Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 18 through 24, 2001
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Re: Itasca's Initial Search Randy Jacobson
Re: Professionals Randy Jacobson, Doug Brutlag
Re: 1 N 177 W Janet Whitney, Doug Brutlag, Kerry Tiller, Alan Caldwell, Bob Lee
Re: 1 N 177 W Ric Gillespie
Re: Noonan's navigation to Hawaii Oscar Boswell
Re: Itasca's initial search Bob Lee
Half Hour Gas Ross Devitt
Does Janet Whitney Exist? Marty Moleski
Re: 1 N 177 W Janet Whitney
Re: 1 N 177 W Marty Moleski
Re: Itasca's initial search Alan Caldwell
Re: Professionals Randy Jacobson
Re: Half hour gas Cam Warren, Laurie McGlaughlin, Ric Gillespie
Re: Noonan's navigation to Hawaii Bob Brandenburg
Re: 1 N 177 W Janet Whitney
Re: Noonan's navigation to Hawaii Chris Kennedy

Message: 1
Subject: Re: Itasca's initial search
Date: 2/19/01
From: Randy Jacobson

For Janet Whitney:

On the Research CD are all the positions of all the ships, constrained by their navigational fixes on an hour by hour basis, sometimes more frequently. You'll be able to tell exactly where the Itasca was and when. Try it; I spent five long years databasing and doing the navigation, weather, and radio messages that is now available for all to see for a nominal fee to TIGHAR.

Message: 2
Subject: Re: Professionals
Date: 2/19/01
From: Randy Jacobson, Doug Brutlag

I've not piped up to date, but let's get something very clear here: FN did not navigate anywhere near 50 to 100 miles off his target. The Oakland to Honolulu maps indicate the plane was that far off the perfect rhumb line between the two points if and only if there was no winds aloft. Without real-time, constant navigational control, no navigator, repeat, NO navigator or pilot could or even would try and maintain that level of navigational precision to stay on a rhumb line over water. It simply wasn't possible then. And there is no reason for anyone to do so...just monitor where the plane is going, and make corrections when necessary to ensure you do come to your target position.

LTM, who is getting very pissed about folks misinterpreting the facts in this case.

From Ric

>the plane was that far off the perfect rhumb line between the two points if
>and only if there was no winds aloft.

I'm confused. If a celestial fix places the plane at a particular place, it is there regardless of what the wind is doing.

From Doug Brutlag

Mike M., I could not agree more with you about professionalism.


I don't believe anyone is saying anything in the context that Fred Noonan was a bad navigator, incompetent, dufus, boob, whatever. Fred knew how to navigate square-riggers & aircraft, I don't dispute that. For that matter there are a great many aviators I have met over the past 24 years who possessed flying skills beyond measure. Some could darn near make an airplane talk if they wanted to. But that is only half of what makes an aviator (or navigator for that matter) professional. If the person in question routinely makes errors, blunders, flies into situations where angels fear to tread, fails stay ahead of the airplane/situation, or even exercise the least amount of common sense, then what we have here is a great "stick" , but not a professional, not in the least. Having performed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 ocean crossings as well as island-hopping, I can say without a doubt if you cannot stay in the loop long enough to navigate within 50-100 miles of your destination, you will miss an island --- period. Alan knows that and I'm sure Skeet knows that as well. There's a saying in this business: "Flying is not inherently dangerous, but it is terribly unforgiving of any careless or neglect."

Fred was off-course 50-135 miles for a good portion of the west coast-Honolulu trip. As a matterof routine, the norm when giving a position report is to also mention the reason for an off-course deviation, such as weather for example. There is no mention of any weather problems whatsoever. In that time period, ships would give weather data along with their position reports that was used by a special weather bureau (at Alameda mentioned in Grooch's book). Pan Am actively sought out & used these (ship's) reports to forecast storms enroute and also plot courses for their aircraft to avoid hazardous weather and take advantage of favorable reported winds enroute. Again, no mention of weather deviations, favorable winds, nothing. There are also indications from Fred's pattern of use the DF that he may have been dependent on it.

I own and have used a (similar) model of the A-5 Pioneer sextant that Fred used on the ill-fated trip. I also own several other models of hand held aviation sextants. I will not claim to be an expert but I can say from experience using them and having face to face discussions with retired navigators who depended on them in their careers, the typical average accuracy for decent navigator was 10-15 miles and on occasion 20 was considered the limit of acceptable (barely). Fred mentions in a letter to PVH Weems an accuracy of 10 miles (approximately). Call it the average --- some did better, some did worse. All things considered, 50-135 miles off-course for a long duration or as possible matter of routine is not acceptable. Not even for 1937!

