Highlights From the Forum
August 27 through September 2, 2000
>If the takeoff
seen in the film is actually the test flight with a
You know. . . the comments made by Leslie Kinney are interesting, and should be given more thought. I also looked at that pieces of film a dozen times or more and never picked up on those items he mentions. Not that it would make any difference in the final outcome of the flight, but if it were a film of the test flight, then you can pretty much forget the lost antenna scenario. I think the losing of the antenna is questionable anyway. Regardless, I doubt it would have any effect on the flight.
When you read Leslie’s remarks and then go back and view the film again, it becomes obvious that this is not one continuous piece of footage. The real oddity for me, is that AE and FN are seen climbing into the cockpit twice. I know there could be other reasons for that, but the most likely explanation is two different departures, or. . . staging for the cameras.
But there is something else that has puzzled me for a long time, and that is. . . the film of the take off doesn’t match the eye witnesses accounts. I think there are two or three eye witness accounts of a very dangerous take off with the Electra falling off the edge of the runway and continuing out over the Gulf at zero altitude for several miles.
Those are eye witness accounts, from people who were definitely watching the last take off, and stated so.
The film clip take off appears to me to be a lift off before the end, and not a falling off the end of the runway as the witnesses have stated. It appears there is a positive rate of climb established and some altitude gained. Also, I don’t know where the sun is in those latitudes at 10:00 AM, but the shadow from the Electra as it goes by the camera, appears to be straight down. Maybe that fact could be used to establish the time of day this film was shot, using July 2, 1937 at 10:00 AM as a target. Surely, someone on the forum could figure where the sun would be under those conditions.
All of this means nothing of course and won’t help solve the mystery, but I think it is possible that this piece of film may not be what it is thought to be.
All right, let’s take the film scene by scene and see what it really shows.
Scene 1 (approx. 2 seconds)
Amelia stands in front of the open cabin door of the Electra facing the camera. She is wearing a dark solid colored short-sleeved shirt with white piping, a light colored, possibly polka-dot scarf, and tan trousers. She seems to have a small piece of paper tucked in the left breast pocket of her shirt. There is a man on the right of the picture in left profile. He wears a white shirt and light colored trousers. He is definitely NOT Fred Noonan.
Scene 2 (approx. 3 seconds)
Noonan is on the left wing dressed in a dark shirt with rolled up sleeves, a dark tie, and dark trousers. Fred’s back is initially to the camera as he faces the fuselage. He has a piece of paper (about the size of a Number 10 envelope) in his left hand which he passes to his right hand and puts in Amelia left hand as she climbs up on the wing and passes behind him. They both step forward to the cockpit hatch.
Scene 3 (approx. 1.5 seconds)
Noonan has already stepped through the hatch and is lowering himself down into the cockpit while Amelia waits to follow. Clambering into the hatch is a two-handed process and I suspect that Noonan gave AE the piece of paper in Scene Two merely to free up his hands. She probably passed it back to him when he was inside so that her hands would be free to deal with the hatch.
Scene 4 (approx. 3 seconds)
A grinning Fred Noonan, dressed as before, strides toward the camera from the base of the left wing (strong impression that he has just come down off the wing) and passes out of the frame to the right. In the left pocket of his shirt is what appears to be that same piece of paper, possibly an envelope. Behind him and to his left the Electra’s cabin door stands open, held by a young (7 year-old?) white boy in a sleeveless white shirt.
Scene 5 (approx. 2 seconds)
The Electra is seen from the starboard front with roughly 20 shirtless black people arrayed in front of it and beginning to walk away. To the right in the frame is a white man in a tan (?) shirt and white trousers holding something in front of his face. The impression I get is that a bunch of local folks have just had their picture taken in front of the airplane and are beginning to disperse. The shadows are not particularly long and seem (to me at least) to be consistent with mid, rather than early, morning. At the very beginning of the scene, the cockpit hatch can be seen to be closing and at the very end of the scene a man that looks like Noonan enters the frame from the left foreground and proceeds toward the airplane. The loop antenna over the cockpit is not apparent in this scene, apparently due to the lighting, but both pitot tubes can be seen and appear normal. For a minute I wondered if this airplane might not be NR16020 at all but one of Guinea Airways’ 10As, but the engines do appear to be the big Wasps and I can see the chipped paint on the leading edge of the starboard wing from the rainstorm at Rangoon.
Scene 6 (approx. 2 seconds)
As this scene begins we see the Electra in profile from its port side as in Scenes Two and Three, but from farther away. The top of a large tree can be seen perhaps 30 yards beyond the airplane. Fred, dressed as before, is up on the wing and facing aft with his right hand extended toward AE as she puts her right foot on the trailing edge of the wing and reaches up and forward to grab the assist handle on the fuselage. As she heaves herself up onto the wing, Fred takes her left hand and propels her behind and past him in a big bouncy jump. In this scene AE seems to be wearing the same trousers as before, but her upper garment seems larger and clearly has long sleeves. My impression is that she has put on her leather flying jacket. As the camera pans forward to follow her we can see that the aircraft is nosed up fairly close to the corner of a building.
Scene 7 (approx. 1.5 seconds)
Fred begins to climb into the open cockpit hatch while AE waits to follow. It is very apparent from AE’s wind-whipped trousers that the port engine is running.
Scene 8 (approx. 5 seconds)
The Electra taxis past the camera from left to right at a distance of perhaps 10 yards.
Scene 9 (approx. 8 seconds)
The aircraft first appears at the right of the frame at a distance of perhaps 200 yards. The tail is up and the takeoff run is well underway. Roughly two seconds into the scene the famous "puff" appears. The aircraft rotates abruptly at almost exactly the moment it passes directly in front of the camera six seconds into the scene at a distance of perhaps 50 yards from the camera. It staggers along in ground effect (half the wingspan of 55 feet or less), until the sequence ends 2 seconds later.
Nothing in the film suggests that it is anything other than what it purports to be --- a chronological series of brief scenes filmed on the morning of July 2, 1937 showing preparations for, and the departure of, Earhart and Noonan on what turned out to be their last flight. The briefness of the scenes is entirely consistent with family home-movies I have that were taken that same summer. Hand-wound clockwork drives and short film rolls dictated what now seems to be extreme frugality. The shadows are consistent with mid-morning and are not consistent with shortly after sunrise (06:35) when the only other takeoff from Lae was made. The takeoff itself is entirely consistent with the most authoritative descriptions available (Collopy and Chater). I have yet to hear from a pilot who has made over-gross takeoffs in a multi-engined tailwheel airplane who does not agree that the takeoff depicted is a very hairy affair. No positive rate of climb has been established at the time the film ends and the aircraft has not yet reached the embankment at the end of the runway. Given that the aircraft is still in ground effect when last seen, it would be very likely that once the embankment was passed, the aircraft would settle until ground effect was once again established with the surface of the Gulf of Huon.
