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Kenneth Arnold, 1947

The origin of today’s fascination can be traced back to civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold. While flying his small aircraft near Washington’s Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947, Arnold claimed to have seen nine blue, glowing objects flying fast—at an estimated 1700 mph—in a “V” formation. He first believed the objects to be some sort of new military aircraft (this was, after all, just two years after WWII and the first year of the Cold War), but the military confirmed that there were no tests being conducted near Mount Rainier that day. When he described their motion as similar to “a saucer if you skip it across water,” the media coined the now-ubiquitous phrase “flying saucer.” Soon, other reports of a group of nine UFOs cropped up across the region, including sightings by a prospector on Mount Adams and the crew of a commercial flight in Idaho. The government never had a true explanation for the sightings—it simply claimed that Arnold had seen a mirage or was hallucinating. But UFO mania had set in, and just a few weeks later, the infamous Roswell sighting would perpetuate the obsession.

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Originally posted 2017-12-12 00:20:49.