak said...

I dug up a lot more post-1947 Roswell references than previously known (direct and indirect) by using Internet electronic searches. Most of the time, they are but a brief, and often inaccurate allusions to it:

The Chicago Tribune reference to Roswell read:

“That was all it took [report of Arnold sighting]. Within days, thousands of Americans reported seeing glowing disks in the sky. …’The Great Saucer Mystery Deepens,’ the headlines screamed as the nation plunged into saucermania. And it wasn’t just the United States. ‘Ghost rockets’ lit the skies over northern Finland. Swedes spotted great ‘balls of fire’ in the skies—500 of them in 26 days. Portuguese gazed at strange ‘bluish missiles’ in their government, and academic officials tried to explain the phenomena away as large ice nuclei, meteorites, static electricity, or just plain ‘mass hysteria.’

“It didn’t work. ‘Platter panic’ exploded a few days later when an Army press agent mistook remnants of a weather balloon for a saucer, and announced that a flying disk had been found on a New Mexico ranch and was in Army possession. Newspapers were deluged with telephone calls.

Army officials scrambled to the site. Things calmed down when they discovered the mistake, but flying saucers were here to stay.”

The reporter who wrote the article, Paul Weingarten, still works for the Tribune as an editor. I emailed him and asked where he got the Roswell story, but he wrote back saying after all these years he doesn't remember.

I suspect he probably went back into the Tribune newspaper morgue files to research the original Arnold stories and the first U.S. flying saucer wave that followed it and stumbled over Roswell.

Also notice the drawing of the small alien that accompanies the article with the caption: “This ‘alien’ is often the kind sighted by UFO buffs—and hoaxers. And it has been “happening” now for 30 years.”

A more interesting drawing of a crashed saucer and little alien very similar to a modern version of a grey was on the cover of "Fantastic Universe", June 1957.

The artwork was by well-known Sci-Fi illustrator Virgil Finlay. Where he got this I don't know. (Maybe Stan Friedman time-traveling again) It certainly isn't the same as Frank Scully's description of his "little men", who were very human-like in appearance.

Whether this is some allusion to Roswell is anybody's guess, but such stories of saucer crashes and little gray-like aliens were obviously already circulating.

Unknown said...

Hey Randle, glad to see you're finally looking at the primary media trigger UFO report for the US in 1947!

Do you want me to tell you just WHO Arnold brainwashed later when they were a child, or will your Dream Team of a bunch of cranky little girls actually do the research????

Kurt Peters said...

Kevin, I have to wonder if you feel that there is some REAL connection between the 1947 Arnold report and your favorite 1947 Roswell newspaper story, OR might they actually be separate (though similar) media circuses?

cda said...

KP's last remark poses an interesting riddle. Had Arnold never seen the nine 'discs' would the flying saucer era ever have started? There were other sightings soon after (and before of course), but none were similar to Arnold.

In which case Brazel, upon discovering the odd debris on his ranch, would have gone about his daily business, have gone into Corona but would never have been told about the flying discs (because they would not be in the news). Hence Brazel would not have reported anything to sherriff Wilcox, the AF would not have got involved and the whole Roswell saga would never have been in the press at all.

Most importantly, Friedman would never have met Marcel. Years later Roswell would merely have become another Aztec.

KRandle said...


According to those I spoke with, Brazel was annoyed by the material scattered in the pasture. It was causing him trouble. Neighbors said to report it to the Army because they dealt with such things, meaning it was something that had been in the air and fell to the ground.

So, even without Arnold, it appears that Brazel would have gone to see the sheriff, who told him to call out to the base. They would have responded to see what had happened and found that debris.

The real question is if Blanchard would have felt compelled to issue a press release (probably not), if the local newspapers would have felt compelled to print it (maybe, if Blanchard had issued it) and if the national press would have picked up the story (again, probably not).

Without the interest generated, first by Arnold's tale, and then the other stories of similar and other strange objects in the air, there just would have been the same immediate interest, nor the quick denial of all.

Without Arnold, the story certainly would have developed along different lines.

Kurt Peters said...

Kevin, CDA -

...the reporting by Brazel of debris to the AAF doesn't bother me in the least.
Think about it:
WHERE is the nearest USGOVT location that drives stuff through the skies over Brazel's ranch management area?

Brazel's reporting makes good business sense.

....MY question concerns how you boys think the US media would have reacted if there wasn't an Arnold prototype 'case', when Haut sent out his press release....

Don said...

CDA wrote: "Had Arnold never seen the nine 'discs' would the flying saucer era ever have started? There were other sightings soon after (and before of course), but none were similar to Arnold."

Well, there was Fred Johnson, and, of course, Smith, Stevens, and Morrow. There were other less well known accounts immediately following Arnold's that were similar to his.

Maybe one of them, if they were sports fans like Arnold or were mechanics, might have referred to the objects as "saucers", meaning 'disks'.

Even if not, the Roswell story would have existed, and because of that there would have been a statement from the RAAF, at least. I believe the "press release" was a response to a local situation. Kevin or David can quote chapter and verse in which Haut said the press already had the story before "Haughts statement" was distributed. Those would be the "rumors" of the press release.