>I’ll have to dig
out the actual quote, but before leaving Miami she was
That unpuzzles something that has been puzzling me since I read the radio transcript that’s available on your web site. I may have missed it (or read it and forgot), but I don’t remember seeing any complaints from Earhart that she was unable to hear anyone, yet it seemed apparent that she wasn’t.
Without some sort of reply there is no way to know if your transmitter is working. In my experience it is rare that, in this circumstance, the operator doesn’t say "I can’t hear you" hoping that the other operator will do something to fix the problem. Her lack of complaint indicates that she probably knew that her receiver wasn’t working and that she wasn’t concerned about it. Now her statement in Miami causes me to wonder if they intentionally left Lae without a receiver configured to receive voice replies. This would make sense if she wanted to either lighten the load or uncomplicate her inflight procedures. It could also be that she knew that the receiver had been disabled somehow after (or while) they departed Lae.
I think that her complaint to Itasca that "Have been unable to reach you by radio" is a pretty strong indication that she anticipated being able to hear voice from the ship.
The WE Model 20B receiver used a 5-position rotary switch (one position was to ground) for band selection. The four bands were: 200-400 kilocycles, 550-1500 kilocycles, 1500-4000 kilocycles, and 4000-10000 kilocycles. (Western Electric’s radios had rotary switch schematics that are hard to decipher, unlike other radio manufacturers of the era).
There were two antenna terminals on the WE Model 20B receiver --- a low-frequency terminal and a high frequency terminal.
There were four external antenna alignment capacitors on the Model 20B (located below the antenna terminals) corresponding to the four frequency-bands mentioned above.
A "test bench" receiver alignment for the WE Model 20B receiver included using a signal generator to tune BOTH the external antenna trimmers and several INTERNAL "inductance trimmers" for "best results."
If someone ONLY "messed around" with the external 4,000-to-10,000 kilocycle antenna trimmer, it wouldn’t mess up the 1500-4000 kilocycle antenna trimmer. The trimmers for each band were separate.
Pilot and Co-pilot tuning for the WE 20B receiver was accomplished with an electro-mechanical system, based on the pilot hearing a sidetone signal from the WE 13C he/she electro-mechanically tuned in, OR, hearing an LF or HF signal, also tuned in electro-mechnically.
The WE 13C transmitter was a popular AM crystal-controlled aircraft transmitter in the 1930’s. The WE 13C allowed Pilots and Co-Pilots to electro-mechanically select three crystal-controlled LF and HF transmit frequencies. The WE 13C transmitter had a power output of 50 watts AM. Transmit / Receive was accomplished by a push-to-talk relay keyed by the pilot’s microphone, located in the WE-13C, with receiver cables routed to the transmitter through the Electra’s fuselage.
Bendix RDF units were used with Bendix, Western Electric, and other receivers in the late 1930’s. The matching, and mis-matching of antennas, receivers, and RDF units was bound to cause Earhart, and others, serious problems. How about a serious and systematic investigation of the problems Earhart and others encountered with the late-1930’s radio equipment they used in their airplanes? Also, how about determining, for once and for all, the radio propagation on 3105 kilocycles on July 1-2, 1937?
My e-mail address at school is: JanetWhitney@lycos.com
You’ve described some well-known features of the standard WE 20B and 13C but I’d be very interested to know how you know that receiver cables were routed to the transmitter through the Electra’s fuselage. Do you have a work order signed off as being completed? Do you have a photograph showing the connection? Or are you merely assuming that since the transmitter/receiver relay COULD be rigged that way, they WERE rigged that way.
If you’d like to see a "serious and systematic investigation of the problems Earhart and others encountered with the late-1930’s radio equipment they used in their airplanes" I’d like to know just what sources you know of that could be used in undertaking such a study.
As for propagation on 3105 in the Central Pacific on July 2, 1937 from Earhart’s Electra, we’re not going to determine that "once and for all" without a time machine but Bob Brandenburg has done some excellent studies that are part of the 8th Edition which will be up on the website soon.
Ric, Would you please post on the forum Collopy’s and Chater’s description of the Lae take off, or let me know where I can read it?
Certainly Don. I had no idea that you would have publicly expressed all those opinions without being familiar with the facts.
Chater’s entire report has been available on the TIGHAR website at Chater Report since March 1, 1999.
Collopy’s entire letter has been available on the TIGHAR website at Collopy Letter since August 30, 1999.
After reading your last post Ric on this issue, I must respectfully disagree with most of your comments - although this whole argument is probably a moot point except for whether the last takeoff scene is really the "final takeoff" on July 2 and the scenes depicting a bright eyed Noonan were taken on July 2.
Scene one - Your take from your last post - no disagreements.
Scene two - AE has the paper in her left hand as she climbs up the wing - Noonan does not pass it to her.
I looked at this frame by frame in approximately 1/10 second increments - (moot point anyway)
Scene Three - Noonan did not give the paper to her in the first place - she had it as she climbed up the wing -(look carefully)
Scene 4 - No disagreements - except as a trained investigator I cannot presume this is the same paper - there is no corroboration for this statement.
Scene 5 - "To the right in the frame is a white man in a tan (?) shirt and white trousers holding something in front of his face. The impression I get is that a bunch of local folks have just had their picture taken in front of the airplane and are beginning to disperse".
- It would not be scientifically proper, and presumptuous to say the white man was wearing a tan shirt and white slacks since it could be some other light color (moot point) However, it is still my opinion; the white male appears to be holding a movie camera since he continues to pan and move slowly to the right even as the crowd disperses - (moot point)
HERE IS A MAJOR POINT OF DISAGREEMENT - your statement - " The shadows are not particularly long and seem (to me at least) to be consistent with mid, rather than early, morning". PLEASE LOOK AT THE NATIVES IN GENERAL THE SHADOWS ARE ACTUALLY QUITE LONG - NOW LOOK AT THE WHITE MALE TAKING THE PICTURES - LOOK AT HIS SHADOWS - NOW LOOK CAREFULLY AT THE PERSON IN THE FOREGROUND AND TO HIS RIGHT FRONT MOVING THROUGH THE WHITE MALE CAMERAMAN’S SHADOW - HE IS MOVING THROUGH HIS SHADOW BUT IS NOT ANYWHERE NEAR THE CAMERAMAN’S PERSONAL SPACE - BECAUSE WE NOW CAN SEE THE DEPTH PERCEPTION, OF THE MOVING MAN THROUGH THE SHADOW - IT CERTAINLY "APPEARS" THE SHADOW IS EXTENDED OUT FROM THE CAMERAMAN PROBABLY THE LENGTH OF HIS BODY.
