Forum artHighlights From the Forum

January 14 through 24, 1999


Subject: Responsibility
Date: 1/14/99
From: Ted Valenti

I am new to the forum. From what I have read so far it appears to me that the primary reason AE and FN did not make contact with the Itasca, and therefore land where they were supposed to, was because they were not well versed enough in how to operate the radio equipment on board, and the equipment was not totally functional. Is this correct? I don't understand why AE was allowed to travel around the world without having adequate instruction on the radio, or why she herself didn't understand the importance of that. Also, if my second premise is correct, why didn't someone take the responsibility to see that the equipment was functioning properly? In addition, why did AE change the frequency when she was trying to communicate with the Itasca?

Thanks.

Ted Valenti


You raise some interesting questions Ted. It does appear that a lack of familiarity with the limitations of their radio equipment was a factor -- perhaps a major factor -- in the flight's failure to reach its intended destination. It is also apparent that a mechanical failure of some kind -- either in a relay or in an antenna -- prevented them from receiving voice transmissions.

A case can be made for the mechanical failure having occurred during or at some time following the takeoff from Lae, in which case the crew can only be faulted for not detecting the problem and aborting the mission while it was still possible to return to Lae.

The larger question you raise is one of responsibility. Whose job was it to make sure that Earhart was competent to make the trip? She was certainly a highly experienced and successful long distance aviator -- indeed, one of the most famous of her day. There were licensing requirements set, and in one case waived, by the federal government. (Have you ever asked for a waiver, or an easement, or an exception to some government regulation?) Ultimately, though, it was AE and Fred who decided that the Lae/Howland flight was a reasonable undertaking. If the voice reception problem was the result of an unforseen and difficult to detect mechanical failure that happened enroute, then Earhart and Noonan died because they did not have sufficient skill to overcome their bad luck. That's a balancing act that all pilots face from time to time. There's an old saying -- "An exemplary pilot's exemplary judgement keeps him out of situations requiring his exemplary skill." I suspect that the other airplane drivers on the forum will agree with me that final responsibility for the safety of any flight has to reside with the person in the left seat. After all, the pilot is always the first one on the scene of the accident.

Earhart changed frequencies because she wasn't getting any response on the one she had been using. I've done the same thing countless times. In her case, she had been transmitting on 3105 Kcs which was regarded as her "nightime" frequency because it propagates best during the hours of darkness. She switched to 6210 kcs, her "daytime" frequency at 08:43 local time when the sun was well up. I think that it's easy, from a 1999 perspective, to see the Lae/Howland flight as wildly risky, perhaps even irresponsible and almost suicidal-- but I don't think it was. I think that Earhart and Noonan both realized that there was not a lot of margin for error if the flight was going to turn out as planned, but I think that they also knew that the chances of being able to end the flight on land were quite good. I think that they thought of themselves as lucky, and not without reason given the narrow scrapes and close calls they had successfully negotiated thus far. And I don't think that their luck completely ran out on July 2nd. I think the well was finally dry on July 9th when the Navy search planes departed Gardner Island.

Love to mother,
Ric


Subject: RDF Frequencies
Date: 1/18/99
From: Daryll Bollinger

I have just recently finished reading a book by John Prados titled Combined Fleet Decoded. The book examines the war in the Pacific (WWII), incorporating secret intelligence that has not, up until recently, been available to most historians. I found the book creditable, with an extensive bibliography. I wanted to bring it to the attention of the Forum because of parallel events that were occuring the same time AE was in the news. Some might say that this is off topic but I'm not so sure. We have discussed HF/DF on the Forum before and I wanted to pass along some notes from pg. 75 of this book.

  1. D/F, radio direction finder, first invented in Europe in 1907.
  2. US Navy began experimenting with them in 1912. First naval communication / DF station was at Bar Harbor Maine. By 1924 there were 24 US Navy direction-finder stations operating or under construction.
  3. Radio technology progressed rapidly moving into High Frequency bands, that offered longer range and higher rates of transmission.
  4. Coping with this technology required a whole new generation of direction-finding equipment, innovated at Washington's Naval Research Laboratory, where the first experimental antenna would be installed in Jan. 1931.
  5. The equipment reached units after perfecting directional loop antenna on which patents were actually issued.
  6. Guam and Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines got HF/DF around May-July 1937.
  7. By 1940 the Navy had a HF/DF net of sixteen stations with 65 operators, all under OP-20-G.

