true story of
PART TWO OF TEN PARTS
August 13, 1945 Life Magazine cover for article on P-80 Shooting Star.
TEARING THROUGH THE AIR just 30 feet above the Mojave desert, Col. Albert Boyd was after a world air speed record.
It had been 24 years since the record had been held by an American, and the modified P-80 Shooting Star he was piloting on the morning of June 19, 1947 had been in the works by aviation specialists at Lockheed for the better part of a year beforehand.
The P-80 was America's first fighter jet, aerodynamically designed for speed down to its specially-lacquered, baked on, hand-buffed finish. Its designer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, had first submitted a preliminary design to the War Department in 1941, which turned it down for lack of existing American engines to power it. Two years later a colonel at Wright Field complained to Johnson about the speed limitations of even America's most advanced experimental jets, and asked Johnson if he couldn't design something around an existing advanced British engine. Johnson began sketching out ideas that day. A week later he presented Wright Field with the design accompanied by page after page of specifications. Two hours later Johnson was given the authorization, geared around a self-imposed deadline of 180 days for the first prototype. Supervising the work of 23 engineers and over 100 shop mechanics -- and working under a large banner reading, "Our Days Are Numbered" -- the first prototype was completed 139 days after first receiving the authorization.
Three days later the prototype was crated up and transported out of Los Angeles aboard an Army truck at one o'clock on a Sunday morning, all towards maintaining its secret status, and the prototype flew the next day from the Army Air Force's Muroc Field-Rogers Dry Lake experimental testing range in the Mojave desert.
The first flight nearly went disastrously wrong. Milo Burcham, one of Lockheed's best and most experienced test pilots, was only a few moments past take-off when the prototype began to shimmy and sway, threatening to careen out of control. Burcham aborted the flight and immediately returned to land.
Urgent consultations took place between Burcham, the pilot, and Johnson, the designer. The probable cause was identified -- the new plane's extremely responsive controls required much less mechanical action on the part of the pilot, and the plane was being over managed in flight. Taking off again, the prototype roared into the sky and for the next hour went through every turn and dive in Burcham's extensive repertoire, including buzzing the spectators who in turn were caught completely by surprise -- the plane was there and gone again before the crowd could visually spot it.
Finally coming in for a landing, Burcham unsnapped the bubble canopy, leapt out, and exclaimed, "Jesus Chee-rist, what a plane!"
It had been a total of 143 days from concept to flight.
But there were further problems ahead. The British engines were simply not in supply for a full production run. So the P-80 was redesigned using new General Electric engines, the most powerful in the world at the time. The redesign also incorporated new elements for even faster flight and even better maneuverability. In an August 13, 1945 cover story, Life Magazine would note...
Veteran test pilots and combat fliers are genuinely bewildered after their first flight in a Shooting Star. They can't comprehend the speeds they attain for, without the usual engine racket and without ground perspective at high altitudes, they had no way of judging speed save by the air-speed indicator. One pilot coming in for a landing at Burbank suddenly zoomed back into the sky instead of settling down. Afterward he explained, "I wouldn't believe my indicator. I was sure I wasn't traveling more than 125. Then the airport disappeared under me and I knew damn well how fast I was going." Herman N. ("Fish") Salmon, one of Lockheed's best test pilots, had a similar experience on take-off. On his first flight he sped almost the length of the strip while observers shouted, "Pull back, pull back." With only a little runway left he took off, explaining later that he couldn't believe he was rolling fast enough to be airborne until he looked at his instrument panel.
"When a plane fools you like that on the ground, you can imagine what it does to you in the air," Tony le Vier, another Lockheed test pilot, declared.
But it was to be an even more advanced P-80 Shooting Star in which Col. Boyd would attempt to regain the world air speed record for the United States.
P-80R Shooting Star flown by Col. Albert Boyd.
THE MODIFICATIONS on the already sleek P-80 were geared for every mile per hour gain it could possibly achieve. The pilot canopy was reduced in both height and width to enhance its aerodynamics. Air intake ducts were redesigned to reduce drag. The leading edge of the wings were sharpened to more efficiently cut through the air. And replacing the standard General Electric engine was the new Allison 400, delivering 7500 horsepower at speeds in excess of 600 mph.
But counter-intuitively, in order to officially break the record, all that power had to be exerted within an almost absurdly small air space and at a dangerously low altitude, under internationally-sanctioned rules which had first been established in 1906 -- when the first world air speed record was set at just under 26 miles per hour.
Under the rules of the Federation Aeronatuique Internationale, based in France, such attempts were limited to a course covering just 1.863 miles. The plane could fly no higher than 1310 feet at any time from take-off through landing. At either end of the 1.863-mile course were 1500-foot intervals within which the plane must have been already at a height no more than 246 feet as it made its approach for the attempt, and having entered the course must have flown level for the duration. At this point it must have turned and made another pass, repeating until it completed four passes of the course -- two in each direction -- obeying the same rules each time. The speed of the four passes would then be averaged, and only then be compared against the previous record.