Could Fred have done a better job? I believe and will give him credit that he likely could have. So what happened? Was he lazy, lackadaisical, bad attitude, got up on the wrong side of the bed that day? Inconclusive. Could he have done things differently or better. Yeah, assuming he knew his craft.

Standby, while I don my Nomex vest.

Doug Brutlag #2335

Message: 3
Subject: Re: 1 N 177 W
Date: 2/19/01
From: Janet Whitney

We would be taking medium-resolution black-and-white digital photos of the ocean floor, from maybe 50 feet above the ocean floor...or whatever the visibility allowed. Using GPS on the fishing trawler and a sonar transponder on the camera housing and bottom-ranging sonar. Tow the camera for 25 miles, retrieve it, put new R/W CDs in the recorder, change the batteries, and redeploy the camera. Tow for another 25 miles parallel to the last track along a 157-337 (or whatever) line. Look at several thousand digital photos per 25 mile search track. Extremely tedious but not technically difficult. The biggest expense would be for diesel fuel for the trawler.

Janet Whitney

From Doug Brutlag


With no disrespect intended, if you think it so simple to search the Pacific as you mentioned in previous posting, then get on a search engine and find the site to contact Dr. Robert Ballard (finder of Titanic) at the Wood's Hole research group/foundation I think is the name. If anyone can tell you anything about finding a wreck in the middle of an ocean he can. Since Titanic, I think he has explored Lusitania, Bismarck, and the Hood. When you get his answer, please post it on the forum for us all.

Ric: You're out of luck thinking you can charge to read forum postings. For all the aviators out there, rumor has it we are so tight we squeak. Case in point: How was copper wire invented?

Give up?

It was the day 2 airline pilots were fighting over a penny.

Doug Brutlag #2335

From Kerry Tiller

Ric wrote:

> I'm gonna start charging money for forum subscribers to read your postings.
> Nothing that funny should be free.

Ric, how about a new section on the web site called "Forum Out Takes". You could include the intended jokes and conspiracy stuff as well as enthusiastic college kid's postings. Then again, I don't suppose you want to encourage that sort of thing.

LTM (who likes a good laugh)
Kerry Tiller

From Alan Caldwell

Janet Whitney wrote:

> Nothing magic about 1N 177W except it's a place to start a search along a
> 157-337 line consistent with information (not speculation) about Earhart's
> disappearance.

Consistant with WHAT information, Janet? You missed telling me why the LOP is 25 miles west of Howland. I and several others are trying to replot the route and we need that information.

> Some of the engineering students here estimate we would need a fishing
> trawler that could handle 17,000 feet of Kevlar line and a pressure vessel to
> house a video cam, video recorder, strobe light, bottom-ranging sonar, and
> sonar transponder. Would that be a big deal? We don't think so.
> After towing the video cam system in a systematic search pattern for (say) 3
> months we would know what is and is not on the sea floor in the vicinity of
> Howland Is.

Janet, this is your best idea yet. Why don't you and those engineering students do that on your Spring break and I'll go to the National Archives for you?

Have you and your engineering student friends plotted all the current directions and strengths from surface down 17,000' , the weights of all the necessary equipment and the size and strength of the kevlar line? Also have you computed how many feet of stuff has covered over the 1937 bottom? How many feet into the bottom will the bottom ranging sonar penetrate? Did they make a cost estimate of all this? If all this is feasible maybe your university might foot the bill. If it isn't perhaps your engineering friends might think about foregoing Spring break and hitting the books some more.

Alan, wondering why you never respond to anyone's questions

From Bob Lee

Now we know why students in American schools don't seem to learn the basics.

Message: 4
Subject: Re: 1 N 177 W
Date: 2/19/01
From: Ric Gillespie

I am not Bob Ballard, nor am I any kind of expert in deep water searching. I have, however, contracted for, helped plan for, participated in, and paid for deep water search operations by real experts (Oceaneering International, Inc.). I know enough about the process to disabuse Janet and her engineering student friends of some misconceptions.

Janet says:

>... we would need a fishing trawler that could handle 17,000 feet of Kevlar
>line and a pressure vessel to house a video cam, video recorder, strobe
>light, bottom-ranging sonar, and sonar transponder. Would that be a big deal?
>We don't think so.

The water out there is about 17,000 feet deep, so you figure you'll need about 17,000 feet of line, right? Wrong. The line doesn't hang straight down. Towed array underwater gear has to be deployed from an A-frame on the stern of the ship and the ratio of line needed to depth achieved is at least three to one. In other words. if you want to search at 17,000 feet you'll need about 51,000 feet of line.

