Arnold's Saucers Before Arnold Saw Them
Kevin Randle recently addressed, at his blog, UFO sightings right before Ken Arnold's iconic sighting in the Cascades in 1947. (He and his readers were unable to come up with any provable sightings.)
In the introduction to Ted Bloecher's Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, Dr. James McDonald presented a sighting that Mr. Bloecher wasn't aware of, but did seem to be a pre-Arnold incident.
Here is Dr. McDonald's account::
One 1947 case that does warrant more than passing mention here is a report that is not in Bloecher's material because it was never reported to press or official agencies. (One comes to realize that there must be a very large volume of other such reports that still lie fully covered by the ridicule lid.) The report came directly to me from a Tucson woman who happened to read a Time article on UFOs (Aug. 4, 1967) that made passing mention of Arnold’s report of "seeing nine disc-like objects erratically moving through the air near Mount Rainier in 1947." Thinking that here, at last, must be a confirmatory report of what she and a friend had seen in early 1947 in Tucson, and noting my name in the same article, she telephoned me, thinking that I might be interested to know that she had seen "the same nine objects." But by the time we had gone over details, it was not obvious that she had seen the same objects as Arnold; but it was clear that her report must be entered into the UFO record.
Here is a brief summary: Mrs. H. G. Olavick and Mrs. William Down were the witnesses, and the date was Tuesday, April 29, 1947, according to Mrs. Olavick's reconstruction of related events and dates. (there is a possibility that this date is one week off, she pointed out; but that it was a Tuesday in late April or early May she regards as quite definite.) Mrs. Olavick was in her kitchen at 2101 East Hawthorne Street, Tucson, while Mrs. Down was out in the backyard patio. Suddenly Mrs. Down called her out excitedly, and both proceeded to observe what had caught Mrs. Down's eye. The time was just after the noon hour; Tucson's skies were completely cloudless. Somewhat north of their zenith lay an unusual, isolated, "steamy-fleecy" cloud at an altitude which Mrs. Olavick found difficult to estimate, though she recalled that it seemed lower than average for that time of year (thus, perhaps at or below 10,000 feet, say). No other cloud was to be seen in the sky. In and out of the cloud moved a number of dull-white disc-like objects that rose and fell in an erratic manner, occasionally disappearing into or above the unnatural cloud. She said that these objects were round in planform but were not spherical, for they frequently tipped a bit, exposing a flattened-sphere form. She estimates that they watched these objects cavorting near the cloud for perhaps five or six minutes before the entire group suddenly disappeared within the cloud or perhaps above it.
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After a minute or so, as she now recalls it, a new object, perhaps three or four times as large as the little objects, came out of the cloud on its east side. After it emerged, the small objects began to emerge also, taking up a V-formation pattern behind it. The V comprised a line of four-abreast just to the rear of the large object, then a line of three-abreast behind that, and finally two-abreast in the rear. Thus, the point of the V was to the rear (in the sense of the emergent and subsequent motion). This formation permitted the first accurate count of the small objects, nine in all. No sooner had the last pair emerged than all ten objects shot off to the northeast, climbing out of sight in a time that she thought was probably two to three seconds. She does not recall what happened to the cloud after the ten objects departed.
I have spoken with Mrs. Olavick several additional times, following her first call. Her account was presented in an unembellished manner, and her descriptions were carefully framed, specifying just which parts had become less distinct in her memory. But the basic vividness of her memory of this observation she stressed repeatedly. I had to explain that it was by no means clear that the objects she saw were identical with those reported by Kenneth Arnold two months later. When I queried her as to why she had not reported them, she pointed out that she and Mrs. Down were entirely convinced that they had been fortunate enough to witness some new American military vehicles about which the general public had not yet been informed. Later she heard of the "flying saucers," and she and Mrs. Down, when they rejoined their husbands in mid-summer in Iowa, told them about their own observation. The husbands, she recalled, made such a joke of it that they ceased mentioning it.
Here was a pre-Arnold sighting never reported officially. It was quite clearly not an observation of "new American military vehicles," nor can one readily square this with any phenomenon of atmospheric physics or astronomy. It is a UFO observation, and a rather interesting one. Bloecher's search has led to several other pre-Arnold 1947 sightings. Just a matter of days before this writing, I spoke on the telephone with Walter A. Minczewski, the U. S. Weather Bureau observer whose April, 1947, theodolite-tracking case is cited in the text. Minczewski emphasized that he had never reported it to other than his Weather Bureau superiors and hence was surprised to be called about it twenty years later. Yet his recollection of the details of the whitish disc-like object he had tracked one clear morning in Richmond, Virginia, was still distinct in his mind.
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But time is slipping on, and those 1947 witnesses ought to be interviewed in far more depth than anyone has ever done -- lest we lose their reports forever. The same is true of the innumerable observers of subsequent UFO incidents. Detailed case-studies and thorough episode-studies are sorely needed. Bloecher has given here the raw material for an episode-study of the initial 1947 wave of sightings; he has woven it into an orderly account of what was happening when UFOs first became public knowledge. I find this account absorbing reading and regard it as a substantial contribution to the study of the baffling problem of the unidentified flying objects.
James F. McDonald
Institute of Atmospheric Physics University of Arizona
October 23, 1967