And all of this -- hopefully for Col. Boyd on that day -- at a speed exceeding 616 miles per hour, the previous air speed record set by the British in September 1946. In fact, the speed would need to be 621 miles per hour or faster -- the rules dictated that any new official record must exceed that set previously by at least five miles per hour.
To verify the speed for Col. Boyd's attempt, meticulous preparations had been made, starting with a 12-foot wide black tar strip with pink smoke flares at either end of the course, visually delineating the length of the run for the pilot. Also at either end, mounted on 3-foot high concrete bases, were high-speed cameras, each operating at 500 frames per second, the exact timing of each 16-millimeter frame confirmed both by a 100-cycle tuning fork setting off impulses to an argon lamp which itself sent light flashes recorded onto the film, as well as a 200-cycle tuning fork tied to a clock face with intervals of 1/1000ths of a second which were also recorded onto the film. The tuning forks themselves had been calibrated by the Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., and the course itself, surveyed by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, was accurate to one part in 600,000.
But aside from the rigors of the course Col. Boyd had even another factor to deal with on the day of his attempt -- the wind was whipping at up to 20 mph. On the ground pants and shirts were flapping against the bodies of the ground crew and spectators, and hands were tightly perched atop heads to keep hats from flying off and away. Bothersome for those on the ground, but for Boyd one sharp gust while going over 600 miles per hour at a 30-foot altitude could mean instant disaster.
In his favor, however, was Boyd's experience. A flyer in the
Army Air Corps since 1927, Boyd was at the time chief of the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, in charge of all test pilots, including those at the Muroc Field-Rogers Dry Lake facility. And it had been Boyd who initiated and organized the first test-pilot school for the Corps. His flight skills were legendary, and by the time he retired 10 years later -- with the rank of General and including time as commander of Edwards Air Force Base -- Boyd would lay claim to over 23,000 hours of flight experience, including having piloted more than 700 different aircraft types, from experimental to helicopter.
Climbing into the cockpit Boyd had just one backup plan in case of trouble: climb to 10,000 feet, if possible, and parachute out of the plane. Otherwise, his fate was completely linked with that of the P-80R. Above him as he took off, two patrol planes were already aloft -- one at 1300 feet, the other at 246 feet, acting as visual guides to Boyd's maximum allowable altitudes. Inside each plane were observers certified by the Federation Aeronatuique Internationale to attest that the elevation requirements had been met.
Once in the air, Boyd made a "preliminary" run to get the feel of the course, then over the next 26 minutes made his four "official" passes, each pass over the 1.863-mile strip varying from 30 to 50 feet from the ground to allow his attempt to be verified by the cameras. With the wind, the plane hit speeds of 632.5 and 630.5 miles per hour. Against the wind, Boyd's two runs slowed considerably, coming in at 617.1 and 614.7 miles per hour.
Averaging out at more than 623 miles per hour, Col. Boyd was the world's new airspeed record holder. After 24 years, the record had returned to the United States.
But even so, the feat was still tinged with some disappointment: on his "preliminary" unofficial run, Boyd had attained a speed of more than 647 miles per hour.
And even at that, he was still more than 100 miles per hour short of the speed of sound.
October, 1944 article in Popular Science.
THE POSSIBILITY OF manned flight beyond the speed of sound -- approximately 760 miles per hour at sea level -- had been a hot topic for years, and Col. Boyd's record-making flight was seen worldwide as another step towards that goal. But there were still considerable -- and for all anyone knew, insurmountable -- obstacles ahead.
Obstacles for both the aircraft, and the pilot inside.
For the aircraft of the time, the problems began at just half the speed of sound, the point in which a plane encounters compressibility, much like a boat powering through water. The wings force the air ahead of the plane to become compressed, and the air no longer flows smoothly around it but builds up in front of the plane until the wave partially collapses and releases itself against the plane in the form of a burst of compressed air much heavier and more dense than the air around it, battering against the wings and the tail of the aircraft, and capable of ripping it apart. Drag is also increased by as much as ten-fold, meaning that even if the airframe withstood the shock waves ramming it, to increase the speed significantly -- and particularly to reach the speed of sound -- horsepower requirements grew by the thousands or even tens of thousands, depending on the weight of the aircraft.
