Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 17 through 24, 1999

Subject: Earhart's performance
Date: 2/17/99
From: Dennis McGee

I just finished reviewing the TIGHAR recap of AE's performance over the last 16 years of her life, and my immediate reaction was, "Who licensed this person to fly?"

Ye gads, man, she had 11 (ELEVEN!) accidents or "events" with the aircraft she owned from 1921-37, and this does not include losing the Electra 10E in July, 1937. Some of the stuff was minor, but a lot of it wasn't. There is even a reprimand from the CAA (?) tucked into the file! Granted, certain hazards of the era (poor airfields, fuel contamination, lack of nav aids etc.) may have been contributing factors, but pranging a half dozen aircraft in nine years (1928-37) is a pretty dismal record. I know my FBO wouldn't rent to her!

Most of the events appeared to be landing mishaps (" . . .pilot in command failed to maintain control of the aircraft after touchdown . . ."), some of which could have been caused by poorly maintained airfields, I assumed. Only two, apparently, were due to mechanical failure, specifically the engine, which speaks well for the reliability of engines even at this early point in aviation.

I noticed also a general correlation between the number of accidents and the complexity (in this case "complexity" is near-synonymous with engine power, as generally the more powerful the engine the more complex [cowl flaps, constant speed propeller, retractable landing gear, etc.] is the airplane.) of the aircraft, the more complex the aircraft, the more accidents.

All of which raises two observations: first, it appears her flying skills -- or at least her landing skills -- left a lot to be desired; and last, is her record "average" for the pilots of her era or was she just a victim of bad luck?

LTM, who always lands on concrete
Dennis O. McGee, #0149

From Ric

Amelia's atrocious landings were, apparently, legendary. Scott Berg's new (and excellent) biography of Lindbergh includes what may be the only joke that the dour hero ever told -- "I hear that Amelia Earhart made a good landing -- once." Whether she had more wrecks than the average 1930s pilot is a difficult question to answer. The average pilot probably wouldn't get the chance to have that many accidents because they wouldn't be able to afford to keep flying.

Subject: Minor comments on Oakland Trib stories
Date: 2/17/99
From: Jerry Hamilton

- AE arrived in Oakland March 10 for the around the world first attempt. The 3/11 Trib says, "Late yesterday the big twin-motored Lockheed Electra appeared out of a leaden sky east of the airport, circled the field once with but a hint of its tremendous speed and then settled to a perfect landing." Question is, who was flying? Paper further reports that, "With her on her trip from Burbank were her husband George Palmer Putnam, Bo McKnelly a mechanic, and C. D. Remmlein a representative of the Bendix Company, manufacturers of the radio range finding equipment..."

- On March 11 she took an hour IFR check ride (the paper said she had not previously passed one) with R. D. Bedinger, Bureau Of Air Commerce inspector. It further said that new Dept. Commerce regs required all pilots on ocean flights to be "blind" flying qualified. ( Between blind flying and dead reckoning I guess they had it made)

- On the May 20 test hop to Oakland before the second attempt, the paper reports that AE arrived late in the day, refueled, and returned to Burbank. It says she was accompanied by Mantz and no mention was made of Noonan, Putnam, or Mckneely being on the flight. However, the paper did say Putnam "...who was here on the last take off will not be present to see Miss Earhart hop again over the Pacific. He was forced to go to New York on business." Sounds like GP had already gone East by then.

blue skies, -jerry

From Ric

Here's what happened:

Tuesday, 5/19/37 Repairs are completed and NR16020 gets inspected and signed off at Lockheed Burbank.

Wednesday, 5/20/37 AE and Mantz make a "test hop" to Oakland and pick up the specially stamped envelopes to be carried on the world flight. They return home to Burbank. That evening, Mantz leaves for St. Louis to participate in an aerobatic competition. He has no idea that the flight from Oakland was the start of the second world flight attempt.

Thursday, 5/21/37 AE and Noonan load up the Electra (we have photos) and, with McKneely and GP, take off for Tucson. Mantz was furious when he later learned that AE was in Miami announcing that the world flight had already begun.