How much boat do you need to carry 51,000 feet of line? Let me give you an idea. In 1991 we wanted to search way down to 2,000 feet. (That's not a typo. I mean two thousand feet.) The winch weighed 7,000 pounds and was almost too much for the 120 foot ship we chartered. So much for your "fishing trawler." Just to carry the weight of line you'll need you're looking at a big ship --- and not just any big ship.

The bottom of the ocean, like the surface of the land, has hills and valleys. To "fly" a towed array of sensing gear, and not slam it into a hillside, you two things:

  • a very powerful, rapid-response winch that allows you to reel in or reel out line quickly and precisely. We're not talking about a winch for hauling in fishing nets.
  • precise information about what terrain is ahead --- and you can't get it from a forward looking video camera. There is virtually no light at 17,000 feet and the best lights in the best visibility won't give you anything like enough lead time. You need bottom-mapping sonar built into the bow of your ship so that the winch operator has real-time bathymetry information many hundreds of feet ahead of his "fish." Even so, accidents are not uncommon.
So now you have a big ship with highly specialized equipment and people who know how to operate it. Wanna guess what those puppies go for per day? I don't have to guess. I've got just the boat for you. The University of Hawaii's R/V Ka'imikai-o-Kanaloa (known in the trade as "The K-O-K") is 223 feet long, has a "Seabeam 210" multibeam sonar bathymetric mapping system installed in the bow, and a Markey DUSH-6 Hydrographinc winch with 7,000 meter capacity. She'll do 10 kts and can stay out for 50 days, so you'll need to break off and steam a thousand miles or so out and back to resupply at least once during your three month operation, so add another ten days.

Five years ago a bargain basement price for her services was $10,700 per day. If you could duplicate that price today you'd be looking at $1,070,000 for your proposed operation. Of course, we haven't even talked about the cost of whatever it is you plan to tow and the cost of getting your team of engineering students to Hawaii, etc.

>The biggest expense would be for diesel fuel for the trawler.

Ahh, to be young again.


Message: 5
Subject: Re: Noonan's Navigation to Hawaii
Date: 2/19/01
From: Oscar Boswell

This weekend, I have had time to think about Noonan's navigation to Hawaii, and to review some of the recent postings about it.

I realize now that my earlier list of reasons Noonan might have been North of the rhumb line missed the most obvious one --- that's where the great circle course is!

I overlooked the major erroneous assumption underlying this entire line of discussion --- that erroneous assumption is that Noonan SHOULD have made good a rhumb line course. What makes you think so, and why should he have done that?

Let's pause and define our terms. Since the earth is a sphere, the shortest distance between two points is the segment of the "great circle" that intersects those points in encircling the globe. On the artificial latitude/longitude grid that we use to navigate, when one flys from A to B along a great circle, one's true course (MEASURED WITH REFERENCE TO THAT GRID) changes from moment to moment. (It doesn't jump around, it progresses constantly from one course to the next - from, say, 240 degrees to 240.0001 degrees, and then to 240.0002 degrees. Since no one can steer that small [as they say], to fly a great circle as a practical matter one flys a series of "rhumb line" [q.v. below] courses that APPROXIMATE the great circle. Lindbergh, for example, planned course changes every hour [and 100 miles] or so on his 3600 mile flight to Paris to approximate the great circle route.)

A "rhumb line course" crosses all lines of longitude at the same angle - in going from point A to point B the course (measured with reference to the grid) remains constant. A rhumb line course is (by definition) a straight line WHEN DRAWN ON A MERCATOR PROJECTION.

The problem is that a Mercator projection is not an accurate representation of the surface of the earth --- because (among other reasons) the lines of latitude are shown as parallel, when in fact they converge at the poles. (Instead of being a mere point on the surface of a sphere, the pole on a Mercator map is a line 25,000 miles long.)

Mercator projections distort reality. In the Northern Hemisphere, the actual "direct course" (a "great circle") lies North of the "straight line on the Mercator chart" (rhumb line course). "Great Circle" and "rhumb line" courses between A and B are exactly the same only (1) when points A and B are direcly North and South of each other, and (2) when both A and B are on the equator.

