UAL Flight 105 - July 4, 1947

Probably the most dramatic conversion from skeptic to believer was the experience of Captain E. J. Smith, a story that made nearly every major newspaper.

As early as June 26th Captain Smith, a pilot for United Air Lines, had been approached by reporters and asked for his opinion on the flying saucers being seen over the northwest, an area where he regularly flew airliners.  He told reporters:  "I've never seen anything like that (Arnold's flying saucers) and the boys (other pilots) say they haven't either. . .what that other fellow (Arnold) probably saw was the reflection of of his own instrument panel." 

On the evening of July 4th at Boise, Idaho, Captain Smith was walking up the ramp to board his plane, flight 105, for a trip to Seattle when someone mentioned the massive wave of saucers taking place all day over the northwest.  Captain Smith joked:  "I'll believe in those discs when I see them."

The airliner lifted off at 9:04 p.m. and turned towards Seattle.  As Captain Smith remembers it, the control tower at Boise bid him farewell by:  "joshingly warning us to be on the lookout for 'flying saucers.'"

Shortly after takeoff five disc-like objects, one larger than the rest, approached Captain Smith's DC-3 head on.  Stunned, Captain Smith and his co-pilot Ralph Stevens watched as the objects quickly reversed direction and took up a course that paralleled their own.  For 45 miles Captain Smith was able to keep the objects in sight.  Co-pilot Stevens thought the objects were aircraft at first and flashed the airliner's landing lights.  The objects reacted by changing formation from a very tight cluster to a more open one.  The cluster of discs then began to open and close repeatedly before settling down into a loose formation.  This group soon vanished and another group of four came into view.  The new group soon merged and vanished into the northwest.  The airliner's stewardess, Miss Marty Morrow, verified the sightings.

Flight 105's next scheduled stop was the airport at Pendleton, Oregon, a place not unfamiliar with flying saucers.  Captain Smith radioed ahead, telling the Pendleton control tower that he and his crew had just seen a whole flock of the mysterious flying discs.  Airport officials contacted the press and had a newspaper reporter on the telephone as Captain Smith taxied his airliner up to the Pendleton airport terminal.  Within moments of landing, a shaken Captain Smith was relating all the details.

The Captain Smith report was picked up by Reuters News Service and sent around the world.  Even some small eight-page newspapers in India carried a lengthy account of Captain Smith's experience, along with references to the massive wave of UFO sightings that were exciting the whole of the U.S.

Source:  UFOs: A History, 1947, pp.14-15, by Loren E. Gross, © 1988, Fremont, Calif.  Reproduced with permission.

United Airlines Flight 105 - Dr. James E. McDonald

Case 1. Boise, Idaho, July 4, 1947

Only about a week after the now-famous Mt. Rainier sighting by private pilot Kenneth Arnold, a United Air Lines DC-3 crew sighted two separate formations of wingless discs, shortly after takeoff from Boise (Refs. 8, 10, 22, 28). I located and interviewed the pilot, Capt. Emil J. Smith, now with United's New York office. He confirmed the reliability of previously published accounts. United Flight 105 had left Boise at 9:04 p.m. About eight minutes out, en route to Seattle, roughly over Emmett, Idaho, Co-pilot Stevens, who spotted the first of two groups of objects, turned on his landing lights under the initial impression the objects were aircraft. But, studying them against the twilight sky, Smith and Stevens soon realized that neither wings nor tails were visible on the five objects ahead. After calling a stewardess, in order to get a third confirming witness, they watched the formation a bit longer, called Ontario, Oregon CAA to try to get ground-confirmation, and then saw the formation spurt ahead and disappear at high speed off to the west.

Smith emphasized to me that there were no cloud phenomena to confuse them here and that they observed these objects long enough to be quite certain that they were no conventional aircraft. They appeared "flat on the bottom, rounded on top", he told me, and he added that there seemed to be perceptible "roughness" of some sort on top, though he could not refine that description. Almost immediately after they lost sight of the first five, a second formation of four (three in line and a fourth off to the side) moved in ahead of their position, again traveling westward but at a somewhat higher altitude than the DC-3's 8000 ft. These passed quickly out of sight to the west at speeds which they felt were far beyond then-known speeds. Smith emphasized that they were never certain of sizes and distances, but that they had the general impression that these disc-like craft were appreciably larger than ordinary aircraft. Smith emphasized that he had not taken seriously the previous week's news accounts that coined the since-persistent term, "flying saucer." But, after seeing this total of nine unconventional, high-speed wingless craft on the evening of 7/4/47, he became much more interested in the matter. Nevertheless, in talking with me, he stressed that he would not speculate on their real nature or origin. I have spoken with United Air Lines personnel who have known Smith for years and vouch for his complete reliability.

Discussion. -- The 7/4/47 United Air Lines sighting is of historic interest because it was obviously given much more credence than any of the other 85 UFO reports published in press accounts on July 4, 1947 (see Ref. 8). By no means the most impressive UFO sighting by an airliner crew, nevertheless, it is a significant one. It occurred in clear weather, spanned a total time estimated at 10-12 minutes, was a multiple-witness case including two experienced observers familiar with airborne devices, and was made over a 1000-ft. altitude range (climb-out) that, taken together with the fact that the nine objects were seen well above the horizon, entirely rules out optical phenomena as a ready explanation. It is officially listed as a Unidentified.

Source:  Prepared Statement by Dr. James E. McDonald to the United States House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, July 1968. Washington, D.C. pp. 41-42.

Complete Symposium Proceedings can be read here.

UAL Flight 105 is also featured in the Curtis Fuller article THE FLYING SAUCERS -- FACT OR FICTION? which can be read here.

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