For the pilot, the dangers went far beyond just the potential for violent turbulence. Even in propeller-driven aircraft of the time, such as the P-51 Mustang, air entering the cockpit for ventilation compressed and heated, causing as much as a 30-degree rise in temperature when flying at speeds of just 400 m.p.h. As speed increases the skin of the aircraft also heats by hundreds of degrees so that inside, unless provided with specially designed air cooling, pilots could literally bake to death. Meanwhile, without special soundproofing of the cockpits, permanent hearing and even brain damage could be caused not only by the audible roar of the compression waves but by the ultrasonic vibrations encountered. And at such speeds any sudden or abrupt turn can mean blackout, broken bones, spinal damage or even death to the pilot due to the effects of gravity, known as G forces, which increases with speed. But perhaps the most gruesome consideration was the fact that the dynamics of acceleration meant that a sudden uncontrolled loss of speed -- such as through engine failure -- could literally cause the pilot's body to burst, hurtling not only his internal organs but everything inside him forward past the restraining straps holding what's left of his body to the seat.
Clearly, radical redesign of aircraft of the time was required, not only to break through the sound barrier but to protect the life and safety of the pilot. Redesign which had been carefully in the works for years, and where even five-miles-per-hour increases represented significant advances.
Which is why the world's attention was so riveted when on June 24, 1947 -- just five days after Col. Boyd's record-breaking flight -- Kenneth Arnold landed his small private plane at Yakima, Washington, and began speaking of what he had just seen.
Aerial view of Mt. Rainier as seen from the west. Image: Stan Shebs.
THE THIRTY-TWO YEAR OLD Arnold was in the midst of a business trip on that fateful day. Owner of a company which sold, installed and serviced fire-control equipment for air carriers and airports across five western states, he had first flown to the west coast from his home in Boise, Idaho. On June 24, having just installed new equipment for Central Air Service in Chehalis, Washington, he took off in his plane for his next service call at Yakima. But rather than taking the shortest direct route, he had contrived for himself a route which would take him past Mt. Rainier, the towering giant of the Cascade volcanic range.
The reason for this particular route was strictly mercenary: having heard of a sizeable reward offered for locating the crash site of a Marine transport which had gone missing six months earlier, Arnold decided to try his hand at spotting the wreckage while piloting his plane between his Chehalis and Yakima service calls. It would add about an hour to his flight time, but the day was bright and sunny, and the potential reward made the extra effort worth it.
Taking off from Chehalis, and flying at 9,000 feet, Arnold was suddenly distracted by a bright flash, though he wasn't sure from where it came. Then a second bright flash led him to its cause -- a string of nine oddly-shaped aircraft flying at what seemed to him an incredible speed. He would later write...
I can say honestly that I was amazed, thinking all the time: what will these aeronautical engineers dream up next? Although readily explaining it all in this way in my mind, I definitely did have an eerie feeling about the whole experience. I tried to focus my mind on a continued search for the downed C-46 which had crashed some months earlier with thirty-two Marines aboard, but somehow the $5,000 didn't seem important. I wanted to get on to Yakima and tell some of the boys what I had seen.
Around airports pilots are continually arguing about how fast our Army and Navy jets and missiles really can go. Most pilots conceded that the fastest aircraft that had been invented at that time could go in the vicinity of seven hundred miles per hour. Up to this point I hadn't done any paper figuring on the distance and time, but I felt sure this formation of strange craft was traveling in excess of a thousand miles an hour.
If Arnold was right about his first impression of the speed of the nine aircraft, it represented an even greater leap than the mere flying faster than the speed of sound. For though the problems of compressibility and all the rest meet any craft at the speed of sound, if the craft can achieve a speed greater than 900 miles per hour the difficulties almost completely disappear. Flying below 900 miles per hour, craft are said to be in trans-sonic flight, but above that reach super-sonic speed.
Just as astounding, if Arnold was correct in his estimation, this super-sonic flight was being achieved not by a one-off -- a singular aircraft specially designed and equipped to meet a challenge -- but by a radically-new craft which had been produced in numbers.
Arnold then described what happened next...
It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when I landed at Yakima and went straight to Al Baxter, general manager of Central Aircraft. I met him in his outer office and rather breathlessly asked to see him in private. He dropped whatever it was he was doing and in his private office I related the story of my observation and drew him pictures of what I had seen. I recall that he looked at me in a rather puzzled way, but seemed quite positive that I hadn't gone crazy and wasn't seeing things. He called in several of his flight pilots and helicopter instructors to listen to my story.
The high point of my enthusiasm got its top knocked off when one of the helicopter pilots said, "Ah, it's just a flight of those guided missiles from Moses Lake.
I proceeded to gather my scattered wits together, got back in my airplane, and took off for Pendleton, Oregon. I remembered that I had forgotten to mention the fact that one of these craft looked different from the rest, was darker and of a slightly different shape, and that I hadn't told the Yakima boys that I had clocked the speed of this formation within fairly accurate limits. While flying to Pendleton I took my map from its snap holder on the extreme edge of my instrument panel, grabbed a ruler, and began figuring mathematically miles per hour. Figuring and flying my airplane at the same time was a little confusing, and I thought my figures were wrong and that I had better wait until I landed at Pendleton to do some serious calculating.