Point - this is not in keeping with being close to the equator at 10:00 on July 2. As I stated previously this pan was probably taken either early in the morning or late in the evening. Now considering AE and FN arrived at Lae approximately 3:00 PM on 29 June this film clip could have been taken after they initially arrived on June 29, -- the shadows would be consistent with a time around 3:30 P.M. in the tropics, in the summer, since the sun sets much earlier than what we normally visualize - living here in most parts of the northern hemisphere.
Scene 6 -
The second time the film show AE and FN climbing the wing and entering the cockpit - please note the shadows again - Here I cannot be definitive - here it is a matter of perception - it appears to me the last one quarter of a second frame shot ( which is the best shadow shot) on AE pants leg on the fuselage is coming in at an angle - you can see her leg’s shadow clearly on the fuselage for a split second which is quite clear -you could actually measure the height of the shadow on the fuselage if you wish. What time of day does it show? I could not judge - only guess - but I bet you could have this recreated for this latitude and longitude on July 2, if you had an aircraft with the same approximate height off the ground and actors in the same position as the film clip.
This would be important if you want to validate whether the remaining clip is the actual clip of their final take off.
Scene 9 - and conclusions -
"The briefness of the scenes is entirely consistent with family home-movies I have that were taken that same summer. Hand-wound clockwork drives and short film roles dictated what now seems to be extreme frugality."
I respectfully disagree completely - some of these snippets are less than a second - some only last for two or three seconds - even then, hand wound cameras of this day could last for two or three minutes - some even longer. It is not even plausible that some adult ( no -children here would be taken such a shot) who decided to go to the effort to take some footage of the famous Amelia Earhart - would shoot film in one second, or two second, bursts. Heck it would be like stopping a stop watch every couple of seconds. The clips are completely fragmented and possibly spliced. It would be fool hardy to say that it is in chronological order. In fact, it does not appear to be in chronological order at all, except for the final take off scene - if it in fact was taken on July 2.
I agree with am earlier poster concerning the take off - I have run this take off frame, frame for frame to its end - It appears to me that the aircraft has achieved a positive airflow under its wing and is around four to six feet off the ground prior to leaving the runway and it appears to be actually climbing as it leaves the runway not dipping The last three seconds of the film clip show pretty much a positive lift . In fact the aircraft does not appear to have any lift problems whatsoever - often associated with numerous eyewitness accounts. It could be entirely possible this shot might be from AE’s test flight of the previous day.
The purpose of this discussion is two fold: 1) Fred Noonan, so energetic, bright eyed and bushy tailed in these clips might be the FN of July 1, when he thought they might take off - no evidence of any alcohol related hangover here. Maybe FN could not wait another day for a gin and tonic - maybe he believed they might not be leaving on July 2. - so he has a few too many on the evening of July 1. Hence the eyewitness accounts of him being "poured into the plane" might still be accurate after all.
2) Unless you can scientifically prove this complete thirty second clip was taken of her final take off - I do not believe you can continue to argue about the pitots and dragging antenna wire. It becomes irrelevant until you prove the validity of when these film snippets were taken.
Thanks for letting me contribute to this forum.
Okay, let’s look at this again.
Scene One - I take it that you and I agree that the guy in the white shirt is not Noonan and that Amelia is dressed the same way she is in the rest of the film, with the execption of the final boarding scene where her sleeves are long.
Scenes Two & Three - We see different things regarding the piece of paper but, I agree, it’s a moot point not worth fighting about.
Scene Four - I agree that there’s no way to know whether it’s the same piece of paper or not. Doesn’t matter anyway.
Scene Five - We agree that speculation by either of us about what color the guy’s clothes were or whether he’s holding a still camera, a movie camera, or a can of beer is of no consequence. What is of some consequence is whether or not the shadows in this scene are more consistent with early morning or mid morning, which might give some indication of whether the film was shot during preparations for the July 1st test flight or the July 2nd departure.
Let’s start from the assumption that the scene was shot in the minutes or hours prior to one of the two flights. (This assumption is important only to my hypothesis that the film is a chronological record of events on the morning of July 2nd, because if the scenes in the film were randomly shot and assembled it really doesn’t matter when this shot was taken.) According to Chater, the test flight was made at 06:35 on the morning of July 1st. I don’t know for sure when the sun came up at Lae that day but I can’t imagine that it was a whole lot different in local time than when it came up at Howland two days later - in other words, around 06:15. So if this scene was shot before the test flight on July 1st it had to be shot in the first 20 minutes after sunrise when the shadows would be very long indeed. I have to agree with Th’ WOMBAT who lives in the neighborhood. There’s no way that this shot was taken that early. The length of the shadows and the highlights on the cowlings and nose of the airplane seem entirely consistent with mid-morning (say around 09:00 or 09:30, just to take a guess).
Your suggestion that the scene may have been taken at the time of the aircraft’s arrival at Lae on June 29th doesn’t hold up too well when compared with the photos that were taken on that occasion. The airplane was taxiied up and nosed into the Guinea Airways hangar before AE and FN exited the cockpit hatch and greeted the assembled crowd. Subsequent photos of the airplane taken during its stay in Lae all show it in that same location.
Scene Six - You see shadows that are inconsistent with mid-morning. I see the sun glaring off the top of the nose just in front of the windshield.
Scene Nine and conclusions - You disagree that home movies in the 1930s were typically shot it very brief clips. As I mentioned in my original post, I have examples of home movies taken in the summer of 1937 that have exactly the same chopped up look as this film and I can look at the physical original film and see that it has not been edited or spliced but must be a straight chronological progression of scenes. These films, of course, don’t prove anything other than what you say wouldn’t be done was, in fact, done.
Your comments about the airplane achieving "positive lift" after takeoff having achieved an altitude of roughly six feet suggests that you may not be familiar with a phenomenon known as "ground effect." I’ll attempt a brief explanation here in the sure knowledge that my fellow aviators will correct and expand upon anything I get wrong.
As long as an aircraft is within half of its wingspan of the ground (about 25 feet in the case of the Electra) it gets a "boost" to its lift from the "cushion" of air between the wing and the ground. Normally this effect is of no consequence because you climb right out of it and continue on your way, but when the machine is overloaded it needs a lot more speed than normal to climb and it is common practice to use "ground effect" to "cheat." You accelerate to the point where she’ll just barely fly with the help of "ground effect": you haul her off the ground but then quickly release some of the back-pressure on the yoke or stick, letting her continue to accelerate without the drag of the wheels on the runway (just as you see in the Lae takeoff film), not asking her to climb much at all until she has enough speed to generate the lift she needs to climb away on her own. If you’ve ever seen the film of the only flight of the Spruce Goose you’ve seen a classic example of the use of "ground effect." The beast was too underpowered to truly fly but Hughes was able to haul it off the water and stagger along in "ground effect" for several minutes.
