Highlights From the Forum
April 1 through 7, 2001
(click on the number to go directly to that message)
|Headwinds||David Evans Katz|
|Re: Headwinds||David Evans Katz|
|The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Bob Sarnia|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Jerry Ellis, Alan Caldwell|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Dick Pingrey|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Alan Caldwell|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||David Evans Katz|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Alan Caldwell|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||David Evans Katz|
|To Ditch or Not to Ditch?||Rick Seapin|
|Bones on the Beach||Ric Gillespie|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Cam Warren|
|Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low||Alan Caldwell|
With all the fuss on the forum about where Long got his evidence for headwinds, has anyone thought to look at the Chater report again? There are citations of headwinds in that report. Given Earhart's own report (yes, I know she just mentions winds, not the direction of them), the Itasca's report plus the evidence in the Chater report, I don't think that it's much of a stretch to assume that she faced AVERAGE (as opposed to constant) headwinds of 20+ mph.
Of course we've looked at the evidence of headwinds in the Chater report. Although Elgen doesn't like to mention it, TIGHAR is responsible for the re-discovery of the report and we had examined every word of it about two years before Elgen realized that we had made it publicly available.
As any pilot can tell you, meaningful evidence of headwinds has to come from contemporaneous observations -- not forecasts or prognostications -- of actual winds at the surface and, more significantly, winds at altitude (known as "winds aloft"). The only way to get accurate winds aloft information in 1937 was either by pilot reports from aircraft or from weather balloons that were released from the ground and tracked visually. There are no winds aloft reports of any kind in the Chater report except Earhart's own cryptic "wind 23 knots" transmitted a little over seven hours after her departure from Lae. It could have just as easily been a tailwind as a headwind. Earhart doesn't say.
We have surface winds at Howland for the morning of July 2nd reported both in the Itasca deck log and by Dick Black on Howland. Black also tried to get winds aloft information but lost sight of the balloon when it passed the scattered cloud base at 2,650 feet above the surface.
In short, there is no, nada, zippo reliable winds aloft information for any portion of the Lae/Howland route during the period of the Earhart flight. Any attempt to establish average winds encountered by the flight is speculative but the most valid method would seem to be to take the aircraft's known intended cruise speed -- 130 knots -- and the known intended distance -- 2,223 nautical miles -- and compare the time it should have taken in zero wind -- 17.1 hours -- to the time it apparently took for the flight to reach the advanced LOP -- roughly 19 hours. That suggests an average groundspeed of 117 knots which (ignoring the reduced speed during the long climb to altitude) gives an average headwind of 13 knots. Elgen Long invented the higher headwinds and higher power settings to combat them in order to get the airplane to run out of fuel when he needed it to.
With all due respect to your analysis of the headwinds, and your decision to disregard the evidence, please note:
Page 7 of the Chater Report, in the radio message just below the one reporting the weather forecast from Pearl Harbor says in part: "Nauru 8 a.m. upper air observation ... 7500 feet ninety degrees 24 mph." In other words, winds from the EAST at 24 mph at 7,500 feet.
While this was not exactly contemporaneous (it was taken at 8 a.m. Nauru time, before Earhart took off), to disregard it altogether is somewhat disingenuous.
There is also an entry in the Itasca radio log reporting winds at 7,000 feet at 31 mph ENE. The measurement was taken by weather balloon at noon on July 1 at Howland, which was July 2 in Lae.
Since all three of the wind data points that DO include a direction indicate a wind from the EAST, and they come from different points along Earhart's route, it is only reasonable to assume that the wind Earhart herself reports (23 knots) was also from the EAST. It would be odd indeed if the wind were blowing from the east at Nauru, Howland and Pearl and from the west wherever Earhart was five hours into the flight.
The evidence is pretty convincing, unless one refuses to see it.
I don't have any problem with speculation that the winds aloft encountered by the flight were probably more or less out of the East. Most of the winds in that part of the world, at that time of year, are easterly. What little we know about the progress of the flight also suggests headwinds rather than tailwinds.
