Forum artHighlights From the Forum

December 30, 1998 through January 5, 1999

Subject: Repair, Restoration, or Preserve As Is?
Date: 12/30/98
From: Tom Robison

I’m still a little “up-in-the-air” about this issue of preservation. On the one hand, I like to see historic things that are exactly as they were at a certain period in time (i.e., no restoration).

On the other hand, I would prefer to see the original Wright Flyer represented as Orv and Will flew it, not as it was originally received by the Smithsonian (in tattered pieces in a box, as I recall...)

The Sopwith Spad on display at the Air Force Museum is another case in point. It was built from original drawings by the technicians at AFM (not sure if they built the engine, or if it was vintage). Still, I’d rather see that airplane, as they built it, on display rather than a photograph of same because an original couldn’t be found.

Some things just shouldn’t be displayed in original form, such as the Ford coupe that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in... if you’ve not seen photos of this vehicle as it is now displayed, it will make you sick. On the other hand, a beautifully restored Ford coupe of the same vintage is a joy to behold.

If the wreckage of NR16020 is found, and if it is determined that AE and Fred did not die in the wreckage, then perhaps displaying it “as is” is appropriate. However, if evidence suggests that they died in the aircraft, then I’d just as soon not see it. However, I would like to see an Electra 10E on display, restored to represent NR16020. That to me has educational value as well as historical merit.

The Ford Museum in Dearborn has a replica of Lindberg’s Ryan. Yes, I would like to see the original, but for educational purposes, isn’t the replica a reasonable substitute? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

Tom #2179

Subject: Sextants, Reprise
Date: 12/30/98
From: Tom Van Hare

We are still looking for sextant records in the USN system. At this point, unlike others, I am more than ever convinced that the numbers on the box referenced in the Gallagher documents are US Navy numbers and not from Pan American Airways.

Part of the reason for this is that you have to know and understand the USN system. Essentially, our emerging view – still largely educated opinion – is that one number refers to the sextant and the other to the eyepiece, which would have been logged separately in the US Navy system since it is, by definition, a “fine optical instrument.” In the box, there would have been other items as well, but these would have been considered disposable and not worthy of tracking in the system.

I’ll let you know when we find the location of the USN records – hopefully these tracking lists were not destroyed, just as wristwatch numbers were tracked and entered into logbooks as a way of helping to identify remains.

Thomas Van Hare

From Ric

Hmmm. The stencilling would make sense in a naval context, but I would have expected a plaque on the box or at least a “USN” someplace.

Subject: Sextants, Reprise of Reprise
Date: 12/30/98
From: Tom Van Hare

Richard E. Gillespie wrote:

> Hmmm. The stencilling would make sense in a naval context, but I would have expected a plaque
> on the box or at least a “USN” someplace.

Not necessarily true since the box itself wasn't the item of value. Also, in most cases military equipment is acquired from civilian contractors, and some of it is “dual use,” meaning both military and civilian issue. Additionally, some items are inter-service – a sextant, for instance may have been produced for civilian, Coast Guard, and Navy use. Thus, the device itself may or may not be marked.

The packaging, case, box, etc., also may or may not be marked. All of this depends on the item and the policies of the controlling logistics agency. Today, for instance, camera gear issued is not marked with a USN label – either on the camera or on the camera case – the serial number, however, is carefully tracked and logged when it is issued to the sailor.

There is often no clearly definitive reason why some things are marked and others are not. And it is not strictly with regard to value; the camera, for instance is unmarked, but the sailor’s shirt has a label that reads something on the order of “Property of US Navy.”

Thomas Van Hare

From Ric

I guess the key will be whether the 3500 and 1542 fit into the system. If they do, it will be a pretty good indicator that the sextant box found on Niku with the bones in 1940 was once U.S. Navy property. What, I wonder, will that tell us?

Subject: Saipan Motors
Date: 12/30/98
From: Tom King

Re. Dave Bush’s question: “if the Japanese did destroy Earharts plane on Saipan – where are the engines. They would be too big to burn or destroy except by more violent means than have been put forth so far. If the plane was merely burned, the engines would still be there, somewhere. So, why didn’t the expeditions to Saipan find them?”

