Do you know how the word flying saucer came into existence? People from all over the world have spotted UFOs (Unidentified Foreign Objects) 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 the Yakima, Washington area. Kenneth Arnold, an amateur pilot, was trying to help search the plane. It was 3 pm, and he was flying near Mount Rainier when he saw a flash of light.
Origin of the term Flying Saucer
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 the 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 you 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 traveling faster than the speed of light, which no plane could at that point in 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 an 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, an increasing number of people started seeing the saucers flying across the country. In the same year, a Roswell, New Mexico newspaper reported that 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 to 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).
Skeptics claimed that the saucers could have 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 the formation of geese.”
So, was it indeed a UFO? Or was it a flock of birds? Guess we’ll never know.