However, to say that wind SPEEDS aloft observed over Nauru at 20:00 GMT (08:00 local) on July 2nd are indicative of conditions a couple hundred miles south of there at roughly 10:30 GMT on July 3rd (22:30 July 2nd local) is more than a bit of a stretch. Any pilot will tell you that a winds aloft report that is 14 and half hours old is ancient history.
The same is even more true of the observation taken over Howland at 22:30 GMT (12:00 on Howland -- which was using Hawaii time). The flight was not in the Howland neighborhood until fully 21 hours later.
As a rule, winds aloft often change from hour to hour. It is not disingenuous to disregard these outdated reports as evidence of the wind speeds encountered by Earhart and Noonan. On the contrary, it is ridiculous to do otherwise.
If there are any fellow "ancient pelicans" (to borrow Ernie Gann's wonderful phrase) out there who disagree with me on this, please set me straight.
I appreciate the time out you took to explain AE's 0742 message, though apparently you and I will never see eye to eye. Nevertheless, I am glad that we can discuss this important issue like gentlemen. I leave it to your discretion whether you post this reply on the forum or not.
Whenever I see what I consider to be an important posting on your forum, I print it out for later perusal and keep it in my file, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 inches thick. I have a copy of your Feb. 20th posting and am familiar with it, though I interpret it in a different manner.
I also have copies of the Itasca's radio logs, as well as a copy of Cdr. Thompson's July 19, 1937 report to his superiors (108 pages long), which obviously is in your possession.
As I implied in my 2nd recent posting, let's forget the "only half hour left" part of AE's 0742 message, which RM O'Hare entered in his log, and concentrate on her "gas is running low" statement, which was recorded in the radio log kept by CRM Bellarts.
Despite the barbs and arrows flung towards AE regarding her capability as a pilot, she was still an experienced flier, and surely must have known what she was saying when she reported "gas is running low." Who would know better than she? I do not believe that she would cavalierly report that "gas is running low" if her fuel gauges indicated otherwise.
Looking at the many Purdue University photos taken of AE as she supervised, or at least oversaw, the repairs being done to the Electra, I would say that she was a very dedicated person who was concerned about her plane and made sure that even small details did not escape her. (Cynics, of course, will say that those photos were taken for publicity purposes.)
When she arrived in what she thought was the vicinity of Howland at 0742, she had already flown 8/10ths around the world, making up to 20 or more take offs and landings, not to mention the in-between flying, so she was no novice.
Many theorize that she should have had plenty of gas remaining at 0742. I agree, but the fact remains that she reported that "gas is running low." We don't know the reason why her fuel was running out, but running out it was, otherwise she wouldn't have said so in that message. Surely she had the experience to know how to read her fuel gauges!!?
A study of winds in the Eastern Pacific reveals that it blows constantly (in July) from the SE below the equator and from the NE above the equator, and headwinds were predicted for most of the way from Lae to Howland. Those NE tailwinds were responsible for the record time she made during her Oakland-Honolulu leg of what was to be the start of her round-the-world journey, which ended during takeoff at Luke Field. This time, from Lae to Howland, she would face those same winds in the opposite direction, whether from the NE or SE.
She would not have known to the last gallon how much fuel was left, but we do know that her last message was sent at 0844-46 that morning (received at S-5), indicating that she was still aloft and fairly close to the Itasca, but for how long afterwards becomes speculation.
May I theorize for a brief moment?
She would have ditched between 0846 and 0900.
Ric, many facets of her journey may be subject to various interpretations, but that 0742 message about "gas is running low" is unmistakably clear.
If you can't see that, then, as gentlemen, let's agree to disagree.
Regards, Bob Sarnia.
Bob, I completely agree with you that Earhart was an experienced long-distance flier who had successfully completed many very long flights without ever once running out of gas. As any experienced pilot will tell you, when you're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, unable to locate the only airstrip within thousands of miles, unable to establish radio cmmunication with anyone, and down to your last four hours of fuel after a 19 hour flight --- you better believe "gas is running low."
