There have been various explanations suggested for Kenneth Arnold's very first sighting on June 24, 1947 of what came to be known as "flying saucers" (owing to a famous error, since Arnold described boomerang-shaped objects, not saucer-shaped ones).
The Harvard astronomer and skeptic Donald H. Menzel had several rather unconvincing explanations for what Arnold allegedly saw. According to Wikipedia:
- In 1953, Menzel suggested that Arnold had seen clouds of snow blown from the mountains south of Mt. Rainier. According to Maccabee, such snow clouds have hazy light, not the mirror-like brilliance reported by Arnold. Further, such clouds could not be in the rapid motion reported by Arnold, nor would they account for Arnold first seeing the bright objects north of Rainier.
- In 1963, Menzel proposed that Arnold had seen orographic clouds or wave clouds; Maccabee says that this conflicted with testimony from Arnold and others that the sky was clear, and again can't account for the objects' reported brightness and rapid motion over a very large angular region.
- In 1971, Menzel said that Arnold may have merely seen spots of water on his airplane's windows; Maccabee says that this contradicts Arnold's testimony that he had specifically ruled out water spots or reflections shortly after seeing the nine UFOs. For example, the early Bill Bequette article of June 26 in the East Oregonian has Arnold saying he at first thought that maybe he was seeing reflections off his window, but "he still saw the objects after rolling it down."
The late Philip J. Klass suggested that Kenneth Arnold probably saw Meteor Fireballs.
The British researcher James Easton was the first to suggest that what Arnold actually saw was a flock of American White Pelicans, the largest birds in North America. The object depicted above does look somewhat bird-like. But Jerome Clark and many other UFOlogists mocked that conclusion, calling it "Pelicanism." The British Fortean writer John Rimmer defiantly began using the pen name, "the Pelicanist."
The reason I am writing about pelicans now is that I just found out that, unlike many species, white pelicans habitually soar on thermals, like hang gliders, especially when they are traveling long distances in search of food (hat tip to Barbara Graham). And when pelicans are soaring, their wings do not move. Indeed, the author of this YouTube video writes how a "white pelican flock rides the wind over Bayou Corne for 10 minutes and never once flapped their wings."
Another aspect of Arnold's sighting was an unexpected "flash" of light that caught his attention. He said, "they seemed to flip and flash in the sun, just like a mirror."
A fact that few people seem to know is that a flock of pelicans, when soaring, appear to "flash" when their white bellies are turned toward the observer, then fade again as their dark wingtips are turned toward the observer once again. In the YouTube video above, we see the pelicans appear to "flash" at about 57 seconds, then again at about 1:20, 1:42, and 2:00.
|Pelicans soaring above Lake Tahoe (www.tahoeculture.com).|
Compare the shape of these pelicans soaring over Lake Tahoe with the shape of the object Arnold drew. Remember that when pelicans are riding thermals, their wings do not move.
An amazingly long and detailed investigation, The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold (147 pages), by the Scottish UFOlogist Martin Shough - tells everything you ever wanted to know about the Arnold sighting. He concludes that the objects Arnold described could not have been birds or other prosaic objects, but does not suggest what he thinks they were.
|Compare with Kenneth Arnold's boomerang-shaped object|
Starting from Shough's investigation, Martin Kottmeyer wrote Joining Shough's Singular Adventure (see page 28), suggesting that Arnold just might have seen Pelicans after all. (Kottmeyer's interpretation of the term "echelon" is acknowledged to be incorrect). Some of Arnold's statements made the objects sound very much like a flock of birds:
- "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 a formation of geese." He also once compared the objects to a flock of "blackbirds."
In these interviews with reporter Bob Pratt, Arnold gives us good reason to doubt his credibility. He talks about "mystery submarines," says that his phone line has been tapped, that UFOs may be alive, and they seem to be able to read his mind. He says he has spotted UFOs "seven or eight times."