The Kenneth Arnold Sighting – The Start Of The Modern UFO Era

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
March 9, 2019
Last Updated
October 24, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
9 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Sightings

While there were undoubtedly UFO sightings and alien encounters before the Kenneth Arnold Sighting of June 1947, his account and the reporting of it is largely seen as the beginning of the contemporary era of UFO activity. Taking place two weeks before the now infamous Roswell crash, Kenneth Arnold, an experienced pilot himself, would see nine shining craft speeding through the air at over 1,000 miles per hour.

Kenneth Arnold and an artist's impression of the UFO sighting

Kenneth Arnold and an artist’s impression of the UFO sighting

What’s more, sightings of similar craft would surge following Arnold’s encounter, providing not only corroborative evidence, but suggesting suddenly increased activity in the skies of the United States. That the Roswell incident took place, if we disregard the weather balloon claims, only weeks later perhaps provides both incidents with further credibility.

Incidentally, Arnold’s description of what he witnessed would also result in the media using the phrase “flying saucer”. As we will examine, this in itself was a misquote, and perhaps a precursor of how the media would treat the “UFO thing”.

A Life-Changing Detour!

It was a little after 3 pm on the 24th June 1947 when 32-year-old Kenneth Arnold guided his CallAir A-2 plane over Mineral in the state of Washington. He was heading to Yakima on business. However, aware of a reward for locating a crashed US Marine Corps transport plane, he had taken the slight detour. It was a detour that would change his life. [1]

Not able to locate any sign of the plane, he began to alter his course back to his destination and towards Mount Rainier. As he did so, however, a gleaming object in one of the plane’s mirrors caught his attention. He quickly scanned the skies around him, wondering if he had miscalculated and not seen another nearby plane. However, aside from another plane miles away from him, he was alone.

Then, around thirty seconds later, several “flashes of light” to his left caught his attention. He quickly ruled out the lights were a reflection from the sun. That, then, would leave only one possibility. The reflections must be from solid objects.

Whatever they were, they appeared to fly in tight formation and moved quickly. Thinking he was witness to an experimental US airplane, he scanned the objects even closer. However, when he couldn’t see a tail on the craft, he quickly dismissed the possibility.

By this time, the objects had made their way to his location, each passing in front of his plane with great speed. As they did, Arnold would take in as much detail as he could.

Artist's impression of the strange shapes

Artist’s impression of the strange shapes

“I Said They Flew In A Saucer-Like Fashion!”

Arnold would later state that the craft appeared to have come from the area around Mount Baker. This is an interesting point, with many UFO sightings linked to various mountains around the world. Indeed, some of these mountains, such as Mount Shasta in California or Brown Mountain in North Carolina, are surrounded in rumors and conspiracies of secret alien bases hiding deep within them.

While there was no such phrase or notion at the time, but the state of Washington in the upper northwest corner of the United States is very much a hot spot for UFO activity.

Arnold would describe the objects as “crescent-shaped”, with wings but without a tail. They appeared to be of a metallic silver color which glistened brightly in the late afternoon sun. He would recall almost forty years after the incident in 1984:

They passed directly in front of me, at a distance of about 23 miles, which is not very great in the air. I judged their wingspan to be at least 100 feet across! These object more or less fluttered like they were boats on very rough water!

Using the mountain peaks to estimate their speed, Arnold would deduce they were moving between 1,200 and 1,500 miles per hour, which was by far much faster than any aircraft available to the US Air Force, or indeed any nation’s air force at the time.

They were in sight for around two minutes. Interestingly, they disappeared from sight near Mount Adams. As we will look at shortly, recent activity at this location would indeed suggest a long history of UFO activity in this very specific part of the United States.

Mount Adams blended into a picture of Arnold holding a sketch of the craft

Mount Adams blended into a picture of Arnold holding a sketch of the craft

The Misquote That Spawned The “Flying Saucer” Phrase

Around an hour after the sighting, at 4 pm, Arnold would land his plane at his planned destination in Yakima, Washington. He would immediately tell friends and staff at the airport, but only in private conversations. When he later flew to (relatively) nearby Pendleton, Oregon, however, reporters and airport staff were already aware of the sighting through an unknown caller from Yakima airport.