It amazes me that those who theorize that she ran out of gas also say that they're trying to "salvage her reputation." For her to have done what you, and Elgen Long, and others suggest would have been monumentally stupid and virtually suicidal. As I've made clear on many occasions, I think that both AE and Fred had flaws that ultimately cost them their lives but I see no evidence that they were as incompetent as you suggest, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.
I'm not a pilot but my take on the "gas is running low" phrase is that is all relative and can't be quantified in any real way. Had she said something like "just switched to reserve tank of 100 gallons" then we would have something definite. I would think that from her perspective, only a few hrs of fuel remaining out of the 24 or so she had to start with is "running low."
Jerry W. Ellis #2113
From Alan Caldwell
Bob Sarnia wrote:
> Many facets of her journey may be subject to various interpretations,
Bob, I've been a pilot and instructor pilot since the 50s. Almost all of my flying was long distance and over the Pacific or Atlantic. "gas is running low" is absolutely NOT "unmistakenly clear." Gas running low over San Antonio could mean I have about 10 or 15 minutes left. Gas running low over Wake Island might mean I'm down to my last 6 or 7 hours.
You as well as others have frequently pointed out that the winds in the South Pacific that time of year were typically out of the East and some have suggested they were usually as high as 25 whatevers. People keep bouncing back and forth between knots and MPHs. AE just might have known that too don't you think? So why should she have been caught off guard that she wasn't going to have no wind or a tail wind from Lae to Howland? How do you explain everyone "knowing" there would be a head wind of significant magnitude except AE and FN? It amazes me that people would even suggest these folks would plan a flight dry tanks over Howland. They knew before T.O. what the winds might be and went anyway. Doesn't that hint to you and other ditch advocates that they expected to have adequate fuel. Does anyone think AE and FN were so stupid and incompetent that at the half way point they would have pressed on instead of turning back in the face of a suicidal mission?
If anyone believes that then logically AE could have called "low fuel" as she taxied out at Lae.
To follow your reasoning we have to believe AE and FN took off knowing they had only an hour to find Howland if that and that their only alternative was to kill themselves in a ditching. Then at the half way point they now have even more conclusive evidence they can't make it but stubbornly press on. Sorry, that has to be the most preposterous scenario I've ever heard. It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever. Disagree all you want but at least use some rationality.
If you want something "unmistakenly clear" then it would be that AE and FN most likely did not plan on a suicide trip to the vicinity of Howland. Now you might want to say they did not expect such a head wind but that flies in the face of your own evidence. They KNEW what the winds were supposed to be AND they were actually flying the route and were experiencing the winds first hand. Also we could speculate they were low on fuel because of a significant fuel leak. So now we have our daring duo saying, "Hey, all our fuel is leaking out. What say we continue at least until the fumes do us in."
I don't think so. If you want to come up with an alternate theory suggest one that makes some kind of sense. I'll buy anything that has some degree of sanity to it.
As TIGHAR member and Earhart Team alternate Bill Carter recently pointed out in a private email to me, Earhart's comment about fuel -- whatever its intended meaning -- is rather pointless. Here she is, unable to establish communication, transmitting blind, and she says, "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."
She is apparently transmitting information on the assumption, or in the hope, that they can hear her -- and that's fine. But the information she is giving them is totally useless. "We have been unable to reach you by radio" -- well, duh. Does she think they don't know that? She tells them that her gas is running low, so -- what? -- stop kidding around, pretending that you don't hear me, and answer my calls? "We are flying at 1,000 feet". How will that information help Itasca help her? Her problem is a radio problem and the only information that is going to help Itasca get in touch with her is radio information. It doesn't make any sense to say anything unless she is operating on the assumption that it's a receiving problem on her end. She should be suggesting different frequencies and trying different receivers (if she has them) and different receiving antennas. That's exactly what she does when she asks for signals on 7500 and apparently hears them over her loop antenna, but she doesn't follow up on that success. When she fails to "get a minimum" she switches back to the configuration (listening on 3105 on an antenna other than the loop) that doesn't work.