At six or even ten feet of altitude, the Electra was still getting plenty of help from "ground effect." Of course, once it crossed the drop off at the far end of the runway (not yet reached when the film ends) the ground dropped away and the airplane would logically settle until it regained the "cushion." The scene presented to those standing beside the runway would be hair-raising indeed as the aircraft probably dropped completely out of sight before re-emerging flying very close to the surface of the water.
Your speculation about Noonan’s drinking is really out of synch with your scientific approach to the film. The uncorroborated anecdotal allegation that he got plastered one night in Lae has that happening on the night of June 30, not July 1st. And I’m aware of no eyewitness account, even anecdotal, that he was "poured into the plane." That phrase, in fact, appears in the Brines Letter as pure speculation.
I’m not sure what scientific proof would satisfy you that the film was made on July 2nd. We have two images; the film, and the still photo taken by Alan Board, which purport to show the aircraft during its takeoff run on July 2nd. Both rather convincingly show damage to the airplane that is not mentioned as being repaired in the detailed list of service and repairs performed on the airplane in Lae. That, in itself, would seem to be a convincing argument that the damage occurred on July 2nd, but you may disagree.
Much has passed over the forum this past week concerning the Brines letter and some of this may duplicate postings or I may have missed some due to depositing #2 daughter at college.
The first and last sentence throw me.
It seems clear that the first portion of the letter and the last portion of the letter are the writings of the sender, Russ Brines. Given the lead in, the enclosed letter, it is possible there is another document, i.e. an enclosure. If I were retyping the letter, received from a third party, I would lead in "the following letter" , or words to that effect, and I would indicate its source, i.e. "the following letter from Mr. Smith just came in," I would also type in the recepient’s name to avoid confusion. If in fact the "letter" was an enclosure, both the the writer and the recepient would be apparent from addressee and whomever signed the enclosure; if it wasn’t an enclosure "Richard" would not know the source, since Brines does not identify the sender or provide a typed signature such as "/s/ Jim Smith" a common form indicating the author of a document when a signature is unavailable. Additionally "Richard" wouldn’t have been the original recepient, Russ Brines would have been, thus the letter would not have been addressed to "Richard", unless Brines got a copy of a letter addressed to "Richard" from someone else. The body of the letter is not in quotations, which if copied by a correspondent, would have been common. Journalists don’t usually copy something without attribution.
There has been some discussion about teletype, all caps, etc. The letter appears to be all capitalized, but the first letter of every paragraph seems larger. The only teletype I have ever seen is an old civil defense model used by a local fire department and I have no knowledge of its typeface or capabilities. I have made inquiry and found out that it, at least that model, did not have the ability to make copies. At least one forum member has referred to the "strip" model machine that was then cut and place on a form, vis-a-vis a telegram format. This doesn’t appear to meet that format. If this is the receipient’s copy of an original document forwarded by mail, I can understand the presence of strikeouts and handwritten notations made by Brines on the original document to avoid re-typing or correction. If it is a teletype I cannot see how the markouts and notations were accomplished, unless someone, presumably Brines, had a latter conversation or message with or to the recepient correcting the first copy; and it doesn’t seem important enough to require follow-up and correction. Similarly, I see no reason for Brines to mark up his copy as it would be different then the one sent to the recepient, and, given its topic, I doubt that he (Brines) would have felt it necessary to keep a copy of his personal correspondence. In reference to the notation "(over)" at the bottom of the first page, it would not be necessary or feasable if sent by teletype, the machine can’t flip the document to save paper. Brines could and would since it would save postage by weight; two sheets instead of three. Finally the last sentence clearly refers to "get this in the mail", which leads me to the conclusion that it was not sent by teletype, but by regular (boat?) or air-mail.
All of this leads me to believe this is a letter sent by Brines to "Richard" around August 3rd, 1937 with an enclosed letter to Brines from an unknown writer. Okay, targets up--shoot away.
P.S. Have you seen the orginal document as it was located or is this a copy? If the original has been seen, is the original on onion-skin paper (air-mail to save weight)? Do we know the source of the document as recently located? This doesn’t seem to be the type of document that would be commonly located in a public record, but rather from someones personal files; whose and what do "they" know? Why would it have been kept for sixty plus years? Where there other documents with this that relate to AE?
We have not seen the original and know virtually nothing about the provenance of the copy we have. We’ve made inquiries of the person who sent it to us and hope to learn more.
My take on this is that Russ Brines, the AP reporter in Honolulu, typed a letter to his friend and fellow journalist "Richard" (who may have worked out of the San Francisco or L.A. bureau) using the office typewriter which, as was apparently typical for wire service offices at that time, used all caps. He made some corrections in pencil. He ended the letter with "Right now, my fine friend, I can think of nothing more to say...but because boat day is a while off, I’ll try to tack a line onto this before shipping it away."
I’m not sure how often "boat day" came. The Matson Line serviced Honolulu from the West Coast with two liners (that I know of), "Malolo" and "Lurline." There may have been other service as well. Anyway, when "boat day" arrived there was "Nothing new, so will get this in the mail." I agree with previously expressed opinions that the letter was written in late July (maybe around the 20th when "We’re still catching up on our sleep after Amelia’s bath." The search was called off on the 18th.). There may have been nearly a week’s delay before "boat day", then several days for the crossing. The August 3 date at the top of the letter is the day it gets forwarded to "Richard" (who may be on assignment somewhere) by whatever coworker opened the bureau’s mail. The date and the sentence at the top were probably added by that person.
The sentence at the top is a bit puzzling in the way it is worded, but I tend to think that the "enclosed letter" is the letter we’re looking at and the "this way" refers to the particular medium in which it is being sent (maybe a pouch of regular forwarded bureau mail).
Okay--round two. I think, upon further review of the letter that this is an original document from Brines to "Richard" and that there was an enclosure, all forwarded by regular mail (boat). In support I offer the following:
The first paragraph of the letter refers to some form of regular correspondence between Brines and "Richard."
"Every time I look at that last book of yours" refers to a lengthy letter, a "book" if you will, from "Richard" to Brines.
"I think what a swell guy dick is and howinhell am I going to duplicate such a letter?" refers to "Richard" as "Dick" and his, Dick’s previous lengthy letter; how will Brines match it.
"I’m glad to find somebody who can write more and say more than I." refers to the "book" or lengthy letter and the Brines is happy to find that someone, "dick", is more verbos than Brines.
I think Brines works for the Honolulu Advertiser. It still exists and I have sent an e-mail to one of its editors requesting confirmation on Brines employment and asking about Jane Howard, "Roy", and "scoop" Culver. I had forgotten about "Clark" but will make further inquiry if I get a response. The second half of the second page and the third page bring "Richard"/Dick up to date on events in Hawaii and the Advertiser. All of this material, except for the lead in under the date and the closure above the signature is indented.
The last full paragraph indicates the letter was written over at least two days.
"Right now, my fine friend, (richard/dick) I can think of nothing more to say--* * * *--but inasmuch as boat day is while off, I’ll try to tack a line onto this before shipping it away."
