The Wraith of Arnold

- by Don Ecsedy, March 21, 2013

There has been much speculation about the shape of the objects Kenneth Arnold reported seeing around Mt Ranier on July 24, 1947. For three minutes under ideal flying conditions, Arnold said he saw nine objects travelling at supersonic speeds in a formation he later described as “reverse echelon”. At first he had thought they were geese, then jets, however, he had reasons to dismiss the suppostions because of their speed, performance, and shape.

What drew his attention was a flash of light, after which he saw the objects. He saw their shapes in three ways. First, on edge they appeared very flat, just a line in his sight. Second, they would “flip” and “flash”, exposing their area, either their tops or bottoms. From this angle they appeared “completely round”, or “saucer-like”. During this exposure of their full surface, they would “flash”, which Arnold first thought were reflections on a mirror-bright surface, but a few years later thought might be internal illumination, a “pulse”, synchronized with the flipping over. Observation of the bright flashing or pulsing, apparently did not affect his eyesight. Third, from other angles it appeared their trailing edges were not rounded off, but featured; he described this as, bat-like, crescent, half-moon, plate cut in half.

Arnold said they were longer than wide, and their depth was about 1/20th of their width. He compared their sizes to a DC-4, which meant about a 100 foot diameter.

A page from Project Blue Book from the summer of 1947

So, between flashes, when they flipped, they looked like this. There is a slight curve on the bottom side view. I think it was intended, rather than due to an unsteady hand.

Given his own accounts, could Arnold have seen each of the nine objects well enough to determine their shapes, especially if they were flashing or pulsing, and even moreso if the pulses were not co-ordinated, but were random, or appeared so? Given their smooth and unbroken surfaces, it would be difficult, if even possible, to tell which end was up. Even if the flashes were not blinding, they could be distracting when trying to determine the shapes. They were not motionless for those three minutes, but travelling at, according to Arnold, supesonic speed. Bequette had suggested to Arnold that a wire story might shake loose some information about the strange objects which both he and Arnold assumed were some sort of Army Air Force planes or rockets. He wrote a separate short story which he put out on the Associated Press wire that same afternoon. Consistently with Skiff’s story it, too, said that Arnold (mistakenly identified as a US Forest Service employee) had described seeing “nine bright saucer-like objects” The Singular Adventure of Mr Kenneth Arnold by Martin Shough.

Bequette was the reporter, and Skiff the editor, to whom Arnold told the story of his sighting. Arnold was an ambitious, competitive, and assertive man, and I think, impatient. A businessman and a salesman, he expressed a moral or ethical code of the honest broker who is as good as his word. It was mostly true, too. He wanted to know what it was he had seen. Perhaps, he reasoned, a bit of advertising might make something come his way.

Something did come his way, but not what he hoped for or intended. His story instantiated the Flying Saucer Wave of 1947.

The Band of Brothers

Immediately, Arnold was the center of attention, the press especially, but also his mail and phoneline were jammed with questions and answers from the fringe, apocalyptic religionists, occultists, Forteans, I assume, as well as people like himself, and of especial interest to him, airplane pilots. In his own mind, I think, Arnold thought of himself first as a pilot; there was a romance about it for him, a sense of the elite, intelligent, active, coolheaded, ‘take charge’ in extreme circumstances, man. It would take several weeks before the strain trumped any coolheadedness he might have had.

Arnold’s closest associate regarding the saucers in June was Dave Johnson, aviation editor for the Boise Statesman, and National Guard pilot. On July 4, Emil Smith and his crew sighted nine saucers on a flight. Through an interesting coincidence in Boise, Arnold and these two pilots met at the Boise airport, along with two other pilots, Captain Davidson and Lt Brown, Army Counter Intelligence Corps Special Agents who were undercover as Army Intelligence Officers for the purpose of interviewing saucer witnesses. Dave Johnson had reported his July 9th sighting of a single flying saucer.

At the time of the coincidence, on July 10, Arnold was distancing himself from the Wave in press interviews, stating baldly that the only sighting besides his own he credited was Smith’s. He didn’t know what the saucers were and wasn’t going to buy into some of the things he’d been hearing about them, and couldn’t explain what others were reporting, or even if they were anything at all. He was deeply offended by the ridicule directed at him, and the crockery/mockery the press indulged in. He began to disown the ‘saucer’ word for the shape of the nine objects.