( pg. 75).

The two types of DF antenna that I am aware of are the "Adcock" type and the "Loop" type. I would like to draw the attention of the Forum to note #5. This is the first time I have seen mention of a "loop" antenna in connection with HF high frequency and Mr. Prados mentions that "patents were issued". I think it would be interesting to review the patent ( for the date and who holds it etc.). That brings about another question. Patents are supposed to reveal everything, how can something that might be secret, at the same time be patented?

Along with this Forum posting I would like to include part of Ric's 8/17/98 Forum post titled AE's frequencies (long).


That same day Itasca receives this message from Coast Guard headquarters in San Francisco:

FOLLOWING INFORMATION FROM EARHART THIS DATE QUOTE HOMING DEVICE COVERS FROM 200 TO 1500 AND 2400 TO 48 KILOCYCLES ANY FREQUENCIES NOT REPEAT NOT NEAR ENDS OF BANDS SUITABLE UNQUOTE SUGGEST USING SUITABLE FREQUENCIES HAVING IN MIND UNCERTAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH FREQUENCIES PERIOD USE 333 KILOCYCLES OR FREQUENCY IN THAT VICINITY AND TRY 545 KILOCYCLES AFTER TESTS WITH STATIONS YOUR LOCALITY TO DETERMINE WHICH IS BEST PERIOD ADVISE IF IMPOSSIBLE TO PLACE TARE 10 TRANSMITTER ON 3105 KILOCYCLES PERIOD EARHART AT LAE VIA TUTUILA EXACT FREQUENCIES SELECTED AND ASSUME CONTINUOUS SIGNALS AFTER HER DIRECTION FINDER IN RANGE PERIOD SEE BROADCAST ON QUARTER AFTER AND QUARTER BEFORE HOUR ON 6210 AND 3105 KILOCYCLES PERIOD AM ADVISING EARHART THAT Itasca WILL VOICE RADIO HER ON 3105 ON HOUR AND HALF HOUR AS SHE APPROACHES HOWLAND PERIOD REPAIRS MADE AND EARHART NOW AT SOURABAYA EXPECTS LEAVE DAWN THIS DATE FOR PORT DARWIN AND NEXT DAY FOR LAE PERIOD ADVISE PRIORITY IF ADJUSTMENTS TARE TEN TRANSMITTER SATISFACTORY FOR USE ON 3105


Questions:

Besides me being confused on the frequencies and the uncertain characteristics of high frequencies, what is the TARE TEN TRANSMITTER?

Daryll


From Ric

I'll have to let someone else answer your question about the "tare ten" transmiiter, but I think I can help clear up some confusion about the above message by breaking it down and paraphrasing it.

FOLLOWING INFORMATION FROM EARHART THIS DATE QUOTE HOMING DEVICE COVERS FROM 200 TO 1500 AND 2400 TO 48 KILOCYCLES ANY FREQUENCIES NOT REPEAT NOT NEAR ENDS OF BANDS SUITABLE UNQUOTE

Remember, this is CG headquarters in San Francisco advising Itasca of information they have received:

"Today we received this information from Earhart - 'Our homing device (DF) covers frequencies from 200 to 1500 kcs and 2400 to 4800 kcs. You can transmit to us on any frequencies not, repeat not, near ends of bands.'

SUGGEST USING SUITABLE FREQUENCIES HAVING IN MIND UNCERTAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH FREQUENCIES PERIOD USE 333 KILOCYCLES OR FREQUENCY IN THAT VICINITY AND TRY 545 KILOCYCLES AFTER TESTS WITH STATIONS YOUR LOCALITY TO DETERMINE WHICH IS BEST PERIOD

"It sounds to us like Earhart may not understand that that it's a bad idea to try to DF on high frequencies. Check some lower frequencies and see what works best in your locality."

ADVISE IF IMPOSSIBLE TO PLACE TARE 10 TRANSMITTER ON 3105 KILOCYCLES PERIOD

self explanatory.

This next bit got garbled. It should read:

ADVISE EARHART AT LAE VIA TUTUILA EXACT FREQUENCIES SELECTED AND ASSUME CONTINUOUS SIGNALS AFTER HER DIRECTION FINDER IN RANGE PERIOD

"Send a message to Earhart in Lae - via the radio station in Tutuila, Samoa - telling her the exact frequencies you have selected based on ther tests recommended above. Once her direction finder is in range, start sending out continuous signals on those frequencies."