As an example of the difference between rhumb line and great circle courses, consider New York to Paris. New York lies about 40.5 degrees North; Paris lies about 48.5 degrees North. At the midpoint, a rhumb line course will be about 44.5 degrees North. Where will the midpoint of a great circle course be? Well, I'm no navigator, so let's do it the easy way --- no great precision is required to make the point. Take a piece of string and stretch it taut accross the face of your globe. The midpoint is at (say) 51 degrees North (it doesn't matter if we're off a degree or two). That means the great circle midpoint is perhaps 5 1/2 degre es North of the rhumb line midpoint. Since one degree of latitude is equal to about 69 statute miles, the great circle course is 370 or 375 miles North of the rhumb line. A person who drew a straight (rhumb) line course from NY to Paris on a Mercator chart, and then charted the midpoint of a great circle flight might think that the flight was 400 miles or so off course - he'd be wrong, because the flight was right where it should be following a great circle route. (Those interested in greater accuracy in discussing the actual great circle route NY-Paris will find the "vertices" of the great circle at 10 degree intervals of longitude in Peter Garrison's Long Distance Flying, page 106.)

What's the situation on the route from California to Hawaii?

Luckily for the navigationally-challenged among us (which includes me), we have available an interesting document. P.V.H. Weems, Air Navigation (3rd Ed. 1943) has a pocket in the rear cover containg a foldout chart showing the actual navigation of the Archbold PBY "GUBA" on its three-stage crossing of the Pacific from San Diego to New Guinea in June 1938. If one lays the chart on the kitchen table and places a yardstick through Honolulu and San Diego, it is immediately apparent that the GUBA's entire flight took place well North of the rhumb line. At 138 degrees West, GUBA's position was about 2 FULL DEGREES of latitude North of the rhumb line (2 degrees = 138 statute miles). One can also see that about 200 miles out, upon receiving Makapuu beacon, GUBA altered course about 10 degrees left, to reach its destination.

Weems (page 359) refers the student to the GUBA chart and calls it "the most complete available example of skilled navigation". (He wasn't upset because they were North of the rhumb line!) Weems' refence to the GUBA flight follows almost immediately his reprinting of the long (nearly 3 pages of reduced type) letter from Noonan to Weems detailing Noonan's navigation practices, which Weems reproduced as both "a valuable technical description" and "a tribute to the Navigator of the Earhart plane" (page 356).

Without reviewing Bob's work and Noonan's charts, I can't comment in any greater detail on the issues, other than to say that it seems to me that somewhat more caution in making pronouncements about FN's navigational shortcomings is appropriate. (And I won't go into Dakar, other than to make the comment -- prompted by one of Ric's recent postings --- that if one is truly East of a position, a course of 036 will not get you there, unless, perhaps, you are flying to the Antipodes.)

Oscar Boswell

From Ric

Your description of rhumb line versus great circle is correct but it's clear that the Oakland/Honolulu flight began on the rhumb line, followed it pretty well for a few hundred miles until DF bearings from California were no longer possible. The flight then veered off course to the north. When the error was discovered the course was altered to run parallel to the rhumb line until they came within DF range of Honolulu where the course was changed to head straight for Oahu.

We'll have Bob Brandenburg's map added to the 8th Edition chapter on the Oakland/Honolulu flight soon.


Message: 6
Subject: Re: Itasca's initial search
Date: 2/19/01
From: Bob Lee

I may be off base but seems to me that you spending time explaining these things to Janet is analogous to utilizing the time of a brain surgeon to explain tic-tac-toe.

Bob Lee

From Ric

Well, I'm certainly no brain surgeon, and I've been known to lose at tic-tac-toe, but I was also once a college student with all the answers; astonished that my professors could not see how simple it all was. I figure that Janet, in her brashness, often expresses doubts and convictions that other may harbor but are less willing to express. I answer what I can find time to answer without derailing more productive discussions.

Message: 7
Subject: Half hour gas
Date: 2/19/01
From: Ross Devitt

>He based that decision largely
> upon an alleged radio transmission ("only 1/2 hour gas left") that, in
> retrospect, was almost certainly misheard.

It could even have been 'only half "our" gas left'.. The English language can be rather slippery when spoken on radio by foreigners... May even have referred to half their reserve gas.. We'll never know.


From Ric

At 1912 GMT Radioman 3rd Class William L. Galten records Earhart as saying: "KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you, but gas is running low. We have been unable to reach you by radio . We are flying at 1000 feet."

At 1910 GMT Radioman 3rd Class Thomas O'Hare records in a separate radio log: "Earhart on now; says she is running out of gas, only 1/2 hour left, can't hear us at all."

Galten's sole job is to listen for and communicate with Earhart. O'Hare's job is to handle all of the ship's other radio traffic. Galten quotes Earhart. O'Hare paraphrases her. Although the time is slightly different, they are talking about the same transmission. Oddly, the two positions are about two minutes apart in time (this is consistent in several messages).

Earhart has used the words "half hour" in several transmissions, always referring to when she expects to hear from the Itasca whose regular scheduled transmission times were on the hour and half hour.

