What is a Flying Saucer?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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A flying saucer is a specific type of unidentified flying object (UFO), which is shaped like a disc or saucer. The flying saucer is by far the most iconic type of UFO, and for many people the two are one and the same. A number of different patents have been developed or worked on for how to create a “real” flying saucer, but generally the phrase is used only when discussing unidentified saucers.

Visions of something like a flying saucer go back centuries. The idea of UFOs goes back even further, with many ancient religions describing various sky chariots that transported gods or angels. The earliest recorded instance of a flying saucer sighting is from 1290. At this time there was a report in Yorkshire that a silver disc flew across the sky. A few centuries later, in the mid-16th century, many witnesses described numerous flying discs and spheres.

It wasn’t until the mid-20th century, however, that the flying saucer became a staple of Western lore. In 1947 a pilot, Kenneth Arnold, reported seeing nine distinct flying vehicles. One of these was crescent shaped, but all of the rest were flying saucers. They traveled at a rate he estimated to be more than 1200 miles per hour (1900km/hr). Arnold described what he saw as like “a saucer if you skip it across water”, which soon led to the term flying saucer.


After Arnold’s report, sightings of what were thought to be flying saucers poured in from around the United States. A number mimicked much of what Arnold reported, and many took place in the same general region. Later that year an Air Force base in Roswell, New Mexico issued a statement saying they had recovered a flying saucer. This was an enormous story, and although the Army quickly retracted the statement, it remains one of the defining moments in the flying saucer world.

A study commissioned by the military that year found that there were many shared characteristics among the flying saucer reports. They concluded that something was, in fact, flying around, although they made no claims that it was extraterrestrial. By the end of the year 9 in 10 Americans had heard of the flying saucer incident, and within a few years more than 9 in 10 were familiar with the term flying saucer.

What exactly a flying saucer is brings up a whole slew of questions and differing opinions. Some people believe that what appears to be a flying saucer is actually just an atmospheric phenomenon, such as lenticular clouds or various gasses reacting in the atmosphere. Others believe those who believe they’ve seen a flying saucer are part of an instance of mass hysteria, in which a number of people share a delusion. Still others believe flying saucers are just normal aircraft that are misidentified; kites, balloons, and airplanes are all thought by some to be what cause the flying saucer concept. The most vocal group, however, holds that flying saucers are vehicles from different intelligences, usually either extraterrestrial life or some sort of divine incarnation.

Whatever a flying saucer might be, it is unlikely they will be disappearing from the public mind anytime soon. Sightings continue to occur, and some governments have reopened serious inquiry into the phenomenon, with some even considering the possibility that they are heralds from another planet.


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