UFOs (Unidentified Foreign Objects) have been spotted by people from all over the world through centuries. The 1940s saw the birth of the ‘flying saucers’ and the concept of Ufology.
So, what happened on June 24th, 1947? A C-46 marine transport plane had gone missing and was believed to have had gone down in Yakima, Washington area. Kenneth Arnold, an amateur pilot, was trying to help search the plane. It was 3 pm in the afternoon and he was flying near Mount Rainier when he saw a flash of light. The lights appeared again, this time he saw nine flashes. He claimed that he had seen nine objects flying from north to south in a ‘V’ formation. They were glowing bright blue and white. He compared their motion to ‘a saucer if you skip it across water’. The reporters misunderstood Arnold and the world was informed that the UFO was saucer shaped.
“These objects more or less fluttered like they were, oh, I’d say, boats on very rough water or very rough air of some type, and when I described how they flew, I said that they flew like they take a saucer and throw it across the water. Most of the newspapers misunderstood and misquoted that too. They said that I said that they were saucer-like; I said that they flew in a saucer-like fashion.” -Kenneth Arnold.
Arnold estimated the speed of the objects and found out that they were travelling faster than the speed of light, which no plane could at that point of time. He assumed that they were some kind of a secret weapon that the military was testing but later found out that the military had nothing to do with it. A prospector on Mount Adams also claimed that he had seen the objects at the same time.
The world believed Kenneth Arnold. Historian Mike Dash explains:
“Arnold had the makings of a reliable witness. He was a respected businessman and experienced pilot … and seemed to be neither exaggerating what he had seen, nor adding sensational details to his report. He also gave the impression of being a careful observer…. These details impressed the newspapermen who interviewed him and lent credibility to his report.”
After the story had spread, increasing number of people started seeing flying saucers across the country. In the same year, a Roswell, New Mexico newspaper reported that an army personnel had recovered a crashed flying saucer. The army explained that it was not a flying saucer, but a ‘wrecked weather balloon’. In 1970, eyewitnesses came forward to claim that it was indeed an ‘alien craft’ and not a weather balloon.
Popular culture has been influenced heavily by these incidents. UFOs are showed to be saucer shaped till date in movies, TV shows and comic books. The Flying Saucer(1950), Flying Disc Man from Mars(1950), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers(1956), Invasion of the Saucer-Men(1957) are a few examples of the ‘flying saucer’ obsession. Other examples are The X-Files (TV series), movies such as Independence Day(1996), Men in Black(1997).
Sceptics claimed that the ‘flying saucer’ could have had been anything ranging from “clouds on the mountain” to “droplets of water on his airplane window”. Flying pelicans or meteorites were suggested too. We cannot rule out the possibility of the ‘nine objects’ being a flock of birds. Arnold himself described the nine objects as bird-like when he said things like:
“I noticed to the left of me a chain which looked to me like the tail of a Chinese kite, kind of weaving.”
“I, at first, thought that they were geese because it flew like geese.”
“Maybe it would be best to describe their flight characteristics as very similar to a formation of geese.”
So, was it indeed a UFO? Or was it a flock of birds?