When I landed at the large airfield at Pendleton there was quite a group of people to greet me. When I got out of my plane no one said anything. They just stood around and looked at me. I don't recall just how the subject came up in those first few minutes after I landed, but before very long it seemed everybody around the airfield was listening to the story of my experience. I mentioned the speed I had calculated but assured everybody that I was positive that my mathematics were lousy.
I don't know how many fellows sat down and started figuring out. When it kept coming out in excess of seventeen hundred miles an hour I thought, "Holy smoke, we're taking the measurement of the distance far too high up on both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams." So we took a measurement of the very base, as closely as it could be determined, which I knew from the map was far below the snow line. The distance was 39.8 miles. Even covering this distance, which was so far on the conservative side that I knew it was incorrect, we still had a speed of over thirteen hundred and fifty miles per hour. To me, that evening, that was that. They were guided missiles, robotly controlled. I knew that speeds of this velocity the human body simply could not stand, particularly considering the flipping, erratic movements of these strange craft.
Arnold's next stop -- either that same evening or the next morning according to various recountings -- was at the offices of the Portland-based East Oregonian newspaper. Arnold's intent, according to editor Bill Bequette, was to see if anyone at the newspaper could identify what he had seen. Bequette would later describe the circumstances to researcher Pierre Lagrange...
Both Nolan Skiff and I were in the office, which was small, when Mr. Arnold came in. As I remember, we both talked with him, listened to his story, told him we didn't have a clue to what he had seen but would send the story to the Associated Press in hopes some editor or newspaper reader might be able to explain the strange objects. That first meeting probably lasted no more than five minutes. Nolan jotted down a few notes, then wrote a short story, which I squeezed into the bottom of page one. Then I punched an even shorter (as I recall) version into the AP wire. We were only minutes from "putting the paper to bed" so we didn't have much time to give him.
The story -- with no byline but commonly attributed to Skiff -- appeared in the June 25, 1945 edition...
Source: East Oregonian, Oregon - 25 Jun 47
Impossible! Maybe, But Seein' Is Believin', Says Flier
Kenneth Arnold, with the fire control at Boise and who was flying in southern Washington yesterday afternoon in search of a missing marine plane, stopped here en route to Boise today with an unusual story -- which he doesn't expect people to believe but which he declared was true.
He said he sighted nine saucer-like aircraft flying in formation at 3 p.m. yesterday, extremely bright -- as if they were nickle plated -- and flying at an immense rate of speed. He estimated they were at an altitude between 9,500 and 10,000 feet and clocked them from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams, arriving at the amazing speed of about 1200 miles an hour. "It seemed impossible," he said, "but there it is -- I must believe my eyes."
He landed at Yakima somewhat later and inquired there, but learned nothing. Talking about it to a man from Ukiah in Pendleton this morning whose name he did not get, he was amazed to learn that the man had sighted the same aerial objects yesterday afternoon from the mountains in the Ukiah section! He said that in flight they appeared to weave in and out in formation.
Bequette related to Lagrange what happened next...
When I returned to the office after lunch, the receptionist's eyes were as big as saucers - the kind we use under coffee cups. She said newspapers from all around the country and Canada had been calling. They wanted more details on the "flying saucers." I spent the next two hours with Mr. Arnold in his hotel room. From that interview I wrote a story about 40 column inches long. The story was telephoned to the AP Bureau in Portland. Next morning, almost every newspaper in the country published the story on page one. Even after 40 years I feel some embarrassment over the original UFO story. My embarrassment is because I failed to recognize what a big story Mr. Arnold brought into the office that day.
Nor was Bequette the only one being called. Arnold would later write...
I could have gone to sleep that night if the reporters, newsmen, and press agencies of every conceivable description had left me alone.
As a result of the emerging furor, by the next day the newspapers were full of Arnold's story. From the June 26, 1947 edition of the Hayward, California Daily Review...
Man Reports 'Saucer-Shape Plane' Flight
PENDLETON, Ore., June 26 (U.P.)-- Residents of Pendleton sought an explanation today for the nine strange "saucer-shaped" planes an amateur pilot claimed he saw flying at an estimated speed of 1,200 miles an hour across southwestern Washington.
The story was told by Kenneth Arnold, flying fire extinguisher salesman from Boise, Ida.
He landed here, slightly bug-eyed, Wednesday and told how he spotted the "extremely shiny nickle-plated aircraft" skimming along at 10,000 feet on Tuesday. Arnold was on a search for a missing Marine corps plane at the time.
"They were shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them," he told Jack Whitman, a local businessman.
