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In one sense it would be true to say that this seminal sighting of nine "peculiar looking aircraft" over the Cascade Mountains of Washington on June 24 1947 (see Appendix 1) needs little introduction. As a result of it pilot and businessman Kenneth Arnold acquired a fame and notoriety far beyond anything he could ever have envisaged when he took off from Chehalis, Washington, and set a course for Yakima in his little CallAir plane that sunny afternoon. News of what the press dubbed "flying saucers" instantly captured the imagination of the world, and reports of things seen in the sky have ever since continued to fuel one of the 20th century's - and now the 21st's - most widespread, most persistent and most influential popular mythologies.
Yet that mythology has effloresced into many extraordinary forms, most of which the Kenneth Arnold of 1947 would hardly have recognised as having anything to do with his own puzzling but straighforward observation. And it is necessary to record that despite more than 60 years of sometimes scholarly debate about this hydra-headed mythological monster, its origins remain not well-understood, its meanings controversial, its ultimate cultural value uncertain.
Menzel was able to identify them after a moment as raindrops on the glass that "looked exactly like planes with swept-back wings"