On Wednesday, June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold watched nine shining objects fly from Mt. Rainier past Mt. Adams at twice the speed of sound. Eight looked like “a pie plate cut in half with a convex triangle in the rear.” The ninth, a bit larger, resembled a donut. The next day, 140 newspapers ran an Associated Press story about “flying saucers,” and the name entered the language.
Arnold wasn’t the first American to see a mysterious disk aloft. In January 1878, John Martin told the Denison, Texas, Daily News he saw a “dark flying object…cruising high in the sky at a wonderful speed.” Martin said it resembled a “saucer.”
Within days after Arnold’s sighting, hundreds of eyewitnesses reported strange craft — saucer-, oval-, or cigar-shaped, small disks, blinking dots — over 30 states. Among those in California, Richard Rankin went public about the ten flying disks he’d seen over Bakersfield the day before Arnold saw his.
In New Mexico, odd blips began appearing on Army radar; they darted across the screen and changed direction in unimaginable ways. The military paid special attention because the blips violated restricted air space above White Sands, the Army’s guided-missile “proving ground” (where it tested the German V-2 rocket), and nearby Alamogordo, the nuclear-testing facility.
Tuesday, July 1, 1947
San Diegan George Snead, a riveter at Consolidated Vultee, got off work at 4:00 p.m. As the 29-year-old drove east on Market, he saw unfamiliar objects flying toward Mexico “about 1000 feet overhead.”
They looked like “soup dishes,” he said, but he assumed they were planes, “droning south at a speed between 150 to 200 miles.” He slowed down and followed them through his windshield until they vanished. “I never saw anything resembling them before,” he told the San Diego Union.
Wednesday, July 2, 1947
The Union published Snead’s account and concluded: “These flying discs were strictly fourth rate in comparison to the ones reported in the Northwest. There, discs shaped like saucers were reported traveling at 1200 miles an hour.”
That afternoon, the San Diego Tribune-Sun ran the story, along with reports from Oregon (ten disks over the Columbia River), West Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana (a silver “shield” in a sweeping north-south arc), and Tucson. At Albuquerque, New Mexico, Max Hood of the chamber of commerce spotted a “disk-like, bluish object following a zigzag path in the northwestern sky.”
The Union headline — “At Last Flying Discs Pay Visit to S.D.” — made it sound as if San Diegans were feeling left out. Their most recent sighting had taken place October 9, 1946. That day, radio broadcasts encouraged people to watch “the meteor shower of the century,” starting at 7:30 p.m., and count the number that fell per minute.
Under clear skies and an almost-full moon, hundreds of tiny red or bluish-white particles streaked high above. Just after the shower concluded, radio station KFMB received over 100 calls. Each claimed to have seen a “cylindrical-shaped” craft hovering north of the city.
Through a six-inch telescope at Palomar Gardens, George Adamski and a group of friends “all noticed high in the sky a large black object, similar in shape to a gigantic dirigible, and apparently motionless.”
Adamski assumed it was a government blimp observing the shower. Either that or some new craft without wings or a cabin.
The object’s complete darkness troubled him, as did its exit. “It pointed its nose upward and quickly shot up into space, leaving a fiery trail behind it which remained visible for a good five minutes.”
Adamski, who later became notorious for claiming contact with aliens from Venus, said he tried “very hard to discredit the whole thing,” until one of his friends turned on KFMB. The descriptions “tallied with what we had seen.”
At 12:45 on July 2, chief petty officers Robert L. Jackson and William Baker were eating lunch in Jackson’s car at the Naval Air Station on North Island. As they watched planes take off and land, Baker noticed three shining objects coming toward them from over the ocean.
They didn’t look like birds or any known airplane. And they were moving at at least 400 miles per hour.
“About halfway up from the horizon,” said Jackson, “they appeared to be round as saucers, and were flying close together in formation.”
About 20 miles west of Coronado, the objects made a sudden 180-degree turn, still in formation, and shot back out to sea.
“When they banked, they looked like saucers turned sideways,” said Jackson, “just as round as a saucer,” and they “gleamed in the sun like aluminum. All in all, they were visible for about three minutes.” They made no noise.
Jackson and Baker were motor machinists, able to identify known aircraft. They compared the shape to nearby seagulls and planes. “The disks were distinctly different,” said Jackson, “about twice as large as the Navy planes and going twice as fast.
“When I first read in the newspapers about those disks up in the Northwest,” Jackson concluded, “I didn’t believe it. I believe it now.”
Around 10:00 p.m. that night, Dan Wilmot and his wife watched a far-off summer storm from their front porch in Roswell, New Mexico, where he owned a hardware store. A lightning bolt lit a large oval object — “like two inverted saucers” — overhead. “The entire body glowed as though light were showing through from inside.” It disappeared over the treetops on Six Mile Hill, headed toward the storm.
The Wilmots estimated it was maybe 20 feet in diameter and had to be going at least 400–500 miles an hour. He didn’t hear anything; she said it made a “swishing sound for a very short time.” At first they didn’t try to make much of it: summer thunder and lightning play tricks, as do shooting stars and experimental aircraft. They decided they’d only come forward if someone else claimed to have seen it.
Steve Robinson tracked the same object until it disappeared to the west. It was “elliptical and solid,” he said, not “a sequence of lights, like the military aircraft out of the 509th” (the airfield on Roswell’s outskirts). Just stormy weather, he concluded, electrical tricks.
Read more: Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4