SEE BROADCAST ON QUARTER AFTER AND QUARTER BEFORE HOUR ON 6210 AND 3105 KILOCYCLES PERIOD

Probably a mistake in reception. Should read "She will broadcast on quarter hour..." etc.

AM ADVISING EARHART THAT Itasca WILL VOICE RADIO HER ON 3105 ON HOUR AND HALF HOUR AS SHE APPROACHES HOWLAND PERIOD

"San Francisco is advising Earhart that Itasca will send voice radio to her on 3105 on the hour and the half hour as she approaches Howland."

REPAIRS MADE AND EARHART NOW AT SOURABAYA EXPECTS LEAVE DAWN THIS DATE FOR PORT DARWIN AND NEXT DAY FOR LAE PERIOD

"The repairs being made in Bandoeng, Java were completed and Earhart has now flown to Sourabaya and expects to leave at dawn today for Port Darwin, Australia and the next day for Lae."

ADVISE PRIORITY IF ADJUSTMENTS TARE TEN TRANSMITTER SATISFACTORY FOR USE ON 3105

"We really want you to be able to use the tare ten transmitter to talk to Earhart on 3105. Be sure and let us know that you can do that."

It seems pretty clear from the above that there is no intention here to test any HF/DF with Earhart. In fact, headquarters is specifically telling Itasca to find out what low frequencies work best and tell Earhart that Itasca will be using those frequencies.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: RE: DF Frequencies
Date: 1/19/99
From: Randy Jacobson

The 10 Tare Transmitter is one of the three transmitters aboard Itasca, and it is best suited for high frequency voice communications.


Subject: Noonan Memo
Date: 1/19/99
From: Ric Gillespie

By popular demand, here is Fred Noonan's memo on the navigation of the Clipper flight to Hawaii in 1935:


DATE:      April 29, 1935
TO: Operations Manager   FROM: Navigator, Pan American Clipper
  Pacific Division     Operations
  Alameda, Calif.     Alameda, Calif.
 
SUBJECT: Hawaiian Flight of NR 823-M
  April 16-17 and 22-23, 1935
 
Navigation

Surface navigation is known, to the profession, as an inexact science. Frequent groundings of vessels equipped with the most modern navigational equipment, and manned by officers highly skilled in their profession, justifies this description of the art.

The factors which contribute to inaccuracies in surface navigation - currents other than anticipated or estimated, lack of sights, inaccurate radio bearings, etc. - are all encountered in aerial navigation and commonly in intensified form. Hence is it impossible on an extended flight to obtain consistently accurate "fixes" by any single method, or by any combination of methods. But by an understanding of the weaknesses of each method, it should be possible to greatly minimize the errors inherent in all of them.

An analysis of the navigation of the NR 823-M during the flights from Alameda to Honolulu and return reveals some interesting information. Pointing out, as it does, weaknesses of the different methods, and human errors possible, it can be of assistance in formulating navigational procedure tending to minimize both.

The inaccuracies of direction finding bearings can be very definitely cataloged: twilight effects, faint signals, wide splits of minima, and inaccurate calibration. The latter, being of a temporary nature, may be ignored. The error, due to twilight effects, may be negligible and again so erratic as to render the bearings valueless. This seems to be substantiated by bearings plotted on the two charts covering the flight. Reference to the westbound chart will show that bearings from Alameda during the evening twilight period were consistently steady. On the return trip, bearings from Kaneohe Peninsula during the twilight period were very erratic. Afterwards they steadied up considerably. Inasmuch as the ship was on approximately the same bearing at all times, the error would not seem to be due entirely to inaccurate calibration.

Under conditions such as existed when leaving Oahu; that is, bearings generally showing a large set off the track, no means of checking drift angle, and the only heavenly body visible affording no means of determining change of latitude, the navigator must rely upon his judgment. In the instance mentioned, after obtaining a line of position from the sun at 0340 G.C.T., a glance showed that if the 0328 bearing were advanced to cross the line of position the ship would be considerably ahead of her D.R. position for the short time out from land. Doubting the ship was making the drift and speed so indicated, the course was maintained.-Subsequent bearings and sights showed the ship to be to the southward, rather than the northward, of her required track.

With respect to faint signals and wide splits of minima, the plotted long range bearings straddled the ship's position fairly equally; hence, a mean of such bearings should give the navigator a fair bearing from the station.