Subject: Hard landing at Wheeler Field?
Date: 2/22/99
From: Gary Moline


Here are a couple of questions that have invaded my tiny little mind while reading the last several dozen forum e-mails.

1) With all the talk of AE's poor landings history, is it possible that it was she who made the hard landing in Hawaii and not Paul Mantz? As he had been previously instructing her to fly the L10E, why would he not take the chance to continue his instructing on that landing? If so, that brings the next question: Why would Mantz be blamed for the hard landing (that supposedly led to her loss of control on the next mornings' takeoff)? My guess is so that AE would not jeopardize her around the world flight.

From Ric: What hard landing? Who says the landing at Wheeler was a hard landing? The Army accident report on the Luke Field wreck meticulously details the aircraft's arrival in Hawaii and all of the events up to the accident. There is no mention of a hard landing and there is certainly no suggestion that the accident was caused by any mechanical problem or damage to the airplane. The Army board of inquiry found that the accident was caused by the collapse of the landing gear which was, in turn, caused by an "uncontrolled groundloop." The board found that there was insufficient evidence to determine the cause of the groundloop.

2) Would the finding of a significant piece of a written note on Niku by AE/FN be enough of a "smoking gun" for the critics who doubt the Niku theory?

From Ric: Don't ask me. Ask them. In the absence of other conclusive physical evidence, the authenticity of any such note would be severely questioned by me -- let alone them.

3) Any comment on the article in the Feb. issue of Air Classics entitled "An Amelia Update" by Rollin Reineck?

From Ric: Anybody who reads Air Classics gets what they deserve.

4) With all the talk about "remote viewers", I'd like to know what a "remote viewer" is? ---LTM, Gary Moline

From Ric: It's nothing more than crystal ball gazing without the crystal ball. You sit and try imagine what a place you've never been to looks like and then try to describe what's there. You "view" it "remotely." It's pseudoscience for people who believe that because their TV remote lets them change channels without leaving the couch - hey - anything is possible.

Subject: Scuba
Date: 2/24/99
From: Phil Tanner

Continuing my effort to get up to speed -- I read at the website that the thinking at one time was (still is?) that any substantial wreckage might well have been pushed into the lagoon, as all natural forces would tend inwards. Has TIGHAR attempted to dive the lagoon -- is it safe, planned or excluded on grounds of being too far from medical assistance? (I could well imagine the ocean side would be suicidal.) And is there a definitive book on the case from its very beginnings from the TIGHAR viewpoint? What kicked the whole thing off in the late 80s or whenever?

From Ric

Wreckage in the lagoon is a possibility. It's a tough environoment to search visually due to very poor visibility, but the shallow depth means that in terms of safety it isn't too bad. In 1997 we searched approximately 2 percent of the lagoon bottom with negative results using both remote sensing and visual techniques. Future lagoon underwater operations will be focused on particular suspected areas.

A visual underwater survey of the edge of the atoll's surrounding reef was conducted by divers during our 1989 expedition, again with negative results. The diving was technically demanding but not suicidal with the proper preparation, and in fact the reef is quite lovely. In 1991 we hired Oceaneering International to do a sidescan sonar survey of the ocean surrounding the island. Once more, no luck. I hasten to add that just because none of these searches found anything doesn't necessarily mean that nothing is there. It's awfully easy to miss stuff -- even big stuff. After the scuba and sidescan searches were over we learned that the coast guard had lost a D6 Caterpiller bulldozer off the reef edge in 1944. Neither the divers in 1989 nor the sonar in 1991 saw it.

You'll find more detail in the Previous Expeditions section of the website.

The Earhart Project began in 1988 when two TIGHAR members, Tom Gannon and Tom Willi, made us aware of the navigational logic which indicates that Gardner Island is the most logical place for the flight to have ended. Since then, the closer we've looked the more we have found.


Subject: Re: Post-Crash Radio Contact?
Date: 2/24/99
From: Tom Van Hare

Ric wrote:

> ...over a period of several days, the battery would have to be periodically recharged. That meant
> operating the starboard engine, which in turn would mean that at least the right hand main gear leg
> had to be extended and the propeller and engine be in operating condition. That means a relatively
> intact airplane on land or at least on a tidal reef.