It is my understanding that various boats carried the mail on a regular basis out of the islands--"boat day" It was "a while off" and if anything new happened--"I’ll try to tak a line onto this before shipping it away." Nothing new happened between the first writing and boat day and some time later, Brines added "Nothing new, so will get this in the mail" and signed the letter.
Note the indented portion is in the first person, especially the portions about the events in Hawaii, as well as most of the material about AE. All of the indented material reads and flows as a complete letter. The last line, not indented, is a carry over from the last paragraph. At first I thought that all of the indented material could have been the "enclosure" copied, but since the last line ties to the last full paragraph, and the last line is part of the closing and ties to the signiture, I am convinced that the entire document was typed by Brines and forwarded by mail boat to Richard with an enclosure.
We’ve established that Russ Brines was the AP correspondent in Honolulu. You may be right about the first sentence. It’s a simpler explanation than the one I came up with.
To answer everyone’s questions --- No --- I never have set foot in Wyoming. Never claimed to --- never have. Wish I did, but have spent all my money visting Atchison and Purdue instead.
I did get every piece of correspondance Daniel Davis said the Vidal archives has (meaning there is a missing letter dated June 16, 1936 between Amelia and Gene) between Amelia, Gene and George and in none of this correspondance was there any mention of a plan B -
Since I have not been to Wyoming, it is entirely possible that the information that Doris Rich said she got is in a letter from Gene to someone else, or between Amelia and Gene and just misfiled. I do have a list that Dan sent me of all the correspondence from boxes 19 and 19A, having to do with Gene and Amelia and Gene and aviation. There are no other recognizable names on this list (which I will be happy to fax whoever wants them) that might have either known or cared about Amelia’s plan B, that I have not already received from Daniel Davis.
It did occur to me that, just recently, since this plan B brou-ha-ha has erupted, that I should write Doris Rich, myself and ask her where exactly in the Vidal archives she got her plan B information. I work for the International Women’s Air and Space Museum and have recently had correspondence from Doris. So, I will get her address this weekend and send her a letter early next week. She seems very approachable and I am sure she will answer this question.
And also, since the time of this recent plan B resurgence, I have again e-mailed Daniel Davis at the Wyoming Vidal Archives to see if the missing letter has turned up and if he can do any further checking to see if he can find this information.
Now you know everything I know about Gene, Amelia, Wyoming and Plan B -
You may now cross examine the witness .
Thanks Dusty. I don’t think we need to worry too much about the missing letter being the source of the Plan B disclosure. In June of 1936 the airpane was still under construction and as late as November of that year AE was hoping to cross the Pacific with a nonstop hop from Honolulu to Tokyo, refueling in mid-air from a PBY over Midway (believe it or not). Howland Island had not yet even been discussed. You can’t have a Plan B before you have a Plan A.
Good idea to talk to Doris. (She sure won’t talk to me.)
I don’t want to get into a long "thread" on the internal workings of AE’s radios here, but some things are needing clarification.
While I agree that the schematic diagrams of the equipment are hard to read (and I know Janet Whitney is using the Morgan book as her source, and that is OK), Janet’s got some things mixed up....
There is no fifth position on the band switch in the receiver. Only four. Look at the other sections, Janet. They show FOUR contacts in each group. You are looking at the antenna input circuit switch, and the way the drawing is laid out, it does look like there’s another set of contacts. Well, there are... the "common" contacts, or rotors. But those rotor contacts move through only FOUR positions.
Yes, it is indeed confusing. You have to be careful reading this schematic. I had trouble with it too, until I got used to it.
And I assure you of this beyond doubt: all of those band switch sections are "ganged" together on a common shaft. Band One: 188-420 KHz. Band Two: 485-1250 KHz (factory modified, for AE, to cover this range by "fudging" the tuning range from 550-1500). Band Three: 1500-4000 KHz. Band Four: 4000-10000 KHz.
Having a "fifth" position to "ground" everything makes no technical sense whatsoever. And it is not there, anyway.
The schematic symbols used in this diagram are the standard practice for the 1930s. Nothing wierd and special or unique about a WE diagram. That’s the way they were drawn. If you want to cross check me, Janet, look at The ’Radio’ Handbook, 8th or 9th edition, by Editors and Engineers Inc. The symbology changed somewhat during the war and after, for simplification purposes; but what you see is what you get for the 1930s.
The matters of the alignment procedure Janet brings up are not quite right. I don’t believe she has ever aligned a superhet receiver, but I have... many of them in fact. The tuning adjustments for each band must be set rather precisely, on specific frequencies, usually one at the high end and one at the low of each band, to maintain "tracking" of the tuning across that band and keep the sensitivity maximized. This is also important regarding the dial calibration, because if the conversion oscillator is not tracked with the amplifier circuits, the dial is way off and maybe even meaningless unless the operator knows by how much and remembers the "fudge factors." Usually only the person who aligned the radio will be fully aware of this, not the operator -- unless they are one and the same.
The dials on many radios of the age were not well-calibrated anyway. The numbers would usually be like, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 MHz. Between those numbers, if you were lucky, there would be tic-marks every 100 KHz, but maybe only 500! There was a lot of guesstimation about tuning them.
This radio was remote tuned through a coffee grinder head and a tach shaft. There is considerable mechanical backlash in such a setup. This makes resetting tuning slow and difficult, especially setting to a precise freq. The dial calibration may not have been exactly perfect either.
As an aside: One big reason the US air attacks fell apart at Midway, was that coffee-grinder radios got moved off freq. The various fighting and bombing squadrons could not communicate! But as Walter Lord says, Midway was an incredible victory... we still nailed three Jap flattops the first time out. If things had not gone the way they did, we might all be drinking Sake now....
I have actually experimented with several radios tuned in this manner, and with the tuning heads and cables used in the aircraft installations (the RU series, the ARB receiver, the SCR-274N, the AN/ARC-5, the SCR-183, the SCR-269 adf, the AN/ARN-6 and ARN-7 adfs, Bendix MN-26 and a few more besides) and can assure you that until you have had this experience, you don’t fully appreciate how they work (or don’t work). Thank goodness for frequency synthesizers and digital tuning!
AE’s radio had no crystal frequency standard (crystal calibrator) to check the dial against. Only high priced ground station type communication receivers had this luxury.
OK, the Radio Historian is going out on another limb. I hear the chainsaws cranking up....
I am not ready to believe that the loss of the antenna at Lae was what killed AE’s receiver. I don’t know what it was used for either, but am pretty sure it was NOT the HF comm antenna. That was the dorsal Vee, common to the xmtr. Standard practice was to do it this way. And there I stand. I may move later, but for now....
My hypothesis is that what did AE and FN in was, pure and simple, COCKPIT TROUBLE.
