Flying saucers turn 65
June 24, 1947: pilot Kenneth Arnold reports seeing nine objects flying near Mt. Rainier in the State of Washington. Within a few days, the term “flying saucer” is being used in the press.
Arnold’s sighting certainly wasn’t the first one to report strange, apparently manufactured things in the sky. Those go back centuries. Among the previous terms used were vimana, chariots, airships, and foo fighters.
Later, the term UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) became more commonly used, while others (such as UAP…Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) did not.
“Flying saucer” suggests something specific: a manufactured craft, shaped like a disc.
“UFO” was intended to be more general. It included objects of various shapes (such as the “cigar-shaped” “mother ships” that were being reported). A UFO might eventually be identified as something normal that had been seen under unusual circumstances…it might become an “IFO” (Identified Flying Object).
However, UFO still made two important presumptions: the object was flying (moving through the air under its own power); and it was a physical thing, an object.
A glare of light on a cloud might be mistaken for a flying saucer, but it was neither an object nor exactly flying.
“Unidentified aerial phenomenon” is sufficiently non-specific…but not much fun, really. 🙂
Nowadays, you won’t see “flying saucer” used much to refer to a current sighting:
Compare that to the use of UFO:
Still, there is something so evocative and easily understood about “flying saucer’. I suspect that if you asked anybody you met today what it was, they would almost all know.
Not bad for sixty-five years after…
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.