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Summaries of Arnold's sighting report have been published in a 
number of books (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) including his own (10).  
Unfortunately these books leave out some of the details that must be 
known in order to properly evaluate (and reject!) the explanations 
which have been proposed.  I, too, do not have space to reproduce 
his sighting report (11) verbatim.  However, I will present most of the 
information so that the reader will have a good understanding of 
what happened.         

According to Mr. Arnold, at 2:00 PM, June 24, 1947 he took off 
from  Chehalis, in the state  of Washington, in his small plane after 
completing a business trip (he sold and installed fire  fighting 
equipment).  He planned to spend about an hour searching for a lost 
C-46 Marine  transport plane that had crashed in the mountains 
west-southwest of Mt. Rainier.  (There was a  $5,000 reward for 
finding the plane.)  After searching for about an hour and not finding 
anything he turned east toward his next destination, Yakima, 
Washington.  He was near Mineral,  Washington, about 22 miles 
west-southwest of Mt. Rainier and Yakima was about 80 miles  
ahead of him along a flight path that would take him just about 12 
miles south of peak of Mt.  Rainier.  He levelled out onto his new 
flight path he was at approximately a 9,200 ft altitude.   His sighting 
began within a minute or two of the turn.   Sentences and paragraphs 
taken from his Air Force letter (11) are preceded by (L) and 
statements from his book (10) are preceded by (B).  As you read the 
following story please keep in mind that this is history.  It actually 


     (L) "The air was so smooth that day that it was a real pleasure 
flying  and, as most pilots do, when the air is smooth and they are 
flying at a higher altitude, I trimmed out my airplane in the direction 
of Yakima, which was almost directly east of my position and simply 
sat in my plane observing the sky and terrain.  There was a DC-4 to 
the left and to the rear of me approximately fifteen miles distance, 
and I should judge, at 14,000 ft. elevation.   


      COMMENT:  The time was about 3:00 PM and the sun was just 
slightly to the southwest of  being directly overhead (this was only 
two days after the summer solstice).  It is important to  notice how 
Arnold's attention was first drawn to the presence of strange flying 
objects because   his initial observation rules out any explanation 
that is based on things in the sky which are not  shiny (reflective, 
like a mirror) such as, for example, birds.  It also rules out 
atmospheric effects.      


            (L) "The sky and air was as clear as crystal.  I hadn't flown 
more than two or three minutes  on my course when a bright flash of 
light reflected on my airplane.  It startled me as I thought I  was too 
close to some other aircraft.  (B) I spent the next twenty to thirty  
seconds urgently  searching the sky all around - to the sides and 
above and below me - in an attempt to determine  where the flash of 
light had come from.  The only actual plane I saw was a DC-4 far to 
my left   and rear, apparently on its San Francisco to Seattle run.  My 
momentary  explanation to myself  was that some lieutenant in a P-
51 had given me a buzz job across my nose and that it was sun  
reflecting off his wings as he passed that had caused the flash.  
Before I had time to collect my  thoughts or to find a close aircraft, 
the flash happened again.  This time I  caught the direction  from 
which it had come.  I observed, far to my left and to the north, a 
formation of very bright  objects coming from the vinicity of Mt. 
Baker, flying very close to the mountain tops and   traveling at 
tremendous speed.  (L)  I observed a chain of nine peculiar  looking 
aircraft flying  from north to south at approximately 9,500 ft 
elevation and going, seemingly, in a definite  direction of about 170 

   COMMENT:  Mt. Baker (altitude, 10,000 ft) is about 130 miles 
north of Mt. Rainier.  Even if  the objects were not as far away as 
Mt. Baker the flashes must have been very bright to be visible  over a 
great distance.  This suggests that the flashes were reflections of 
sunlight from mirror-like  (specular) surfaces, i.e., a polished metal 
surfaces.  Anything less would be invisible over such a  distance in 
the bright sky.  Since the sun was nearly overhead, some portion of 
the object's  surface must have been momentarily at an angle of 
nearly 450 to the vertical (or horizontal) in  order to cause a reflected 
sun ray to travel nearly horizontally in the atmosphere from the 
object  to Arnold's plane.      

            (B) "At first I couldn't make out their shapes as they were 
still at a  distance of over a  hundred miles.  I could see that the 
formation was going to fly in front of me.  I watched as these  objects 
approached the snow border of Mt. Rainier, thinking all the time that 
I was observing a  whole formation of jets.  In group count that I 
have used in counting cattle and game from the  air, they numbered 
nine.  They were flying diagonally in echelon formation with a larger 
gap in  their echelon between the first four and last five.  What 
startled me the most  was the fact that I  could not find any tails on 
them.  I felt sure that, being jets, they had tails, but figured they must  
be camouflaged in some way so that my eyesight could not perceive 
them.  I knew that the Air  Force was very artful in the knowledge 
and use of camouflage.  I observed the  objects' outlines  plainly as 
they flipped and flashed against the snow and also against the sky. 
           (L) Anyhow, I discovered that this was where the reflection 
had come from, as two or three  of them every few seconds would dip 
or change course slightly, just enough for the sun to strike   them at 
an angle that reflected brightly on my plane.
            (B) As they were traveling perpendicular to my path I was in 
an  excellent position to clock  their speed and I determined to make 
an attempt to do so.  (L) I had two definite points I could  clock them 
by. (Note: by this he means Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, about 47 
miles to the  south).  The air was so clear that it was very easy to see 
the objects and determine their  approximate shape and size at 
almost fifty miles that day.  I remember distinctly that my sweep  
second hand on my eight day clock, which is located on the 
instrument panel, read one minute to  3 PM as the first object of this 
formation passed the southern edge of Mt.  Rainier.             (L) 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 southeast down the hog's back of a  mountain range.  
I would estimate their elevation  could have varied a thousand feet 
one way or  the other up or down, but they were pretty much on the 
horizon to me which would indicate that  they were near the same 
elevation as me.  They flew like many times I have observed geese to 
fly  in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were linked 
together.  They seemed to hold a   definite direction but rather 
swerved in and out of the high mountain peaks.  I could quite  
accurately determine their pathway due to the fact that there were 
several high peaks a little this  side of them as well as higher peaks 
on the other side of their pathway.      

