Forum artHighlights From the Forum

March 4 through 10, 1999


Subject: Search Opinion
Date: 3/4/99
From: Cam Warren

You have consistently either stated or implied that the Colorado pilots performed incompetently on their air search, leading one forum visitor to assume that "they were looking for an airplane" and ignoring any humans (or sign of) on the beach. Now you'd have us believe the skipper of the Colorado was too busy throwing parties to pay any attention to the pilot's reports. I know you are so totally conviced that Amelia & Fred landed on Nikumaroro (nee Gardner) that you refuse to accept that the Navy did not see ANY signs of airplane or crew, but don't you feel a tad guilty about bad-mouthing them so consistently? Won't you admit the possibility that a Colorado pilot would probably given his right arm to find the missing fliers? And don't you think that the skipper felt the same way? So I think it's a 1000-1 shot you'll ever find Amelia on Niku, but if you want to pursue a will-o-the-wisp that's okay with me. And if you find ANYTHING identifiable as an Electra part (with or without serial numbers) I'll applaud your incredible perseverance. Meanwhile, just BACK OFF insulting anyone that disagrees with you.

Cam Warren


From Ric

I'm not clear about just who it is I am supposed to have insulted. Our job is to discover the truth about the Earhart disappearance. If, in the process of establishing the facts of the case, it turns out that some traditional viewpoints have been in error, so it goes. If the holders of those viewpoints feel insulted when they are shown to be wrong, there's not much I can do about that.

We think that the flight ended on Nikumaroro because that's where all of the available evidence seems to point. If further research leads us somewhere else, we'll go there -- and gladly. We've done it before. We searched in Maine for the While Bird (1927 French transatlantic attempt) for eight years before shifting our operations to Newfoundland. In our Earhart investigation we started with a hypothesis that suggested two possible islands -- McKean and Gardner. Further research enabled us to eliminate McKean and the closer we've looked at Gardner (Niku) the more evidence we've found to indicate that it might be the right place.

I've never impugned the competence of the Navy search pilots. I think they were good aviators who carried out their assigned duty with integrity. My representation of their attitude toward the search and the general atmosphere aboard the Colorado is drawn from contemporaneous documents.

Three pilots participated in the aerial search of Gardner Island on July 9, 1937.

  • Lt. John Lambrecht flew aircraft 4-0-4
  • Lt. William Short flew aircraft 4-0-5
  • Lt. Leonard Fox flew aircraft 4-0-6

Lt. Short kept a personal diary of sorts during the voyage in the form of a letter to his father to which he made daily additions. Here are some excerpts:

Monday, July 5, 1937 (enroute southward from Hawaii)

Friday afternoon (July 2) I went into town (Honolulu) with Bill Williams, had lunch with them and thence back to the ship to change clothes as we were all going to a cocktail party that little Edna [daughter of the commander of Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor] was giving for her house guest - her old roomate or something. We no sooner got out there than the news broke that the Colorado might be designated to search for the missing Earhart plane. That kind of put me on a spot as you can well imagine - with the planes all out of commission and everybody scattered all over the place on liberty. ... We finally got everything aboard and underway at 1 p.m. on Saturday [July 3] afternnon, with the firm conviction that even if they were still alive they would probably die of old age before we could arrive on the scene.

... This whole business is certainly a royal pain in the neck - not but what I welcome this opportunity for a cruise down to this part of the world, mind you, but it's the principle of the thing. First place I can't see it as anything but a publicity stunt. "Flying Laboratory" indeed! Even if she had been successful what would have been proven thereby except that she was the first woman to fly around the world? As it stands now she has only demonstrated once more that long flights over water in a land plane are foolishly dangerous. It is my own personal opinion that she should never have been permitted to attempt this flight or, having once started it more elaborate measures safeguarding it should have beeen established.

Thursday, July 8th (Commenting on the failure to locate Winslow Reef.)

What's the answer? -- Your guess is as good as mine, - or anybody's. In any case you can imagine what a nightmare it is for the Captain in command of one of the U.S. Navy's best battleboats charging around in waters where the latest charts and Sailing Directions provide such reliable information. Tomorrow we expect to look over the westernmost islands of the Phoenix group McKean I., Gardner I., and Carondelet Reef and possibly Hull I. We at least ought to be able to find the islands - I hope. The ship crossed the 'Line' yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon but due to the search operations His Majesty, King Neptune Ruler of the Raging Main postponed His arrival on board to greet His loyal subjects and to mete out just punishment to the lowly pollywogs, until tomorrow morning. As the schedule calls for an early launching for us I will probably miss most of the fun. However, if I can only keep my date with Amelia it will be worth it!

