Forum artHighlights From the Forum

December 16 through 21, 1998

Subject: Why that time of day?
Date: 12/17/98
From: Pat Robinson

In the latest posting HAG wrote:

From HAG: I found Daryll’s posting to be very interesting, although I reject its premise that AE was involved in any covert activity, other than possibly being a decoy.

regards, HAGraham 2201

To me this is also very interesting...And it raises questions about the latter leg of AE’s flight... Why leave Lae for Howland at the time she did ???...Of course storms played a part in her decision...But why put yourself near Howland in the early morning ??? If they were off course and FN had to take sun shots, how accurate are sun shots at dawn ???...And wouldn’t his accuracy increase after the sun has risen higher off the horizon ??? Why schedule such a long (20 + hour flight) overwater flight ???...Up to their landing in Lae they had been flying 4 + hour legs after departing Africa...


From Ric

Good questions, to which there are good answers. Earhart’s departure from Lae was not delayed by storms. It was delayed by radio reception difficulties in Lae which prevented Fred Noonan from receiving the necessary time signals needed to establish the accuracy of his chronometer. (The whole thing is very well documented in the report later submitted by Guinea airways Gen’l Manager Eric Chater.) It was 9 p.m. on the night of July 1st (Lae time) when good time signals were finally received from Sydney, Australia and Fred got confirmation at 8 a.m. the next morning with signals from Saigon. The take off was made 2 hours later at 10 a.m. Lae time, which also happened to be 00:00 Greenwich time (thus simplifying the calculation of time aloft). The flight was expected to take between 18 and 20 hours. A morning takeoff in Lae would give them daylight for the first eight hours or so when they would be flying in areas where landmarks should be visible (New Britain and a few island groups). During the night they would be over open ocean where there was nothing to see anyway, and Noonan would be able to take star sights to keep them on course. Daybreak would come a few hundred miles out from Howland giving Fred one last Line of Position (LoP) which he could then advance by DR (Dead Reckoning) through the destination. He would be looking for the island in daylight without worrying about approaching nightfall. The sun might be in his eyes, but the other advantages of a morning departure from Lae far-outweighed that one annoyance.

Incidentally, that LoP was pre-calculable. Technically, he wouldn’t even necessarily have to “shoot” the rising sun. By noting the precise moment when the sun broke the horizon he could put a line on the map (he could know ahead of time that it would be a line that went 337 degrees one way and 157 degrees the other way) and know that he was somewhere on that line. From there is was just a matter of calculating his groundspeed and noting the time it would take to reach the advanced LoP. When the time was up he’d know that Howland (if not immediately visible) was either off to his left at 337 degrees or off to his right at 157 degrees. The only question was which way to turn. That’s what Radio Direction Finding was supposed to tell them, and that’s the part of the plan that didn’t work.

But to get back to the original question, the decision to leave when they did was, in part, governed by necessity but was a good choice nonetheless. As for the accuracy of sun shots after dawn – as mentioned above, the Line of Position they would get was no great secret. It was going to be 90 degrees to the rising sun, which was going to rise at 67 degrees sure as shootin’ (thereby giving a 337/157 LoP). The only question was at just what moment would it rise? And why schedule such a long flight? Because they had no choice. Howland was the closest (only) airfield between New Guinea and Hawaii.

Love to mother,

Subject: Sextant Boxes Revisited
Date: 12/17/98
From: Mike
>He may have meant that the box was black enamel and may or may not
>(“probably”) have been painted black over its original factory color. If
>it looked like an amateur paint job, you know?
>If we start assuming that passages in the correspondence are errors (without
>some other reason for suspicion) we’ll go nuts. Where do you stop?

Ric, that was a serious suggestion! I don’t think he made an error, simply that human language is often vague and open to misinterpretation. Both this and several other ideas as to what he may have meant are all reasonable. I guess what I’m suggesting is that we accept that the box was black enamel and that’s as much as we can really deduce from his statement. If he never mentions having the sextant itself I don’t think we should try to twist his statement to make it refer to the sextant. There are plenty of reasonable English usages where he could be referring to the box in his hands. Could be worse... he could have said “Ni!” (for Niku?)

From Ric

I’m not trying to be difficult but, at least to me, there is nothing at all ambiguous about Gallagher’s statement that: “Sextant box has two numbers on it 3500 (stencilled) and 1542 – sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black enamel.” This is not a matter of interpretation. The sentence is very clear. The subject of the second clause of the sentence is “sextant” and it is clearly the sextant which he thinks is old fashioned and probaly painted over with black enamel. Heck, even I know that, and I only have a B.A. from the State University of New York. Gallagher had an M.A. from Cambridge.

Subject: HF/DF
Date: 12/18/98
From: Randy Jacobson

If the Navy was so interested in setting up a radio HF/DF network, one node on Howland, why did they provide the gear to the Coast Guard with no instructions as to use, or a qualified radioman to operate it? Why was there no radio message traffic to Itasca to coordinate radio interceptions using this HF/DF? It is rather was not intended for that purpose on this trip.

