Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 10 through 16, 1999

Subject: Technology and searches
Date: 2/10/99
From: Dave Kelly

I believe the scenario TIGHAR adheres to includes speculation that the antenna for the DF on board the aircraft was broken. This being the case, they were in some way relying on that "Gizmo" to provide guidance toward Itasca. And when they needed it most..... My mindset, as you put it, is not as crotchety as you suppose. Safety has not improved with automation. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Pilots have become complacent, robotic serfs to a computer. You more than anyone should see this, Ric. If you were in the accident investigation business, then you know pilots are lulled into a false sense of security by computer automation, just as Fred and Amelia were lulled into the belief that a viable DF signal would be awaiting them at the end of their journey.

From Ric

What an incredible statement. "Safety has not improved with automation. In fact, the opposite has occurred." What statistics are you looking at? Airline safety has increased steadily with the development of new systems. Accidents still happen, yes, and will continue to happen as long as we insist upon launching ourselves into the sky, but throughout the entire history of air transportation there has been a direct correlation between advancements in technology and improvements in safety. Pan American originally developed the Adcock DF system because their pilots were getting lost over the Caribbean and running out of gas. Of course, simply following a heading dictated by some guy on the ground turned the pilot into a robotic serf but the passengers actually reached their intended destinations more often and the airline thought that was a reasonable tradeoff.

Yes, reliance on automated systems can lead to complacency in the cockpit. Yes, pilots have become systems managers rather than aviators. Yes, there is nostalgia for the old days of The High And The Mighty. But the truth is that the record of getting people where they want to go and having them arrive in one piece is getting better and better.

What do you want to debate next? Evolution vs Creationism?


Subject: Technological Advances
Date: 2/10/99
From: Dennis McGee

Sactodave said:

"Safety has not improved with automation. In fact, the opposite has occurred."

O-o-o-o-h, Davey, you're in deep kimshee, here!

Every great explorer has relied on state-of-the-art technology. Those that didn't, you haven't read about, right? And why is that? Because they're dead, Dave. D-E-A-D, dead. To ignore advances in technology is to relegate yourself to the ashcan of history. There is a word for person thinking as you do -- Luddite. Look it up.

Apollo 11 went to the moon in 1969 with four computers on board (I'm told) each with the capacity of the old 2nd generation "286" computer chip. If I went to the moon today I sure as hell would want at least a 6th generation chip (Pentium II, AMD K6, etc.) in my computer. Why, Dave? Because I don't want to be D-E-A-D, dead, Dave.

Dave, if you were running the Space Shuttle program would you use hot air to lift the vehicle or insist on putting vacuum tube-radios on board because at one time people did fly that way?

Gimme those gadgets, gizmos. and doo-hickies. I love 'em.


Subject: Technology
Date: 2/10/99
From: Bill Hillier

I would like to comment on Dave Kelly's statements on airline safety. Tucked back on Page 4 of a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times was an article that was startling about US airline safety. In 1998 US airlines carried 615 million passengers without a single fatality. If one crash involving fatalities had occurred it would have been headlined on Page 1. Dave is more likely to get hurt by falling out of his computer chair than by being a passenger on a US airline.

Bill Hillier

Subject: Re: Technological Advances
Date: 2/10/99
From: Dave Kelly

We're not talking apples and oranges, here. The Space Shuttle is a space vehicle as well as a complex (and very expensive, innefficient) aircraft. There's a term for people like you, "Tech Nerd" Look it up. Though part of my duties involve computer upgrading and troubleshooting, I see the folly of planting big-gig, application packed boxes in front of secretaries and mechanics (pilots, too) Secretaries in our office cannot figure out the slightest problem with their machines, and barge into my office whining about their E-Mail, printer problems, freeze ups (and they wonder why they can't leave five applications open and be reading their E-mail at the same time) ad nauseum. Computers in our mechanics section were quite large (3.0 gig, 200mhz, 56 modem...and that was three years ago) towers that we hooked up for the on-line ordering of parts. During a routine audit, it was found to have been "on-line" with Playboy, Penthouse, and several other morally questionable web sites. Have you ridden Amtrack and lived? Another computer accident waiting to happen. The two Korean Air accidents, 007, and the LA bound flight, were directly related to human interface with computers. Ric is absolutely correct in his comical but accurate trancscipt of a flight crew trying to figure out the eccentric whims of some "gizmo" Though I'm sure he would not be laughing on an out of control, burning airliner.

From Ric

Naw, I'm not gonna let you weasel out of this one Sacto. What you said, exactly, was:

"Safety has not improved with automation. In fact, the opposite has occurred."

There are no apples and oranges involved. You simply made a statement that is demonstrably untrue.

I also get this remote-viewing image of your co-workers rejoicing at your retirement.

Subject: Re: Technological Advances
Date: 2/11/99
From: Bill Leary

Sactodave said:

>"Safety has not improved with automation. In fact, the opposite has occurred."

and Dennis McGee said

>Every great explorer has relied on state-of-the-art technology.