Friday, July 9

Well, the search continued as per schedule - we were catapulted at 7:00 this morning, went directly to McKean I. thence to Gardner Is., on down to Carondelet Reef and back aboard about 10:45. We found nothing, but this was none the less a very encouraging flight for we at least had the satisfaction of making our landfalls as expected. ... Gardner was... a ring of land surrounding a lagoon about 2 1/2 miles long by about a mile wide. Almost completely covered by short bushy trees including two small groves of coconut palms. There was the wreck of a fairly large steamer - of about five thousand tons hard up on the beach - her back broken in two places and covered with red rust, but otherwise fairly intact. Apparently it had been there less than ten years.

Of the visit to Hull Island later that afternoon Short says,

Johnny Lambrecht landed in the lagoon and talked with the white overseer in hopes that he might have heard or seen the plane passing. He had not even heard about the flight in the first place - lucky fellow! .....All the pollywogs were converted to shellbacks in due form this morning and now they are all going around sitting down as little as possible and that very gingerly. I can well sympathize with them as this constant exposure to a parachute for three hours at a clip has much the same effect.

But was Short's attitude unique among the pilots? The irreverent tone of Lambrecht's write up for the Bureau of Aeronautics Weekly News Letter brought this comment from C.C Bloch, Commander Battle Force, United States Fleet in a letter to the Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet dated 27 July 1937:

Certain undesirable features of this correspondence, including the informality of expression in certain portions, are being taken up with the Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Colorado, in separate correspondence.

And finally, an indication of the crew's view toward the search can be obtained from the ship's newspaper, The Colorado Lookout. The issue dated July 22, 1937 is headlined PLANE SEARCH HALTS CRUISE. Sub-headline; "Colorado Departs From Honolulu To Search Area At Equator". Sub-sub-headline; Three Planes Cover the Phoenix Group. Other front page stories: "Domain of Neptunus Rex Entered By Colorado - Pollywogs Initiated In Proper Mode by Shellbacks" and "Civilian Guests Comment On Cruise." All of the seven photographs that appear in the publication depict scenes from the initiation celebration.

Cam, you ask if I don't "feel a tad guilty about bad-mouthing them so consistently?" I don't feel a bit guilty about trying to reach an historically accurate assessment of the atmosphere in which the Colorado's search was carried out.

You also ask if I will "admit the possibility that a Colorado pilot would probably [have] given his right arm to find the missing fliers?" I certainly think that the pilots were doing the best job they knew how, but I do not think that the available evidence indicates that your characterization of their attitude is justified.

And no Cam, I will not back off.

Love to mother,
Ric


Subject: GP & Intelligence
Date: 3/4/99
From: Daryll Bollinger

Ric stated,

> As I recall, GP may have been at Saipan briefly toward the end of the war in his capacity as
> an intelligence officer, but it didn't have anything to do with Amelia. She had died back in 1937 ya know.

What was your source for that statement ?

George Putnam an intelligence officer ? Every impression that I have of GP is that he was a promoter, a pitch-man, from the hats he tried to get AE to endorce to the luggage. I expected him to have a job in the USO or with Bob Hope in WWII, not in intelligence. What this looks like is that somebody had something to tell GP that was secret. To make sure of his silence, they brought him into the faternity and put him under oath.

You said his trip to Saipan at the end of WWII had nothing to do with AE. In 1960, Paul Briand in his book made reference to the Saipan story as told by Dr. Casimer R. Sheft, the Navy dentist. In 1946 Miss Blanco told Dr. Sheft the story. From what I understand the 1960 book would be the first PUBLIC knowledge of the Saipan story, it is likely the Navy could have learned of the Blanco story as early as 1946 from Dr. Sheft.

If GP was an intelligence officer, there seems to be a scenario here that has the correct time line for his trip to Saipan.

With GP being an intelligence officer also casts a different light on the LTM Speedletter, it could have had nothing to do with AE, hoax or not. The Speedletter has every characteristic of an open code, not classified, says nothing, only the sender and receiver know the meanings of the words.

Daryll


From Ric

Well Daryll, I'll say this for you -- you're consistent. You present me with a classic example of the kind of dilemma that gets me into trouble with Cam Warren and his ilk. (I'll bet you didn't even know he owned an ilk.) How do I point out that your suppositions are uninformed and wrong-headed without insulting you? These days the politically correct thing to do is to make condescending statements about how everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The trouble with that approach is that stupidity goes unchallenged and is given equal status with sound reasoning. If nobody ever says that anything is stupid, then nobody is ever forced to really defend a position and we end up with television shows about UFOs and websites about Technical Remote Viewing, and -- most tragically -- classrooms full of kids who grow up without the tools to tell fact from fiction.