Another condition which may cause the navigator to be doubtful of his exact position is such as existed during the return flight while between the 45th and 155th meridians. Sights consistently showed the ship to be to the southward of the original great circle track. Some few D.F. bearings agreed with the "fixes" so obtained, but the majority placed the ship varying distances to the northward. Due to the facts that the observations were made during slightly rough air conditions, and that the bearings, although generally placing the ship to the northward, were not uniform, it was at first difficult to definitely decide which method was more reliable. During this period, to minimize any divergence from the required track, it was assumed the ship was on a track approximating the mean of the two methods.

Subsequent observations were made under smoother flying conditions, and they, plus additional D.F. bearings and the courses and distances flown, showed the earlier "fixes" to have been approximately correct. By "approximately correct", accuracy within ten to fifteen miles is implied. The writer's experience has shown that a "fix" within that distance of the true position is about the average accuracy which can be expected in aerial navigation.

It is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules by which one may determine the reliability of observations. However, after some experience a navigator "senses" whether or not a sight is reliable. If the ship is noticeably in horizontal flight, differences in a run of altitudes and times are fairly uniform, and, if the "feel" of good sights exists, the resultant "fix" will in all probability be more accurate than a position determined by long range D.F. bearings. Successive "fixes" in agreement should definitely establish the ship's position, irrespective of other indications; such as, D.F. bearings, to the contrary.

If observations are not reliable, the fact should be readily discernable by the lack of agreement in "fixes".

Illustrative of the degree of error possible when sights are taken under adverse conditions is the 1124 G.C.T. "fix" on the eastbound chart, determined by observations of *Polaris and *Altair. These sights were obviously unreliable and consequently were discarded, but were plotted on the chart for demonstration purposes. During the hours between approximately 0900 and 1200 G.C.T., it was difficult to obtain reliable sights due to the movement of the plane. Under such conditions a record of the ship's position must be obtained by a combination of dead reckoning and the mean bearing determined by any group of D.F. bearings.

In connection with the difficulty experienced in taking observations while the plane was not in smooth flight, it was interesting to note that much more reliable observations were obtained while the ship was flown manually than was possible while the robot pilot was used. Also, that better results were obtained from observations of bodies nearly ahead or astern than from bodies abeam.

The human error, which is difficult to eliminate, and for which no "mean" can be determined, was also apparent. The first instance concerned the intercept for the observation of *Sirius at 0427 G.C.T. on the westbound flight. The observed altitude of this star was less than the computed altitude, hence the intercept should have been applied away from, or to the eastward of, the assumed position. By error it was applied to the westward. The position obtained by reason of this error confirmed the estimated ground speed. But for the error, the decrease in ground speed would have been apparent at that time and subsequent D.F. positions would have been more accurate.

A somewhat similar error was made by the Radio Operator. This consisted of incorrect application of the goniometer calibration correction to bearings taken on either or both of the steamships "Malolo" and "Monterey" at approximately 1200 G.C.T. during the westbound flight. The resulting incorrect bearings gave a position so obviously wrong they were discarded.

Although such errors are made under all conditions,, it is believed a reduction of paper work during flight would tend to reduce such errors. Such reduction of paper work could be obtained by shortening the position reports to a statement of latitude, longitude, track desired, and ground speed, and leaving the compilation of the log data (excepting cloud formations) to be completed on the ground after each flight. The information necessary to do this could be obtained from the flight engineer's report.

A very definite check on ground speed may be obtained by goniometer D.F. bearings of surface vessels when abeam or nearly so. Short distance bearing obtained by the goniometer proved to be very reliable, but distant bearings - for example, from Los Angeles - were not accurate.

An Analysis of the entire navigational data of the subject flights indicates that it is impossible to determine consistently accurate positions during extended over-water flight, but that a degree of accuracy which will insure safe navigation and reasonably direct tracks may be obtained by careful consideration of existing conditions when utilizing dead reckoning, radio direction finding, or celestial navigation. With respect to the errors in the D.F. bearings, if they can be kept within the limits of those appearing in the bearings received from Alameda during both stages of the flight, they may be considered as negligible. While the use of bearings will not insure extreme accuracy in navigation, they are nevertheless of inestimable value and will always serve as a dependable homing device.

