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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Nov > Nov 27

Re: Kenneth Arnold's testimony

From: James Easton <pulsar@compuserve.com>
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 1997 22:57:28 -0500
Fwd Date: Thu, 27 Nov 1997 09:33:03 -0500
Subject: Re: Kenneth Arnold's testimony


>Date: Wed, 26 Nov 1997 08:45:08 -0500
>From: bruce maccabee <brumac@compuserve.com>
>Subject: UFO UpDate: Re: Kenneth Arnold's testimony

Bruce wrote:

>>Is this apparent contradiction in the distance explainable?

>Contradiction?  Error in distance estimate, maybe.   We  have a time
>development if events here.   When first detected by a flash they
>were seen to the north of Rainier. apparently, if Arnold places them
>in a direction toward Mt. Baker.


>Now start at Mineral, Washington and draw a line toward Mt. Baker,
>which is at the Washington- British Columbia border.   This sighting
>line of arnold intersects the hypothetical roughly 170 straight path
>about 50 miles from Arnold's plane.   I suggest that this is the more
>likely distance than the 130 miles from Arnold to Mt. Baker.   Now,
>if Arnold's sighting line had actually been some degrees south of Mt.
>Baker then the objects were closer.
>(get map, try yourself).


I had already looked at a map and tried to plot the courses,
essentially as you suggest. Although I could make some sense of
Arnold's statements, I found it impossible to quantify what the
true perspective was. As noted, there seems either a
contradiction or, if you prefer, maybe an error in distance
estimate here.

And that's indicative of the overall problem with Arnold's
estimates of distance and speed.

>>Could a flash have reflected off Arnold's plane from an object over
>>100 miles away?

>Let's make it 50 miles away.

Which again, is changing Arnold's evidence.

If we can't even establish the original perspective without doing
so, then any maths are not going to be based on a scientific
basis, merely speculation and not necessarily without a bias.

>Was it so bright that he actually saw light reflected off his plane?
>I doubt it since this was full daylight and the objects were very

Well, that's another problem then.

I agree Arnold's later claim seems improbable, if not impossible,
and I wonder if a more realistic account is given in the early
interview when he said, "they seemed to flip and flash in the
sun, just like a mirror, and, in fact, I happened to be in an
angle from the sun that seemed to hit the tops of these peculiar
looking things in such a way that it almost blinded you when you
looked at them through your plexiglass windshield".

Noticing flashes of light through his windshield, is somewhat
different to light reflecting on his aircraft from objects over a
hundred miles away. Initially, Arnold didn't mention any "flashes"
reflecting on his aircraft at all.

>On the other hand, if the light entered his eye directly it could
>be quite bright IF THE OBJECTS REFLECTED LIKE MIRRORS, which is
>what Arnold seemed to imply.


Appreciate you taking time to set out the calculations, however,
if we are accepting the objects were probably some 50 miles, or
approximately half the distance closer than Arnold later claimed,
then we're still speculating.

The crux of the argument is what would rule out Arnold's objects
being a formation of birds.

Arnold is timing the apparent speed of the objects by observing
their relative distance between two mountains, Mt. Saint Helens
and Mt. Adams, some 50 miles south of Mt Rainier.

In order to make accurate calculations, Arnold needs to be
consider his own position relative to these mountains, his
airspeed, how distant the objects are and their altitude.

At best, he can only guess the relationship between all of these

Is there evidence he may have miscalculated.

It seems there are clear indications that's the case.

As you note in "The Complete Sightings...":

"Is it reasonable to assume that he could have made an error of
several thousand feet in estimating their altitude? The answer to this
question lies in the fact that Arnold inferred the altitude by
observing that the objects appeared to be almost exactly on his
horizon (i.e., level with his altitude). But it is very difficult to
determine the exact horizon from an airplane. In this case, the angle
(the "depression angle") between exact horizontal and his downward
sighting line to the mountain peaks south of Mt. Rainier was very
small. The depression angle from Arnold's plane at 9,200 ft altitude
to the top of a 5,500 ft high mountain at a distance of 20 miles
(105,600 ft) was about 20. Such a small angle would be difficult to
detect from an airplane. So the answer is yes, he could easily have
made an error of 4,000 ft in estimating the altitude of the objects.
Perhaps if he had looked up the actual altitudes of the mountain peaks
south of Mt Rainier he would have revised his statement".

Which we must assume he didn't.

You also note:

"Arnold provided an estimate of size in an indirect way: he stated
that they appeared to be comparable to the spacing of the engines on
a DC-4 (4 engine propeller driven, 117 ft wingspan, 94 ft length, 27
ft height) which he had seen at a distance which he estimated as 15
miles. He estimated the engine spacing to be 45 - 50 ft, although 60
ft would have been a better estimate. By this means he was essentially
providing an angular size for the objects: the equivalent of about 60
ft at 15 miles. He reported the size of the objects as 45 - 50 ft by
comparison with the airplane as if the plane had been at the same
distance as the objects. However, the plane was not at the same
distance, so a correction for the distance difference is necessary".