In this counterfactual, the rumors would not have been about a flying disc, but probably rumors about radioactive debris, and maybe rumors about it killing sheep or ruining their wool. The army would have to respond, at least locally, to deal with this awful PR. Brazel might even be interviewed. Some higher headquarters would confirm it was just a balloon borne intstrument which had nothing to do with atomic energy.



David Rudiak said...

Arnold was just the beginning, though it came out after his sighting that there had been sightings before Arnold. The press was aware of the WWII "foo fighters" and the 1946 "ghost rockets", which were mentioned in some stories and editorials as being similar. Stories came out about Charles Fort and his chronicling of sightings from the 19th and early 20th century.

But somehow Arnold's story got a lot of traction, in part because he described the unusual "saucer" or "disc" shape and the supersonic speeds. Also the fact that Arnold seemed like such a guileless, straight-arrow, Boy Scout sort who seemed to be just as astonished as everybody else but felt he had to tell what he had seen as his civic duty.

But Arnold alone didn't do it. What really got the press lathered up was the United Airlines, Cpt. E. J. Smith, sighting of July 4, just 10 days after Arnold. From my review of papers, this got even more press than Arnold and almost always got front page or headline attention. It gave Arnold's sighting tremendous credibility, along with some other widely reported sightings from seemingly credible people, such as other pilots.

Also the Smith sighting, similar to Arnold's, was of 8 "discs", that also seemed to have the ability to suddenly disappear. (So CDA is quite wrong saying Arnold was somehow unique. Another 8-disc sighting with photo of Arnold-like discs traveling at supersonic speed came from Tulsa July 12: )

I think another factor was WWII, the tremendous advances in aviation and other technology that resulted, including radar and the A-bomb. The idea of some super-plane of the U.S., Russia, or maybe the Martians no longer seemed so impossible. People were more inclined to take the sightings seriously (though, according to a Gallup poll the following month, a third of the public wrote them off as nonsense or hysteria).

There were probably thousands of sightings in a 2 to 3 week period. Ted Bloecher chronicled about 800 from a review of about 170 newspapers, but the U.S. had over 10,000 newspapers at the time and many local sightings went unnoticed. I came up with nearly 300 of my own reviewing newspapers from N.M., Ariz., Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and that was by no means exhaustive. (Texas is so large and lacks a good centralized microfilm repository that I'm sure I missed a large number from there, and there were some good ones, such as the AAF plane crew in Austin July 7 reporting a supersonic disc that caused EM interference on their radio:

So obviously Roswell happened in the context of a huge UFO wave. The skeptics argue it was the result of nothing more than mass hysteria. But it could also be argued that a crash would be more likely with so many reported objects flying around.

No doubt, because of the mass media and public interest, including mention of public anxiety over the phenomenon, some sort of damage control would have been implemented, Roswell or no Roswell. The newspapers make it quite clear the military was engaged in a debunkery campaign from July 8 onward to kill interest in the saucers, and behind the scenes the secret military studies began, such as Deputy AAF intelligence chief Gen. Schulgen's study that started the day after Roswell, July 9.

Debunkery had already begun before Roswell, including Gen. "weather balloon" Ramey and his intelligence chief debunking Arnold and the saucer reports only a few days after Arnold:

Don said...

Arnold wrote about telling the story of his sighting in the Cascades to some pilots and one helicopter pilot thought they were likely guided missiles from Moses Lake. Whether or not there were such things at Moses Lake isn't the issue. Fact is, the helicopter pilot, Arnold, and apparently anyone else taking part in the chat found the explanation plausible. I think this demonstrates the popular culture's absorbtion of "hi tech" concepts in 1947, especially regarding aerospace. What had been material for Amazing Stories or Astounding Science Fiction had become material for science and aviation editors in newspapers and magazines since the war ended.

Arnold wrote he became dissuaded of the explanation when Dave Johnson, an aviation editor, seemed very doubtful of it when Arnold told him. Arnold wrote he believed Johnson had expertise in the matter and knew the US military had no such capability.

Somewhere, I don't remember where, I'd read Arnold suspected the guided missile idea was a bad fit because of the objects' skipping like a saucer (disk) across a pond, or a speedboat cutting through the water, as if the objects were encountering turbulence. This seems the defining characteristic of an 'Arnold Saucer', moreso than supersonic speed which could be accounted for by a new and secret propulsion system, or anything else that sounded as plausible to him as guided missiles.

Call it something like 'scintillation', like some stars, except the objects had direction, demonstrated control, and apparently the skipping didn't degrade their forward performance. They weren't just jumping about like scintillating stars. Which is to say they were not obeying the laws of physics as we know them.

Whether there would have been a wave without the Arnold sighting? The answer is maybe. It might depend on whether the objects captured the imagination by displaying characteristics for which there was no plausible (whether true or not) explanation.

Not to be disregarded, too, is the romance of flying, of Arnold going to work, not by trolley or streetcar, but by flying off into the blue yonder in his little puddle jumper.