Earhart was still in the air an hour after this transmission. It seems most likely that O'Hare simply misunderstood her.


Message: 8
Subject: Does Janet Whitney exist?
Date: 2/19/01
From: Marty Moleski

Ric wrote:

> ... I figure that Janet, in
> her brashness, often expresses doubts and convictions that other may
> harbor but are less willing to express. ...

I am very grateful for Janet's posts.

The latest series has made me wonder whether she really exists. I marvel at the combination of extraordinary technical information and bewildering innocence. Even if Janet is a real human being, she must have friends or family members with whom she discusses the history of radios, navigation techniques, history, piracy, and engineering. She works hard at developing most of her questions and challenges.

She's a lot like the kid who doesn't see the emperor's new clothes. And, as Ric said, she asks questions that other people probably have, such as: "Why don't they just drag a cheap sensor over the most likely region of impact?"

Uh, oh. I'm suffering an inspiration even as I type. I suspect that "Janet Whitney" is Pat's alter-ego. She wakes up in the middle of the night in a trance state, disturbed by all of the loose ends in the TIGHAR hunt, and drops "Janet Whitney" notes into Ric's e-mail when he's not looking. It could be that Ric is in on the conspiracy because the "Janet Whitney" posts give him a chance to hit the long ball.

Those who are keeping score at home may want to note that even though I do not subscribe to the Fallacy of the Unprovable Negative Hypothesis [FUNH], this is one of those negatives that is incapable of proof: "'Janet Whitney posts are not the product of a conspiracy." Any e-mail placed in the Forum to disprove this hypothesis might itself be a product of the Janet Whitney Conspiracy. :o(


From Ric

I have often been accused of inventing characters like Rollin Reineck, Cam Warren, and, yes, even Janet Whitney, in order to make myself look good. I only wish I was that creative. Besides, they often cause me to blow my cool, which does not make me look good.

Janet is real. I have seen a photo of her. (Actually it was more of an impression left on a sheet she once slept on.)

Message: 9
Subject: Re: 1N 177W
Date: 2/19/01
From: Janet Whitney

Who said the sonar/digital camera array would be towed at 10 knots? Not me.

Janet Whitney

From Ric

I didn't say it would be towed at 10 knots either. I only said that K-O-K could go that fast. In practical application most underwater gear is towed at considerably less than 10 knots. The point is, all that line and the array at the end has drag. Lower the thing over the side when you're hove to and, assuming no current (never the case), 17,000 feet of line will get you to the 17,000 foot bottom. A soon as you move the boat forward the line will no longer be vertical. Try it in the bathtub. You can't go slow enough to not need lots more line than the depth you're trying to reach.

Message: 10
Subject: Re: 1N 177W
Date: 2/19/01
From: Marty Moleski

Ric wrote:

> ... you'd be looking at
> $1,070,000 for your proposed operation. Of course, we haven't even
> talked about the cost of whatever it is you plan to tow and the cost of
> getting your team of engineering students to Hawaii, etc.

Great post, Ric!

That's the beauty of the Janet Whitney Conspiracy (JWC) that you and Pat have cooked up. She tosses these softballs and you get to teach us about Pacific reality.

Keep 'em coming! ;o)

Marty #2359

Message: 11
Subject: Re: Itasca's Initial Search
Date: 2/19/01
From: Alan Caldwell

> I figure that Janet, in her brashness, often expresses doubts …

Ric, I haven't seen much in the way of shyness on the part of forum members. :-)

If Janet actually exists I am sure she is sincere in her efforts however misguided. I can easily overlook the consequences of her youth in being unable to comprehend the scientific method of research. That she'll learn. I find no excuse, however, for her obstinate unwillingness to review all the TIGHAR web site information before she climbs out on a limb and prepares to saw it off. I am also at a loss as to why she only half participates. By that I mean she will toss out a theory yet she NEVER responds to whatever cricism that is forthcoming. There is never an exchange with Janet. Her postings consist of "Why don't you guys do this or that" or an offering of a completely unsupported hypothisis and then she goes on to something equally unsupportable without a comment or batting an eye. I don't know whether she has anything of substance to offer or not. She will never enter into a discussion. Why do you suppose that is?


From Ric

You're asking me?