F. J. Noonan


Subject: Coconuts and Survival
Date: 1/23/99
From: Ted Whitmore

Amen to Chuck Boyle's info on coconuts on Jan 16. While in Hawaii before going to the Phoenix Island Loran chain we went through sea/jungle survival school. They taught that coconut trees could provide everything a person needs to survive indefinitely.

Good drinking water comes from green coconuts - they have a goodly supply of water with a dilute coconut flavor (very good) and at that stage the meat inside the nut is gelatinous and quite tasty as well as nutritous. The heart bud of the trees is a great vegetable, eaten raw or cooked. The trick is cutting the heart out of a live tree (killing it of course).

The meat of the ripe coconut is firm but moist, sweet and nutritous. It is easily 'snapped' out of the shell with a knife blade or grated out with a hard coconut inner shell with some teeth cut into it. BUT, too much of that treat will give you the potty trots. Grated and twisted in a piece of cloth or handful of fiber from coconut husks you can extract a delicious fluid 'creamy milk' and the dry gratings can be roasted and brewed into a tasty coffee like drink, creamed, of course with the 'creamy milk' extract.

Dried, the meat of the coconut is 'copra', a major export from many coconut rich areas of the tropics. Oil is pressed from the dried meat and is widely used in many food items and industrial applications. Shredded coconut meat we are all familiar with in culinary uses but has gone somewhat out of favor because of cholesterol content and we don't have a good substitute. Nor can you make coconut cream pie without grated coconut.

You should see a Polynesian man climb a coconut tree to harvest one or two nuts of the right degree of ripeness. sometimes climbing 40 to 60 ft. in a matter of 15 to 20 seconds. The coconuts are twisted to break them loose from their stem in the cluster, then held upright, given a twist so they will fall straight to the ground to land on their blossom end and not break open when they hit.

Palm leaves are split from end to end (just grab the outer tip leaves and pull them apart) pieces are woven together and form the major wall coverings for thatched houses but are not as good for thatched roofing as the leaves of the pandanus which also grows abundantly on the islands.

As Chuck said, the hard inner shell is easily made into charcoal and is their primary fuel for cooking fires. After a cook fire has done its job they just add dried shell to the fire, cover it with coral rocks to keep the fire from flaming and ola! charcoal when it's time to cook again. The hard inner shells can be made into fishhooks, polished and made into costume jewelry, etc.

Excellent twine is made from fibers combed from the other husk of the coconuts and is used for everything from fishing lines to bindings for house construction and assembling outrigger canoes.

And yes, coconuts float great distances on the oceans and will sprout and grow a tree wherever the tides cast them up on land. Ah yes, another good food item: a sprouted coconut with just a couple of feet of frond showing when split open will be filled inside with a spong textured mass of what used to be the meat of the nut. Very tasty, 'coconut bread'.

But getting coconuts down to the ground and getting the outer husk removed is a major problem unless you have a good sheath knife or hatchet or can fashion and figure out how to use the sharp stob the natives use so deftly to remove the inner nut in about 10 seconds. You'll work long and hard before you learn to deftly extract the nuts.

Best wishes to all,

Ted Whitmore


Subject: Re: Coconuts and Survival
Date: 1/24/99
From: Tom King

Great list of the many uses of the coconut, Ted. No doubt AE and FN could have survived for a long time on coconuts (and fish, crabs, and all the other goodies that Niku can supply), IF (a) there was a goodly supply of coconuts on a goodly supply of trees (not at all certain), and IF (b) they could get past the problem with which you conclude your note:

"But getting coconuts down to the ground and getting the outer husk removed is a major problem unless you have a good sheath knife or hatchet or can fashion and figure out how to use the sharp stob the natives use so deftly to remove the inner nut in about 10 seconds. You'll work long and hard before you learn to deftly extract the nuts."

True, and you also need to be able to climb the tree, which I know from experience is no mean feat for someone who doesn't grow up doing it. There were a couple of people on the '89 expedition who learned to do it, more or less, but only with instruction from our Fijian crew, and their progress was pretty terrifying to watch. The injuries one could sustain trying to get and open coconuts are many and various, and as we all know, injuries (particularly those that break the skin) are a real serious problem on a tropical island without antibiotics. It's not hard to imagine AE and FN GETTING coconuts to eat and drink from, but at the cost of life-ending injuries.

Tom King


From Ric

During the 1989 trip our I-Kiribati representative was distressed to receive a radio message from home that his brother had been paralyzed in a fall from a coconut tree (he recovered).


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