Popular visualisations of UFO crafts are mostly disc shaped like the following

Disc Shaped UFO

Would a craft like this be able to fly? Why would this shape become popular, If a species could travel the distance between planets they would need an efficient craft, Which it seems this shaped craft would not be.

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    "Why would this shape become popular" I would love to read about why this shape became popular in sci-fi, but it seems off-topic to speculate. Jul 14, 2014 at 22:34
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    If we accept the premise that these are aliens from another planet with technology far superior to our own, we have to accept that our feeble understanding of physics is inadequate to explain the shape. There can be no answer. If we don't accept the premise, this question belongs on Scifi.SE.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 15, 2014 at 3:39
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    Why would you need an "efficient" shape for traveling through vacuum? There's no aerodynamics in space.
    – Brian S
    Jul 15, 2014 at 14:27
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    Saucer shaped aircraft have been built and flown, so it's not much of a question... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_VZ-9_Avrocar
    – Jasmine
    Jul 17, 2014 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


According to Donald Menzel (he is the earliest source of this information I know of), the term "flying saucer" first was mentioned in '47 and the traditional shape followed on, although in reality most of these "objects" are not very saucer-like. Here is some write-up on this story I found here:

On June 24, 1947, an amateur pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying a small plane near Mount Rainier in Washington state when he saw something extraordinarily strange. Directly to his left, about 20 to 25 miles north of him and at the same altitude, a chain of nine objects shot across the sky, glinting in the sun as they traveled.

By comparing their size to that of a distant airplane, Arnold gauged the objects to be about 45 to 50 feet wide. They flew between two mountains spaced 50 miles apart in just 1 minute, 42 seconds, he observed, implying an astonishing speed of 1,700 miles per hour, or three times faster than any manned aircraft of the era. However, as if controlled, the flying objects seemed to dip and swerve around obstacles in the terrain.

Arnold's sighting was "such a sensation that it made front page news across the nation," UFO-logist and author Martin Kottmeyer wrote in an article ("The Saucer Error," REALL News, 1993).

"Soon everyone was looking for these new aircraft which according to the papers were saucer-like in shape," Kottmeyer continued. "Within weeks hundreds of reports of these flying saucers were made across the nation. While people presumably thought they were seeing the same things that Kenneth Arnold saw, there was a major irony that nobody at the time realized. Kenneth Arnold hadn't reported seeing flying saucers."

In fact, Arnold had told the press that the objects had flown erratically, "like a saucer if you skip it across the water." They were thin and flat when viewed on edge, he said, but crescent-shaped when viewed from the top down as they turned. Nonetheless, a reporter named Bill Bequette of the United Press interpreted Arnold's statement to mean that the objects he saw were round discs. According to Benjamin Radford, UFO expert and deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, "It was one of the most significant reporter misquotes in history."

"The phrase 'flying saucers' provided the mold which shaped the UFO myth at its beginning," Kottmeyer wrote. UFOs took the form of flying saucers, he noted, in artist's renderings, hoax photos, sci-fi films, TV shows and even the vast majority of alien abduction and sighting reports for the rest of modern history, up until the present day.

This story is described in Menzel's book "Flying Saucers", and he claims that there is no mention of such objects before that incident. Therefore, there is no sense in trying to explain the shape, as it was not caused by logic, but rather by pure accident of the craze starting with this term spread through media.

  • I've got the book somewhere in my garage, but it is in Russian. If someone has it at hand, feel free to find the sources he references, if any, or the original story.
    – sashkello
    Jul 15, 2014 at 0:48
  • And since it is not in the article, Menzel explains the phenomenon as horizontal snow twisters caused by air blowing up the slope of the mountains.
    – sashkello
    Jul 15, 2014 at 0:50
  • Doesn't seem to answer the question. Jul 15, 2014 at 2:11
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    "Why would this shape become popular, If a species could travel the distance between planets they would need an efficient craft, Which it seems this shaped craft would not be." - OP's premise is that it is designed by sci-fi authors to endure long-distance travel, I'm showing that this premise is wrong.
    – sashkello
    Jul 15, 2014 at 2:17
  • @sashkello - Nice answer. You might want to bold sections of the quote to highlight the point, though.
    – Bobson
    Jul 15, 2014 at 14:25

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