Message: 12
Subject: Re: Professionals
Date: 2/19/01
From: Randy Jacobson

OK, let me try again. The rhumb line between Oakland and Honolulu was the route one would fly if there were no cross-winds. Once airborne, the pilot would use the rhumb line course to steer, but crosswinds woud push the plane left or right. Now let's consider a very good navigator who determines a certain cross-wind over an hour's duration. He has two choices: tell the pilot to adjust for the cross wind by over-steering to the direction that the wind is coming from (he has to also compensate for the set over the previous hour). Depending upon the severity of the cross-wind, only a small correction might be necessary, perhaps less than a degree. Can the pilot steer a course change of less than a degree? Hardly. So, the other alternative is to let the plane continue off course until such time that the set (offset from rhumb line due to cross-winds) is sufficient to make a reasonable course change for the pilot. That also allows more time for the cross-winds to blow, and permit a larger vaue and time to calculate the crosswinds (that's good). What is a reasonable course change? 1 degree? 5 degrees? 10 degrees? That's up to the pilot, navigator, and equipment aboard.

BTW, AE and FN knew that there would be strong winds aloft from weather reports. Analysis of the flight path deviations from rhumb line matches well the hindcasts of winds aloft from all available sources at the time and compiled years later. The deviations were due entirely to crosswinds, and IMHO, FN monitored the flight trajectory is sufficient detail to know what was happening at the time. Did he navigate well enough to send a position report due to a possible distress call in the plane at any time? No. But he did have the position good enough for 30-50 nm at any one time, mostly errors along track, not cross-track.

Message: 13
Subject: Re: Half hour gas
Date: 2/20/01
From: Cam Warren, Dustymiss, Ric Gillespie

The question is STILL not resolved.

Your argument in favor of Galten is certainly a valid one, but it counters the several witnesses (including the two wire service reporters --- not exactly casual listeners) who support O'Hare.

Cam Warren
(The love child of R. Gillespie and Janet Reno)

From Ric

I should have told you long ago but, you're adopted. We stole you from a Cuban family.

From Dustymiss

Having done a considerable amount of transcriptions --- the latest being four tapes of Teresa James (former WW II WAFS pilot) for the International Women's Air and Space Museum , I can attest to what you think you hear and what you hear not always being the same.

What she could of said ( I know this is speculation) is "have four hours" of gas. If you say it right "have four hours" and "half an hour" could seem mighty similar over an air plane radio. And isn't four hours of gas the magic number that Vidal is quoted to have said Amelia would turn back to the Gilberts when she hit?

Four hours could take you to Gardner just as well. --- I know, just specuation.

LTM --- Who knew better than to speculate about anything.

From Ric

Okay chillun, let's get into this "half hour gas" thing. To recap briefly:

At 1912 GMT Radioman 3rd Class William L. Galten records Earhart as saying: "KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you, but gas is running low. We have been unable to reach you by radio . We are flying at 1000 feet."

At 1910 GMT Radioman 3rd Class Thomas O'Hare records in a separate radio log: "Earhart on now; says she is running out of gas, only 1/2 hour left, can't hear us at all."

Galten's sole job is to listen for and communicate with Earhart. O'Hare's job is to handle all of the ship's other radio traffic. Galten quotes Earhart. O'Hare paraphrases her. Although the time is slightly different, they are talking about the same transmission. Oddly, the two positions are about two minutes apart in time (this is consistent in several messages). Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, on Howland Island, does not hear the transmission.

There is, however, another real-time, or near real-time, account of what Earhart said. The ship's deck log, being kept by Lt. W. J. Swanston, reads: "0742 Plane position reported as near the island and gas running low." Note that he uses Galten's time and Galten's phrasing.

Regardless of whose version (if either) was correct, it seems apparent that O'Hare's version was accepted by Commander Thompson because at 19:56 GMT (about 44 minutes later) Cipriani on Howland records in his log: "Received information that Itasca believe Earhart down. Landing party recalled to vessel."

It was 20:42 GMT (another 46 minutes) before the deck log recorded the landing party back aboard Itasca but by then, at 20:13 GMT, another message had been heard from Earhart. Clearly she was still aloft. Plans to go looking for her were put on hold hoping that she might yet show up.

At 21:45 Thompson sent the following message to Coast Guard HQ in San Francisco:


Fifteen minutes later at 22:00 GMT, despite his declared intention to stay at Howland until noon (23:30 GMT), Thompson gave the order to get underway and ten minutes later the ship was steaming on a course of 337 degrees to begin searching along the line of position.

O'Hare's "half hour gas left" message was clearly crucial to Thompson's perception of the situation and instrumental in his decision to order the ship to leave Howland Island an hour and a half before Earhart was otherwise expected to run out of fuel.

According to Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel Cooper's report of July 27, 1937, "Gasoline supply was estimated to last 24 hours with a possibility of lasting 30 hours." Cooper's report quotes Galten's "but gas is running low" version of the message but attributes the time to 19:11 GMT, halfway between Galten's 19:12 and O'Hare's 19:10.