I do not think this was lost on Davidson and Brown, or if not them, those who read their reports, and most likely Lt Colonel Donald L. Springer, A-2, Hamilton Field, who at the very least, knew Arnold through correspondence. The Air Force wanted the Wave to die. The CIC’s goal was to get Arnold to just shut up about it. Their method was to confide in him, to believe they were investigating his saucers with his assistance. Arnold made the team at last. Both Smith and Johnson would collaborate with the ‘CIC-as-army-intelligence’, as well.

Now Arnold was relieved to be surrounded by pilots, and not reporters and cranks (Brown and Davidson also at this time interviewed another pilot who had a saucers sighting, and was respected by Arnold, Dick Rankin), and working hand-in-glove with military intelligence to solve the mystery of the saucers. Things were picking up. But not for long.

The last days of July, the first few of August saw Arnold investigating a reported sighting in Tacoma, near Maury Island, representing Ray Palmer’s magazines in Chicago. Confident, early on, Arnold informed Smith, who came to Tacoma to join his investigation. Unable to do much of anything investigative, Arnold called Davidson and Brown, who joined him and Smith in Tacoma. After their meeting, Davidson and Brown were killed in a crash on their flight back to Hamilton Field.

What had begun a few months back as a scheme to shake something loose from the military about secret aircraft, was then followed by weeks of high profile media attention that was not often civil, to which Arnold responded emotionally, and not well, demonstrating a brittle sense of self. Then, having gathered the band of brothers to him in Tacoma, two of them suffered firey deaths. There is far more to Maury Island than the deaths of those two young men, but this is not the place to delve into it. One thing though is relevant here. Arnold wrote that Davidson drew objects he said represented photographs taken in Phoenix, which Brown said they considered “genuine”. He was told they would give him prints if he visited them at Hamilton Field.

Arnold was given a set of prints, probably by Springer. This is confirmed becuase Arnold published the prints, one of which was cropped in a way that identified it as the same crop in a Top Secret document of the time, and is not found in Bluebook’s files. It is not seen online, unless it was copied from Arnold’s pamphlet.

The drawing was reproduced on page 42, Fate Magazine, Spring 1947. Arnold liked and admired Brown and Davidson, and felt responsible for their deaths by having called them on to the investigation, which seemed to be a dud, a hoax. Arnold would always see the Rhodes photos through the eyes of Davidson and Brown.

We can compare the drawing to the images in Arnold’s 1950 pamphlet, The Flying Saucer as I Saw It.

The third image accompanies the Davidson drawing, on page 45. It is an update of the drawing Arnold had made for the AF (above) the past summer. He has made the triangle longer and steeper. Arnold referred to it as a “tadpole” shape. The edge view now has the curve on the top, rather than the bottom.

The one below is the full print Arnold received from Hamilton Field of the first image. This crop, containing the telephone pole and treeline is not found in the Bluebook files. It is found in the December 10, 1948 Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the US, at the time a Top Secret document prepared by Air Force and Navy intelligence. But for the April, 1949 version of the Analysis, the crop was changed to remove the reference points.

The Wraith

The last image in the series is an illustration from 1950, I’ve read, of a wood model Arnold built. Arnold referred to it as wraith-like. Arnold thought the drawing matched one of the objects he had seen, that seemed slightly smaller than the others, and was the second from last in the formation. Later on, I’ve read, he said all nine were like it.

What happened to Arnold’s saucer-shape? It is there in the title of the pamphlet, thus itself wraithlike as a shape. I think the wraith is a composite of what Arnold considered his best sources, the men he trusted, whose skill and intelligence he admired. Rhodes is in it, proxied by Davidson and Brown, the flying wing shape is their contribution, and they proxy Rhodes for the ‘cockpit’ topside, which appears to have a rough surface, referencing Emil Smith’s sighting.

I can’t argue with Arnold about his saucers and the shapes of them he tried to discern during those few surprising minutes He was there. I was not. He had it on the word of men he admired, that this was what he saw in the excitement of the moment, the confusing flipping and flashing, the barely seen extremities, the flash revealing, yet obscuring, the sight of a “completely round” shape, the thinness of the edge, the massive extent of the surface.

After the crash, Arnold discovered Davidson and Brown were not “military intelligence officers”, but “counter espionage agents”. He seems to have felt betrayed, lied to, perhaps realizing he had been under surveillance by them, as were the others, Smith, Rankin, Johnson. And, of course, he was, and they were.

He seems to have gotten over it. Perhaps his correspondence with Mrs. Brown helped him with that.

So, the Wraith, as he called it, is mostly Davidson’s and Brown’s interpretation of the Rhodes object, and a kind of memorial to them. It seems an appropriate homage to the dead.

It is all rather sad.