   COMMENT:  These statements about how they flew with respect 
to the  mountain peaks are very   important because they provide 
information on the distance from Mr. Arnold.   These mountain   
peaks lie along a wide north-south line extending southward from 
Mt. Rainier  to Mt. Adams.    These peaks were about 20 miles east 
of Arnold at the time.  These statements  also provide the   altitude of 
the objects.  To Arnold they appeared to be approximately at his  
altitude because they   seemed to be "pretty much on the horizon to 
me."  Since he was flying at  9,200 ft, this implies   that they were 
close to that altitude.  (Arnold actually stated his letter that  they 
were at 9,500 ft.)    However, the mountain peaks south of Rainier 
generally are 5,000 to 7,000 ft  high, with the   higher ones being 
farther away (more to the east) from Arnold.  Hence his  statement 
that there   were higher peaks on the far side of the pathway indicates 
that the objects  were definitely lower   than about 7,000 ft.  
Furthermore, he stated that they went behind some (or at  least one) 
of the   lower, closer peaks.  Geological survey maps show that 
mountain peaks which  the objects could   have disappeared behind 
have altitudes of 5,000 to 6,000 ft. Hence it appears  that they were   
lower than 6,000 ft and that Arnold overestimated their altitude.
          Is it reasonable to assume that he could have made an error of 
several  thousand feet in   estimating their altitude?  The answer to 
this question lies in the fact that  Arnold inferred the   altitude by 
observing that the objects appeared to be almost exactly on his  
horizon (i.e., level   with his altitude).  But it is very difficult to 
determine the exact horizon from  an airplane.  In   this case, the 
angle (the "depression angle") between exact horizontal and his  
downward sighting   line to the mountain peaks south of Mt. Rainier 
was very small.  The  depression angle from   Arnold's plane at 9,200 
ft altitude to the top of a 5,500 ft high mountain at a  distance of 20 
miles   (105,600 ft) was about 20.  Such a small angle would be 
difficult to detect  from an airplane.  So   the answer is yes, he could 
easily have made an error of 4,000 ft in estimating  the altitude of the   
objects.  Perhaps if he had looked up the actual altitudes of the 
mountain  peaks south of Mt   Rainier he would have revised his 
        While Arnold was timing the flight he observed the objects 
carefully.   According to his letter,    " I observed these objects not 
only through the glass of my airplane but turned  my airplane   
sideways where I could open my window and observe them with a 
completely  unobstructed view.   (Without sun glasses.)"       

           (B) "They didn't fly like any aircraft I had ever seen before.  In 
the first  place their echelon   formation was backward from that 
practiced by our Air Force.  The elevation  of the first craft   was 
greater than that of the last.  They flew in a definite formation but  
erratically.  As I described   them at the time their flight was like 
speed boats on rough water or similar to  the tail of a   Chinese kite 
that I once saw blowing in the wind.  Or maybe it would be best  to 
describe their   flight characteristics as very similar to a formation of 
geese, in a rather  diagonal chain-like line,   as if they were linked 
together.  As I put it to newsmen in Pendleton, Oregon,  they flew 
like a   saucer would if you skipped it across the water.  They 
fluttered and sailed,  tipping their wings   alternately and emitting 
those very bright blue-white flashes from their  surfaces.  At the time 
I   did not get the impression that the flashes were emitted by them, 
but rather  that it was the sun's   reflection from the extremely highly 
polished surface of their wings.
            (L) 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.  The more I observed these  
objects the more   upset I became, as I am accustomed and familiar 
with most all objects flying  whether I am close   to the ground or at 
higher altitude.  Even though two minutes seems like a  very short 
time to one   on the ground, in the air in two minutes time a pilot can 
observe a great many  things and   anything within his sight of vision 
probably as many as fifty or sixty times.   Of course, when the   sun 
reflected from one or two or three of these units, they appeared to be  
completely round; but,   I am making a drawing to the best of my 
ability, which I am including, as to  the shape I observed   these 
objects to be as they passed the snow covered ridges as well as Mt.  
Rainier.  When the   objects were flying approximately straight and 
level, they were just a black  thin line and when   they flipped was 
the only time I could get a judgement as to their size.  These  objects 
were   holding an almost constant elevation; they did not seem to be 
going up or  coming down, such as   would be the case of artillery 
shells.  I am convinced in my own mind that  they were some type   
of airplane, even though they didn't conform with the many aspects 
of the  conventional types of   planes I know.      

   COMMENT:  In his letter Arnold included a sketch which shows 
the leading  edge being nearly   a semicircle, with short parallel sides 
and with the rear being a wide angle  convex (protruding) V   shape 
that comes to a rounded point at the trailing edge.  His drawing 
suggests  that the objects   were nearly circular overall.  He wrote on 
the sketch that "they seemed longer  than wide, their   thickness was 
about 1/20th of their width."  His suggestion that their width  (or 
length) was   about twenty times greater than their thickness may be 
an exaggeration.  The  sketch he drew of   how they appeared"on 
edge" has the dimensions 4 mm wide by 45 mm long  (approx.) 
which   suggests a ratio closer to 1/11.  (It is typical for people to 
overestimate length  to width ratios.)    Although he did not mention 
it in his letter, he later stated (e.g., in his book)  that one of the   
objects had a somewhat different shape.  His book shows an 
illustration in  which the object has   a semi-circular front edge and a 
read edge that consists of two concave edges  that join at a   rearward 
pointing cusp at the center of the rear edge.        