"There were nine of them and they were flying in a screwy formation about 25 miles away from me. It wasn't any military formation I ever saw before.
"I figure they were moving about 1,200 miles per hour because I clocked them with a stop watch during the time it took them to fly from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams. That's 42 miles and they made it in one minute 42 seconds -- about 1,205 mph."
Arnold said the strange aircraft were skittering across the southwest slope of Mount Rainier when he first sighted them.
Whitman suggested tactfully, that Arnold had been seeing things but the pilot insisted, "I must believe my eyes."
There was no comment from military authorities on Arnold's story.
And from the June 26, 1947 edition of the Chillicothe, Missouri Constitution...
Mystery In The Sky Is Reported
Incredible Speed By Saucer-Like Objects Reported In Oregon
Nine bright, saucer-looking objects flying at "incredible" speed at 10,000 feet altitude were reported here today by Kenneth Arnold, Boise, Idaho pilot, who said he could not hazard a guess as to what they were.
Arnold, a United States Forest service employee engaged in searching for a missing plane, said he sighted the mysterious objects yesterday at 3 o'clock. They were flying between Mr. Rainier and Mt. Adams, in Washington state, he said, and appeared to weave in and but of formation.
Inquiries at Yakima last night brought only blank stares, he said, but he added he talked today with an unidentified man from Ukiah, south of here, who said he had seen similar objects over the mountains near Ukiah yesterday.
"It seems impossible," Arnold said, "but there it is."
Arnold said he clocked the objects from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams, and estimated their speed at 1,200 miles an hour. He said they appeared to fly almost as if fastened together -- if one dipped, the others did, too.
Oregon perhaps is more concerned than many areas over reports of mysterious objects because of the wind-borne balloons launched from Japan during the war. One of the bomb-laden balloons fell near Lakeview, Ore., in May, 1945, killing six persons.
At Portland, Ore., Edward Leach, Senior C.A.A. aeronautical inspector, said he could offer no explanation of the fast-flying objects reported by Arnold.
"If they were actually as described," Leach said, "I don't know what they could be. I rather doubt that anything would be traveling that fast."
Leach said he was not sure whether objects traveling at 1,200 miles an hour could be seen clearly enough to tell that they were weaving in formation, as reported.
In Washington, the War department said it had no information on
the sky mystery.
An army spokesman expressed interest in any objects which would fly at the estimated speed of 1,200 M.P.H., declaring:
"As far as we know, nothing flies that fast except a V-2 rocket, which travels about 3,500 miles an hour -- and that's too fast to be seen."
Moreover, the V-2s, unlike the saucer-shaped objects seen in Oregon, are cigar-shaped.
The spokesman said it was safe to say that the army is not conducting any high-speed experimental tests in the area mentioned and is certainly "not shooting" in populated regions.
And from the June 26, 1947 edition of the San Antonio, Texas Light...
Men From Mars? Sky Whizzer Seen!
Pendleton, Ore. (AP) A tale of nine mysterious objects -- big as airplanes -- whizzing over western Washington at 1200 miles an hour got skepticism today from the army and air experts.
The man who reported the objects, Kenneth Arnold, a flying Boise, Idaho, businessman, clung, however, to his story of the shiny, flat objects, each as big as a DC-4 passenger plane, racing over Washington's Cascade mountains with a peculiar weaving motion "like the tail of a kite."
An army spokesman in Washington, D.C., commented, "as far as we know, nothing flies that fast except a V-2 rocket, which travels at about 3,500 miles an hour -- and that's too fast to be seen."
The spokesman added that the V-2 rockets would not resemble the objects reported by Arnold, and that no high speed experimental tests were being made in the area where Arnold said the objects were.
Arnold described the objects as "flat like a pie pan," and so shiny that they reflected the sun like a mirror.
He said he was flying his own plane at 2:59 p.m. two days ago toward Mount Rainier, when they appeared directly in front of him 25 to 30 miles away, at 10,000 feet altitude.
By his plane's clock he timed them at 1:42 minutes for the 47 miles from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams, Arnold said, adding that he later figured by triangulation that their speed was 1200 miles an hour.
And finally from the June 26, 1947 edition of the East Oregonian, a follow-up interview by Bill Bequette
Boise Flyer Maintains He Saw 'Em
Kenneth Arnold Sticks To Story of Seeing Nine Mysterious Objects Flying At Speed Of 1200 Miles An Hour Over Mountains
By BILL BEQUETTE
Kenneth Arnold, a six-foot, 200-pound flying Boise, Ida., business man, was about the only person today who believed he saw nine mysterious objects -- as big as four-engined airplanes -- whizzing over western Washington at 1200 miles an hour.