The following day on the 25th June, he would give his account to the awaiting journalists. Arnold would recall in 1984 how the term “flying saucer” was the result of him being misquoted. He would state:

I said they flew like (you would) take a saucer and throw it across the water. Most newspaper misunderstood and misquoted that. They said that I said they were saucer-like. I said they flew in a saucer-like fashion! [2]

The story was soon picked up by national newspapers. And then by international newswires, which while certainly not the slick 24-hour operations of today’s media, were still far-reaching. So much so, that Arnold would soon feel the pressure of a combination of intrigue and ridicule. He would claim several days later that he hadn’t “had a moment of peace since I first told the story”. He would claim in the same interview:

This whole thing has gotten out of hand. I want to talk to the FBI or some. Half the people look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon, and (a) screwball. I wonder what my wife back in Idaho thinks? [3]

Despite this, many would see Arnold as an extremely credible witness. For all the ridicule he would undoubtedly face from some, others would note how steady his reports were. He would neither nor sensationalize them. The fact he was an experienced pilot only increased this credibility.

Newspaper report of the UFO sighting

Newspaper report of the UFO sighting

“If Our Government Knows Anything About These Devices, The People Should Be Told Us!”

Media interest in the incident would continue. Arnold, who was in relatively new and unique territory at the time would seemingly use the interviews, unintentionally, as a way of airing his theories and bouncing ideas around as to just what it was, he had witnessed.

Interestingly, he would perhaps be one of the first people to raise the possibility of a government cover-up involving what would become known as UFO sightings. He would tell the Chicago Times in their 7th July edition:

If our government knows anything about these devices, the people should be told at once. A lot of people out here are very much disturbed. Some (people) think these things may be from another planet!

He would continue in his belief that to “shoot one of them down” would be the wrong approach of authorities. He would also state that they were “traveling to some reachable destination”. Furthermore, the way the crafts moved “would have been impossible for human pilots to survive the pressure”.

He would claim in an interview in 1949 with the Saturday Evening Post that the craft were comprised of materials “unknown to the civilization of the Earth”. Even decades later, he would maintain his position, stating:

…if it’s not made by our science or our Army Air Forces, I am inclined to believe it’s of extraterrestrial origin!

It is perhaps interesting that Arnold was so sure of at least the possibility that the craft he had seen were of extraterrestrial origin. Remember, this was before even the Roswell crash and certainly before UFOs and “flying saucers” became part of the pop culture throughout the 1950s. In short, we can’t say with any real weight at all that he might have been influenced by the social attitude of the times.

Notes and sketch of the strange object witnessed by Arnold

Notes and sketch of the strange object witnessed by Arnold

The First “Official” UFO Report To US Intelligence

While Arnold was the only apparent witness to the events he reported, it would come to light that another witness who was on Mount Adams [4] on the 24th June also witnessed the incident. Prospector, Fred Johnson would submit his report to Army Air Force (AAF) Intelligence. This incidentally, despite the Arnold sighting, makes this the first official UFO report made to US authorities. He would claim to have witnessed six objects through a telescope at the same time as the Arnold sighting, around 3 pm.

His description of the objects would match Arnold’s very closely. He would state they were round but also that they were oval with a sharp point at the ends. He would further note how as the objects went overhead it affected his compass.

Then, other witnesses would come forward. L.G. Bernier from Richland would claim he witnessed “three strange objects” in the skies near Mount Adams at around 2:30 pm on the same afternoon. Richland would state that they were moving at incredible speed. He was certain the objects he witnessed were the same as Arnold. He would state in his report:

… (there is) no doubt Mr. Arnold saw them just a few minutes or seconds later, according to their speed! I believe it may be a visitor from another planet!

Further witnesses would come forward. For example, Sidney Gallagher would report witnessing “nine shiny discs” at around 3 pm. An anonymous member of the Washington State forest service would report several “strange flashes” near Mount Rainier at the same time. Another Seattle resident would report seeing “a chain” of nine strange objects.

In short, it would appear there was a discreet wave of sightings in the summer of 1947. A wave of sightings that would culminate in the Roswell crash.

