UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Nov > Nov 22

Re: Kenneth Arnold's testimony

From: James Easton <pulsar@compuserve.com>
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 1997 19:49:02 -0500
Fwd Date: Sat, 22 Nov 1997 17:40:56 -0500
Subject: Re: Kenneth Arnold's testimony

When this pivotal case came up in discussions recently, it was
an opportunity to consider some open points; the merit's of
Kottmeyer's explanation, the differing sketches which Arnold
produced, etc.

I was particularly interested by Arnold's initial impression that
the behaviour of the objects suggested he was observing a flock
of geese.

The question was how much more likely is it that Arnold had
indeed seen a flock of geese, or something similar, than he
witnessed intelligently controlled objects which flew like a
flock of geese.

I thought some additional research into the ornithological
alternatives might further clarify the debate and this has proved
to be of potential significance.

There seems to be compelling evidence that the unidentified
objects reported by Kenneth Arnold, may have been a flock of
American White Pelicans.

Indigenous to Washington state, the American White Pelican
(Pelecan userythrorhynchos) is the largest bird in North America
and amongst the biggest in the world. A predominately white bird,
with black primaries and outer secondaries, it weighs up to 15
kg, (33 lb) and it's massive wingspan can extend to 3 m (10 ft)
or more.

The clue to possibly identifying the enigmatic objects remains in
Arnold's description of their flight characteristics. Often,
birds have a distinctive signature, the "jizz" as it's known, and
from this a bird's probable identity can be determined, even if
the sighting was inconclusive.

The appropriate people to consult were those familiar with bird
life in the Pacific Northwest and I asked some of them if they
would gave an informed opinion based on Arnold's descriptions.

Michael Price, suggested a "possible candidate species in the
area at that time of year (sporadically) whose color, size,
flight profile and proclivity for formation flight at sometimes
quite high altitude would even more produce *every* detail of the
phenomenon which Arnold observed: a flock of non - or failed -
breeder, southbound White Pelicans".

He added, "They'd have been large enough to visible for a good
distance, they fly in formation, and if the light were reflecting
just right off a large nearby glaciated peak, their comparatively
vast white underwing area would reflect a *ton* of light in
exactly the pattern described by Arnold".

Richard Rowlett concurred:

"White Pelicans was the first thing that came to mind as I was
reflecting back on an ultra high-flying southbound formation I
saw a few years ago over the Barancas in western Durango, Mexico,
east of Mazatlan. It was a fluke that I detected them at all by
unaided eye. Even in the bins [binoculars], I was perplexed about
what they were for awhile, at first not even sure they were
birds. Strange lighting and angle it was.

Don Baccus also commented to Michael Price:

"Michael, my first thought when I started reading your analysis
was white pelican. Several years ago, when training a good birder
in the finer details of splitting migrating hawks into species,
age, etc. at long distances at the beginning of the fall
migration season (i.e. training him to run our count), we saw
distant white "blurps" fading in and out of visibility many miles
north. This was at the Goshutes, i.e. on the Utah/Nevada border.
It was near sunset. It was obvious that the sun was reflecting on
their underwings. They'd disappear momentarily and then reappear
in sequence. They were flying east-to-west and we first spotted
them somewhat to the northeast. I pegged them as white pelicans
almost immediately, as the whole cadence of the thing matched the
way white pelicans will soar in line (in this case - they'll also
'V' up), and rather than flap all at once, often will each begin
to flap as each reaches the position where the previous bird
began to flap.  Same with turning, etc. Of course, they'll also
do this in more of a synchronized formation, too, but I'm sure
you've all seen white pelicans flap and glide in the kind of
pattern I'm describing.

I couldn't think of any bird that would show such a cadence and
literally twinkle white while switching from soaring to

Investigating this suggestion further, there are notable
correlations with Arnold's observations.

Arnold claimed, "They flew like many times I have observed geese
to fly in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were
linked together".

"...they numbered nine. They were flying diagonally in echelon

In 'Birds of the World', by Oliver L. Austin Jr. p 42, he states:

"Pelicans fly in long lines, sometimes in a V formation,
sometimes abreast, sometimes in single file directly behind one
another. Most often they form a wide echelon, each bird slightly
behind and to one side of the next".

Arnold also mentions, "They were flying diagonally in echelon
formation with a larger gap in their echelon between the first
four and last five". Discussing this with Michael, he agreed with
my assessment that this is standard behaviour in a flock and
wrote, "all line-abreast, diagonal and astern flocking birds
develop gaps and fill them in randomly".

What "startled" Arnold the most, he recalled, "was the fact that
I could not find any tails on them".

Pelicans have "stumpy" tails, similar to the representation in
Arnold's later sketch showing one of the "objects". Arnold's
sketch now begins to make sense and could easily be based on a
distant viewing of a pelican in flight. The large, swept back
wings are self-explanatory and the darker top center is not
inconsistent with the fact that pelicans in flight "tuck" their
heads back.

As commented in 'Birds of the World': "In flight, pelicans carry
their heads well back on their shoulders, with the long beak
resting on the folded neck".

A further, distinctive connection, is Arnold's claim, "They
didn't fly like any aircraft I had ever seen before. In the first
place their echelon formation was backward from that practiced by
our Air Force. The elevation of the first craft was greater than
that of the last".

This is a typical feature of American White Pelicans flying in

Consider also his statements that:

"I observed the objects' outlines plainly as they flipped and
flashed against the snow and also against the sky".

"They fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and
emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their

In 'The Birds', by Roger T. Peterson (Time-Life International),
he writes:

"Much the simplest form of flight, certainly much less
complicated than flapping or hovering, is gliding flight".

"Swallows employ gliding flight, - several strong wing strokes
and a glide. So do pelicans travelling in formation...".

"Gliding saves energy, but gravity and air conditions determine
how far a bird can skim before it must flap again".

The parallel between Arnold's objects in echelon which "flipped
and flashed", "fluttered and sailed", and a formation of pelicans
in echelon "beating and gliding", as 'Birds of the World'
describes their flight, seems apparent.

As Don Baccus remarked, "I couldn't think of any bird that would
show such a cadence and literally twinkle white while switching
from soaring to flapping".

Michael Price also confirmed, "Assuming he was looking at birds,
the flipflop appearance of these birds would be visible whether
higher, same altitude, or lower as the sun might be reflecting
strongly and directly off white upper and/or underwing

There is some relevant information on a web site at:


Which includes the affirmation: "When flying, they seem to
'sparkle' as the light plays off of their white and black

I'm sure these aspects can be quantified even further.

Kenneth Arnold was perhaps after all on the right track when he

"They flew in a definite formation but erratically. As I
described them at the time their flight was like speed boats on
rough water or similar to the tail of a Chinese kite that I once
saw blowing in the wind. Or maybe it would be best to describe
their flight characteristics as very similar to a formation of
geese, in a rather diagonal chain-like line, as if they were
linked together".

Very similar to a formation of geese, but based on the above
evidence, remarkably similar to a formation of pelicans,
specifically American White Pelicans.

If that should be the answer and Arnold mistakenly concluded the
objects must be distant aeroplanes, it plays havoc with his
estimated calculations.

I obviously intent to come back to these and address Bruce, Don,
Mark and Michael's recent comments. It may be necessary to do so
with a new perspective.

These are the somewhat unexpected results of my enquiries and
further research. We can only consider the implications suggested
by them and whether this does lean heavily towards the most
likely explanation.

E-mail: pulsar@compuserve.com

Search for other documents from or mentioning: pulsar

[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com