Army and civilian air experts either expressed polite incredulity or scoffed openly at Mr. Arnold's story, but the 32-year-old one time Minot, N.D. football star, clung to his story of shiny, flat objects racing over the Cascade mountains with a peculiar weaving motion "like the tail of a Chinese kite."
A CAA inspector in Portland, quoted by the Associated Press, said: "I rather doubt that anything would be traveling that fast."
A Washington, D.C., army spokesman was quoted as saying, "As far as we know, nothing flies that fast except a V-2 rocket, which travels at about 3500 miles an hour -- and that's too fast to be seen."
NO HIGH-SPEED TESTS IN AREA
He added that there were no high-speed experimental tests being made in the area where Mr. Arnold reported seeing the mysterious objects.
The Boise man, who owns the Great Western fire control supply which handled automatic fire fighting systems, described the objects as "flat like a pie pan and somewhat bat-shaped" and so shiny they reflected the sun like a mirror.
He said the reflection was so brilliant that it blinded him "as if someone had started an arc light in front of my eyes."
Mr. Arnold reported he was flying east at 2:50 p.m. Tuesday toward Mt. Rainier when the objects appeared directly in front of him 25-30 miles away at about 10,000 feet altitude.
By his plane's clock he timed them at 1:42 minutes for the 50 miles between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. He said he later figured their speed by triangulation at "about 1200 miles an hour."
ADMITS MIGHT HAVE ERRED
He admitted he might have erred 200-300 miles in his figuring but added "they still were the fastest things I ever saw."
When first sighted, he thought the objects were snow geese.
"But geese don't fly that high -- and, anyway, what would geese be doing going south for this time of year?"
Next he thought they were jet planes. He said he had heard so many stories of the speed of this type of craft traveled so he determined to clock them.
However, he quickly realized "their motion was wrong for jet jobs."
"I guess I don't know what they were -- unless they were guided missiles," he said.
"Everyone says I'm nuts," he added ruefully, "and I guess I'd say it too if someone else reported those things. But I saw them and watched them closely."
"It seems impossible -- but there it is."
Mr. Arnold, who flies 60 to 100 hours monthly throughout five western states, said he was 25-30 miles west of Mt. Rainier, en route from Chehalis to Yakima, when he sighted the objects.
SEARCHING FOR LOST PLANE
He explained that he had been cruising around the western slope of the mountain in hope of seeing a marine corps plane, missing since last January.
"I heard there was a $10,000 reward offered to anyone who locates it," he added.
He said the "planes" remained visible by the flashes of reflected sunlight for some seconds after they passed Mt. Adams, perhaps for as far away as 50 miles.
Mr. Arnold admitted the angle from which he viewed the objects would make difficult precise estimation of their speed, but insisted any error would not be grave "for that speed".
The DC-4 was closer than the objects, but at 14,000 feet and somewhat north of him. He said he could estimate the distance of the objects better because an intervening peak once blocked his view of them. He found the peak was 25 miles away, he related.
The Boise flyer said they flew on the west sides of Rainier and Adams, adding that he believed this would make it more difficult for them to be seen from the ground.
He said he "measured" the formation by a snow-covered ridge over which they passed and estimated the "train" was five miles long.
THOUGHT WINDOW WAS CAUSE
He said that at first he thought the window of his plane might be causing the reflections, but that he still saw the objects after rolling it down.
He also described the objects as "saucer-like" and their motion "like a fish flipping in the sun."
Mostly, he said, he was surprised at the way they twisted just above the higher peaks, almost appearing to be threading their way along the mountain ridge line.
"No orthodox plane would be flying like that" he commented.
"Ten thousand feet is very low for anything going at that speed."
Mr. Arnold was flying a three-passenger, single-engined plane at 9200 feet at the time, he reported. His speed was about 110 miles an hour.
The Boise man, who is married and has two children, landed here yesterday and said he would remain another day or two before returning to Boise.
He described himself as a "fire control engineer" and emphasized he is not employed by the forest service but is a free-lance contractor.
That same day, June 26, 1947, Arnold would give a radio interview to one of Oregon's most respected broadcasters, Ted Smith of station KWRC in Portland, Oregon...
TED SMITH: Every newscaster and every newspaper across the nation has made headlines out of it. And this afternoon we are honored indeed to have here in our studio this man, Kenneth Arnold, who we believe may be able to give us a first-hand account, and give you the same, on what happened. Kenneth, first of all if you'll move up here to the microphone just a little closer we'll ask you to just tell in your own fashion as you told us last night in your hotel room and again this morning what you were doing there, and how this entire thing started. Go ahead, Kenneth.