George Putnam enlisted in the spring of 1942, despite being in his mid-fifties, because he wanted to do what he could for his country. He graduated from the Army Air Force Training School in Miami Beach, Florida on October 17, 1942 and went from there to the Air Intelligence School in Harrisburg, Pa. where he was commended for his "superior performance." In March 1943 he was transferred to the 468th Bombardment Group, a new B-29 outfit then based at Salina, Kansas. As Intelligence Officer for the unit, he went with it to India and then to China from which the first raids on the Japanese home islands were mounted. During his visit to Saipan in 1945 he was very much aware of the many rumors circulating about Amelia having been "captured" and held for a time there. According to Mary Lovell's biography of Earhart (The Sound of Wings 1989) he "drove all over the island making extensive inquiries about the white woman flier but got no answers that gave him any hope that Amelia had ever been there." (page 326)

LTM, Ric


Subject: 281 Message
Date 3/4/99
From: Dennis McGee

I interpreted the 281 message to read: [We are] 281 [nautical miles] north [of] Howland. [Our] call[sign is] KHAQQ. [We are] beyond north ((i.e. north-northeast, northeast??)). Dont ((hope for, vs. hold with?)) us much longer. [We are] above water, shut[ting] off [radio].

If in fact this was from AE/FN and they were floating, I am amazed at the sudden accuracy of FN's navigation. While he had 4-5 hours to find Howland after he missed his first ETA, he still couldn't locate it. But now he has a real good idea where he is, exactly 281 miles -- not about 280 or around 300, but exactly 281 miles, north of Howland. I'd be suspicious of that, it's too accurate.

Also, the comments by the Coast Guard Commander in Hawaii, who was relaying the message to the Itasca, don't jibe with reality. My interpretation of his comments are: [This message was a] KEYED TRANSMISSION. [It was] EXTREMELY POOR KEYING BEHIND CARRIER [wave]. [The message consisted of] FRAGEMENTARY PHRASES BUT [was] COPIED BY THREE OPERATORS

If we are to believe that the keying was "extremely poor" then I would have to question the accuracy of the text even if it was copied by three operators. My experience in copying code -- or more accurately, watching it being copied and analyzing the results -- would lead me to believe that with three ditty-boppers copying the same "extremely poor" keying, I would probably end up with three different versions of the text. All three operators will not hear the same exact thing. Just as the operator on the Itasca changed the text of some of his messages, the same would apply here.

I have often witnessed multiple operators copying the same signal and when things -- the signal itself or the keying -- starts to head south, the operators usually enter their best guess. ((I've even seen them peek at the other guy's copy and then type that in!)) Consequently, the same text can vary significantly from operator to operator.

The text presented by the Coast Guard was probably a consensus between the operators and their supervisors of what everyone thought they heard. This does not question the integrity of the Coast Guard or its personnel, it simply recognizes human reactions (we all want to do a good job) and reflects a common practice (as documented earlier by TIGHAR).

I don't doubt that the Coast Guard heard something, but I don't think it was AE/FN.

LTM Dennis McGee #0149


From Ric

The trickiest thing about the 281 message is separating out the "fragmentary phrases" which are all run together in the reporting message. Note that the message does not come from the people who actually heard the message - Navy Radio Wailupe - but by the Commander of the Coast Guard's Hawaiian Section. In other words, this is second hand information. Where is the original transmission of the report from Wailupe to ComHawSec? My guess is that the information was passed from Wailupe to ComHawSec by telephone. They were both right there in the Honolulu area. Maybe the guys at Wailupe just phoned the Coast Guard and told them what they had heard. At any rate, we don't know what words go together and that makes it a lot tougher to fill in the blanks.

Here's my best guess on how the phrases break down:

.....281 north.....
.....Howland call KHAQQ....
.....beyond north.....
.....don't hold with us much longer....
.....above water......
.....shut off.....

If this is not a genuine message from Earhart or Noonan then it must be either a misunderstood message from someone involved in the search, or an outright hoax. I can't think of any other possibilities. This message was circulated to virtually everyone associated with the search and was widely reported by the media. No one came forward to say, "Hey guys. That wasn't Amelia. That was me." Also consider that any experienced operator would not send a message that was poorly keyed. I think we can say that the likelihood of it being a misunderstanding is remote.

That leaves two possibilities - a genuine communication or a hoax. Let's consider whether it might have been a hoax. What would a hoaxer have to know to perpetrate this stunt? He'd have to know AE's frequency and call sign - but those were easy to find out. He would also need to know that neither AE nor FN was adept at sending code and that a believable message from them would have to be extremely poorly keyed. At that time practically no one knew that AE and FN could not send code smoothly. If this message was a hoax, it was perpetrated by a real insider.