Here are the factors:
All this adds up to an accident going some place to happen. And it did.
LTM (whose calibration
is usually pretty good) and
I went over the film again last night for a while. In the scene where everyone is standing in front of the plane, and just starting to break up (looks to me like the guy in the white shirt to the right has just snapped everyone’s picture with Amelia), I hadn’t noticed before, but the top hatch of the Electra is being closed from inside during that clip (probably AE stood up on the seat for the photo, then sat down to move the plane -?-). Then at the very end of the clip, a man in a dark shirt, with sleeves rolled up to the elbow, with dark hair, walks into camera range from the left side, facing away from the camera and walking in the direction of the plane. He is only visible for one or two tenths of a second, but I’d bet lunch that it’s Fred. It’s right after that that we see the clip with the corner of the building, so I’m inclined to think that maybe they took this (souvenier or newspaper) picture away from the building, so there was enough room for everyone to get into the picture, then they taxied up to the building to top up the tanks, and get ready for takeoff.
During the taxi-out, I noticed there is a large, odd shaped tree in the background - obscured at first by the plane -- and then -- surprise, a smoky bonfire that just seems to be starting in the background as well.
The takeoff run part of the film is obviously taken from the same point, probably where the camera man was told he could see the plane getting off the ground. As the camera pans left, following the Electra, we again see the bonfire -- lots more smoke now, but hugging the ground -- and the same odd tree. It seems obvious to me that the fire is intended to show AE exactly what direction the wind is coming from, and it appears to be straight on from the left end of the runway (not the port end, as it were).
Also, just before the clip ends, there is a figure dressed in light clothing at the left side of the picture, standing alone. I wonder if it’s the same boy who held the door?
I agree. As I wrote in my Aug. 27 posting:
>At the very beginning
of the scene, the cockpit hatch can be seen to be
Whether the smoky fire across the runway was especially for AE’s benefit or not is a matter of conjecture. It’s standard practice in New Guinea, even today, to regularly burn off areas to keep the grass and bush down so that the snakes (many and very venomous for the most part) stay away from where the people are.
Okay, this horse has already been beaten to death, but ...
Although I haven’t used one in 25 years, after searching my memory I seem to recall that those old 5-bit, hand-keyed teletypes had a way of "faking" a capital letter by printing it just a point or two bigger, or maybe slightly out of register -- exactly like the Brines letter. Does anyone remember this feature or am I just wrong, as usual?
P.S. I’m betting Noonan was a scotch drinker. Nobody that intelligent, erudite and good-lookin’ would be downing gin-et-tonics on a regular basis.
LTM (Teacher’s with
a splash, thenkew)
Now here’s a topic for pointless speculation that we can get our swizzle-sticks into. The one reference to booze that we have directly from Fred is in his letter to Gene Pallette "looking forward to a highball with you." This was the heyday of the "cocktail" and a "highball", as I recall, could be most any simple mixed drink. A shot of Scotch, even polluted with ice, would not be a "highball" but a Scotch and Soda might be.
Fred a Scotch drinker? Maybe. Or it could be that those years in Loosianna gave him an affinity for bourbon. (Never the twain shall meet.) Or maybe he was a traditional rum-drinking sailor. Gin and tonic does sound wrong for an Irishman and I would guess that Irish whiskey (if you can call it that) was not as commonly available then as it is now.
By the way, Brines uses the term "six-bottle man." Anybody ever heard that expression before? I thought it might refer to somebody who could consume six bottles of whiskey in one day but I tried it and that can’t be right....
Patrick Gaston wrote:
with WWG: The Lae takeoff film conclusively refutes the
I have spent a lot of time around alcoholics and heavy drinkers. Those that subscribe to the film being proof that Fred was not hung over have obviously never spent any up close and personal time with someone who is an heavy drinker and/or alcoholic. Many seasoned drinkers do not show obvious signs of a hangover. The film proves nothing about how much Fred did or did not drink the night before.
I’m outside my paygrade here. I flew once with a booming hangover (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). Sheer misery. But Kenton’s point seems to be that "accomplished six-bottle men" do not get hangovers as we know them.
Ric said: "But Kenton’s point seems to be that "accomplished six-bottle men" do not get hangovers as we know them."
Actually alcoholics are just better at disguising their hangovers, for two reasons: 1) they’ve had a lot of practice, and 2) they don’t want people to know the extent of their drinking -- as if we don’t already know, or at least suspect.
LTM, presently a
From William Webster-Garman
>I have spent a
lot of time around alcoholics and heavy
I can only reply that I did not say Noonan looks free of a hangover in the film, and never claimed that the film proved anything about what Fred had drunk the night before. Based on what we know about Fred, he probably did drink something (that it might have been scotch would be too good to be true ).
What I did say is that based on the evidence of the film, Earhart did not "pour Noonan" into the aircraft (Brines implying that Noonan was roaring drunk, not merely "hungover"). Brines also expresses the opinion that Noonan was totally incapacitated by drink and that Earhart had to do all the navigating herself. Brines was still a very young man (who often naively perceive themselves as so worldly-cynical and wise), and certainly saw lots of booze flowing around Pearl (and flow it did). His remarks are possibly one of many sources of all the old rumours about Fred. I doubt Brines would have expressed that opinion so confidently if he had seen the Lae takeoff clip before writing the letter.
Plainly put, Fred Noonan looks sober in that clip. It contains no proof that Fred was drunk on that flight, and provides reasonable evidence of the contrary.
From Patrick Gaston
Finally a subject I know a little something about! Ric, I think "cocktail" is a generic term for any mixed drink. The term "highball" refers specifically to the combination of alcohol and soda water. The soda was supposed to speed up the desired effect, hence the term. I imagine it derives from the railroading expression for going really, really fast.
To Kenton Spading: I didn’t meant to sound flippant about alcoholism. I’ve also spent my share of time around "seasoned drinkers," and I agree that often they don’t show obvious signs of a hangover. The key word here is "obvious". In my experience, mental impairment due to alcohol abuse generally manifests itself in at least some degree of physical impairment. A skilled drinker can indeed mask the more obvious symptoms, but the fact remains that the body is still being controlled by a booze-soaked brain. Slow, confused thinking tends to produce slow, confused movements.
The real question isn’t how much FN drank the night before, but whether he was mentally impaired on the morning after. Now take a look at the Noonan depicted on the Lae takeoff film. We see him walking briskly to and fro, helping AE (twice) up onto the wing of the aircraft -- even doing a quite graceful pirouette to avoid colliding with her as she moves past him. He is sure-footed, alert, agile. He moves quickly and with purpose. I submit, your honor, that these are simply not the actions of a guy in post-bender fog.