Parenthetically, joint classified Navy/CG meetings on emergency use of HF/DF for search and rescue pointedly state that PAA’s equipment was far superior to their own. As food for thought for the conspirators, perhaps PAA was part of the network!

From Ric

Good point Randy. It’s clear from Cmdr. Thompson’s (captain of the Itasca) report that he didn’t want the thing on board. The HF/DF seems to have been foisted on him by Richard Black (Dept. of the Interior) and Lt. Daniel Cooper (Army Air Corps). Quoting Thompson’s report: “Mr. Black and Lieutenant Cooper of the Army had the Navy send a high frequency direction finder on board. The Coast Guard did not request the equipment and did not receipt for it.”

Thompson had to get a radioman 2nd class (Cipriani) transferred from the cutter Taney to operate the HF/DF. Black didn’t know how to work it. Cooper didn’t know how to work it. Cipriani did the best he could, but it became apparent that he didn’t know what the heck he was doing either.

This all sounds very familiar to me. You have a big, high-profile project. Somebody gives you a hi-tech piece of equipment to use. You don’t really know how to use it but, what the heck, you figure you’ll figure it out. In the end, it’s just a big waste of time and energy. Been there. Done that.

Ltm, Ric

Subject: English 101
Date: 12/19/98
From: wwg

“Sextant box has two numbers on it 3500 (stenciled) and 1542 – sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black enamel.”

I’m still not really sure how clear the sentence is (given its source as a telegram, subject to economy in words and manual recopying during transmission, etc, and especially the awkward syntax of the phrase after the dash mark). Obviously, someone else had yet another interpretation of that same phrase at the time, since for weeks after reading it, the authority at Suva was still expecting to receive a non-existent sextant as a part of the group of artifacts found on Gardner.

My own reading of the phrase was done in the knowledge that no sextant was found, so I quickly (probably rashly) resolved the lack of clarity by thinking that perhaps Gallagher was referring to the box. But I’m also not at all familiar with sextants– although I know that Gallagher was. As I read the opinions of people who are much more familiar with sextants and sextant boxes than I am, I’m beginning to agree that Gallagher probably was, after all, referring to the missing sextant in that last phrase

However, there must have been some evidence in the empty box – its fittings perhaps – that made him believe that the instrument was “old fashioned” and painted over. Or, if he actually saw that fragment of an inverting eyepiece (the one that was later thrown away by the finder), or heard a good description of it (including a remark that it seemed like it was painted over), Gallagher might have reasonably inferred that the sextant it presumably belonged to was painted over too.

Question: Was it common (or even reasonable) during the 1930s for sailors and aviators to run across “old fashioned” sextants that had been painted over in enamel of any colour? Sorry for focusing in on this. It reminds me of that line from “The English Patient” – to paraphrase – it comes from always trying to read so much into so little.

By the way, it does seem likely that our friend Gatty was indeed floating around Fiji while this was all happening, and was shown the box by a curious official at some point. I wonder if Gatty ever mentioned this in any of his published materials or private letters-? Perhaps there’s still an archive of his papers on Fiji somewhere? Problem is, one could go to a lot of trouble simply to find a passing mention of his that he saw the box but was for some reason (right or wrong) so unimpressed with it that he recorded no additional meaningful detail or opinion about it.

From Ric

Allow me to correct a misconception. The officials in Suva never saw this telegram. It was sent by Gallagher to his immediate superior, the Resident Commissioner, who resided at Ocean Island which was the headquarters of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony. The Resident Commissioner then reported Gallagher’s news to his own superiors, the High Commisioner and Secretary of the Western Pacific High Commission who were in Suva, Fiji. The RC’s telegram to Suva erroneously reported that a sextant had been found, thus creating the confusion.

Black enamel paint is common on nautical sextants. Your speculation about why Gallagher thought the sextant had been painted sounds reasonable to me.

Subject: HF/DF
Date: 12/20/98
From: Jack 2157

Re. your reply to Randy Johnson on the operation of the HF/DF. You said

> Thompson had to get radioman 2nd class
> (Cipriani) transferred from the cutter Taney to
> operate the HF/DF. Black didn’t know how to work it.
> Cooper didn’t know how to work it. Cipriani did the
> best he could, but it became apparent he didn’t know
> what the heck he was doing either.

How do you know Cipriani didn’t know what the heck he was doing? Do you have any supporting evidence to substantiate your claim about Ciprianie’s capabilities? Are you clairvoyant or was this a slip of the tongue? Ed Dames may be watching.

Dog six king
Jack #2157

From Ric

Well, I’m judging Frank Cipriani’s abilities by the results he got – which were zilch. According to his own log, he does not receive as many transmissions from Earhart as Itasca and the ones he does hear are weaker than Itasca reports. He has seriously miscalculated or mis-anticipated the battery drain so that he has to use the set “sparingly” just when Earhart seems to be closest and needs his help the most.

What do you think, Randy?

Subject: HF/DF
Date: 12/21/98
From: Jack 2157

For Randy & Ric.

Per NRS 246C RG 26 Records of U.S. Coast Guard, Earhart Search, Jul 37 Cipriani was a 2nd Class Radioman. Cipriani received a commendation from L.C. Lovell, Asst. Commandant for his efforts that day.