But the most interesting coincidence about the 281 message is the number 281 itself. Any navigator with an almanac can establish his latitude with considerable accuracy merely by noting the elevation of the sun at local noon. Longitude is a lot tougher, but latitude is a piece of cake. Latitude is nothing more than distance from the equator. 281 nautical miles is 4 degrees 41 minutes. Go to that latitude north of the equator in the Central Pacific and you better be on a boat because there's no land on that line. But go to 4 degrees 41 minutes (281 nm) south of the equator and you'll find one place where you can stand on dry land - Gardner Island, Aukeraime District, right in the same area where we found the shoes in 1991 and one of the places where we suspect Gallagher found the bones, shoes and sextant box in 1940.

With that in mind you might want to take another look at those fragmentary phrases.

LTM, Ric


Subject: 218 Message: Poor keying
Date: 3/6/99
From: Mike Everette

Here is the reason for "poor keying" as mentioned regarding the purported post-loss message.

Aircraft radio transmitters of this age were vacuum-tube designs. They needed both low-voltage power, from the battery (also known as the "A" voltage) to operate the tube filaments (heaters, if you will) and the relays in the control circuits. They also required high-voltage DC power (also known as the "B-Plus" voltage) to operate the vacuum tubes.

The B-plus voltage was provided by an electromechanical power supply known as a dynamotor. This is a DC motor-generator set. The battery voltage drives the motor; the generator is on the same shaft (opposite end) as the motor.

Dynamotors are big current eaters. In the case of the Western Electric 13CB transmitter in AE's aircraft, the dynamotor output voltage was around 1050 volts at about 200 milliamperes... that is, close to 200 watts DC power output. Dynamotors have a typical efficiency rating (input power vs. output power) of no more than 50% and probably more like 30% (energy is converted from electrical, to mechanical, back to electrical... go figure). Therefore, the dynamotor for the 13CB draws about 500 watts from the battery... assuming a 14-volt battery, this means the dynamotor alone will draw about 40 amperes... when it is running, under load. Starting surge current can be over 100 amps for a fraction of a second, but the surges still eat the battery up. Plus, the tube filaments probably draw at least 4 more amps. Lots of current.

Anyway... the control circuits of aircraft transmitters in those days were generally designed to keep the dynamotor on standby as much as possible. In VOICE mode, the dynamotor would only be running while the transmitter was on the air... that is, the push-to-talk button on the microphone not only "keyed" the transmitter, but also activated a relay that started the dynamotor. When the button was released, to change from transmit to receive, the relay opened, and the dynamotor power was cut off.

In CW (morse code) mode, the dynamotor would be normally be running continuously, even during "standby" (receive) periods. Reason: The dynamotor takes a fraction of a second to get up to speed, so that the transmitter is not up to full power the instant it is keyed on. If the dynamotor is running, we don't have that problem. Plus, the dynamotor starting surges are minimized, and the dynamotor doesn't come on and go off with each dit-and-dah of Morse. If it did, the changing voltages would also make the output signal's "note" as heard in a distant receiver sound very unstable.

If AE and FN were transmitting morse by keying the mic button, therefore, the result would indeed be "extremely poor keying." In short the signal would "chirp" or "yoop" for a few hundred Hertz all around the transmit frequency. The "note" as heard in a receiver would warble like a 500-pound canary bird and the frequency would be a bit unsteady, even with a crystal controlled transmitter like the 13CB.

But... BUT... BUT!

I took another look at the circuit diagram of the 13CB, specifically the control circuits. While its instruction manual specifies that this transmitter can be used for keyed continuous-wave signals, that is "CW" or Morse code, it IS NOT really designed for such!

The control circuit is wired in such a manner that the dynamotor will not be running in any standby period... whether in Voice or CW mode. The transmitter control circuit uses two relays: one to switch the antenna from the transmitter output to the receiver input ("T/R' or antenna-changeover) and another to energize the control circuit. This contro relay does the following jobs: energizes the antenna-changeover relay AND the dynamotor starting relay AT THE SAME TIME. It is impossible to separate the two.

In short... when the key is "open" the dynamotor input power circuit is broken. In all cases.

This transmitter was NOT designed for CW use. Oh yeah, it could, theoretically, be used to produce a CW signal... just barely...and that would not be a CW signal of acceptable quality standards (stability, purity of emission, "cleanness" of keying etc.) even for the mid to late 1930s.

The dynamotor starter relay would be clicking on-and-off with each closure of the key!

