Research Document #8:
James A. Collopy’s letter to the Civil Aviation Board of the Territory of New Guinea concerning the stay of Earhart and Noonan in Lae.
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There are two authoritative contemporaneous documents which describe the events at Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. One of these is the Chater Report. The other is a letter from James A. Collopy, District Superintendent for Civil Aviation, Salamaua, Territory of New Guinea. This is a transcription of that letter.

TERRITORY OF NEW GUINEA
N.G. 329/37.
CIVIL AVIATION BOARD.
Salamaua. T.N.G.
August 28th, 1937.

Secretary,
Civil Aviation Board.

AMELIA EARHART

In connection with the tragic disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Captain F. Noonan on their flight from Lae to Howland Island it is thought the following report may be of interest to you.

I was present during the whole of the time they were at Lae to assist them in any way I could. They arrived at Lae at 3 p.m. on 29th June, and left at 10 a.m. on 2nd July.

Practically the whole time the aircraft was at Lae, Guinea Airways Engineers were carrying out maintenance work on the aircraft, engines, and instruments. A list of the work carried out by them is attached.

No serious defects were reported by the crew and none were found by Guinea Airways Engineers. A test flight was carried out by Miss. Earhart on the morning of the 1st July, after which Miss. Earhart reported everything about the aircraft was operating satisfactorily.

The main cause of her delay at Lae was because they awaited a satisfactory weather report and an accurate check on time signals for setting the chronometer.

According to Captain Noonan the total fuel capacity of the aircraft was 1150 U.S. Gallons and oil 64 U.S. Gallons. They left Lae with a total of 1100 U.S. Gallons of fuel and 64 U.S. Gallons of oil. One tank contained only 50 gallons of its total capacity of 100 gallons. This tank contained 100 octane fuel and they considered the 50 gallons of this fuel sufficient for the take-off from Lae.

The take-off was hair-raising as after taking every yard of the 1000 yard runway from the north west end of the aerodrome towards the sea, the aircraft had not left the ground 50 yards from the end of the runway.

When it did leave it sank away but was by this time over the sea. It continued to sink to about five or six feet above the water and had not climbed to more than 100 feet before it disappeared from sight.

In spite of this however, it was obvious that the aircraft was well handled and pilots of Guinea Airways who have flown Lockheed aircraft were loud in their praise of the take-off with such an overload.

As the result of a talk with Mr. E. Chater and Mr. Balfour the Lae radio operator it is very apparent that the weak link in the combination was the crew's lack of expert knowledge of radio. Their morse was very slow and they preferred to use telephony as much as possible. Balfour stated that they advised him they would change the wave length at nightfall. Balfour advised them just before nightfall not to change as their signals were coming through quite strong. They apparently changed however as Balfour never heard them again.

At about three p.m. a message came through to the effect that they were at 10,000 feet but were going to reduce altitude because of thick banks of cumulus clouds. The next and last message was to the effect that they were at 7,000 feet and making 150 knots, this message was received at approx. 5 p.m.

Mr. Noonan told me that he was not a bit anxious about the flight to Howland Island and was quite confident that he would have little difficulty in locating it. One can only have opinions as to what actually happened to them, but in the light of the foregoing regarding radio, and the confusion which arose during the search in connection with all the radio messages which were supposed to have emanated from the aircraft I do think that had an expert radio operator been included in the crew the conclusion may have been different. I may be wrong in this opinion as I have not yet heard if any later messages than those received by Balfour have ever been actually confirmed.

Mr. Chater advised me that he forwarded a comprehensive report dealing with the aircraft's stay at Lae, work carried-out, radio messages received, etc., to Mr. Putnam.

(Signed) J.A. Collopy.
District Superintendent.
(Civil Aviation)

Encl.

CHIEF ENGINEER'S (E. Finn) REPORT
  • Clean set of spark plugs fitted to both engines.
  • Oil drained from both tanks.
  • Oil filters inspected and cleaned – both engines.
  • Petrol pump removed from starboard engine on account of fluctuation of pressure at cruising revolutions. Spare petrol pump fitted.
  • Thermo couple connection on No. 4 cylinder, starboard repaired.
  • Air scoop between Nos. 2 & 3 cylinders on port engine repaired.
  • Propellers greased.
  • Batteries inspected for level and charge.
  • New cartridge fitted to exhaust gas analyser -- starboard side.
  • Spare adapter plug fitted to carburettor air scoop for temperature gauge line.
  • Sperry Gyro Horizon (Lateral and fore and aft level) removed, cleaned, oiled and replaced, as this reported showing machine in right wing low position when actually horizontal.
  • Engines run up on ground. Petrol pressure on starboard engine too low. Petrol pump removed. Original petrol pump valve and seat ground in to remove uneveness. Pump fitted to engine.
  • Engines run up on ground and tested in air. Both engines okay. Petrol pressure port engine 4 1/2 lbs, starboard engine 4 3/4 lbs.
  • Engines, instruments and aircraft approved okay by Miss Earhart.

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