And further that:

"In his letter Arnold included a sketch which shows the leading edge
being nearly a semicircle, with short parallel sides and with the rear
being a wide angle convex (protruding) V shape that
comes to a rounded point at the trailing edge. His drawing suggests
that the objects were nearly circular overall. He wrote on the sketch
that "they seemed longer than wide, their thickness was about 1/20th
of their width." His suggestion that their width (or length) was about
twenty times greater than their thickness may be an exaggeration. The
sketch he drew of how they appeared "on edge" has the dimensions 4 mm
wide by 45 mm long (approx.) which suggests a ratio closer to 1/11.
(It is typical for people to overestimate length to width ratios.)
Although he did not mention it in his letter, he later stated (e.g.,
in his book) that one of the objects had a somewhat different shape.
His book shows an illustration in which the object has a semi-circular
front edge and a read edge that consists of two concave edges that
join at a rearward pointing cusp at the center of the rear edge.

This is the problem...

"he could easily have made an error of 4,000 ft in estimating the
altitude of the objects"

"However, the plane was not at the same distance, so a correction for
the distance difference is necessary".

"The sketch he drew of how they appeared 'on edge' has the dimensions
4 mm wide by 45 mm long (approx.) which suggests a ratio closer to

And if we're also saying it's improbable that light reflected onto
the aircraft from objects over a hundred miles away, or they were
originally observed at that distance at all, it just gets worse.

>Let's see, now.  Arnold had the impression the length of the chain
>was the same as the length of a 5 mile ridge at a distance of about
>5 miles.

Impressions aren't science and as we've seen, Arnold's impressions,
albeit with the best intent, are highly questionable.

>If the Superpelicans were at 3,000 ft then the length of the line was
>about (5/20) x 3000 = 750 ft.

This is also appreciated, but it's conjecture.

>>Do you think Arnold's mention of "saucer like objects" might have
>>been influenced by the "flying saucer" hysteria his story was
>>responsible for?

>WHOA THERE... Sounds like a circular argument here.  Which came
>first, Arnold's saucer description, or the newspaper reports of
>flying saucers and the subsequent "hysteria"?

Come now, Bruce, you know that Arnold didn't describe objects which
looked like "flying saucers", but that, as he said in the radio

"They looked something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a
sort of a convex triangle in the rear".

And later confirmed in his book, "As I put it to newsmen in Pendleton,
Oregon, they flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the
water. They fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and
emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces".

To find Arnold refer in his Blue Book report to, "the chain of these
saucer like objects", seems unquestionable evidence that he almost
felt obliged to confirm they were like "saucers".

An objective viewpoint would realise that Arnold's experience
suggested to him that he may have witnessed some unusual aircraft and
that his comments about the objects' flight characteristics were taken
out of context and magnified by the media.

Magnified to such mythical status that Arnold conceivably was swept
along with the tide.

If I'm not mistaken, he never stood up to explain that he had hadn't
actually claimed to have seen objects which looked like "flying

>>Incidently, you should check with the bird experts to find out how
>>high the pelicans typically fly....or maximum height and speed.

According to some folks who work with wildlife projects monitoring
pelicans, the typical airspeed is 20-25 mph, although they, "soar
marvellously on thermals and glide effortlessly".

It was also confirmed that, "These birds are quite reflective when
flying overhead - big bodies and wingspans 9 - 10 feet and white
except for wingtips makes for quite a reflective area".

>>>If mistaken by Arnold for distant aircraft flying (apparently)
>>>nearly at horizon level to him, then they would have been
>>>essentially at his level.

>>Not necessarily.

>Oh yes, necessarily, unless you want to reject Arnold's claim that
>the objects seemed to be at about his altitude (but were actually
>more like 2 degrees below his local horizon).

"Is it reasonable to assume that he could have made an error of
several thousand feet in estimating their altitude?


"the answer is yes, he could easily have made an error of 4,000 ft in
estimating the altitude of the objects".

Your own conclusions, Bruce.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss this cordially.

I don't mind in the least if anyone thinks the evidence is sufficient
to scoff at the very likelihood that 50 years of belief is undermined
by a new, and contentiously fitting candidate for the media's "flying

So long as it doesn't degrade to obnoxious personal remarks. I
wouldn't even consider responding to any such comments.

I have no fears or concerns about whether Kenneth Arnold may have
mistakenly identified a formation of birds, or otherwise.

As I said to you at the outset, we'll never prove what Kenneth Arnold
witnessed, but in the light of an interesting suggestion, it's maybe
a worthwhile exercise to look at the story in more detail and see if
a case can be made for the explanation being a formation of pelicans.

It's not an explanation I would necessarily want to find most likely,
but I would ask, where are the hard facts to the contrary, that this
conceivable explanation can not possibly be true?

I don't believe I've seen them yet.

Facts are a wonderful thing.

Like a safety net, always there to fall back on.

Let's reaffirm some of them.

When migrating, Pelicans commonly fly in echelon formation.

Kenneth Arnold described his unidentified objects as, "flying
diagonally in echelon formation with a larger gap in their echelon
between the first four and last five".

Pelicans and geese both fly in such formations.

Arnold described the unidentified objects thus:

"I, at first, thought they were geese because it flew like geese".

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

Pelicans are exceptionally large birds which show an expanse of white,
likely to be reflective from a brilliant light source.

Comparative to Arnold's comments that the objects, "flipped and
flashed against the snow and also against the sky" and "fluttered and
sailed, tipping their wings alternately and emitting those very bright
blue-white flashes from their surfaces".

It's a compelling correlation.

Is it not?

Perhaps way too seriously so for an "ology" which might benefit from
being capable of taking a less fundamentalist view of itself and being
open to having a laugh about the probabilities.

But maybe they were indeed, in this instance, flying saucers from
outer space.


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