           (L) I knew they must be very large to observe their shape at 
that distance,  even on as clear a   day as it was that Tuesday.  In fact 
I compared a zeus fastener or cowling tool  I had in my pocket   - 
holding it up on them and holding it up on the DC-4 - that I could 
observe at  quite a distance   to my left, and they seemed smaller than 
the DC-4; but I should judge their  span would have   been as wide 
as the furtherest engines on each side of the DC-4.
            (L) I observed the chain of these objects passing another 
snow-covered  ridge in between   Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, and as 
the first one was passing the south crest of  this ridge the last   object 
was entering the northern crest of the ridge.  As I was flying in the  
direction of this   particular ridge, I measured it and found it to be 
approximately five miles so I  could safely   assume that the chain of 
these saucer like objects were at least five miles long. 
          (L) As the last unit of this formation passed the southern most 
high snow  covered crest of   Mt. Adams, I looked at my sweep 
second hand and it showed that they  traveled the distance in   one 
minute and forty-two seconds.  Even at the time this timing did not 
upset  me as I felt   confident after I would land there would be some 
explanation of what I saw.  I  might add that my   complete 
observation of these objects, which I could even follow by their  
flashes as they passed   Mt. Adams, was around two and one-half or 
three minutes--although, by the  time they reached   Mt. Adams they 
were out of my range of vision as far as determining shape or  form.        

   COMMENT:  Arnold provided an estimate of size in an indirect 
way: he  stated that they   appeared to be comparable to the spacing 
of the engines on a DC-4 (4 engine  propellor driven,   117 ft 
wingspan, 94 ft length, 27 ft height) which he had seen at a distance  
which he estimated   as 15 miles.  He estimated the engine spacing to 
be 45 - 50 ft, although 60 ft  would have been a   better estimate.  By 
this means he was essentially providing an angular size  for the 
objects:  the   equivalent of about 60 ft at 15 miles.  He reported the 
size of the objects as 45  - 50 ft by   comparison with the airplane as 
if the plane had been at the same distance as  the objects.    However, 
the plane was not at the same distance, so a correction for the  
distance difference is   necessary.
        It is possible to make an estimate of the size of the objects 
assuming his  estimate of the   distance to the DC-4, 15 miles, was 
(approximately) correct.  (Here comes  some math and   geometry, so 
if you are squeemish about such subjects, skip over the next four  
sentences.)  Using   the outer engine spacing as 60 ft, the angular 
size at his estimated distance is  60/(15 x 5280) =    0.00076 radians 
or about 2.6 minutes of arc (1 degree = 60 minutes = 0.0174  
radians).    Projecting this angle to 20 miles, the rough distance of 
the objects, would  yield a size of about   (20 x 5280 x 0.00075  = ) 
80 ft.  Had he overestimated the distance to the DC- 4 (if it had been   
less than 15 miles away) the calculated angular size, and hence the 
calculated  object size would   increase.  If he underestimated the 
distance to the DC-4, then the calculated  size would decrease.    My 
own suspicion is that he overestimated the distance and that 
therefore the  objects were larger   than 80 ft in length.  
Unfortunately no investigator pursued this size estimate  at the time 
and   with Arnold's death many years ago it is no longer possible to 
improve the  size estimate.
        Using the dashboard clock in his airplane Arnold measured the 
time from  when the first   object passed the flank of Mt. Rainier 
until the last object passed Mt. Adams.   The distance   from the 
flank of Mt. Rainier to the peak of Mt. Adams is about 45 miles  
(depending upon   where on the flank one picks as the starting 
point).  Since the length of the  "chain" of objects   was about 5 
miles (paragraph H above), the leading object was about 5 miles  
south of Mt.   Adams when the last object passed Mt. Adams.  Hence 
the total distance it  (and the others)   traveled was about 50 miles in 
102 seconds.  This corresponds to a speed of  about 1,760 mph.    
(Arnold intentionally underestimated this speed, saying that it was 
1,200 mph  or more, which   was still faster than any aircraft of the 
day.  Chuck Yaeger was the first person  to "break" the   "sound 
barrier" at about 700 mph several months after Arnold's sighting.)
        Arnold estimated that he had the objects in view for a total of 
about 2.5 to  3 minutes, during   which time they may have traveled 
80 to 90 miles, from a location about 30 or  40 miles north of   Mt. 
Rainier where Arnold first saw them (not from the 100 miles 
distance of  Mt. Baker, as   Arnold had thought) to some distance 
south of Mt. Adams, where they  disappeared from view.
          When Arnold landed at Yakima, Washington, he told some of 
the people  at the airport about   these amazing high speed aircraft.      

            (L) When I landed at Yakima, Washington airport I described 
what I had  seen to my very   good friend Al Baxter, who listened 
patiently and was very courteous but in a  joking way didn't   believe 

   COMMENT:  Arnold then left the airport to fly to Pendleton, 
Oregon on a  business trip.  The   discussion of his sighting 
presumably would have ended in Yakima if it hadn't  been for the 
fact   that someone at the airport contacted the press to report that 
some new, high  speed aircraft had   been sighted.  When Arnold 
arrived at Pendelton he was surprised to find a  number of reporters   
eager to learn about the new aircraft.  Arnold told them about the 
sighting and  his   (under)estimated speed of 1,200 mph.  He then 
described how they flew:  they  wobbled and   flipped, like saucers 
skipping on the water.  A reporter, hearing the  description, coined a 
name   for the new aircraft, a name which we have been stuck with 
ever since:  FLYING SAUCERS.     
              (L) I did not accurately measure the distance between these 
two mountains  (Note:  Rainier   and Adams) until I landed at 
Pendleton, Oregon, that same day where I told a  number of pilot   
friends of mine what I had observed and they did not scoff or laugh 
but  suggested they might be   guided missiles or something new.  In 
fact several former Army pilots  informed me that they had   been 
briefed before going into combat overseas that they might see objects 
of  similar shape and   design as I described and assured me that I 
wasn't dreaming or going crazy.   .....A former Army   Air Forces 
pilot ...(told me)..."What you observed, I am convinced, is some  type 
of jet or rocket   propelled ship that is in the process of being tested 
by our government or even  it could possibly   be by some foreign 