The numerous unknowns would preclude a judgement such as what you made Ric. What type of antenna installation did he have? Was the equipment functioning properly? For example, if all Cipriani had was the loop for receive, capture area of a loop vs a long wire on the Itasca would give you a vast signal difference in favor of the Itasca. His logs would be accurate then. Your comments lack corrobration. If its YOUR opinion, then state same as such. Otherwise its “anecdotal evidence.”

73, Dog six king
Jack #2157

From Ric

You sound a bit testy there Jack. Take it easy. I’m not out to get Frank Cipriani. He got handed a piece of equipment he may never have seen before. If he had some problems getting it to work right (which is fairly evident from the logs), it’s hardly surprising. He did have what he referred to as a “long vertical antenna” which he used “for reception of signals only.” My point in all this was not to impugn Cipriani or the United States Coast Guard, but to reinforce Randy’s point that the deployment and employment of the HF/DF as part of the Earhart mission appears to have been a last-minute, what-the-heck experiment rather than any part of a secret national security program. If my opinions about what the logs imply differ from yours that does not make the logs or my opinions “anecdotal evidence.” The logs are a primary source and constitute contemporaneous written evidence of the events they describe. My interpretation of them is not “evidence” of any kind. Anecdotal evidence is what you get when somebody tells you about an event they remember.

LTM, Ric

Subject: HF/DF
Date: 12/21/98
From: Randy Jacobson

If Cipriani was trained on the HF/DF, he probably (here we go again, supposing and speculating!) would have calibrated the directionality against the Itasca, asking the ship to circle the island, standard procedure (actually in reverse: the ship turns in a circle relative to a stationary transmission point) for calibration. That never happened. Other calibrations, even for a single direction was never conducted, at least we have no documentation for it. We do know that the Itasca never circled Howland. The Itasca and other Navy ships did this as routine upon leaving Hawaii. In fact, the only device he had at his disposal for directions was a pocket compass! How’s that for quality control for a Navy unit? Cipriani, in the radio tasking manifest, was clearly given the worst job for AE. He was left alone to his own devices without much support from the ship.

Subject: HF/DF
Date: 12/21/98
From: Jack 2157

The point I’m testy (as you say) about is you said it was apparent Cipriani didn’t know what the heck he was doing. I want to know how YOU know that. Can you back that statement up with some hard evidence? If not, it’s just your opinion. Thats MY point.

Dog six king
Jack, 2157

From Ric

This is an interesting point which speaks to our entire investigation. The hard evidence I have to offer is the content of Cipriani’s own radio log, the other radio logs kept aboard the Itasca and the ship’s deck log. From that hard evidence I have drawn what seems to me to be a reasonable conclusion that Cipriani didn’t know what the heck he was doing. You might read that same evidence and draw a different conclusion. A whole lot of opinions get expressed on this forum and we are always asking each other to back them up with hard evidence. Your challenge of my statement is perfectly justified. In previous postings I have presented my evidence to back up my opinion. It is up to each forum member to decide for him/herself whether that opinion is warranted by the evidence.

LTM, Ric

Subject: Historic Preservation
Date: 12/21/98
From: Tom Robison
>From Ric
>I’m baffled by why anyone would want to do that. (raise a chunk of the Titanic)

Ric, if you found a piece of Amelia’s Electra on the ocean floor, would you let it lie there?

Tom #2179

From Ric

Believe it or not – probably. I think that the most important objective of the Earhart Project is to answer the question of what became of AE and Fred. The Electra itself is no more historically significant as an artifact than is the Titanic. Its recovery and exhibition – just like the recovery and exhibition of a chunk of the Titanic – is nothing more than morbid fascination. I think that the wreckage of Titanic should be left the [expletive deleted] alone.

If the wreckage of NR16020 was found in an equally inaccessible place I would want to leave it there. However, I think that a significant portion of the wreckage is on land and accessible. It is protected from exploitation only by the fact that nobody knows for sure where it is. Unfortunately, we’re confronted by a paradox. In order to solve the mystery we have to find the airplane. Once we find the airplane it will no longer be protected and we will have to recover it to insure that it is not exploited.

This gets to the heart of some very basic historic preservation issues. I’d be very interested to hear some opinions on this from some of our trained preservationists on the forum.

Subject: Industrial Espionage
Date: 12/22/98
From: Jerry Hamilton

Just saw the History channel’s special “Mysteries of Amelia”. Whew! Now I know why the Zero was such an excellent fighter. Apparently key design elements were directly taken from AE’s Electra. Of course that was after two Japanese navy operatives lured Amelia and Fred to an island near Howland with fake radio signals, dispatched them, and then crated the plane and shipped it back to Japan where its secrets were revealed. Just imagine how good the Zeke would have been if they’d hung two motors on it instead of one. The mind boggles. I think its time to put sake and sushi on the hallucinogen list.

zany skies, -jerry

From Ric

What’s especially baffling is why they would go to all that trouble when the Imperial Japanese Navy had already bought a Lockheed Model 10 Electra on the open market in 1936 and had a paid-for licensing agreement to build Model 14s in 1938.

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