This is simply bad problem solving. She is not thinking logically and not acting rationally. Unfortunately, that is not unusual in the annals of aviation accidents. Pilots often fail to do the things that they could do to deal with inflight emergencies because they don't think things through calmly and logically. Granted, it's real hard to be calm and logical when everything is going to hell and your own mortality is becoming more apparent by the minute -- but that's the difference between old pilots and dead pilots.
Alan Caldwell has it right on target in his reply to Bob Sarnia's theory. Read it again folks as therein is the fundamental reason that Elgen Long's theory is unbelievable. I think Bill Carter's comments, as outlined by Ric and Ric's additional comments attached to Alan's message, are very significant in understanding the situation. Add all this to the discovery that AE's antenna was lost on take off and a fairly understandable picture of why she did not find Howland and why she had to look for an alternate place to land starts to take shape.
Dick Pingrey 908C
Dick, doesn't it seem we go over this ground a lot? You have a lot of flight experience as I do and some members of the forum so the simple logic makes sense to us. To some it isn't so obvious. Remember all the LOP threads we had some time ago wherein few people had a clue what an LOP even was. I get frustrated when I read statements that with a little more thought would not be made. Yet, look at Elgen Long with all his experience and investigations coming up with the same "run out of gas" story. Baffling.
Then I read about the "only 30 minutes left" report again and again and am amazed that the commenters don't seem to notice that the plane was still in the air an hour later and no further radio report about the desperation of having only seconds of fuel left.
I think there is really a lot less in the way of speculation involved in our mystery than some would suggest. For, example, as I pointed out before, the forecast winds were to be a strong headwind. It matters not how often preflight winds and actual winds coincide. It tells us that our heroes did not run into unexpected strong headwinds. But we don't even have to guess at that. We know what time they took off and what time they were at a number of positions so a groundspeed and thus a headwind computation is simple math. No speculation. We know AE was provided with a detailed power and fuel management script. I don't know whether she followed it but I can't think of a reason she would make up her own fuel plan. And as you pointed out the aircraft performance is a known fact. We can reconstruct her flight and fuel profile from t.o. to Howland and a little beyond with fairly good accuracy. We don't know what altitudes she flew but it makes no significant difference. She flew from point A to point B and we know roughly her flight path and her times so fuel is pretty easy.
We don't know what celestial capability was presented to FN yet we know he navigated the plane to the vicinity of Howland so there is little significance whether there was a lot of cloud cover or none.
We know what the radio problems were though not the cause save the lost antenna and the faulty DF. That puts the Electra in the Howland vicinity at a known time with a good handle on remaining fuel. What they did then IS speculation but we want to think we're making educated guesses. Considering there were no airfields then to use as an alternate we're left with ditching or landing on some land somewhere. Of those choices ditching just doesn't sound like a reasonable choice. (Anyone with a good reason to pick ditching?) If they decide to find land why would they not opt for the closest land? (Anyone?) The Phoenix group was the closest AND FN would have an easier and more precise navigation problem as the sun would give him course lines. Going back to the Gilberts was a much longer flight and the sun would only give FN speed lines. I don't think going in the direction of the Marshalls was an option. Too far and Japanese controlled.
Even without any evidence, however weak or strong found on Niku, the Phoenix Islands still make the best sense.
To run the Electra out of gas prematurely ignores the known performance of the plane. To put them far off course ignores the fact that their radio reports were strength 5 and gradually reaching strength 5 thus eliminating a monentary skip effect or at least reducing that possibility. One would also have to believe FN didn't know where he was when no one can suggest a reason he wouldn't know. Also it must be ignored that AE and FN thought they knew where they were and had the capability of knowing where they were. How does anyone get them far off course?
Can anyone RATIONALLY propose an alternate theory than they got to the vicinity of Howland, couldn't pick up the island visually and went on to the nearest land?
Alan Caldwell wrote:
>Can anyone RATIONALLY propose an alternate theory than
There is nothing IRRATIONAL about the alternate theory that they ran out of gas and went into the sea while looking for land (whether Howland, Baker, Gardner or Timbuktu). Irrespective of what is known about the Electra's prospective performance under the conditions AE faced, no one can know with any certainty precisely how much fuel remained at the time of her last transmission. We can certainly make informed estimates based upon fuel analysis and what impact external factors (such as headwinds, etc.) may have had, but it is all speculation.,p> That she stated that she was "low on gas" an hour before her last transmission is a fact. Whether she meant that she was just into her reserves or running on fumes is anyone's guess.