        The official Air Force explanation is that Arnold saw a mirage.  
Having  read the previous   material you may wonder how the Air 
Force could justified that explanation.   The answer is not   
straightforward.  Initially the Air Force intelligence officers who 
were  collecting saucer reports   treated the sightings, including 
Arnold's, seriously.  This was, at least in part,  a result of the fact   
that a number of Air Force pilots reported seeing flying saucers.  
Arnold's  sighting was included   as unexplained in the Top Secret 
intelligence memorandum (3).  However, in  the fall of 1948   
General Hoyt Vandenburg rejected the conclusion expressed in the 
"Estimate  of the Situation"   that saucers were interplanetary 
vehicles.  The only alternative, that the  Russians had made   
immense improvements on German aircraft developed during WWII 
and were  flying their new   aircraft over the United States, was too 
much for the intelligence analysts to  accept.  Therefore   they had no 
alternative but to explain each sighting in some conventional way.   
The "urge to   explain" carried over into Projects Sign and Grudge.
          Explanations for Arnold's sighting were proposed by two 
scientists with  close connections to   the Air Force project.  Their 
explanations have had the most impact on the  final Air Force   
evaluation of the sighting.  These skeptical scientists were Dr. J. 
Allen Hynek  and Dr. Donald   Menzel.  Dr. Hynek, a professor at 
Ohio State University and then at  Northwestern University,   was the 
astronomy consultant to the Air Force's UFO projects starting with  
Project Sign in 1948   and continuing through the end of Project 
Blue Book in 1969.  Although his  specialty was   astronomy he was 
asked to suggest explanations for all types of sightings.  Dr.  Menzel 
was an   astrophysicist and director of the Harvard Observatory 
during the same time  period.  Dr. Hynek,   who died in 1986, 
reversed his skeptical stance toward UFO reports in the late  1960's 
and, in   1973, founded the Center for UFO Studies, headquartered 
in Chicago,  Illinois.  Dr. Menzel,   who died in 1976, never 
retreated from his published opinion that all  sightings by credible   
observers could be explained, many as meteorological phenomena.
         In 1948 Dr. Hynek (who was not aware of the Top Secret Air 
Intelligence  Report (3)) was   hired to analyze sightings and to 
decide which ones could be catagorized as  misidentified   
astronomical phenomena.  As a "side benefit" to the Air Force he 
also gave his  opinion on the   other sightings, including Arnold's. 
         Hynek began his analysis of the sighting by assuming that at 
least part of  what Arnold said   was true: that Arnold could see the 
overall shape of the objects, that he could  see them edge-on,   and 
that he thought their width was about twenty times greater than their  
thickness.  Hynek   decided to try to calculate their size based on the 
basic visual capabilities of  the human eye.  He   pointed out that the 
angular resolution of the human eye is typically about 3  minutes of 
arc (1   minute of arc = 1/60 of a degree = 0.00029 radians; the 
angular size of the  moon is about 1/2   degree or about 30 minutes 
of arc).  He then argued that if the angular size,  i.e., thickness,  were   
substantially less than this then Arnold couldn't have seen them.  
Hence,  Hynek concluded that   the thickness must have been at least 
3 minutes of arc which is about one  tenth of the apparent   size of 
the moon.  Hynek calculated that this angular size corresponds to a  
thickness of about   100 feet at the greatest distance estimated by 
Arnold, 25 miles.  Therefore, if  Arnold's 20:1 ratio   of length to 
thickness were correct, then the objects were about about 2,000 ft  
long, a size that   seemed to Hynek to be just too ridiculously large.
        But Arnold had estimated that the objects were the size of 
fighter aircraft  with typical lengths   of 40 to 50 ft.  Aha, said 
Hynek...a contradiction!  There is an error  somewhere.  Hynek   
calculated that, if, indeed, they had been this short then they would 
have been  too small for   Arnold to see any details.  Furthermore, if 
the 20:1 ratio were correct, they  would have been too   thin to see 
edge-on if 25 miles away.  Thus Hynek noted an inconsistency in  
Arnold's report:  if   the objects' size and distance were as estimated 
by Arnold he could not have  seen any details of   their shape 
because he could not have been seen them at all!        
        Hynek decided to resolve the inconsistency by ignoring both 
Arnold's  distance and size   estimates.  Instead, Hynek argued that if 
the objects were a more reasonable  size, say, the size of   the largest 
known aircraft, roughly 400 ft long and 30 feet high, then they  must 
have been much   closer to Arnold in order for them to be seen "edge on."  
Hynek estimated  their distance at 6   miles.  At this distance the 
aircraft could appear (from the position of Arnold's  plane) to travel   
past Mt. Rainier and then past Mt. Adams in 102 seconds if their 
speed were  only about 400   mph.  Hynek concluded as follows: "in 
view of the above (calculations) it  appears probable" that   Arnold 
saw "some sort of known aircraft."
         If you reread the above analysis you will see that Hynek 
explained Arnold's  sighting by   assuming the objects were the size 
of ordinary large aircraft and then  concluding that the objects   
probably were ordinary aircraft.  Clever!
        As a result of Hynek's discussion of the discrepancy between 
Arnold's  estimates of the   distance and size of the objects, the Air 
Force officers who wrote the final  report of Project   Grudge in the 
spring of 1949 decided that "the entire report of this incident is  
replete with   inconsistencies" and cannot bear even superficial 
examination." (9)
        So, what about Hynek's argument that the objects would have 
been too thin  to be visible,   based on his claim that the human eye 
can't see something smaller than 3 arc  minutes in angular   size?  
Does it make any sense at all?  The answer to this question is no, 
and it  comes in two   parts.  First, the fact is that many people can 
"see" objects smaller than 3 arc  minutes in angular   size, especially 
if they are larger than this in one dimension (e.g., like a long  
cylinder viewed   from the side).  The second part of the answer 
comes directly from Arnold's  report to the Air   Force.  Although it 
would have been "nice" if Arnold could have taken an eye  test to 
provide   Hynek with actual visual acuity data, the fact is that some 
information in his  report, information   that Hynek ignored, provides 
us with a clue as to Arnold's visual acuity.  He  said he was able to   
see a DC-4 at 15 miles (estimated distance) and he compared the 
spacing of  the engines on the   plane with the apparent size of the 
saucers.  With its visible height of about  23 ft, the vertical   angular 
size of the DC-4 at that distance was about 0.00034 radians or about  
1 arc minute.    (Even if Arnold overestimated the distance and it was 
really 10 miles away  then vertical angular   size would still have 
been less then 2 arc minutes.)  Hence, by Hynek's  criterion, Arnold 
should   not have been able to see the DC-4, and certainly he 
wouldn't have been able  to see the engines   and thereby to see the 
spacing of the engines.  But Arnold said that he did see  the airplane 
and   its engines and Hynek did not dispute that statement.  
Therefore Hynek's  objection...the   "inconsistency"... must be 
          Had Dr. Hynek tested his hypothetical explanation - "known 
aircraft" -   against the   information in Arnold's report he might have 
rejected his own explanation.   To test Hynek's   explanation assume 
that the unknown objects were ordinary large aircraft six  miles away 
and ask   the following question: why wasn't Arnold able to identify 
them, to see their  engines, tails,   wings, etc., even though Arnold 
was able to identify another aircraft that was  about 15 miles   away?  
Evidently Hynek did not notice the inconsistency in his own 
analysis.   Had Hynek done   what skeptics usually fail to do, that is, 
to thoroughly test his suggested  explanation against the   data, he 
would have seen that his hypothetical solution failed.
        It is amusing to imagine what would have happened if Hynek 
had accepted  Arnold's distance   estimate.  Then he would have been 
forced to accept the high velocity (about  1,700 mph), in   which case 
it is conceivable that the early history of the UFO subject would  be 
different from   what actually occurred.  But instead, Hynek, for 
"good scientific reasons", I  presume, chose to   take the road more 
traveled reject important parts of Arnold's  sighting...and that 
has made   all the difference (with apologies to Robert Frost!).  The 
handwriting was on  the wall, but Hynek   looked the other way.
        Dr. Hynek's work was done secretly for the Air Force and his 
discussion of  Arnold's sighting   was not published, although his 
conclusion was mentioned in the "Project  Saucer" report   published 
by the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field (now Wright- 
Patterson Air Force Base)   on April 27, 1949.  Few civilian 
scientists had access to Air Force files and so  there was no   dispute 
of Hynek's analysis until Dr. Donald Menzel decided to write about  
Arnold's sighting in   his first book on UFOs20, which was 
published in 1953.  This was the first  flying saucer book   by a 
scientist and, because of his stature in the field of astrophysics, it 