About four hours after the ship began its search (02:15 GMT), United Press correspondent H.N. Hanzlick aboard Itasca sent his story which included the following description:


Hanzlick's representation of what Earhart said is obviously based upon Thompson's 21:45 message to San Francisco and his own somewhat scrambled recollection of what was said and when.

The other reporter aboard Itasca, James Carey of the Associated Press, was no more accurate when he filed his story 45 minutes later at 03:00 GMT:


The next day Hanzlick filed another story which included:


If either reporter actually heard what was received from Earhart they did a very poor job of reporting it.

So which version of the 19:12 (or 19:10) transmission is more accurate? It's interesting to read what Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts had to say on the subject when he was interviewed by Elgen Long on April 11, 1973.

Long: (T)here seems to be some confusion about whether she said she had thirty minutes of fuel left or running low --was there any solution to that?

Bellarts: Well, the only solution is what's in the log.

Long: Well, one log says one thing and O'Hare's log said the other.

Bellarts: Well, don't go on O'Hare's log, because I say --I wasn't even aware that O'Hare was putting that stuff down. ... No, I mean that. I mean that. O'Hare shouldn't have been putting that down because it was not his responsibility. It was actually mine and Galten, you know.

Later in the interview:

Long: What--this thirty minutes routine--then that just came up out of left field somewhere? I have thirty minutes fuel remaining, one half hour...

Bellarts: Ah, well, I'll tell you how that happened, I believe. When -- after the flight, I actually think it took place -- I can't recall if it was going into Honlulu on the way north ... or if it was from Honolulu back to 'Frisco. I don't recall. But I recall the old man was down there, Thompson, Baker, and myself ...and they was concocting up a long letter to, you know, sort of a search report, and I think that was put in that report. They should never have put that in. They quoted---they misquoted it.

Long: Well, it got into O'Hare's log somehow too. He says 30 minutes of fuel.

Bellarts: Well, if O'Hare did, then maybe that's where the stuff came from.

Long: Let me read what....(he then reads O'Hare's log entry).

Bellarts: (Laughs) That stinkin' O'Hare. ... Possibly O'Hare might have had something in his little punkin' head that he might have, you know, thought he was going to make a bundle of jack on that or something.

It is worth mentioning that , while we have what is purported to be copies of the original radio log kept by Galten and Bellarts, the only available copes of the log kept by O'Hare are of the "smoothed" version that was re-typed sometime after the fact.

Of course, anything Leo Bellarts said in 1973 is anecdotal, but taken in context with the contemporaneous material, and in the absence of any supporting real-time corroboration, O'Hare's report that Earhart said anything about a half hour of fuel left seems to be lacking any credibilty.


Message: 14
Subject: Re: Noonan's navigation to Hawaii
Date: 2/21/01
From: Bob Brandenburg

There seems to be an implicit assumption that Noonan was flying a great circle track to Honolulu, thus explaining the difference between his actual track made good and the ideal rhumb track.

Plotting a great circle track on a Mercator projection is a tedious and time-consuming task that would provide no useful information in this case. But I recommend it as an exercise for those interested in learning something about navigation.

I can save time and angst for all concerned by assuring you that Noonan was not following a great circle, nor could he have done so.

To navigate via a great circle requires making an infinite number of course changes at infinitely small time intervals, and therefor is not practical. Hence, Noonan could not have been flying a true great circle track.

A navigator wishing to take advantage of the fact that a great circle is the shortest distance between two points on the surface of the earth will, using a great circle plotting chart, subdivide the desired track into sequential segments. He then transfers the end points of those segments to a Mercator projection chart and connects them with straight lines which, of course, are rhumb lines. Each rhumb line track segment is a chord subtending an arc of the great circle. The end point of each rhumb is a way point at which the navigator changes course to follow the next segment. The number of way points used is a function of how closely the navigator wants to approximate the great circle. The tradeoff is between the number of way points, and hence the required navigation effort, and the distance saved relative to the rhumb track from the point of origin to the destination.

Now, here is a brief comparison of the great circle and rhumb tracks between Oakland and Honolulu:

The great circle distance is 2090 nautical miles. The navigator must initially fly course 252 degrees true, and gradually and continuously change course to the left over time, with his final course being 244 degrees true as he reaches his destination. This requires an infinite number of position fixes and course changes - - clearly impossible.

The rhumb distance is 2107 nautical miles, and requires the navigator to fly a single course of 242 degrees true from start to finish.

The distance saved by flying a true great circle would be 17 miles.

To put it another way, the great circle and rhumb tracks between Oakland and Honolulu are nearly coincident.