Dynamotor starter relays are something like the big solenoids that energize the starter in an automobile... I am thinking specifically of the ones used in Ford cars, which are separate from the starter motor. They are big, and do not accurately follow a telegraph key. They switch big amounts of current on and off. Trying to "key" one will burn out the contacts of the solenoid in short order because breaking high-current circuits like that produces arcing at the relay contacts.

Yeah... I bet that signal really was poorly keyed. Probably sounded like (as an old-time ham operator I knew once said) "cow-drop hittin' a flat rock...." And combined with poor proficiency on a telegraph key... or someone trying to send code with a mic button (not easy to do, considering how strong the button-springs are in some of those old aircraft mics; they are real thumb-busters!) it is a wonder the receiving operators could understand anything at all.

Sorry this is so "technical." But, if I did not explain it, those who didn't understand a brief otuline would probably butt heads over it and pick it to death.

Hope it helps.

73 Mike E. #2194


From Ric

Verrry interesting, and possibly another argument against this message being a hoax. Somebody would have had to go to a lot of trouble to fake all of that.


Subject: Re: 281 Message
Date: 3/6/99
From: Gene Dangelo

You know, though some folks may feel that the number 281 may seem too specific to be genuine, it occurs to me that with a really skilled navigator who has a sextant and a chronometer right in hand, that degree of specificity might be exactly what one might expect, especially if that navigator is hoping to provide as accurate coordinates as possible in the event of a ditching. (How's that for one long sentence?) Some hoaxer may not know enough about navigation to come up with some odd number, unless their really thorough hoaxers. An amateur might look at some garden variety Mercator projection map, and simply pick a number printed on the latitude/longitude grid, and transmit that. It all depends on one level of sophistication. But there may have been a reason that Fred could've been THAT certain. That may merit some investigation---what circumstances could make him THAT sure of his position?

Then, there's the ethical question, rather like pulling a false fire alarm, or yelling "fire" in the crowded theater. In the 1930's, what would any hoaxers hope to accomplish by sending out a deliberate false signal? To divert the search and possibly seal AE's doom? To risk FRC (now FCC) detection via triangulation and thus fines or imprisonment? I am not so naive as to think that it could NOT happen, but one has to wonder, given AE's celebrity, why anyone would go out of their way to impede the search for a celebrated stranger, who was fighting for her life? True, we can only speculate on both sides of the fence, but an occasional fresh look at the known facts with an eye to other possiblities may yet yield new avenues to investigate.

Love To Meridians
Dr. Gene Dangelo #2211 :)


Subject: Wreck Photo, Naviguessing, etc.
Date: 3/8/99
From: Robert Klaus

Thanks to the good offices of Simon and his web site I have been converted to the low wing land plane camp.

The larger scan of the photo clearly shows the remnants of the fuselage over the wing. It also shows the #2 engine firewall and engine carrier locations in a decent degree of detail. How does this match up with the Model 10 firewall and carrier?

Of the available candidates I think the wreckage resembles the Ki-54 more closely, but I wouldn't swear to it in court.

Now to the details of aerial navigation. First, my qualifications, I am not a navigator, or a pilot. I did teach pilots and navigators for sixteen years as a flight simulator operator, and worked closely with the nav for seven years as a C-130E Flight Engineer. Our aircraft were old enough that they still sported sextants and sight reduction tables as part of their equipment. Navigators were required to remain current on, and demonstrate proficiency in celestial navigation. Some of our navs were really quite good. The could get accuracy as good or better than the radio nav, inertial nav, or doppler fixes. GPS did better, but didn't always work. (This is one reason our guys worked on their celestial nav so much, our airplanes were built in the sixties, and are a trifle worn.)

Chronometers are absolutely critical. Mention has been made that FN had two. The problem here is that if they disagree you don't know which is right. Did AE have a chronometer, or a common watch? Is there any indication that FN was in the habit of getting Naval Observatory time hacks?

From the discussion, and my own reading I have the impression that FN probably plotted a direct course for Howland, and depended on RDF at the other end, just as was done in the Clippers. This was apparently still common practice in W.W.II, deliberate offset becoming standard practice later. Does someone have navigator training material from W.W.II to check this?

Wind drift is critical. Is there a record of briefed versus actual winds? From his Pan Am records is there any indication how good FN was a estimating winds?

The 281 message. 281 miles just sounds too precise. 281 degrees, on the other hand, sounds like something a navigator would plot. From any of the possible landing sites is there another island, or prominent feature at 281 degrees (or back course 101 degrees)? This could fit into a message as "we are on coral shoal 281 degrees from unknown island" or "we are on unknown island, second island at 281 degrees".