was  treated very   seriously.  It received favorable reviews, although 
there were some  atmospheric scientists who   questioned Menzel's 
use of weather phenomena to explain sightings.   Libraries and 
scientific   organizations throughout the United States and in other 
countries ordered the  book and it   became the main reference for 
scientists in the following years.  In retrospect  this is unfortunate   
since, as I will demonstrate, Menzel did not provide accurate 
descriptions of  the sightings and he   apparently slanted the data as 
necessary to make his explanations fit,  beginning with Arnold's   
          Although he was an avowed skeptic, Menzel criticized the Air 
Force for  accepting Hynek's   explanation.  He gave a brief 
description of Arnold's sighting and mentioned  Arnold's estimate of   
distance and total sighting duration (3 minutes).  Menzel wrote, "He 
clocked  the speed at about   1,200 miles an hour, although this 
figure seems inconsistent with the length  of time that he   estimated 
them to be in view.  From his previous statement they could scarcely  
have traveled   more than 25 miles during the three minutes that he 
watched.  This gives  about 500 miles an   hour, which is still a 
figure large enough to be startling.."  Menzel did not tell  the reader 
that   Arnold had timed the flight of the objects between two points.  
Instead,  Menzel substituted a   travel distance which he got out of 
"thin air," 25 miles, and implied that this  distance was   covered in 3 
minutes (180 seconds).  Hence he was able to assign a much  lower, 
although   "startling," speed of 500 mph.
        Menzel went on to "solve" the mystery of Arnold's sighting:  
"Although  what Arnold saw has   remained a mystery until this day, 
I simply cannot understand why the  simplest and most   obvious 
explanation of all has been overlooked.... the association of the  
saucers with the   hogback (of the mountain range).... serves to fix 
their distance and  approximate size and roughly   confirms Arnold's 
estimate of the speed."  (my emphasis; note that Menzel,  unlike 
Hynek,   accepted Arnold's distance estimate).  Menzel then went on 
to suggest that  Arnold saw   "billowing blasts of snow, ballooning 
up from the tops of the ridges" caused  by highly turbulent   air along 
the mountain range.  According to Menzel, "These rapidly shifting,  
tilting clouds of   snow would reflect the sun like a mirror...and the 
rocking surfaces would  make the chain sweep   along something like 
a wave, with only a momentary reflection from crest to  crest."
        This first explanation by a scientist with the reputation of Dr. 
Menzel may  seem slightly   convincing, but only until one realizes 
that (a) the sighting occurred at 3:00  PM when the sun   was high in 
the sky and somewhat west of Arnold, (b) snow cannot reflect  light 
rays from the   overhead sun into a horizontal direction "like a 
mirror" to create the very  bright flashes that   Arnold reported, (c) 
there are no 1,200 mph or even 500 mph winds on the  surface of the 
earth to   transport clouds of snow (fortunately!), (d) there are no 
winds that would  carry clouds of snow   all the way from Mt. 
Rainier to Mt. Adams (Arnold saw the objects pass Mt.  Adams 
before they   were lost to his view), (e) Arnold flew south of Mt. 
Rainier minutes later and  surely his plane   would have been 
strongly buffeted (and perhaps destroyed!) by such high  winds, but 
he reported,   instead, very calm conditions, (f) an atmospheric 
oscillation wave can't bend  or reflect light over   an angle of nearly 
900, which would be necessary to make it appear as if the  sun had 
been   reflected by objects nearly at Arnold's altitude, and (g) an 
atmospheric  oscillation wave with a   "phase velocity" of 1,200 mph 
is unlikely, but in any case, when traveling  southward its crests   
would be oriented east-west, so if it reflected any sunlight at all 
(highly  unlikely), the reflection   would be in the north-south 
direction and not westward toward Arnold's  plane.  Furthermore,   
even if such amazing atmospheric phenomena had occurred, it is 
difficult to  imagine how Arnold   could have failed to realize that he 
was just seeing snow blowing from the  mountain tops,   especially 
since he flew over the mountains about 12 miles south of Mt.  
Rainier on his way east   just a few minutes after the sighting.
        In case the first explanation wasn't sufficiently convincing, 
Menzel offered  "another   possibility:"  he suggested that perhaps 
there was a thin layer of fog, haze or  dust just above or   just below 
Arnold's altitude which was caused to move violently by air  
circulation and which   reflected the sunlight.20  Menzel claimed 
that such layers can "reflect the sun  in almost mirror   fashion."  
Menzel offered no substantiation for this claim.  Perhaps he was  
thinking in terms of a   "reflection" from an atmospheric layer when 
the sun is so low on the horizon  that the light rays   make a "grazing 
angle" with the layer.  If so, then that explanation as applied  to the 
Arnold   sighting makes no sense since the sun was almost overhead 
(and slightly  behind) Arnold.    Furthermore, layers form under 
stable conditions and violent air circulation  would tend to break   
them up so there would be no "reflections" of sunlight.  Again, one 
wonders  how Arnold could   have failed to notice that he was just 
seeing the effects of a haze layer.
        Ten years after his first book, Dr. Menzel offered his third, 
fourth and fifth  explanations in   his second book (written with Lyle 
Boyd): mountain top mirages, "orographic  clouds" and "wave   
clouds in motion".  To support the third explanation he presented a  
photograph of mountain top   mirages taken by a photographer many 
years earlier, and proposed by the  photographer, as the   explanation 
for Arnold's sighting.  The mirages appear as vague images above  the 
tops of the   mountains.  (Actually the mirage is an inverted image of 
the top of the  mountain.)  These mirages   can be seen under proper 
atmospheric conditions (requiring a stable  atmosphere) when the 
line   of sight from the observer to the mountain top is tilted by no 
more than one  half of a degree   above or below horizontal.  
Unintentionally (or intentionally?) Menzel failed  to report in his   
book the following information in Arnold's report: as they traveled 
southward  he saw them   silhouetted against the side of Mt. Rainier 
which is 14,400 ft high, much  higher than the altitude   of the 
saucers.  Since mountain top mirages occur above the mountain 
peaks  these objects were   far below any mirage of Mt. Rainier.  Of 
course, mountain top mirages stay  above the tops of the   mountains, 
so the mirage theory cannot explain the lateral high speed  movement 
of the objects   reported by Arnold.
          Menzel's fourth explanation was that Arnold saw orographic 
clouds which  can assume   circular shapes and often form in the lees 
(i.e., downwind of) mountain peaks.   The clouds   would, of course, 
be large but, as Menzel notes in his book, they "appear to  stand 
more or less   motionless."  The lack of motion, as well as the lack of 
bright reflections,  rules them out so, why   did he even mention 
them?  Also, Arnold would have realized they were just  clouds as he 
flew   past Mt. Rainier only minutes later.
        Menzel's fifth explanation, wave clouds, is comparable to his 
first  suggestion of "billowing   blasts" of snow except that this time 
he proposed clouds of water vapor  instead of snow.  This   
explanation was supported by a photograph of such a cloud taken by 
a  newspaper photographer.    However, this explanation, too, fails to 
account for the very bright reflections  reported by   Arnold, for 
distinct semi-circular shapes and for the high lateral speed.   Again, 
Arnold surely   would have recognized a cloud as he flew past Mt. 
Rainier.        In his third and last UFO book (written with Dr. Ernst 
Taves in the early  1970's, just before   Menzel died), which is 
subtitled "The Definitive Explanation of the UFO  Phenomenon," 
Menzel   again discussed Arnold's sighting and offered his sixth (and 
last) explanation:  Arnold saw water   drops on the window of his 
aircraft.          To support this explanation Menzel described a 
sighting of his own that  turned out to be   water drops that had 
condensed on the outside of the window of an aircraft in  which he 
was   flying.  They moved slowly backwards from the front of the 
window.  They  were so close to his   eyes as he looked out the 
window that they were out of focus and he thought  they were distant   
objects moving at a great speed until, after a few seconds, he 
refocused his  eyes and discovered   what they were.  In comparing 
his "sighting" with Arnold's Menzel writes: "I  cannot, of course,   
say definitely that what Arnold saw were merely raindrops on the 
window of  this plane.  He   would doubtless insist that there was no 
rain at the altitude at which he was  flying.  But many   queer things 
happen at different levels in the earth's atmosphere."
        Although no one would argue with Menzel's claim that "queer 
things"  happen at different   levels of the atmosphere, this fact is 
irrelevant.  Had Menzel bothered to  carefully read Arnold's   report 
to the Air Force he would have seen Arnold's statement that he 
turned  his plane sideways   and viewed the objects through an open 
window to be sure that he was getting  no reflections   from window 
glass.  (Fortunately Menzel did not propose water drops on  Arnold's 