KENNETH ARNOLD: Well at about 2:15 I took off from Chehalis, Washington, en route to Yakima. And of course every time that any of us fly over the country near Mount Rainier we spend an hour or two in search of the Marine plane that's never been found that they believe is in the snow someplace southwest of that particular area. That area is located at about – or its elevation is about 10,000 foot. And I had made one sweep in close to Mount Rainier and down one of the canyons and was dragging it for any types of object that might prove to be the Marine ship. And as I come out of the canyon there, it was about 15 minutes, I was approximately 25 to 28 miles from Mount Rainier. I climbed back up to 9200 feet and I noticed to the left of me a chain which looked to me like the tail of a Chinese kite, kind of weaving and going at a terrific speed across the face of Mount Rainier. I at first thought they were geese because it flew like geese. But it was going so fast that I immediately changed my mind and decided it was a bunch of new jet planes in formation. Well as the, as the planes come to the edge of Mount Rainier, flying at about 160-degrees south, I thought I would clock them because it was such a clear day. And I didn't know where their destination was but due to the fact that I had Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams to clock them by I just thought I'd see just how fast they were going since among pilots we argue about speed so much. And they seemed to flip and flash in the sun just like a mirror. And in fact I happened to be at an angle from the sun that seemed to hit the tops of these peculiar-looking things in such a way that it almost blinded you when you, when you looked at them through your Plexiglas windshield. Well I – it was about one minute to three when I started clocking them on my sweep-second hand clock. And as I kept looking at them I kept looking for their tails. And they didn't have any tails. [LAUGHS] I thought well maybe I, something's wrong with my eyes. And I turned the plane around and opened the window and looked out the window. And sure enough, I couldn't find any tails on them. And the whole observation of these particular ships didn't last more than about two and a half minutes. And I could see them only plainly when they seemed to tip their wing or whatever it was and the sun flashed on them. They looked something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear. Now I thought, well, that maybe they're jet planes with just the tails painted green or brown or something, and didn't think too much of it but kept on watching them. They didn't fly in a conventional formation that's taught in our army. They seemed to kind of weave in and out right above the mountain tops. And I would say that they even went down into the canyons in several instances, oh probably 100 feet. But I could see them against the snow of course on Mount Rainier and against the snow on Mount Adams as they were flashing. And against the high ridge that happens to lay in-between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. But when I observed the tail end of the last one passing Mount Adams, and I was at an angle near Mount Rainier from it, but I looked at my watch and it showed one minute and 42 seconds. Well, I felt that well, that's pretty fast. And I didn't stop to think what the distance was between the two mountains. Well I landed at Yakima, Washington. And Al Baxter was there to greet me. And [INAUDIBLE] saw up here. And he told me I guess I better change my brand. [LAUGHS] But he kind of gave me a mysterious sort of a look that maybe I had seen something, he didn't know. And, well I just kind of forgot it then 'till I got down at Pendleton and I began looking at my map and taking measurements on it. And the best calculation I could figure out, now even in spite of error, would be around 1200 miles an hour. Because making the distance from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams in, we'll say, approximately two minutes, it's almost – well, it'll be around 25 miles per minute. Now allowing for error we can give them three minutes or four minutes to make it and they're still going more than 800 miles an hour. And to my knowledge there isn't anything that I read about, outside of some of the German rockets, that would go that fast. These were flying in more or less a level constant altitude. They weren't going up and they weren't going down. They were just simply flying straight and level. And I [LAUGHS] laughed and I told the fellows [INAUDIBLE] they sure must have had a tail wind. But it didn't seem to help me much. But to the best of my knowledge and the best of my description, that is what I actually saw. And like I told the Associated Press, I'll – I'd be glad to confirm it with my hands on a bible, because I did see it. And whether it has anything to do with our army or our intelligence or whether it has to do with some foreign country, I don't know. But I did see it and I did clock it and I just happened to be in a beautiful position to do it. And it's just as much a mystery to me as it is to everyone else who's been calling me the last 24 hours wondering what it was.
TED SMITH: Well Kenneth, thank you very much. I know that you've certainly been busy these last 24 hours 'cause I've spent some of the time with you myself. And I know that the press associations, both Associated Press and our press, the United Press, have been right after you every minute. The Associated and the United Press all over the nation have been after this story all over the nation. It's been on every newscast over the air and in every newspaper I know of. The United Press in Portland has made several telephone calls here to Pendleton to me and to you this morning. And from New York I understand they're after this story. And we may have an answer for it before night because if it is some new type of army or navy secret missile, there will probably a story come out on it from the army or navy asking – saying that it is a new secret plane. And that'll be all there is to it and they will hush up the story. Or perhaps that we will finally get a definite answer to it. I understand the United Press is checking on it out of New York now with the army and also with the navy. And we hope to have some concrete answer before nightfall. We certainly want to thank you, Kenneth, for coming into our studio. And we feel very pleased that this news which is making nationwide news across the country, we are able to give our listeners over KWRC a first-hand report direct from you of what you saw. And we urge our listeners to keep tuned to this station because any time this afternoon or this evening that we get something on it on our United Press teletype, which is in direct communications with New York, Chicago, Portland, in fact every United Press bureau across the nation, why we'll have it on the air.
