After reviewing many articles written at the time of the
disappearance, we’ve found that in most cases the papers went back
for information to the orgy of publicity that preceded the first attempt
in March. After the embarrassment of the Hawai’i wreck, AE was much less
forthcoming with information as she prepared for the second attempt. Consequently,
much of what “everyone knows” about how the airplane was set up is
not necessarily accurate.
For example, all of the descriptions and cutaway views of the elaborate
navigator’s station installed in the back of the cabin are based upon Manning
and Mantz’s preparations and modifications of the airplane for the first
attempt. Mantz, of course, was primarily a stunt pilot, while Manning was
an accomplished nautical navigator, ham radio operator and amateur pilot.
For AE’s part, her navigation on past flights had been purely dead reckoning
and pilotage. In short, no one involved in the preparation had any real
practical experience in long-distance celestial/radio aerial navigation.
Noonan, who at least had the celestial part mastered, was not involved
in the first attempt until only days before departure.
The result of all this was a tendency to over-equip the
airplane. Earhart had taken a lot of flak for her 1935 Hawai’i to California
flight which was denounced by many respected aviation figures (such
as Al Williams) as a pointless stunt (which, frankly, it was).
She was therefore pushing the world flight as a scientific endeavor.
The Electra was described as a “Flying Laboratory” in which
AE would perform experiments concerning pilot fatigue and gather
specimens of air from the upper atmosphere during the flight. The
truth was that the Electra was simply a current production airliner
which had been modified to carry a whole lot of gasoline. The only
really remarkable thing about the contemplated world flight was
that it would be done in a land plane rather than a flying boat.
Today we tend to forget that in 1937 it was possible to travel
completely around the world by commercial airliner and, in fact,
several journalists did just that to make the point.
The point of all this is, when we attempt to figure what was
actually aboard the airplane when it left Lae we have to be careful
to sort out the facts from the hype. Unfortunately, there is a
lot more of the latter than there are of the former.