        As fate would have it, a second witness saw the same objects as 
Arnold  just as Arnold was   losing sight of them near Mt. Adams.  
(Dr. Hynek evidently was not aware of  this because he   indicated in 
his analysis of the Arnold sighting that there were no other  
        In the latter half of August the Air Force received an unsolicited 
letter (12)  dated August 20,   1947, which reads as follows (the 
errors in the original letter are preserved):

      *****   Sir.  Saw in the portland paper a short time ago in 
regards to an article in  regards to the so called   flying disc having 
any basis in fact.  I can say am a prospector and was in the  Mt 
Adams district   on June 24th the day Kenneth Arnold of Boise 
Idaho claims he saw a  formation of flying disc.    And i saw the 
same flying objects at about the same time.  Having a telescope  with 
me at the   time i can asure you they are real and noting like them I 
ever saw before they  did not pass verry   high over where I was 
standing at the the time.  plobly 1000 ft.  they were  Round about 30 
foot   in dimater tapering sharply to a point in the head and in an 
oval shape.  with a  bright top surface.    I did not hear any noise as 
you would from a plane.  But there was an object  in the tail end   
looked like a big hand of a clock shifting from side to side like a big 
magenet.   There speed as   far as i know seemed to be greater than 
anything I ever saw.  Last view I got of  the objects they   were 
standing on edge Banking in a Cloud.
                                       Yours Respectfully
                                     (Fred Johnson)      