And last, the battery. Auxiliary batteries are usually not hooked up in parallel or series. They are not hooked up to the system at all. The purpose of an aux, emergency or backup battery is to supply power in the event of the failure of the normal power source. They are therefor not connected to the power user until needed. If they were connected all the time they would run down along with the normal battery. For that period, the arrangement would probably have included a heavy rotary or knife switch to select which battery is used. This would normally prevent the batteries from working in parallel. If they were paralleled after the main battery had failed, the larger normal battery (now dead) would suck down the aux battery and prevent it from supplying full voltage to the radio. Given the scenario in question, they rising tide would have shorted out and destroyed the aux battery, but not harmed the main battery or the radios. When the battery is shorted out it will produce copious quantities of hydrogen and sulfur dioxide gases. The hydrogen is a source of explosions, the sulfur dioxide causes lung damage and can affect the brain. This was a serious problem when any sort of leaking occurred in submarines of the period.

Sorry if this is a bit long winded.

Robert Klaus


From Ric

Hmmmm.... yes, that all makes sense to me (but I'm easy). I keep thinking about our piece of aircraft skin (Artifact 2-2-V-1) which we can't seem tp place precisely on the Electra but still fits the Lockheed 10 better than it does any other type. The two locations where it seems to fit best are under the centersection (near the main battery) and under the aft cabin (near the aux battery). This section of skin was clearly blown outward by a low-grade fluid force - fuel/air explosion, impact of water from inside the aircraft, or maybe a hydrogen explosion?

As for the Ki-54 - we eliminated it based upon the structure of its foward wing spar as shown in engineering drawings at the Smithsonian Garber Facility. In brief, the spar of the Tachikawa is solid where the Wreck Photo shows big lightening holes that are present in a panel behind the leading edge of the Lockheed 10. The shape of the base of the windshield centerpost is also wrong on the Ki-54. You'll find photos on our website at Wreck Photo Update.

LTM, Ric


Subject: "Aim Off" Navigation (longish, important)
Date: 3/8/99
From: Tom Van Hare

Ric, in a recent reply to a "281 message" wrote:

> It has often been assumed that Noonan off-set his approach to Howland but we're aware of no evidence
> that he did. It's not a technique that Pan Am used.

Ric, in my recent efforts to acquire new data for the effort, I have been purchasing and reading through books in related fields and areas. And so, I have recently found this interesting quote from the book, China Clipper, by Robert L. Gandt -- it is a publication of the Naval Institute Press in 1991, ISBN: 0-87021-209-5. Since it really has nothing to do at all with Amelia Earhart (making brief mention of her once in its 214 pages), I don't really believe that the quote is not accurate, but perhaps we should contact the author to check the source.

The thrust of the quote is that Fred Noonan and Pan Am did in fact use "aim off" navigation, for which you used the terms "off-set his approach". The book describes the first flight of Pan Am's China Clipper and goes into some detail, including notes about the flight enroute to Wake Island. In it, there are several short references to Fred Noonan, the navigator for that first China Clipper voyage under the famed Pan Am captain Ed Musick.

Here, quoted from page 104 of China Clipper:

At dawn the China Clipper was again westbound. There were no signposts marking the 1,260-mile route to Wake. After Kure Island, only twenty minutes past Midway, there were a thousand miles of trackless ocean. No landmarks, no chain of atolls pointed to the destination. There was only Wake Island -- two-and-a-half square miles of sandspit -- barely awash in the Pacific.

It was the most demanding feat of aerial navigation in the world. There were no alternate landing sites and not enough fuel for a return to Midway. The only aids to navigation were the sun, sometimes a glimpse of Venus, the driftsight, the navigator's own dead reckoning, and the Adcock Direction Finder, a capricious device not fully trusted by navigator Noonan. (4)

From his bag of navigational tricks, Fred Noonan produced a technique called "aim off." "Aim off" was a tricky but effective way to ensure that a vessel or aircraft did not overshoot a tiny target like Wake.

The navigator would deliberately fly a course to one side of his destination. Then, when he had intersected a precomputed line of position he would obtain by sun sight, he would turn and fly down the sun line to his target. "Aim off" was not infallible, but it solved half the navigational problem -- that of knowing on which side, north or south, the China Clipper might be from Wake. (5)

And to complete the passage, here are the related End Notes:

(4) Captains Horace Brock and Marius Lodeesen described the difficulties and techniques of navigation aboard the China Clipper. The problem was compounded by the flying boat's tendency to wallow, even in smooth air. According to Brock, the China Clipper "was unstable in all three axis."

(5) "Aim off" was described by Australian navigator Harold Gatty, who flew round the world with Wiley Post in 1931.

