“flying saucer” An expression commonly used to describe an unexplained aerial phenomenon. The words do not always convey a just conception, since much of what is reported is not saucer-shaped nor can it be assumed that they are solid bodies utilizing aerodynamic principles. This particular designation was coined on June 25, 1947, in the newsroom of the East Oregonian a newspaper serving Pendleton, Oregon. Newsman Bill Bequette denominated the phenomenon during an interview with private pilot Kenneth Arnold while the flyer was relating his famous sighting of strange, “tailless aircraft,” an episode that took place the previous afternoon over the Cascade mountains.
Some maintain that the distinctive appellation “flying saucer” was derived solely from Arnold’s description of the undulatory flight of the things he saw, which, he said, traveled through the air like a “flat rock” skipped along the surface of a pond. Nonetheless, the Chicago Daily Tribune, as early as June 25th, quotes Arnold as saying the objects were “shaped like a pie plate.” Later, when questioned carefully, Arnold insisted that the objects he spotted were wide and flat, but none of the nine were true disks, one being crescent in outline and the other eight having curved leading edges and pointed trailing edges. U. S. Air Force experts rightly doubted Arnold’s ability to make out an object’s shape at a distance of twenty-three miles, a distance Arnold claims separated him from the flight path of the unknowns, an estimate he refused to retract.
Since his attention was initially attracted to the swiftly moving objects by sunlight flashing from their shiny wings as they sped through the air in an undulating manner, Arnold’s perception of the objects may have also been hampered significantly by the rapid dipping motion changing the intensity of the reflected rays of the sun. It may, nevertheless, be safe to assume that the objects Arnold saw were thin, flat, and tailless, words which do not rule out a true disk shape.
The word “saucer” was first used to describe an unidentified aerial object in 1878, when a farmer named John Martin told the Denison, Texas, Daily News on January 25th, that a mysterious saucer-shaped object had flown over his property south of town.
The “flying saucer” design is actually not that modern; as early as 1918, the science-fantasy magazine Electrical Experimenter featured a saucerlike craft on the cover of its March edition to illustrate R. and G. Winthrop’s novelette “At War with the Invisible.” It should also be noted that a year before the big UFO wave of 1947, the pulp magazine Amazing Stories had an interesting fictional illustration on its back cover showing a group of “flying saucer spaceships” in V-formation.
—LOREN E. GROSS