The next day came with no letdown in the nationwide discussion, but Arnold found himself more and more on the defensive about whether he had seen what he claimed. From the June 27, 1947 edition of the Portland-based Oregon Journal...
Arnold Insists Tale of Flying Objects O.K.
PENDLETON, June 27 (AP) -- Kenneth Arnold, a veteran pilot and fire control engineer, Thursday clung stoutly to his story that he saw nine shiny crescent-shaped planes or pilotless missiles flying in formation at a speed of at least 1,200 miles per hour over the Mt. Rainier region.
"It's God's truth -- I will swear it on a Bible. I saw them and I clocked them. They traveled 48 to 50 miles in 1 minute and 42 seconds."
(A plane traveling 48 miles in 1 minute and 42 seconds would be moving at a speed of 1,692 miles per hour.)
Arnold said he saw the objects flying in "weaving formation" in a line at 10,000 feet as he piloted his own small private plane over Mineral, Wash. He said he flew at a right angle to the line of flashing objects.
When he landed at Pendleton, in route to Boise Idaho, Arnold told his story and stuck to it.
"Some of the pilots thought it over and said it was possible. Some of them guessed that I had seen some secret guided missiles. People began asking me if I thought they were missiles sent over the North Pole. I don't know what they were, but I know this -- I saw them."
Arnold, general manager and owner of the Great Western Fire Control Company, said he first saw the objects when they flashed in the sun low over the slopes of Mt. Rainier.
"Then I saw them, weaving and ducking in and out as they came south not more than 500 feet over the plateau. They looked like they were rocking. I looked for the tails but suddenly realized they didn't have any. They were half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. I was in a beautiful position to watch them. I thought they might be jet planes, and I clocked them. Then when I saw they had no tails and I realized how fast they were going, I knew they were like nothing I had ever heard of before. There were no bulges or cowlings; they looked like a big flat disk. They were larger than the ordinary jet plane but slightly smaller than a DC4, if you don't count the rear fuselage."
Arnold said that the objects waived "like the tail of a Chinese kite."
"They hugged the horseback between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, and the flashing they made in the sun reminded me of the reflection of a great mirror."
Arnold had also decided to be proactive about acquiring proof if he had another sighting. From the June 27, 1947 edition of the Miami, Florida Daily News-Record...
Pilot Still Puzzled By Aerial Objects
PENDLETON, Ore., June 27 (UP) -- The next time Kenneth Arnold sees saucers flying through the sky he'll get a picture of them.
The 32-year-old Boise, Ida., businessman pilot whose report of nine disc-like objects flashing through the sky at incredible speed brought a number of similar reports as well as expressions of doubt, today bought a movie camera with a telescopic lens so "next time I hope I'll have a picture of what I see."
He said that while he was inclined to join the skeptics, he couldn't because "I saw it," adding that all he wanted was an explanation of what he saw
It had been a hectic few days since the first news report, and Arnold was now nationally known. The national distraction meant that there was little chance of accomplishing much else on his business trip, and so Arnold decided on a change of plan. He would later write...
I can't begin to estimate the number of people, letters, telegrams, and phone calls I tried to answer. After three days of this hubbub I came to the conclusion that I was the only sane one in the bunch... In order to stop what I thought was a lot of foolishness and since I couldn't get any work done, I went out to the airport, cranked up my airplane and flew home to Boise.
But before leaving, he sent off one more telegram, as reported the next day in the Oregon Journal...
"Next time," he vowed, "I'll get proof to back up my story." At the same time, the one time North Dakota football star fired a telegram at the Oregonian whose roundup story of opinion on Arnold's elusive sky travelers reported views of observers who intimated with tongue in cheek levity that the pilot was seeing spots before his eyes.
Mirror Angle Out
The telegram, sent just before he took off in Pendleton in his single engine three seater plane for Boise, said:
"I am certainly on your side of the fence and I did not believe it either but I have never suffered from snow blindness, mirages, or spots before my eyes of any kind."
Arnold said he, "made certain" the objects were not the result of reflections from his own airplane, as suggested by a veteran United Airlines pilot. His story, he reiterated, "is positively true."
But unbeknownst to Arnold at the time, his "positively true" story of encounters with the weird and the inexplicable was only at it's merest beginnings.
1. The title of this series is taken from two statements made by Kenneth Arnold -- once to the press and once to the military -- stating that his story was "positively true".
2. The June 26, 1947 recorded broadcast interview by Ted Smith of KWRC is available in the Saturday Night Uforia audioplex.
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