In short, what I am trying to say is that if this book's research is accurate, and I believe it is, we can say that Fred Noonan was not only familiar with "aim off" but used it to find Wake Island on the Clipper's first flight and, by inference, that "aim off" was a navigational technique used on Pan Am's Clippers by at least one of their navigators -- their most senior one who set the standard for the rest to follow. That record-setting flight commenced out of San Francisco on November 22, 1935. Notably, in the search for Wake Island, it involved a similar navigational challenge as finding Howland Island for Amelia Earhart. This would lend strong evidence that Fred Noonan would have done the same thing on that fateful morning just a few years later when Earhart and Noonan somehow missed Howland Island and disappeared.

Furthermore, the quote about Noonan distrusting the Adcock Direction Finder is more than a little interesting. If accurate, he would have probably mistrusted it for the flight with Earhart as well, particularly in that the operators were not Pan Am staff but lesser experienced US Navy personnel. The comment about his distrust of the DF also implies to me that he had more than a passing familiarity with its operations though this should be open to discussion and debate.

Assuming that the quote in China Clipper is accurate, the question I would now pose is whether Fred Noonan would have applied "aim off" to the north and turned south or done it the other way around. I feel that given this new information, there can be little doubt that he would applied "aim off" in the flight. So, here is the discussion:

A. If Noonan applied "aim off" to the north, he would have flown over open ocean, acquire the line of position, and turned south. He would then pass near to Howland and if he missed it, he would have then encountered the Gardner Islands.

B. If he applied "aim off" to the south, he would possibly flown over the Gardners in the morning, giving him a better navigational fix to use in subsequently locating Howland.

C. The question also involves fuel considerations. If you were scheduled to arrive with four hours of fuel in the tanks, you might just fly it with "aim off" to the north in that you could then fly south and, if winds were stronger than projected and you found the Gardners, you would then turn around and fly back up the line of position to Howland knowing exactly how far you had to go in miles. If, however, you were scheduled to arrive with less than an hour or so of fuel, it might make better sense to apply "aim off" to the south, in hopes of spotting one of the other islands first and then flying more directly to Howland from a known point in the ocean.

D. And in considering applying south side "aim off," it would seem to me a bit excessive to apply that much that you might fly over the Gardners first -- after all, it is quite a few miles south. So, I ask the celestial navigators this question: how much "aim off" is now and was then customary for this distance flight?

E. Also, "aim off" considerations first and foremost involve forecast winds. Is the forecast for that morning that Noonan would have used known?

And as a final note, I would like to reiterate that although this one quote from China Clipper is interesting and involves new data for us all to consider, it is but one source document and is not verified as of yet. Next step, contacting the author, Robert L. Gandt -- shall you leave this to me or is there another willing volunteer?

Thomas Van Hare


From Ric

It's because this sort of thing happens that I phrase sentences like "It has often been assumed that Noonan off-set his approach to Howland but we're aware of no evidence that he did."

This is very interesting Tom.


Subject: Tides at Niku
Date: 3/9/99
From: Dick Evans

(Note from Ric: Dick is a veteran of Coast Guard Unit 92 and was stationed on Gardner Island during 1944/45.)

There seems to be a lot of confusion about tides in general and how they are affected by life on a South Sea Island Paradise.

In the first place, tides are very imprecise even under the best circumstances. When the experts say that a High Tide occurs at a certain minute, they are only talking about the exact minute the moon has the greatest pull on the water. This does not take into consideration the affect of wind, undertow, or currents on the height the water reaches. Anyone who has ever stood on a beach at Flood Tide knows that if the wave that runs up the beach at the exact moment the experts say is high tide also happens to be the one that runs up the furthest, that is a happy coincidence the experts can celebrate for days. The same goes for Ebb Tide and the water running down the beach.

Another part of the problem on Gardner is that the coral reefs are so flat that at high tide you can walk out near the edge and only be in water up to your knees. At Low Tide near the edge, the water is still up over your shoes. All the rest of the time the depth of the water is somewhere between these two extemes and is affected, sometimes, by waves or ripples only 1 or 2 inches high. So the main effect of the tide has little to do with the depth of the water but is enormously important when it comes to how much of the reef is above water level. Even here consideration must be given to the hundreds of small to large puddles in small to large depressions on the reef. Contrary to popular belief, the reef is not as flat as a pool table.

Another thing we noticed is that the position of the moon affected the water levels in opposite direction on opposite sides of the island. The moon always approached from the east. Strangely enough, that is the way it seems to work here in Pennsylvania. But the effect on Gardner was that as the moon approached the island (also approaching the time of high tide) it seemed to lower the water level on the windward reef and raise it on the leeward side. As it moved on to our west, it had the opposite effect. Now remember, this was only an inch or two in depth but made a big difference in the amount of reef exposed during mid-tide.