*******   (Note: the Blue Book file page which contains this letter 
is labelled "A TRUE  COPY" that was   authenticated by Lt. Col. 
Donald Springer.  I assume that the errors in the  above letter were in   
the original letter and were not simply errors in copying.)
        At this time during the summer of 1947 the FBI was actively 
investigating  sightings, at the   request of the Army Air Force, to 
determine whether or not any such reports  could be part of   
subversive activities carried on by enemies of the United States.  
(The FBI  ended these   investigations, having found no evidence of 
subversion, in the fall of 1947.)   Therefore, at the   request of the 
Air Force, an FBI agent interviewed Mr. Johnson.  He sent a  copy of 
his report to   FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, where a copy 
was found filed with  other reports labelled   "REPORTS OF 
FLYING DISCS, SECURITY MATTER -X."  (Note: these  are the 
real X-  Files!)  These reports were discovered when the FBI 
responded to a Freedom  of Information Act   request made in 1976 
for any documents concerning flying saucers, UFOs,  etc.  The FBI 
found   well over 1,000 pages of material relating to the Air Force 
investigation of  UFOs, internal   memoranda and sightings reported 
to FBI.  The FBI report on Johnson's  sighting (13) reads as   follows 
(I have emphasized important statements):

             (Fred Johnson, resident of) First Avenue, Portland (Oregon), 
reported  without consulting   any records that on June 24, 1947, 
while prospecting at a point in the Cascade  Mountains   
approximately five thousand feet from sea level, during the afternoon 
he  noticed a reflection,   looked up, and saw a disc proceeding in a 
southeasterly direction.   Immediately upon sighting   this object he 
placed his telescope to his eye and observed the disc for  
approximately forty-five   to sixty seconds.  He remarked that it is 
possible for him to pick up an object  at a distance of ten   miles with 
his telescope.  At the time the disc was sighted by Johnson it was  
banking in the sun,   and he observed five or six similar objects but 
only concentrated on one.  He  related that they   did not fly in any 
particular formation and that he would estimate their height  to be 
about one   thousand feet from where he was standing.  He said the 
object was about  thirty feet in diameter   and appeared to have a tail. 
It made no noise.
               According to Johnson he remained in the vicinity of the 
Cascades for  several days and   then returned to Portland and noted 
an article in the local paper which stated  in effect that a man   in 
Boise, Idaho, had sighted a similar object but that authorities had  
disclaimed any knowledge   of such an object.  He said he 
communicated with the Army for the sole  purpose of attempting to   
add credence to the story furnished by the man in Boise.
             Johnson also related that on the occasion of his sighting the 
objects on  June 24, 1947 he   had in his possession a combination 
compass and watch.  He noted  particularly that immediately   before 
he sighted the disc the compass acted very peculiar, the hand waving  
from one side to the   other, but that this condition corrected itself 
immediately after the discs had  passed out of sight.
             Informant appeared to be a very reliable individual who 
advised that he  had been a   prospector in the states of Montana, 
Washington and Oregon for the past  forty years.