Dave, I lived on Saipan for the better part of two years (1977-78), and for what it’s worth, it would be real easy to lose an airplane engine there. The island was fiercely bombarded before the 1944 invasion, and then the Seabees did a really good job of flattening the rubble, building huge fuel tank farms (for the bombers that were based there to hit the Japanese homeland), jetties, runways and the like. A lot of stuff got buried and pushed into the ocean – there’s a breakwater that’s allegedly made up mostly of Japanese tanks.

I don’t think the Electra was on Saipan any more than most other TIGHARites do, but not because the engines would have been found if it had been. You could lose the engines of the Starship Enterprise amid the WWII junk on and around Saipan.

Love to Motors
Tom King

From Ric

If you’re looking for a reason that Tom Devine could not have seen the Marines drag Earhart’s airplane out of a hangar on Aslito airfield and burn it, try the fact that all the hangars at Aslito were destroyed in the capture of the airfield, and it was the Army that did it. The Marines weren’t there.

Subject: Why We Search
Date: 12/31/98
From: Ric Gillespie

This came in through the website from someone who – as far as I know – is not on the forum. He didn’t intend it as a forum posting so I’ll not include his name, but I think he raises a good question which I enjoyed answering and I want to share it with all of you.

Friends of mine ask me why am I so interested in AE and subscribe to TIGHAR. They know little, but know enough to point out that, like many icons of the 20th century, the heroine images we see of AE standing valiantly next to her Electra, are to a large extent public relations photo-ops orchestrated by Putnam. Are we searching for AE because her trip is of historical interest, because we admire her so much, because she was so fascinating and gifted, or because of the images that Putnam helped create of her, or some combination?

Are we searching for Amelia because her trip is of historical interest? Yes and no. Her trip, even had she completed it, was of no particular historical significance. It was a stunt and a fairly meaningless one at that. What makes it historically interesting is the fact of the disappearance and the public’s reaction to it.

Are we searching for Amelia because we admire her so much? I think that many people care about finding out what really happened to her because they have come to admire the icon she has become. Was the real Amelia Earhart an admirable person? I honestly don’t know.

Are we searching for Amelia because she was so fascinating and gifted? Are we talking about the myth or the person? I think you accurately perceive the situation. We’re trying to find Amelia because enough people want her found to make it possible (maybe) to find her. Whether or not the public adulation is warranted is immaterial.

TIGHAR is searching for Amelia because the mystery presents an opportunity to exercise the kind of critical thinking, scientific methodology and rational thought that is so badly needed in our daily lives and in the education of our children. Amelia is a package in which to wrap the greatest gift a teacher can give a student or we can give ourselves – the gift of how to think.

Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR

Subject: ID Marks on Military Equipment
Date: 12/31/98
From: Mike Everette

For what it may be worth, in the matter of identification marks or stencils on military equipment, these thoughts: I tend to agree with Ric that the Navy more than likely would have specified a little brass plaque on the box. This plaque would have had the numbers stamped into it. Probably it would be around an inch by an inch in size and would say something like, "Navy Department, Bureau of Ships" and then have the equipment type ("Sextant") and a military model number or specification number.

Example from the radio arena: The tag reads as follows: (and again, I know this isn't a sextant box but it does serve as an example)


The box itself would probably not have had such a nomenclature; the tag would refer to the instrument it contained (although that might not always be true).

The tag would be held to the box by small rivets or brads in each of its corners. It would have a raised-edge border, and the lettering would likewise be raised, with the "background" painted in either blue, black or red enamel.

This is the sort of tag which was used to identify all types of Navy radio equipment, and I have seen its like used on many other items such as range finders, etc., on board ships. Visit a preserved naval vessel, such as the battleship USS North Carolina (at Wilmington) and see what I mean, if you don't have the opportunity to board a Navy ship in service. (Actually the USS NC and her sisters are a better choice because the style of ID marking plaques and placards date from closer to the era we are concerned with.)

However, a sextant box might not have been markedwith a placard. Numbers might, indeed, have been painted or stenciled. Nevertheless, I too would expect some kind of marking to identify the item as Navy property.

