Sunday, June 24, marked the 65th anniversary of the modern UFO era.
And North Dakota has a connection to this origin.
In 1947, private pilot Kenneth Arnold, flying his CallAir A-2 from Chehalis to Yakima in Washington, spotted nine unidentified objects flying near Mount Ranier.
Arnold reported his sighting after he landed and, the next day, he was interviewed by the media.
He likened the movements of the unidentified objects to saucers skipping across water. He never described the shape of the objects as saucers (he actually said they were crescent shaped), but the term “flying saucer” was coined in subsequent news articles and became associated with UFOs from that point forward.
Arnold’s UFO sighting was the first in the post war era and was followed by an explosion of sightings across the country over the next two decades (http://bit.ly/LGLMg1, http://bit.ly/MRn2TM and http://bit.ly/NkLUFR).
The reports, in turn, would lead to the creation of the Air Force's “Project Blue Book,” which chronicled and cataloged UFO sightings and tried to identify natural or manmade causes for the sightings.
What most people don’t know is that Arnold lived in Minot in the late 1920s and early 1930s, attending grade school and high school in the Magic City. He was into athletics, earning a place on the All State North Dakota football teams in 1932 and 1933.
His love of flying, in fact, developed in North Dakota. He took his first flying lesson in Minot from Earl T. Vance, but he couldn’t afford additional lessons and further flight training had to wait until 1943.
Four years later, Arnold would usher in the modern UFO era with his fateful flight in Washington.
One year after Arnold’s encounter, a Fargo pilot ended up in an apparent game of chicken with a UFO.
On Oct. 1, 1948, World War II veteran George F. Gorman, flying an F-51 aircraft, chased a small, blinking orb that flew directly at him several times, breaking away at the last second each time.
The encounter was witnessed by two people in another plane flying by at the time and by two people working in what was then the Fargo Air Field control tower.
The Project Blue Book explanation was that Gorman was actually chasing a weather balloon and the planet Jupiter (http://bit.ly/LWxs1m and http://bit.ly/MRm9us).
North Dakota would again figure in UFO reports during 1967 and 1968.
On March 2, 1967, a police officer reported UFO sightings near Mohall and Velva, followed by a report on March 5, 1967, of a UFO near the Minot Air Force base.
But it is the Oct. 24, 1968, UFO incident near the Minot AFB that has earned North Dakota a special place in the pantheon of unidentified flying object lore.
For more than three hours, a UFO was observed flying around the base, an event that was seen by more than 20 military personnel on the ground, in a flight tower and aboard a B-52 bomber.
The Project Blue Book team concluded the UFO sightings were actually a combination of ball lightning and particularly bright stars.
Information on the Oct. 24th incident, along with numerous copies of documents, statements, radar plots and more can be found at the “24 October 1968” website (http://bit.ly/LnLGrw).
On Aug. 26, 1975, three people driving from Fargo to Bismarck encountered eight to 10 glowing objects that hovered above a grove of trees 20 yards away from the trio. The three then reported they felt an odd sensation, as if they were briefly frozen in time for a second or two. After that, the UFOs vanished. But one person, who was sitting in the front seat, was suddeenly in the back seat. And a hour had mysteriously passed.
Under hypnosis, two of the people reported being taken inside one of the UFOs where they were examined and were subjected to several medical procedures (http://bit.ly/L7jQDh).
Only a few years ago, in and around the Tappen area, residents reported cattle mutilations and possible encounters with aliens. The stories are “documented” in a YouTube video (http://bit.ly/MCQgS5), produced by the people who run the “EarthFiles” website (http://www.earthfiles.com). The site is a clearinghouse of stories the center on “earth and astronomical mysteries.”
There are many North Dakota tie-ins to UFOs — simply search on “UFO North Dakota” for links and leads to other information.
(Keith Darnay has worked in the online world for more than a decade, the traditional media world for a few decades more and manages the online department and website for the University of Mary. His own site, featuring this column going back to 1995, is at www.darnay.com.)