The preceeding paragraph, of course, should be totally ignored because the experts tell me it is dead wrong and impossible. They tell me the amount of tide is the same for all parts of the island at any given time; that the tide is either low or high all over the island at the same time. Since the experts say it, I am sure this is the case. But then I have trouble trying to understand why it was that on our Northern Slave on Baker Island, which is flat and circular, they made their landings working around the island hitting whatever beach had the most water on it. But far be it from me to argue with the experts. I am sure they are absolutely right. All I know is what I saw.

The other consideration is the "fingers" on the edge of the reef. The easiest way to understand this is to picture the palm of your hand on top of deep water. What we refer to as the edge of the reef would be where your fingers meet your hand. The Fingers on the reef stuck out into the water as your fingers stick out. They extended out 20 to 30 feet and were about 4 to 6 feet apart. Near the edge the water was, maybe, up to your knees. By the time you reached the end of the finger, the water was up to your waist and the waves, no matter how calm the ocean, were breaking onto your chest.

Now I hope nobody thinks we were stupid enough to walk out on these fingers just for the thrill. But twice while we were there, diesel oil was delivered. The only workable way to get the stuff ashore was to tie 6 or 8 of the barrels on a line, tow them in to the end of the fingers, and throw a line to the guys on shore standing at the end of the fingers in waist deep water. For us the danger was that a wave would knock us off the finger into the water between them, which dropped down thousands of feet. The most dangerous thing was that the coral on the under side of the fingers receeded and they had water under them. That meant you would probably be caught under the finger with no way to get out of the hole. To prevent this we formed a line with each guy grabbing the belt of the man in front of him. When we caught the rope line thrown to us by the guys on the boat we passed it back the finger to the guys nearer the edge who pulled it back until they could attach it to the truck and tow the load onto the reef. Then we would turn around, grab the belt of the guy now in front of you, and walk back up onto the reef. Then we loaded the barrels onto an Athey wagon, and then went back out onto the finger to take another line of barrels. Great fun.


From Ric

I agree with Dick's descriptions of the reef for the area down around the Coast Guard station. I too have been out on that reef and I can tell you that there are indeed areas -- big areas -- that are very regular and smooth. Maybe not like a pool table but you could certainly ride a bicycle with no problem. The depth of water on the reef at low tide appears to vary depending upon where you are and, perhaps, the time of year. I've never been there in July but in Sept. and Oct. you can walk around on the reef on the windward (northeastern) side without getting your feet wet.

And I'm totally in agreement with Dick about that island having little regard for the opinions of experts. For example, you can read climatic reports that say that the temperature never gets above the 90s. Tell that to anyone who has ever been to Niku.


Subject: Recorded Tide Data from Niku
Date: 3/10/99
From: Kenton Spading

There has been some discussion on the forum lately regarding the tides at Niku. Phil Tanner, Rick Nigh and others have offered comments on this. I am not a tide expert. I do not claim that the following information will help in the effort to determine the Niku tides in July 1937. Hopefully, someone more familiar with tides than me can use the data (some of which is in the deck log of the Nai'a ).

Prior to departing on the NIKU III expedition, I knew the tides at Niku were an issue. So, soon after I arrived at Niku I went up to the bridge of the ship (the Nai'a). I asked them to record the time of the high and low tide each day using a large piece of coral that was sticking up the reef (and some other visible indicators, they used binoculars). I made sure they recorded all the times in the ship's log book in case anyone wanted to use the data later. After we had a few days of data I sat down with a crew member and we compared the Niku high and low tide times to various tide tables.

The tide table for Tokelau (approx. 600 stat miles SE) was too early for Niku. The ship did not have a tide table for Apia, Samoa (approx. 700 stat miles South) so we tried the table for Pago Pago, American Samoa (approx. 850 stat miles SSE). The Pago Pago table worked straight up for all practical purposes. (no adjustment needed). The predicted tides for Pago Pago matched the tides at Niku very closely.

Love to Mother
Kenton Spading


From Ric

Hmmmm.... that's why we bring Kenton along on these little outings. Okay, if the tides for Pago Pago (pronounced Pahngo Pahngo by everyone except Dan Quayle, who calls it Pogo Pogo) work for Niku for a week or so in March of 1997, is it reasonable to extrapolate that they would also work for July of 1937? I can think of one way to test that hypothesis.

We know that the photo taken during the overflight by the Colorado's planes on July 9 shows a highish tide. We don't know for sure what time the photo was taken but we can certainly narrow it down to between, say, 08:00 and 10:00 local time. We also don't know whether the tide was coming in or going out at that moment. Still, it would be interesting to see what the tide at Pago Pago was doing during that time frame.

LTM, Ric


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