Two weeks ago we had some friends over for dinner. I drank a single glass of white wine and it knocked me for a loop; I was still feeling the aftereffects 14 hours later. Last week I met some buddies at a bar and had my customary several scotches. I woke up the next day feeling fresh as a daisy. I think everyone who tips a glass occasionally has had the same experience. The point is that a given amount of alcohol does not always produce a given result. I stand by my conviction that the Lae takeoff film conclusively refutes the "Fred was drunk" theory, regardless of his consumption the night before.
LTM (who does like
it on the rocks)
>WE produced a modified
WE 20, the WE 20BA, that had two crystal controlled HF
Right out of Morgan’s book... Janet, believe me, we have sources other than this which tell us AE’s particular receiver had the tuning range on Band 2 modified to include 500 KHz. It was a 20B, modified, not a 20BA. AE’s receiver may have been the prototype for this later production version.
radios in Amelia Earhart’s day, during WWII, and well after
Obviously these facts are gleaned from reading from some old Instruction Book... sounds like probably either the one for the military SCR-211/BC-221 (Army) or LM series (Navy). Yes, I know they were cumbersome to use. Been there and done that... but they were also amazingly accurate (and still are even today!! I drag out an old LM-4 occasionally to check some freq or another) in the hands of a trained technician.
US Navy aircraft of the day which carried a radio operator (anything larger than a single seat fighter) also carried a frequency standard to set the receivers to the correct spot. They did not rely on "netting" the receiver to the transmitter... for one thing, the xmtr could drift, and the standard was also used to check it. Not sure exactly what type designation the freq standards (also called a "CFI," or Crystal Frequency Indicator, actually a slight misnomer) were in 1937 though; just know they were aboard. A real nice and useful item.
AE had no such luxury.
Mike E. #2194
No, Ric... she lost her antenna on take-off.
I’d like to say a few words about alcoholics and alcoholism.
CREDENTIALS: I’ve been sober for about 19 years and some months.
I’m not a trained alcoholism counselor or researcher, just someone who pays attention to things I read about it.
I’ll put the bottom line up front and give the analysis afterward:
THESIS: We can’t tell FN’s mental or physical condition from a few seconds of film.
SOME OBSERVATIONS AND ARGUMENT:
Alcoholism is a progressive illness. People who suffer from this physical/mental malady may exhibit different symptoms at different phases of the progression of the condition. In early and middle-stages of alcoholism, deterioration of mental and motor skills may be relatively slight. Drinkers who have gained tolerance for alcohol may, in fact, perform better on certain tests when somewhat under the influence because the "hair of the dog" does, in fact, give relief from some of the symptoms of withdrawal: shakes, fever/chill, confusion of thought, general malaise, hallucinations, headaches, etc.
In later stages of alcoholism, systems begin to break down and alcohol may cease to provide relief from the pain it causes. People in this condition do not function well either sober or under the influence.
If we had a complete chart of FN’s drinking history, it might be possible to make an educated guess about what a certain amount of alcohol might do to brain and bodily functions. But it would only be a guess. People vary from ideal types. "One man’s meat is another man’s poison." Winston Churchill drank a fairly substantial quantity of brandy, smoked cigars, and took long naps every day during WWII. If his drinking caused him any problems, they didn’t seem to affect his leadership abilities.
The film clip does show that FN was not "falling down drunk." It does not and cannot establish that he was not under the influence. If anyone knows for certain when, where, and in what quantity Fred drank in Lae, they either kept the information to themselves, the records are lost, or they have not yet turned up. Some alcoholics have a tremendous carrying capacity. In the early and middle stages of their career, they can drink other people under the table, pick them up, drive them home, and then go back to the bar for some more. Babe Ruth, among many other athletes, is said to have partied hard all night and then gone out and won games the next day. Ten seconds of film of him approaching the plate and taking some swings would not be enough to determine his Blood Alcohol Level.
I personally think the whole pursuit of FN’s drinking history is a red herring. Given the way TIGHAR reads the available evidence, FN put the Electra in a position to reach Howland. At the point at which he needed Direction Finding to complete the flight, there was a failure of equipment and/or Cockpit Resource Management. If radio communication had been established, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about FN’s drinking habits.
Since my Webtv doesn’t permit viewing of the Lae takeoff film clip, I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage, having been unable to catch the entire sequence, however the thought occurred to me... is there available any contemporaneous, detailed description of the actual condition of the field & runway AE/FN used the morning of their last takeoff? Exactly how rough & crude was the surface of the ground the plane had to navigate to get airborne?
Since this same field & runway was presumably in regular use by the New Guinea Airways, wouldn’t they have periodically inspected the field’s surface to spot any irregularities which would have been capable of damaging an Electra 10 such as AE/FN’s (the same type of plane the airline used in their own operations)?
Naturally, it must be considered that the fact that AE/FN’s plane (given the substantially greater volume of fuel it was carrying, far greater than any ordinary Electra 10) may have had a ’lower’ configuration in relation to the ground, while taxiing or before actual lift-off, making anything attached to the belly of the plane, much more vulnerable to striking any raised-up anomaly on the surface of the field, than another Electra 10 using the same field under similar conditions.
I’m aware of no contemporaneous, detailed description of the actual condition of the field & runway.
Just got a letter from Sir Ian (Mungo) Thomson, and there are a couple of items in it that may be of interest to the Forum. I had asked him for his thoughts about why Sir Harry Luke didn’t tell the Americans bones discovery. He says:
Remembering the refreshingly international attitudes that Sir Harry always displayed, I am certain that there was no sinister intent on his part. The American Consul resident in Fiji at that time was a Mr. Abbott, with whom Sir Harry was on good terms. I find it hard to believe that the Consul was unaware of the bones discovery.
Perhaps we should look for Mr. Abbott, and into the State Department’s archives.
He also talks about the Americans (some of the Dept. of the Interior’s Hawaiian "colonists" that he and Sir Harry were surprised to find on Enderbury when they visited there in December of ’41, suggesting that we really need to talk with Interior (unfortunately, I can’t easily imagine who, or what they’d know about Niku). It might be of some interest for someone to try to track down these guys, whose names conveniently appear in Sir Harry’s 1945 book From a South Seas Diary, as follows:
D.N. Hartnell, James Riley, Joe Kepoo, James Bruhn.
This is the first we’ve heard of there being an American Consul in Fiji and I have to wonder about Sir Ian’s memory on this count. Had there been an American Consul resident in Fiji in 1940/41 why would Vaskess have suggested to the High Commissioner on October 9, 1940 that, " A communication might be addressed to the U.S. Consul in Sydney...."?
The U.S. had laid claim to Canton and Enderbury, and in fact those two islands of the Phoenix Group are underlined in pencil on a Nat’l Geo map of the Pacific that is in the Earhart collection at Purdue. Neither of those islands, however, had yet been "colonized" by Dept. of Interior employees when Earhart’s flight took place.
Here’s the latest from U of W.