        Mr. Johnson's letter to the Air Force indicates that he was in the 
right area  at the right time to   see the objects which Arnold 
reported.  Johnson, just as Arnold had, reported  that his attention   
was attracted to them by a reflection, presumably a flash of light on 
the rocks  he was examining.    He reported only five or six, but it is 
likely that he missed seeing the others as  he concentrated   on his 
telescopic view of a single one.  (Also, he was recalling the event  
almost two months after   it occurred, so he may well have forgotten 
some details, such as the exact  number of objects.)    Adding his 
estimated distance of the objects above him, 1,000 ft, to his  
estimated altitude, 5,000   ft, yields an altitude for the UFOs, about 
6,000 ft, which is consistent with the  altitude indicated   by Arnold's 
claim that they were traveling "in and out" of the mountain peaks  
south of Mt.   Rainier. 
         Johnson claimed that he watched one disc for 45 to 60 
seconds.  Assuming  that they were   traveling at the speed calculated 
previously, about 1,700 mph, in 45 seconds  they would travel   
about 20 miles.  Although it may have been possible that Johnson 
could see  the objects over a   distance of 20 miles from his location, 
it seems more likely that he saw them  for less time.    However, even 
if it were only for 30 seconds with his telescope, we may  assume 
that he was able   to discern many details that Arnold couldn't see, 
such as the point on the front  and the "tail"   waving side to side 
"like a big magenet" in the rear.  (Here I presume Johnson  is 
comparing it   with the magnetic needle in a compass which swings 
left and right before  reaching equilibrium.)    He claimed that the 
objects were "round" and also "oval," thus generally  agreeing with 
Arnold's   description of nearly round objects (certainly they they 
weren't square or  triangular or T shaped)   and he estimated that they 
were 30 ft in diameter, a value that is smaller than  Arnold's estimate   
and smaller than the previously calculated value, suggesting that 
Johnson  underestimated the   size.  He also stated that the speed was 
"greater than anything I ever saw",  which is consistent   with the 
speed calculated from Arnold's sighting.  He heard no noise.  He  
observed that while the   objects were in sight the needle of his 
compass waved from side to side.  The  waving stopped   after the 
objects were out of sight.
        The last statement in Johnson's letter provides important 
confirmation of  Arnold's claim that   he was able to see flashes of 
sunlight reflected from the objects.  In the  previous discussion of   
Arnold's sighting I pointed out that for the objects to reflect sun 
toward  Arnold it would be   necessary for some portion of each 
shiny object to tilt at least to an angle of  about 450.  This   amount 
of tilt is supported by Johnson's claim that when he last saw the  
objects they were   "standing on edge" while "banking in a cloud."
         Aside from the apparent confirmation of Arnold's sighting, 
Johnson's  sighting is unique as   being the first to include a report of 
a physical effect during sighting (the  apparent effect on the   needle 
of his compass).
        Dr. Hynek, in reviewing all the sightings for Project Grudge in 
1949, did  not offer an   explanation for this sighting.  Dr. Menzel, 
on the other hand, claimed to have  explained it while   analyzing the 
early sightings for his 1953 book.  Menzel began his review of  the 
sighting by   pointing out that it occurred on the same day as 
Arnold's.  However, he did  not tell his readers   that it took place at 
the same time in the afternoon, nor did he mention that  Johnson was 
near   Mt. Adams at the time and thus in the area where Arnold last 
saw the objects  (flying past Mt.   Adams).  Thus the reader of his 
book would not have known, as Menzel  probably did (Menzel   had 
access to the Air Force files), that Johnson said he saw the objects  
reported by Arnold!
         Menzel accepted Johnson's sighting as real (i.e., not a hoax, 
not a  delusion), but explainable.    After pointing out that Johnson 
observed the objects through his telescope for  nearly a minute   
Menzel stated his explanation:  "The behavior of the saucers... is 
distinctive  enough to label   them as probably a true sighting.  
Bright reflections from patches of clouds  were the most likely   
         One wonders how Menzel could seriously suggest that 
Johnson could fail  to realize that the   objects were merely clouds 
after viewing them for many seconds through a  telescope as they   
traveled by rapidly and were last seen banking into a cloud.
        Menzel also dismissed the wobbling compass effect, arguing 
that in his  excitement Johnson   was not able to hold the compass 
steady.  This is essentially saying that  Johnson, who had about   
forty years of prospecting experience at the time, would not realize 
that the  compass would   wobble if he didn't hold it steady.
        It is resoundingly not a tribute to science that Dr. Menzel's 
explanations  carried a   considerable weight with the scientific 
community.  Scarcely anyone  complained about his   atmospheric 
explanations.  Instead the book was complimented on bringing a  
measure of sanity   to the field of flying saucer research.  I helped 
establish the TRADITION  which we live under   today, that flying 
saucers/ufos, are all mistakes or hoaxes or delusions and  certainly 
nothing to   worry about.  Note that TRADITION is important... so 
important that you  could write a song   about it!  However, careful 
analyses sightings such as these by Kenneth  Arnold and Fred   
Johnson show that this tradition is like a house built on sand... and it 
is  crumbling.        


1.)   Daniel S. Gilmour, Ed., The Scientific Study of Unidentified 
Flying  Objects, Chapter 5,   Section 1; AFOSR contract study 
F44620-67-C-0035; Edward U. Condon,  Director, 1968;   Bantam 
Books Edition, New York, NY, 1969, pg. 481  

 2.)   David. M. Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America, Indiana 
University  Press, (1975)   

3.)  Air Intelligence Report # 100-203-79, "Analysis of Flying 
Object  Incidents in the U.S.,"   Directorate of Intelligence (of the 
Air Force) and Office of Naval Intelligence,  10 Dec. 1948;   
classified TOP SECRET until declassification on March 5, 1985; 
available  from the Fund for   UFO Research   

4.)  Edward J. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects,  
Doubleday and Co., Garden   City, NJ (1956) and Ace Books, NY 

5.)  Donald Menzel, Flying Saucers, Harvard University Press, 
Cambridge,  Mass., 1953   

6.)  Donald Menzel and Lyle Boyd, The World of Flying Saucers, 
Doubleday  and Co., Garden   City, NY, 1963   

7.)  Donald Menzel and Ernest Taves, The UFO Enigma, Doubleday 
and Co.,  Garden City, NY,   1977   8.)  Documents found in the 
files of Project Blue Book at the National  Archives    

9.)  Ted Bloecher, The UFO Wave of 1947, (NICAP, 1967)   

30.)  J. Allen Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, Dell Pub. co, NY, 

10.)  Kenneth Arnold, The Coming of the Saucers, privately 
published (1953)   

11.)  Kenneth Arnold, letter to the Army Air Force in the files of 
Project Blue  Book (National   Archives)   

12.)  Letter found in the files of Project Blue Book   

13.)  Document found in the files of the FBI released under the 
Freedom of  Information and   Privacy Act

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