Some things to look for might be: A small "USN" or "U.S. Navy;" or

An anchor symbol of some sort. Again, referring to radios: Almost every WW2 (and pre-war too) Navy radio I have ever seen has, somewhere on its outer cover or cabinet or on the outside of the chassis, a stencilled anchor, usually in yellow paint, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch tall. Here I am somewhat guessing; but I would be willing to bet that this mark was applied when the item of equipment was initially delivered to and accepted by the Navy from the manufacturer, and/or checked out for the first time before being issued.

I don't see any reason why such a mark might not have been applied to a sextant box.

As for equipment being "interservice:" No way. Not in the 1930s. The Army and Navy were extremely territorial, and both the Navy Dept. and the War Dept. had their separate purchasing and procurement systems. Joint service procurement and contract-issuance did not come about until WW2 forced it on the military.

73 GM AR
Mike E. #2194

Subject: Questions and Answers
Date: 1/1/99
From: Carol Dow

How does one become an Earhart Scholar? One way of doing it is to go to the Public Library and look at World Atlas books and meaure the distance between Howland Island and Gardner Island. You’re going to find the distance is over 600 miles. Next.... check to see if that is statute miles or nautical miles. If Earhart’s Electra had a cruising speend of 130 MPH (statute miles), Earhart would have 4-5 hours flying time to make it to Gardner Island. The length of time it would take is prohibitive....repeat prohibitive! Consider the fact those Wasp engines of hers must have been on econony power settings which would stretch the time factor out even further. Now, scholars, I want to ask you how could a tired and probably very scared pilot and navigator take off on another adventure trying to find a second “pea-sized island" in the Pacific over 600 miles from Howland? Now does that make sense to you? The first attempt obviously failed so what is the incentive to try another wild “goose” chase? I happen to be a Bonanza Pilot and have some time behind the controls, and I well know what it is to have sweat on your face and a look of fear in your eyes. Any pilot who was in the predicament AE was in would have doubled back and headed for the island chain they just flew over. They must have known there was an airstrip at Tarawa. My best guess is that is exactly what they did.

Instead of chasing after fantasies on Gardner Island, if I was looking for Earhart’s Electra I would be searching the Tarawa chain of Islands....and search, and search, and search. If nothing could be found I would assume she went down at sea. However, I can’t believe Earhart went down at sea, she was too good of a pilot to loose her airplane in the ocean. Earhart, earlier in the flight, made a U-turn when they ran into bad weather and she probably did the same thing once it became apparent they weren’t going to find Howland. In “hangar talk” it’s called a 180 degree turn.

Enroute Earhart flew over the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) on course and on time on the way to Howland. Now I refuse to accept the fact they didn’t head for those Islands once they knew they were in trouble. Nobody, repeat nobody wants to ditch at sea. I have a cousin who is an F-18 pilot on the Abraham Lincoln. His “fly-by-wire” system went out and his squadron leader told him to bail out. The plane went completely unstable. He refused to bail and flew the plane back to dry land. Nobody, nobody wants to ditch at sea, I don’t care who it is. If there is dry land close by....go for it.

Also, what was wrong with Earhart’s radios with all that static they encountered? VHF frequencies are static free. I have my suspicions someone was trying to jam her maybe the Japanese who probably would have given anything to get their hands on that airplane of hers. Earhart’s Electra was all metal. The Japanese did not have an all metal twin engine plane....they were fabric. It’s not so easy puting metal on ariplanes...ask the engineers at Boeing. Each rivet, each cut in the metal is critical.

OK scholars, let check this out.

Carol Dow (lady pilot with a few hours). If I was looking for Earhart’s electra I believe I would do it with a metal detector and search, search the Gilberts. Replies anyone?

From Ric

First I want to advise the Forum that Ms. Dow sent a similar message to me as a private email to which I replied that I was glad she had everything figured out, but that her facts were wrong, and that in 30 years of flying I had learned never to argue with a 500 hour pilot.