Artist's impression of the incident with Arnold holding a sketch of the object

Artist’s impression of the incident with Arnold holding a sketch of the object

A Discreet UFO Wave In The Summer Of 1947

In truth, sightings of “strange objects” would continue almost daily. And many of them, although not all, would come from the west side of the United States. Furthermore, they would come from people right across the spectrum of American society. From residents on the ground who witnessed strange objects from the garden. Or to experienced pilots of commercial aircraft.

There were literally hundreds of sightings. However, given this was most likely the first such UFO wave, the reporting was not at the standard that it would become.

While many people at the time would speculate that these sightings were clear evidence of alien visitors, others would speculate that they were, in fact, military experiments, in particular, the Flying Wing. However, the US military would insist that they had no aircraft, experimental or otherwise, in the region during the time of the sightings.

That the Roswell incident took place during this forgotten UFO panic perhaps leads us to reexamine why such a retraction of information and subsequent cover-up took place. Was it to calm a populace that was still recovering from the Second World War? A populace that should it find itself at the mercy of an unknown, advanced, and truly alien race, would surely have come apart at the seams.

While it is only speculation, both whether this was the reason for such secrecy and whether the United States’ public would have indeed reacted in such a way, it would perhaps make sense that this was the truth of the situation.

Arnold with a copy of the newspaper report of the incident

Arnold with a copy of the newspaper report of the incident

The 2017 Mount Adams Sighting

In the summer of 2017, a truly bizarre incident unfolded during a conference of the Enlightened Contact with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ECETI). According to several UFO researchers, they would witness a “large opening near the top of Mount Adams”. The insinuation was that an alien base existed inside the huge mountain.

The ranch where the sighting occurred was at a ranch that was founded by UFO researcher, James Gilliard. It is Gillard’s belief that the mountain is home to a portal that allows travel between our planet and some other part of the Universe.

This particular sighting was witnessed by one of the conference guests, Fade To Black’s, Jimmy Church. What’s more, he would catch the incident on camera, with shots on the 29th June and the then the following day on the 30th. He would claim that an obvious opening was visible and that a “dark spot” was also clearly visible entering into this apparent opening.

Furthermore, Gilliard was not the lone witness to the incident. It is estimated that around 150 people were present when events unfolded.

Might the rumors of an alien base in Mount Adams have more truth than most of would think? Might this be the reasons for Arnold’s sighting, in the very same region? Was there an alien presence on Earth? One that went back to at least the 1940s?

The video footage below features the footage shot by Gilliard.

What Do The “Beginnings” Of The Modern UFO Era Really Tell Us?

With such rumors of alien bases and regular UFO sightings in the same region that Arnold witnessed, should we take his sighting more seriously than perhaps most outside of UFO circles do? After all, despite not being the first officially reported sighting, it was surely the first sighting where an individual would persistently and steadfastly stand by their version of events. And not just that but push the envelope even further by insisting that the incident could be the result of contact from visitors from another world.

The sighting itself, even with the corroborative sightings, is easy to dismiss by itself. However, when we consider the UFO wave that followed (which was most likely taking place even before the Arnold incident), as well as the location which as we now know is a hot spot of UFO activity amid persistent rumors of alien bases. Indeed, alien bases are regularly witnessed in the skies over Mount Adams.

If we accept this to even be a possibility, then we need to then ask the question as to why this sighting occurred when it did? Does this perhaps suggest that an alien presence on Earth began at some point in the mid-1940s? Many researchers cite the World Wars of the twentieth century, and in particular the nuclear explosions in Nagasaki and Hiroshima as being turning points in the awareness of our planet to extraterrestrial races.

On the other hand, other researchers suggest this alien presence has been with us for centuries. Indeed, since the beginning of time as we know it. If this is the case, then why was this presence suddenly so active in the years following the Second World War?

Check out the video below. It looks at the Arnold sighting in a little more detail.


1 The Singular Adventure of Mr Kenneth Arnold, Martin Shough
2 Transcript of Ed Murrow-Kenneth Arnold Telephone Conversation, Project 1947
3 Interest In Flying Discs Mystery Mounts, The Eugene Register-Guard, June 24th, 1947 (page 30),6600678&dq=men-from-mars&hl=en
4 Alfred Loedding and The Great Flying Saucer Wave of 1947, Michael D Hall and Wendy A Connors

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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