My point is that it is unfair to paint the alternate theory that AE splashed into the sea as "irrational."
David Evans Katz
> My point is that it is unfair to paint the alternate
You are certainly correct, David. I was not clear in my note. I was only referring to those who would have her run out of gas before arriving at Howland or only an hour later. I haven't read a rational explanation for either occurring. That she may have eventually run out of gas is indisputable.
Actually, Alan, I don't think it's irrational to pose the prospect that AE may have run out of gas within a short time of her last broadcast. the reason is that we do not know how she managed her fuel or what external factors may have impacted her fuel consumption, irrespective of the plane's capabilities.
Ric does point out, however, the inherent difficulty of testing such a hypothesis. While certainly difficult, apparently Elgen Long and Nauticos is, in fact, endeavoring to test the hypothesis. Whether they are succesful remains to be seen. The same is, of course, true for testing TIGHAR's hypothesis.
Which was her "last broadcast"? The one heard by Itasca at 20:13 GMT (08:43 Itasca time) on July 2nd --"We are on the line 157 337...."
Or the one at 05:30 GMT on July 3rd (17:00 Itasca time on July 2nd) -- "We hear her on 3105 Kcs now, very weak and unreadable/fone."
Or the one heard by the guys on Baker at 06:50 GMT on July 3rd (21:20 Itasca time on July 2nd) -- "Baker heard Earhart plane strength 4 R7 ('good strong signals')..."
All of the above are from the Itasca radio log. Which do you want to throw out, and why?
Let's be clear that the hypothesis that Nauticos is testing is NOT that she ran out of gas shortly after her 20:13 transmission. They are testing the hypothesis that she ran out of gas at that moment AND that it is possible to know almost precisely where she was at that moment.
I'd rather look on Niku.
Ric said, "I don't think there was ever a conscious decision to abandon the search for Howland." Since there is no evidence a plan "B" was ever in effect are we to assume they BLUNDERED onto Niku? Forget that Putnam and several other people in the know mentioned Gardner as a likely place for the duo to land.
I guess this is just a really, really difficult concept for many people to grasp. Let me try one more time.
You never know what you're going to find among the stuff we already have.
As Pat was slogging through Randy Jacobson's voluminous contributions to the 8th Edition, editing and adding photos and maps, etc. she came across the description of a visit Itasca paid to Hull Island in November of 1937. The following passage is from the Cruise Report written by the Dept. of Interior representative aboard Itasca:
"Mr. Jones" is John William Jones, the Burns Philp overseer on Hull. Makoa is Jones' boat which was wrecked upon his arrival on Hull in May of 1937, so anything she "saw" (note that Jones does not say that he personally saw all this) must have been prior to that date. He has the name of the Norwich City correct, adding further credence to the notion that her name was still visible, but he has the wreck date and the number of casualties wrong. NC went aground in 1929 with the loss of eleven men. Only three washed up and were buried, leaving eight unaccounted for. Whoever saw the bones scattered on the beach apparently did not bury or re-bury them because Jones says that "their skeletons now lie on the beach."
Any bones Makoa saw at Gardner prior to May 1937 can not have been Noonan's or Earhart's, and are certainly most logically those of Norwich City victims. If there were more than the remains of the three who were buried they must be the bodies of men who drowned and later floated up and were washed ashore --- not hard to believe. It is, however, hard to believe that there were wild pigs on the island that somehow escaped the notice of everybody who came later. We now have, from the archive in Tarawa, a list of supplies Arundel brought to the island to support his workers in 1892 and there ain't no pigs.
This account in the Itasca Cruise Report provides important corroboration of Emily's recollections about numerous bones being found near the shipwreck. It does not, of course, establish the accuracy of her account of other bones being found that were associated with the airplane wreckage she says was there, but it's nice to see that this part of her story is true.
