15. Now as I looked at the living beings, behold, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living beings, for each of the four of them.

16. The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another.

17. Whenever they moved, they moved in any of their four directions without turning as they moved…

Ezekiel 1:15-17 New American Standard Bible

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70 years ago, at 3.00pm on the 24th June 1947 Kenneth Arnold, an experienced Search and Rescue pilot was flying over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State in America when he saw below him nine unusual objects travelling at a speed he estimated to be around 1200 miles per hour. His immediate reaction was they were snow geese but having considered their speed he thought that they may be jet planes… “some type of airplane, even though they didn’t conform with the many aspects of the conventional type of planes that I knew.” When he landed at 4.00pm at Yakima airport he reported his sightings to some flight instructors and helicopter pilots who had plenty of explanations of their own. “Ah, it’s just a flight of those guided missiles from Moses Lake” said one pilot, but this suggestion was quickly dismissed by an Army pilot who said that guided missiles travelled too fast to be responsible and besides, no experimental vehicles or missiles were being tested in the area at the time.

Image - SAUCERS_Arnold-with-artists-impression

A few days later Arnold gave a fuller description of what he had seen… they were “flat like a pie pan”, “shaped like a pie plate”, “half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear”, “something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear”, or simply “saucer-like” or “like a big flat disk”. He also described their erratic motion being “like a fish flipping in the sun” or “a saucer skipped across water.” From these, the press quickly coined the new terms “Flying Saucer” and “Flying Disc”.

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The U.S Air Force formally listed the Arnold sighting as a mirage although this rather simplistic explanation was quickly disputed by others who suggested that it was caused by loose snow blowing off the mountains, a meteorite breaking up as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere or an illusion caused by temperature inversion, when cold air sliding down the side of mountain valleys displaces the warmer air at the bottom. In 1997 a Scottish ufologist, James Easton, even suggested the Arnold saucers may have been no more than large pelicans, indigenous to the area.

“Being predominantly white with black wingtips, these birds have highly reflective bodies that appear to sparkle or flash when spotted in the far distance…and they weren’t flying that fast, because they were much nearer than Arnold thought and much smaller than flying saucers.”

Those who accept Easton’s explanation are now known as ‘pelicanists’!

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Vought V-173 Northrop YB-35 Horten Ho 229

Kenneth Arnold was considered to be a reliable witness, neither exaggerating what he had seen or adding sensational details. Surprisingly the description of what he had seen over the Cascades in 1947 seemed to mirror some of the experimental ‘wingless’ aircraft that were being tested at the time. In 1942 Vought were testing the V-173 ‘Flying Pancake’, a circular craft with small rudders to the rear and two propellers to the front. A more powerful version, the ‘Flying Flapjack’ was rolled out in 1947. Another aircraft closer in design to Arnold’s “something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear” was the Northrop YB-35 flying wing bomber first tested on 24th June 1946. Apart from having four propellers rather than two jets the Northrop flying wing was similar in design to the bat-like Ho 229 experimental bomber produced by the Nazis during the latter days of World War 2 and captured by the US military soon afterwards.

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By the 1960’s Kenneth Arnold and his sober report of ‘flying saucers’ no longer attracted much interest from the ‘Little Green Men from Mars’ school of UFOnauts with their alien abductions and Death Rays, and this was a blessing. As Arnold put it, “I haven’t had a moment of peace since I first told the story.” He said a preacher had called and told him that the objects he had seen were “harbingers of doomsday” and that the preacher was preparing his congregation “for the end of the world.” In another encounter, a woman in a cafe noticed him and dashed out shrieking, “There’s the man who saw the men from Mars.” Arnold was reported as saying “This whole thing has gotten out of hand. I want to talk to the FBI or someone. Half the people look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon and a screwball.” The other half will remember him as a serious, articulate and rather modest man who on the 24th June 1947 coined for the world the term “Flying Saucer” and then quietly sat back to see what we made of it!

Kenneth Arnold’s hell and damnation preacher, preparing his congregation for ‘the end of the world’, wasn’t the first evangelical to see UFO’s as instruments of the devil. In this 1947 record the Buchanan brothers warn us that Flying Saucers herald the coming of Judgement Day!

— from Martyn Day