Now she has joined the forum and submitted the above message for posting. The purpose of the forum is not only to further our research, but also to inform and educate those who share our interest but may not be aware of what we have learned so far. Ms. Dow’s approach to the Earhart mystery is, unfortunately, not unusual and her posting, while perhaps a bit strident, is not overtly rude or abusive. So I will reply and hope that my comments are taken as they are intended – not to embarrass or humiliate, but to inform and educate.

In order to engage in intelligent speculation about what Earhart might have done upon failing to find Howland Island, I’m sure you’d agree that it is important to have an accurate picture of the situation with which she was faced. In other words, you can’t draw valid conclusions from invalid information.

We know that AE left Lae with 1,100 U.S. gallons of fuel and that, according to the power and fuel management profiles prepared for her by Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson, that should have given her a total endurance of 24 hours and 10 minutes. The flight to Howland was expected to take 19 hours, thus giving her the 20% (5 hour) reserve which was standard for long-distance flights.

With that information in mind, the message received by the Itasca at 07:42 local time (19 hours and 12 minutes into the flight) makes perfect sense: “We must be on you but cannot see you but gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” To paraphrase, “We have come to the place where our navigation says Howland should be but we can’t see the island and we have begun to burn our fuel reserve.” The reason for flying at 1,000 is almost certainly to get below the base of the scattered clouds.

An hour later, at 08:43 local time (20 hours and 13 minutes into the flight) Itasca hears the last message it will receive: “We are on the line 157 337. Will repeat message. We will repeat this on 6210 Kcs. Wait. We are running on north and south line.”

This rather clearly describes a course of action other than turning back for the Gilberts (what you call “the Tarawa chain of islands”), but would that have been a prudent course of action? Let’s look at Earhart’s options at that moment. Here are the facts she has to deal with:

1. As you have so correctly stated, the absolute last thing she wants to do is put this airplane in the water.

2. She has just shy of 4 hours of fuel remaining in which to find land. With that, she can cover, depending on the winds, roughly 520 nautical miles at her best economical cruising speed of 130 knots.

3. She knows that the closest island of the Gilberts (an atoll called Arorae) is 500 nautical miles away . She would have to hit it precisely starting from an unknown point. Tarawa, by the way, is 750 nautical miles and there is no airfield there or anywhere else in the Gilberts in 1937. The only advantage to heading for the Gilberts would be that the islands were densely populated and she would be sure to be found. (Incidentally, the Gilberts were subsequently searched as part of the Navy’s effort to find Earhart.)

4. She does not know where she is, but she is not totally lost either. She (well, actually Noonan) knows that they are somewhere along a line which runs 337 degrees to the northwest and 157 degrees to the southeast and passes, at some point, through Howland Island. But because they don’t know where they are on the line, they don’t know which way to fly along the line to reach Howland.

5. She and Noonan know that there are three other islands along that same line stretching southeastward from Howland. Baker (40 nautical miles), McKean (290 nautical miles) and Gardner, now known as Nikumaroro, which is 350 nautical miles (403 statute miles) as measured on a World Aeronautical Chart (WAC). By proceeeding southeastward along the 157 337 line (the one she said she was flying on in her last transmission) they have four opportunities (Howland, Baker Mckean and Gardner) to reach land before they run out of fuel. What would you do?

Your questions about radio static are puzzling. I’m not aware of any evidence that she was troubled by static any more than is normal on HF frequencies. I can’t imagine where you got the impression that she was using VHF. Maybe it’s the same place where you heard that all Japanese twin engine planes at that time were fabric and that the Japanese would have given anything to get their hands on her Electra. Not only did Japan have several all-metal twins in production in 1937, but they had also purchased an Electra from Lockheed the year before on the open market.

If you need further references or sources for the information provided above just let me know. I hope you enjoy the forum.

Love to mother,

Subject: Noonan and Radios
Date: 1/2/99
From: Bob Williams

I have a vague recollection of something on the forum, a couple of months ago, about a Noonan radio license. I believe I recall that someone said he had an FCC Radiotelegraph Second Class License.

If this were true, that means besides the radio theory he would have needed to know to pass the test, he would also have needed to pass a 15 words per minute CW (Morse Code) test, both sending and receiving. In the 30s all Pan Am pilots were required to get that license. I don't think the Navigators or Flight Engineers were. If Noonan had that license, he got it on his own.

