It is generally believed that the entire Alien Encounter phenomenon began with the startling sighting of “flying saucers” or Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) by American pilot Kenneth Arnold in 1947 – see Encounter Casebook No.1. Most studies of the UFOs or books on the subject feature the Arnold sighting and describe it as the first UFO sighting.
In fact this is very much a matter of using the wisdom of hindsight. At the time, neither Arnold nor anyone else even thought about aliens or UFOs. It was assumed that what he had seen was some kind of top secret military aircraft of revolutionary design. Nor was Arnold’s the first sighting of such objects. It was merely the first to make it into the national and international press. For that we must thank the reporter who took Arnold’s description of the mysterious aircraft he had seen and dubbed them “flying saucers”. The name caught the public imagination and made good newspaper copy.
The story took a dramatic new twist when it became clear that whatever Arnold had seen, it was not a secret weapon being developed by the United States Air Force (USAF). The speed, design and motion of Arnold’s aircraft were utterly unlike anything being developed. The first thought that most people in aviation had was that the Soviet Russians had developed some startling new technology – though Arnold’s aircraft seemed so far in advance of anything the Russians had used during World War II, which had ended only two years earlier, that this seemed rather unlikely.
It was not long before people all across the USA started coming forward with their own sightings of mysterious aircraft. These people had been reluctant to speak publicly before either because they feared ridicule or because they had not realised that they had seen anything particularly odd – like Arnold they had assumed that they were seeing some secret new type of aircraft.
It must be remembered that at this time jets, rockets and helicopters were all new inventions shrouded in secrecy and mystery. There seemed to be no limit to the inventiveness of aircraft engineers.