Thoughts prompted by various recent postings relative to radios and antennas. I think it is well to keep in mind that a lot of people tinkered with AE’s radio equipment. Some may have done things in pretty unconventional fashion -- Joe Gurr, for example.
THESE ARE ONLY MY OWN OPINIONS BASED ON MY OWN CURRENT UNDERSTANDING
QUESTION: Was the belly antenna the receiving antenna?
QUESTION: What about the the two antenna terminals (HF and LF) on the Western Electric receiver that are switched depending on the frequency band selected?
QUESTION: Was the Bendix coupler unit necessary whatever receiver was used with the Bendix RDF loop?
QUESTION: Was there a problem getting operating power to the RDF loop coupling unit if it was used with the Western Electric receiver rather than a Bendix receiver?
QUESTION: Is a sense antenna necessary for operation of the Bendix RDF loop and coupler unit?
QUESTION: Was the Bendix RDF loop coupling unit on AE’s plane similar to the RDF-1 for which we have a schematic diagram and description?
QUESTION: Could AE have expected to get a null on 7500 kc?
QUESTION: Was there a second receiver specifically for RDF, presumably, Bendix?
Very nice summary and I agree with most of it (which is why I think it’s very nice).
I will point out that Amelia DOES say where the Bendix direction finder is. She lists it as being on the instrument panel among her "navigation instruments" such as "compasses, directional gyros, the Bendix direction finder, and various radio equipment."
I have a vague (but perhaps not altogether unreliable) recollection of hearing of an aluminum box found on Niku I or Niku II. I’ve read all of the Forum and looked at all the web pages (I think) and haven’t come across any story of how this was ruled out of consideration as coming from the Electra.
Did TIGHAR find such a box?
If so, how was it disqualified?
You’re referring to the famous (infamous?) Navigator’s Bookcase. That all went down back in the days before the (communications) Revolution, so it’s not on the website. Gather ’round the campfire and I’ll tell you the tale, in which are many lessons.
The story begins on the first day ashore at Niku on the first expedition in 1989. Among the junk that littered the remains of the abandoned village was an aluminum box, beat up and partially cut apart. Not the sort of thing you’d look at and immediately recognize as part of an airplane, but it was aluminum and that was good. But we weren’t looking for bits and pieces. For all we knew the whole enchilada was parked somewhere in the bushes just waiting for us to hack our way to it, so hack we did. For three weeks we explored and searched and tried to at least get a general feel for every part of the island. The only place we came across anything that might resemble airplane parts was in the village, and those few pieces --- included the cut-apart box --- had been carefully noted but left in place until we decided what was worth collecting.
When it came time to leave we took a hard look at our disappointing assortment of scrap metal and decided to collect about a dozen artifacts which looked at least vaguely promising. Among them was the box. We liked the fact that it had very regularly spaced rivets and had traces of something that looked like it might be zinc-chromate paint or wash (both indicators of aviation use). Most of all we liked that it had a number stamped into it --- 28F4023. If that was a part number we should be able to find out for sure what the thing was.
When we got home we went to work researching the number and quickly discovered that what we had was an interior "furnishings" (that’s what the "F" means) for a Consolidated Model 28 flying boat, known to the U.S. Navy as the "PBY." The particular fixture we had was "Box - Navigator’s book and paper storage." The next step was to find a photograph of such a beast installed in a PBY and see if it looked like what we had.
The National Archives had photos and, sure enough, there was our box --- except not quite. Our artifact had some straps and fasteners that weren’t in the photos and, although we couldn’t be sure from the pictures, it looked like the mounting holes were wrong. Might we have a PBY bookcase that was actually used in some other airplane? We needed to find an actual bookcase in its original installation aboard an actual, unrestored PBY. Good luck. After an exhaustive search we found an early PBY-5A that had been wrecked in a tornado out behind the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Sho’ nuff. The box was right there on the bulkhead and sho’ nuff, the mounting holes were entirely different from what saw on our box. Despite the part number, it appeared that this Navigator’s Bookcase had never been in a PBY. So what kind of airplane HAD it been in and how did it get to that island? Could it have come from the airplane that we think ended up on that island? The one that we know was specially outfitted for a navigator who would be using the same books that case was designed to hold?
Okay, first question. Is the design of the box old enough to have been available in 1937? Yes, the PBY-1 went into service the previous year. Next question, would the Earhart organization have any access to such a bookcase? Yes, we know that they borrowed a bubble octant from the Navy at North Island, San Diego and there was a PBY squadron based there. In fact, the Consolidated factory was in San Diego. How about the greenish paint? Is there anything about it that would disqualify it being that old? To get that question answered we enlisted the help of the FBI lab in Washington, DC. Their answer --- there’s nothing about this box that would preclude it being aboard Earhart’s aircraft. Cool! But is there any indication that such a box WAS aboard?
A photo of Earhart and Noonan standing before the open cabin door in Darwin, Australia shows a shadowy object on the cabin floor that COULD be the bookcase. It’s the right size, the right shape, but it just isn’t clear enough to be sure. We built a full-scale model of an intact case and photographed it on the floor of a Lockheed 10, duplicating the angle of the Darwin photo. Yup, looks right. We built a scaled-down model of the interior of the cabin and put a scaled down bookcase under the scaled-down navigator’s table. Yup, fits.
We tried to always be careful not to claim that anything was proven, because of course, it wasn’t. It was a tantalizing clue, that’s all, but the press loved it and we got lots of good coverage, not all of it accurate (surprise, surprise). Our critics howled and that generated more press and so it went.
Meanwhile, the answer came from an unexpected direction. We were still trying to identify some of the other aluminum hunks we had collected on the island. One badly bent and corroded gusset-like structure had a part number still partially discernible --- 32B108??? Looks like the same Consolidated pattern. Model 32 was the B-24, Liberator, PB4Y-1 series. "B" meant a fuselage structural component. We never did find a solid match for the rest of the number, but in looking through the parts catalog for the B-24D/PB4Y-1 I started to come across "28F" part numbers. PBY parts in a Liberator? Yup. Mostly interior furnishings. (We’re in a hurry. This thing we designed for a PBY will work fine for now in a B-24. Why take the time to design a whole new part?) Oh my God, I wonder if.... sure enough, there it is, 28F4023 "Box --- Navigator’s book and paper storage." Quick to the National Archives. Find a photo. Yes, there it is in all its glory, exactly like the one we found on the island, fasteners and mounting holes and all.
Two years of research but we found the answer. It wasn’t the answer we would have preferred but even a disappointing answer is far better than no answer at all. How did a B-24 part get to the island? Most likely from Canton. At least one and possibly more B-24s were wrecked there during the war and others may have been modified (eventually Consolidated came out with a bookcase especially for the Model 32 with a "32F" part number). After the war lots of settlers from the PISS worked for the airlines on Canton. Plenty of opportunity to bring home useful stuff.
So that’s the story of the map case.
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