Inspection of Noonan's actual track clearly shows that he wasn't attempting to fly either a great circle or a rhumb track. It appears that his goal was merely to get close enough to pick up the signal from the radio beacon at the lighthouse on Makapuu Point, which he did at 1115Z at a distance of about 670 nautical miles, and to follow the radio bearing to his destination, which he did. During the preceding 10 hours and 43 minutes since departing Oakland, he had a total of 4 navigational fixes. The first fix was based on a radio bearing on a beacon near San Francisco plus two celestial bodies. The last three fixes were based on two celestial bodies each. It is important to note that a two-body celestial fix is prone to a much larger position error than a fix obtained with three or more bodies.

None of this is intended to suggest that Noonan would have missed Hawaii if he didn't get the beacon signal from Makapuu Point. The Hawaiian chain of islands is a big target, and it would be hard to miss even without the radio bearing.

The point of examining Noonan's navigation habits enroute to Honolulu is to search for insights that could help explain subsequent events. The Oakland-to-Honolulu flight was the first leg of the planned East-to-West circumnavigation, with Howland Island being the next objective after Honolulu.

Had Noonan been using the Oakland to Honolulu leg as a contingency rehearsal for finding Howland without a radio bearing from the Itasca, we should expect to see much tighter celestial navigation than he demonstrated. Instead, we see very loose navigation with heavy reliance on a terminal radio bearing.

Absent evidence to the contrary, it seems reasonable to assume that Noonan used the same navigation methods on the Lae to Howland leg.

The question is whether Noonan's navigation was good enough to find the Itasca and Howland Island without a radio bearing from the Itasca.

Fact: Noonan did not get a radio bearing from the Itasca.

Fact: Noonan did not find the Itasca or Howland Island.

Conclusion: Noonan's navigation wasn't good enough to find Howland island without a radio bearing.


From Ric

Which is not to say that Noonan wasn't a good enough navigator to find Howland without a radio bearing, but if you're navigating "loose" and counting on a radio bearing, and then you don't get it, you're in trouble.

Message: 15
Subject: Re: 1N 177W
Date: 2/21/01
From: Janet Whitney

The first thing we would do when the trawler reached 1 N 177 W is stop the engines and check the drift using the GPS. Then we would start an engine and keep the trawler stationary while we deployed the digital camera / sonar package. We would check the current every few hundred feet using the GPS and sonar transponder. We would slowly pay out the line until the camera/sonar package was (say) 100 feet off the ocean floor, taking measurements of the currents, effect on the camera/sonar package. We would try to take some stationary photos of the ocean floor. We would do this for several days. When we got a feeling of how the camera/sonar package performed at 17,000 feet we would start towing in a search pattern. We would tow at 2 knots maximum speed. It would take a minimum of three months to search a reasonably large area.

Janet Whitney

From Ric

I say go for it. You may even be able to get the diesel fuel donated. I'm sure that all of us here on the forum wish you and your compatriots calm seas and the very best of luck. We'll eagerly await the results of your search. Let us know when you get back. Bon voyage!

Message: 16
Subject: Re: Noonan's Navigation to Hawaii
Date: 2/21/01
From: Chris Kennedy

One thing that I believe has been discussed before is that AE and FN may have been in visual range of Howland, but unable to spot it because of shadows thrown over the water by the clouds. Also, depending on a number of factors (clouds, surf noise etc.) people on Itasca and Howland may not have been able to spot or hear the plane even though it was in visual/hearing range. If any of this is true (I keep remembering "we must be on you but can't see you"), it seems to me that this qualifies the conclusion that either AE or FN talents weren't good enough for the task.

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

I think we're all agreed that when AE said she "..must be on you but cannot see you" she was where she thought Howland should be, but it wasn't there. The island can't move, so she must have been somewhere other than where she thought she was. That fact had to be as obvious to her as it is to us.

We're also agreed that when she said, an hour later, that she was "on the line 157 337" and that she was "running north and south" she was searching for Howland by exploring along the 157 337 line which she believed ran through Howland.

We're also all in agreement that she never saw Howland and the question becomes --- why? Because, although she was technically within visual range, she couldn't pick out the island from the cloud shadows while squinting into the sun? Or was she so far away that she never had any chance of seeing the island?

If we're going to suggest the former explanation we also have to say that they somehow failed to see Baker either, which was forty miles to the southeast on pretty much the same LOP --- and remember, if they're running up and down the LOP they're not looking into the sun. In other words, we'd be saying that Noonan's navigation was just about perfect even without help from DF but the islands were effectively just impossible to see.

Or is the latter scenario perhaps more likely?


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