This was my impression as well. Mountain climbers embraced the idea of using bottled oxygen pretty much as soon as it became possible. Underseas explorers jumped on SCUBA as quickly as it developed. There are numerous other examples. I think that looking back on things we see (documentaries, books, etc.) the things these people are using and forget that at that time they were new and wonderful (and sometimes not well understood).

- Bill

From Ric

I think that there is a valid observation to be made on this subject which has some bearing upon our understanding about what happened to Earhart and Noonan. It seems to me that the flight they were attempting, while challenging, was well within the capabilities of 1937 aviation and, specifically, within the capabilities of the aircraft and equipment they were using. There does seem to have been an equipment failure aboard the aircraft which prevented the reception of voice radio, but even so, had the operating hardware been employed correctly the flight probably would have reached its intended destination. That didn't happen, and it seems abundantly clear that the aircraft's failure to arrive at Howland Island was primarily due to the crew's inability to use the technology available to them.

It may be that we have an example of the kind of complacency which so bothers Dave Kelly. Earhart and Noonan may have felt confident that they could find Howland Island because they had "gizmos" (i.e. the Itasca's direction finder and, as a backup, their own direction finder) which could find it for them. An analogy might be a pilot today who takes off for a destination which he knows is socked in with weather that is right down to minimums. He knows that he is not proficient enough to hand-fly the approach but he also knows that the autopilot will do it for him. He gets to the destination only to discover that he doesn't really understand how to program the autopilot. Now his life depends on whether he has enough fuel to get to someplace where the weather is better.


Subject: Speculation Vs. Scientific Method
Date: 2/11/99
From: Dick Pingrey

Sactodave (Dave Kelly) wrote, "Speculation is about all we have... The alternative to TIGHAR's theory is unquestionably that they had to ditch." TIGHAR's search team may or may not find identifiable airplane serial numbers of human remains that can be identified by DNA on Nikamaruru but that doesn't mean that their theory of what happened to Amelia and Fred is not true. It simply means it is not fully proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Regardless of what is found on the next Pacific trips TIGHAR's evidence to date is far more conclusive than the ditch in the ocean theory. I don't know a single aviator with over water experience from the pre-electronic navigational period that would not conclude that Fred Noonan had a plan to find landfall if Howland could not be located. The Phoenix Island group is the only logical alternate to Howland.

Dave also writes that, "Alternate theories are as valid as TIGHARs". If he can show me that the alternate theories are based on sound scientific research then, and only then, would I agree. So far I have seen none that meet that requirement.

Dick Pingrey 0908C

Subject: Another Mystery
Date: 2/15/99
From: Ric Gillespie

In trying to assess how many hours AE may have had in her Electra at various times during its short one-year career, I have come upon what appears to be a discrepancy in the official record and I'd like some input from those with more knowledge and experience in such matters.

Here's the problem. The airplane was offically inspected four times (according to existing records).

7/19/36 - Lockheed's application for registration number X16020 so that it could test fly the airplane prior to delivery which took place on 7/24/36. At this time the airplane is recorded as having zero time on both airframe and engines.

8/7/36 - Earhart's application for registration number R16020. At this time the airplane is recorded as having 20 hours on both airframe and engines. (Authorization for the addition of the "N" was received on 9/21/36.)

11/27/36 - It's not clear why this inspection was necessary but it approves the fuel and radio configuration in the Restricted category. At this time the airplane is recorded as having 74:00 hours "Total aircraft flight time" and 82:42 "Total engine time" and 82:42 "Total propeller time." It would appear, therefore, that between the previous inspection and this inspection, the airplane had been flown for 54 hours and that there had been an additional 8 hours and 42 minutes of non-flying engine testing.

Oddly, there is no record of an inspection prior to the March 1937 world flight attempt in spite of the fact that extensive modifications were made to the airplane in February in preparation for that flight (replacement of radios, installation of a navigator's station, addition of windows to the cabin, etc.) The next, and last, inspection of the airplane is made upon completion of the the repairs necessitated by the wreck in Hawaii on March 20.

5/19/37 - At this time the airplane is recorded as having 181:17 hours "Total aircraft flight time" and 182:42 "Total engine time" and 182:42 "Total propeller time." It would seem, therefore, that between the inspection in November and the completion of repairs in May the airplane had been flown a total of 107:17, but the engines had only been run exactly 100 hours. That's a pretty good trick unless somebody has been doing a whole lot of gliding with both engines shut down.

Although both props were severely damaged in the Luke Field crash, there is no indication in the repair records or inspection report that either engine was replaced or overhauled. The engine serial numbers remain identical to those in the original inspection done prior to the airplane's delivery in July 1936. Likewise, the prop hubs were not changed but the report does confirm that new blades were installed.

So what's going on here? It looks like somebody is ballparking engine time rather than checking the logs.

Love to mother,

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