Ric, referring to "the last message" you stated:
" . . . . the one at 05:30 GMT on July 3rd (17:00 Itasca time on July 2nd) - 'We hear her on 3105 Kcs now, very weak and unreadable/fone.'? Or the one heard by the guys on Baker at 06:50 GMT on July 3rd (21:20 Itasca time on July 2nd) - 'Baker heard Earhart plane strength 4 R7 ('good strong signals')...' All of the above are from the Itasca radio log."
Fair enough, if accurate, and rather startling news to surface at this late date! However, I don't find the references in the Itasca logs (1 or 2) nor in the Howland log, nor in Thompson's report. . Please advise . . . .
The discovery of these messages (although they've always been there) was a direct result of my analysis of all alleged post-loss messages which was, in turn, prompted by the discovery of Betty's notebook.
Both messages are in the "smoothed" Itasca logs in the National Archives and are from later in the day than Bellart's raw copy, which ends at 10:39 Itasca time, and O'Hare's smoothed copy ends at 10:53. Thompson's report doesn't mention it at all.
There is, of course, more to the story and it's not as simple or conclusive as it might at first seem. Here's a plain Engish version of the entire sequence of messages that began at 17:00 Itasca time the evening of July 2nd.
They go back and forth for a while and the operator eventually decides "Phone signals definitely not Earhart." Was he right or did he end up exchanging signals with someone else who heard the same initial call he did?
HMS Achilles, steaming northward several hundred miles east of the Phoenix Group. later reports hearing the following during this same time period:
It seems quite apparent that Achilles overheard the exchange between Itasca and the "mystery station" that the Itasca operator at first was sure was Earhart. Did the Achilles operator send the signals that later caused him to change his mind? Who was the third station?
The report that the Dept. of Interior hams on Baker "heard Earhart plane strength 4 R7 ('good strong signals')" later that night is much more straightforward. It's in the smoothed Itasca radio log, entry for 22:16 Itasca time on July 4th. Here's the entire exchange:
Yes, these messages are "rather startling." Almost as startling as the fact that it has taken this long for somebody to pay attention them.
David Katz wrote:
> Actually, Alan, I don't think it's irrational to pose the prospect that AE
You make an interesting point, David, and we both played straight man for Ric, allowing him the opportunity to remind us there were a number of radio reports AFTER the one we usually refer to as the last one. One of the things I like to see is the whole picture kept before us. Everyone keeps trying to narrow it down and to do that we have to start discarding elements of the mystery. Agreed the reports Ric wrote of have not been proven to be genuine but neither have they been proven otherwise. And until then they must be of consideration.
We know, for example, the 30 minutes of gas left was not accurate if said at all because she was still airborne an hour later yet some still hang on those words. THAT is irrational.
You repeated a comment I've seen often but I don't know what it means. You said, "the reason is that we do not know how she managed her fuel or what external factors may have impacted her fuel consumption..." I think we should be more demanding of those who make such statements. What external factors might have impacted her fuel consumption? No, not adverse head winds. We already know what the head wind/airspeed combination was and it was similar to preflight prediction. Maybe an aircraft malfunction? It would have to be of long duration to have such an adverse affect that they would have not continued the mission is my guess. She reported no aircraft problems. What else could there be in the way of external factors?
What other way could she have managed her fuel other than what was planned? Why would she have done that? And if it had a detrimental affect on fuel consumption why would she have continued to do that for so long as to drain her reserves?
When we read statements like these we need to question them. They need some degree of rationality. I don't see that in these two statements. AE had expert advice on fuel management that was designed to produce the most efficient flight. Suggest why she would have abandoned that procedure and chosen a less efficient plan. Suggest why she didn't report a serious aircraft malfunction if indeed she had one? Suggest what "external factors" means.
I'm not trying to be dogmatic or discourage opinions but it would be nice if they were thought out a bit more thoroughly. Maybe AE DID change her fuel plan but we need to suggest a reasonable answer and maybe there WERE external factors but they need to be articulated.
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