In later years, I know the FCC only required a Third Class Restricted Permit to operate an aircraft radio on voice. Filling out a form was all that was required to get that Permit. I don't know what year that requirement went into effect.

LTM, Bob

From Ric

An FCC Radiotelegraph Second Class License? Do we know that? JHam? How say you?

Subject: A Close Call
Date: 1/3/99
From: Ric Gillespie

I’ve got to share this. I just had the bejesus scared out of me by an email that came in via the website. To wit:

“You may be interested in the following. Late in 1943 virtually an entire Marine Corps squadron of new F4U Corsair fighters of VMF-422 squadron went down during a 700-mile Pacific Ocean flight from Betio in the Tarawa Atoll to Funafuti, which was to be the staging area for the squadron’s participation in the forthcoming attack on the Marshall Islands. The 23 planes, flying in formation, were the victims of series of miscalculations in the preparations for the flight, one of which was a failure to access an up-to-date weather report and forecast for the route. The latter resulted in the planes unexpectedly encountering and being scattered by an intense storm.

“Some of the pilots were never seen again, some were forced to ditch when they ran out of fuel, one crash landed on an intermediate island and at least one ditched deliberately in an effort to save another pilot who had ditched previously.

“Although 22 of the Corsairs have been resting at the bottom of the Pacific since the disaster, seventeen of the pilots managed to survive after experiences involving much danger, hardship and heroism. Nine of those survivors, now in their 70s and 80s, are still present as members of the VMF-422 veterans association. I have given you here just the bare bones of the story of this disaster, which is little-known for several reasons. If TIGHAR is interested in obtaining more and detailed information about the event, please contact me by E-mail at [information omitted to protect Mr. Bagott’s privacy]. I am in close contact with a member of the squadron association.

“Sincerely, Daniel L. Bagott”

Immediately I thought, “Wait a minute. Old Pulekai on Funafuti told us that he had some notion that the wreckage he saw on Gardner was from the war, that it was a small plane, and that the pilot had been rescued. Late 1943 was before the Coasties arrived at Gardner. Only the Gilbertese colonists were there. It’s way, way off course but is there any chance that one of those Corsairs made it Gardner? Could that be the source of Pulekai’s story?”

I called Mr. Baggot and asked if any of the Corsairs had crash landed on an island. He said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, one did. The pilot was slightly injured but the natives treated him like a god and he was later rescued by a destroyer.” (At this point my stomach is not feeling so good.) “Do you know the name of the island?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “No, but if you can hold on for a minute I’ll go look it up.”

After one of the longest minutes of my life he came back with, “It was called Niutao. One other guy bailed out over an island called Nui but he drowned in the surf. One pilot actually made it to Funafuti. The rest apparently went down at sea.”

Niutao and Nui are both in the Ellice Group (now the nation of Tuvalu) and lie directly north of Funafuti. Whatever weather put them there would probably not put any of the flight 500 nautical miles to the northeast on Gardner.

Whew! We have always been quite sure that no wartime aircraft were ever lost at Gardner/Nikumaroro because the island was inhabited during the entire period and no mention of an airplane loss has ever turned up in the island’s records. Still, for that period between Gallagher’s death in September 1941 and the arrival of the Coast Guard in July of 1944 the colonists were pretty much on their own with only occasional visits from the authorities (such as the USS Swan’s visits in 1942). The wartime records we’ve been able to find show several aircraft missing and presumed lost at sea, but none lost on any island except Sydney where the C-47 went down in 1943. But you can’t prove a negative hypothesis. We can’t prove that there was not a wartime loss at Gardner. We can only prove that we can’t find any record of one.

It’s hard to aggressively go after information which you hope isn’t there, but that’s what you have to do. Sometimes it can be pretty scary.

Love to mother, Ric

Subject: A Close Call
Date: 1/4/99
From: Craig Fuller

The date of the VMF-422 F4U ferrying fiasco was 25 JAN 44. Sorry I didn't send that report to you, but felt it was so far away from Gardner that is was not important.