So, Ric, if I was to imagine the scene (I say as a leading question), it would be a bit different, and more like this....

The plane crash lands either on the beach or on the reef. The survivor(s) remove the radio and battery, then cart it inland away from the surf (electricity and water don't mix well). There, they set up the radio to transmit -- their last hope at being saved. The transmit a few messages, but the battery runs down and they also realize that their antenna isn't right.

Now, in order to get the battery recharged, they return to the plane and laboriously remove the right engine and then slowly move it up the beach to the safer location selected for the radio. There, they set up the engine on some kind of rigged up stand constructed of trees and pieces of aluminum removed from the aircraft. With this done, they return to the plane, they siphon off what little gas remains, again using pieces of the plane's tanks or skin to set up a fuel tank. Now, they start up and run the engine, bent prop and all, at low rpms to recharge the battery, while conserving the last of the precious fuel.

They broadcast some more, calling for help, but hear no response. Ultimately, all their efforts are in vain and they die some time later, perhaps days, perhaps weeks.

Now, it comes to pass that some 60 years later, an intrepid group of real life explorers, dedicated archaeologists and quiet adventurers set out to solve the mystery of their disappearance once and for all.

Among their finds....

  1. An untraced photograph of a crashed Electra -- strangely, the right engine is inexplicably missing.
  2. The photo also shows that pieces were perhaps cut from the aluminum in strips.
  3. They also hear word of an engine found strangely on the same island, but nowhere near an aircraft wreck site.
  4. They also find bits of aluminum from an aircraft of that era, shoe parts, etc.....

What you might just find on the next journey:

  • A crashed Electra missing the right engine
  • A site not so distant where the remains of an aircraft radio will be uncovered.
  • Bits of wire and such from the jury-rigged contraption.

All of this is simply conjecture. That it fits together is perhaps half the fault of the way the human imagination works, putting things into some sort of order to best understand events, and half the fault of some awfully bizarre coincidences.

And Ric, you CAN comment on my notes and even tell me to shut up from time to time.

Thomas Van Hare

From Ric

Forgive me if you intended the above scenario as a joke, but just in case you didn't:

1. The transmitter/receiver/dynamotor/battery/antenna system of the Electra was integral to the airframe and could not be dismounted and operated by any one who did not have really expert knowledge of radio, which-- I think we can all agree -- does not describe either of our heros.

2. Two people dismounting a 1,000 pound engine, transporting it, and mounting it on a jury rigged stand that was strong enough to support a running R1340 sounds like a sequel to Flight of the Phoenix and is about as believable.

Subject: Myths on TV
Date: 2/24/96
From: Don Neumann

Ric wrote:

> Yup. We're all caught in a big circle. To what extent do we play out roles from novels, old movies, and
> TV shows that helped form our personalities in our youth and which were, in turn, based on real people
> who were themselves influenced by art? It's a continuum.

There is an even bigger question to resolve, how do we counter the volumes of misinformation & myth being displayed as factual accounts of the Earhart/Noonan saga? TV "documentaries" are viewed by far greater numbers of people than would ever read the numerous "conspiracy novels" & these TV programs are generally given "high marks", by the viewing public, for accurately portraying "factual" accounts of real life events.

Even those programs based upon the TIGHAR expeditions tended to overhype the more dramatic elements of the investigation & downplay the more tedious, painstaking, time consuming efforts expended in pursuit of a legitimate, archeologically objective search for the real evidence which will ultimately determine the final outcome of the Earhart/Noonan "Final Flight".

Seems to me the overall emphasis on the truely educational aspects of this continuing search is the best way to overcome the sensationalism that seems to greet any new discovery revealed & will probably be the only lasting legacy resulting from this investigation, long after the public's appetite is satisfied with the announcement: "Earhart Mystery Solved"!

Don Neumann

From Ric

Or I could just put on my leather jacket and fedora and go after them with my bullwhip....

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