The 'Flying Saucer' entered our consciousness, and our vocabulary in 1947. On the afternoon of June 24, Kenneth Arnold, an experienced American pilot, was flying over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, in the direction of the Canadian border. He was looking for the wreckage of a marine transport that had crashed in the area when, at approximately 3.00 pm, he saw nine unidentified aerial objects flying in a wedge-shaped formation. They were travelling, he estimated, at speeds in excess of 1000 mph- much faster than any known aircraft at the time.
In his report Kenneth Arnold said: "I flew directly toward Mt. Rainer after reaching an altitude of about 9,500 feet... I had made one sweep of this high plateau ship and flew to the west down and near the ridge side of the canyon where Ashford, Washington is located. Unable to see anything that looked like the lost ship, I made a 360 degree turn to the right and above the city of Mineral, starting again toward Mt. Rainier.
I hadn't flown more than two or three minutes on my course when a bright flash reflected on my airplane. It startled me as I thought I was too close to some other aircraft. I looked every place in the sky and couldn't find where the reflection had come from until I looked to the left and the north of Mt. Rainier where I observed a chain of nine peculiar looking aircraft flying from north to south at approximately 9,500 feet elevation and going seemingly, in a definate direction of about 170 degrees."
Arnold described the ships saying "They flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water". He also said, "I watched these objects with great interest as I had never before observed airplanes flying so close to the mountain tops, flying directly south to south-east down the hog's back of a mountain range. They flew like many times I have observed geese to fly in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were linked together... What kept bothering me as I watched them flip and flash in the sun right along their path was the fact that I couldn't make out any tail on them, and I am sure that any pilot would justify more than a second look at such a plane".
Arnold stressed later, "I never asked nor wanted any notoriety for just accidentally being in the right spot at the right time to observe what I did. I reported something that I know any pilot would have reported. I don't think that in any way my observation was due to any sensitivity of eyesight or judgement than what is considered normal for any pilot".
Arnold's experience could not be verified. By 1947, radar tracking was sufficiently sophisticated to pick up nine objects racing through the Washington skies, no matter what their speed. There were no radar traces. And no one else saw the craft either. What had Arnold seen? Was it any one of a dozen possible natural phenomena? Or was it another example of human technology released ahead of its time? On March 5 of the previous year, Winston Churchill had said to the townsfolk of Fulton, Missouri, "From Stetin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent..." Behind the curtain lay the avaricious might of the 'Evil Empire' of the USSR. The former Allies who had shaken hands ceremoniously over the ashes of Hitler's Berlin now drifted apart, into hatred and mistrust. America in particular warned against 'Reds under the Bed'. And in this Cold War which was to prevail for nearly fifty years, both sides stockpiled their conventional weapons and experimented with new ones. Is it possible that, in this context, what Kenneth Arnold saw were prototypes of Jack Northrop's 'flying wing' aircraft, the design of which would eventually be incorporated into the B-2 Stealth Bomber?
No explanation for Arnold's sighting ever did surface, and the mystery has raged for nearly half a century. Arnold went on to make a statement which, anyone who has ever seen a UFO could identify with: "I would have given almost anything that day to have had a movie camera with a telephoto lens and from now on I will never be without one".
Perhaps inevitably, Arnold's sighting quickly caught the imagination of both the public and the media, as Arnold recalled:"...the news that I had observed these spread very rapidly and before night was over I was receiving telephone calls from all parts of the world; and, to date, I have not received one telephone call or one letter of scoffing or disbelief... I look at this whole ordeal as not something funny as some people have made it out to be. To me it is mighty serious... I have received lots of requests from people who told me to make a lot of wild guesses. I have based what I have written here on positive facts and as far as guessing what it was I observed, it is just as much a mystery to me as it is to the rest of the world."