What worries me is the several aircraft missing from Canton to Funafuti. The USN reports lack detailed information, but if the wreckage was later found on an island I would have expected the crew members to be no longer listed as missing.

Craig Fuller TIGHAR # 1589C
Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research

From Ric

As fas as I know, everything that went missing between Canton and Funafuti was big (B-24, PBM. etc.). Lots of wreckage, lots of people. As with the Sydney Island crash, while the official record may take a while to find (thanks again Craig), an event that like that on a populated island lives in the folklore. We heard about a wreck on Sydney as soon as we started asking questions about the Phoenix Group.

There are also stories about a wreck on Gardner. Not nearly as many, and nobody claims to have been there when the wreck happened. All of the stories involve someone finding pieces from a plane which had arrived there at some some unknown time in the past.

LTM, Ric

Subject: Noonan and Radio Licenses
Date: 1/5/99
From: Mike Everette

In response to speculation regarding Fred Noonan possibly having a radio license:

I am not an expert, by any means, on Bureau of Air Commerce/CAA regulations from this period... however, I do not believe Noonan would have had such a license.

Reasons: The exam for the Second Class Radiotelegraph is a very tough one (I know, because I took it and passed it; I have the license) which focuses on a lot of technical matters and radio theory, with lots of formulas and math problems of a theoretical nature (and presented in a manner which will drive you out of your mind, because those who designed the test figured out every mistake you can make to get a wrong answer – and four of the five choices are WRONG) which an airman simply does not need to know. It also focuses, in another part of the exam (one of the Elements) on international communications practices such as the charge rate per word for radiograms, schedules of priority for message traffic, etc.etc.

In short, this license is the document which is required of shipboard radio officers. For aircraft radio operators, aboard commercial aircraft, not only was the license required, but also an “Aircraft Radiotelegraph Endorsement.” This exam (which I studied for and could have easily passed, but due to a bureaucratic screw-up by the FCC I was not given the opportunity to take it) focuses on radio procedures aboard aircraft.... but it also contains a great many questions dealing with aerial navigation, particularly involving electronic nav-aids like the radio compass, Loran, radar, VOR, etc.

Now mind you, I took my exam many, many, many years after the period we are dealing with in the AE matter... but I suspect the character of the basic (no-aviation) Radiotelegraph exams was not much different. I simply cannot imagine a pilot or even an aerial navigator taking such a test. Recall that in the 1930s, radio aids to navigation were pretty much in their infancy.

I could perhaps see a navigator needing a Third-class Radiotelegraph license. Much less technical stuff... plus, a much lower code speed requirement. The third-class test has a requirement – send and receive – of 10 words per minute. The Second class has a 20-wpm requirement (a quantum leap, I assure you...) and the aircraft radiotelegraph endorsement carries an additional morse proficiency requirement of 25-wpm (that’s “shaggin’ along,” folks...).

What about a First-class? That is only available to the holder of the Second, who has at least a six-months’ service record aboard a seagoing vessel, plus the additional code requirement of 25-wpm send and receive. Without reading up on the rules a bit, I am not even sure there is any service history in aviation which qualifies one for the First Class.

There are not many Aircraft Radiotelegraph operators any more. Most communication (almost all) is by single-sideband voice, and the radios are actually about 90% computer, which means there is no need for a technician to “tune” them any more... plus, you couldn’t repair them in flight, today, if you wanted to.

In response to another recent posting asking why “quieter” VHF radio frequencies were not used on this flight:

There was no VHF aircraft radio in 1937. VHF was largely developed by the British, for air combat purposes. In fact, when the USAAF arrived in England in 1942, NO American plane carried VHF radios. Once we discovered how superior the British crystal-controlled, fixed-channel VHF gear was to the “coffee grinder” high-frequency gear we had, the USAAF adopted the British radios outright... even had contracts let to duplicate them in the USA. This was the famous SCR-522 radio... and, if you get the chance to actually touch one (they are getting to be rare antiques) you will note that the radios carry dual nomenclature tags: US Army Signal Corps (black), and British Air Ministry (red).

For whatever that is worth.... Any more questions? I’ll try to answer ’em.

Mike E.

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