Highlights From the Forum
October 24 through 30, 1999
I fully agree with the postings by Robert Klaus and William Webster-Garman. For the transport aircraft on which I have been a crew member Long Range Cruise Airspeed, the best range with the least fuel burn, involves a gradual increase in altitude as fuel is burned and the airplane become lighter and a gradual reduction of airspeed. There are far too many variables that can not be known to predict fuel consumption. We can be certain that Amelia and Fred understood the best way to fly the airplane to get the maximum range for the given conditions and it would be hard to believe that they would not be very concerned with obtaining that maximum range. There are probably as many variable for the venting of fuel while the airplane sits on the ground as there are for fuel consumption in flight. Certainly the major factor is the temperature of the fuel when it is put into the tanks vs the temperature it will reach sitting in those tanks. Do the Longs tell us if the fuel came from underground storage or above ground tanks? How do they know the tanks were not "topped off" prior to the flight?
Dick Pingrey 0908C
The fuel was almost certainly from barrels, not underground storage. We do not know that the tanks were not topped off prior to the flight. That would seem to be a no-brainer but Chater doesn't mention it. That doesn't mean it didn't happen.
I just picked up the November issue of Skin Diver since another forum member mentioned it earlier. Although I was merely expecting a summary of the facts that us forum addicts already know by heart, I found one paragraph (on page 61) very new and even more interesting:
Well, how about it Ric! Is Niku on a major twin engine prop plane corridor, or is there some supernatural force at work here. What about those lights? Are Fred and Amelia's ghosts trying to keep their camp fire burning to spur you on to give them a decent burial? Now's your big chance to explain away these occurrences, before the National Enquirer starts making headlines like: "The love child of Amelia Earhart and her drunken navigator is finally relased from the Japanese, and is now orbiting a remote island in an invisible airplane!"
Say it ain't so Ric!
LTM, (Who only flies
in aircraft she can see!)
The article was written by Catherine "Cat" Holloway who was and is part of the Nai'a crew and is also a TIGHAR member. All I can do is give you my own account of the events she describes.
The lights seen on the island at night were the flashlights of the four team members who stayed ashore. Some of the crew saw the lights apparently without understanding that there were people ashore and the story got started. The four people ashore were Tom King, John Clauss, Gary Quigg and Lonnie Schorer. They volunteered to stay ashore because we knew that the seas were likely to get too rough to get people on and off the island for a couple of days and it was better to get some work done than to just sit aboard the boat waiting for the weather to improve. As far as I could tell they were not the least bit "traumatized" by the experience. In fact, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and styled themselves "The Sand People." To this day, they jealously guard the rituals of their secret society.
The story about hearing the airplane is true. I heard it myself. Radial engines. No doubt about it. Low. Maybe a thousand feet. I was back in the bush so it's not suprising that I couldn't see it, but nobody saw it, even the crew aboard ship. Not everyone on the island heard it, as I recall.
Niku is not on any ferry or commercial air route. We almost never see so much as a contrail. The only airplanes out there down low are RNZAF Orion patrol aircraft and on two occasions we've seen them swing by Niku. Pretty hard to mistake the sound of big turboprop engines for radials.
Ghost Electra? My mind doesn't easily accept such notions. But it happened. I heard it. A bunch of us in different places heard it. It's in the field notes. I can't explain it.
"There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet, Act I, scene v)
> The story about
hearing the airplane is true. I heard it myself. Radial
Since my mind doesn't easily accept such notions either, (although this story does rather put the hair up on the back of my neck) there must be some way to discover who might possibly have been flying a twin radial-engined aircraft over Niku at the time your team heard it. Since it didn't land at Niku, (you don't think it did a touch and go at low tide by any chance) it must have flown to/from another island(s) either in the Phoenix group, or does Howland have a runway still? Unless it was a drug smuggling plane (which begs the question of why they'd be out there), they must have had to file a flight plan, and likely IFR at that. Assuming the sound you heard came from 1997 and not 1937, hopefully it wouldn't be too difficult to find out who still operated such aircraft in that region two years ago, and which one's flight route might have fit the observations you made of it. Presumably the Flight Service Stations out there would still have old flight plans on file somewhere?
Incidentally, did anyone note the direction the sound went to/from, (north to south, or whatever) and did it circle once or more, or did it just make a straight pass overhead and then vanish? Also, was it loudest over the lagoon/Norwich City area, or could anyone tell? Perhaps Amelia was trying to tell you something from beyond...
This story gets better all the time!
LTM, (who runs the
mile-high clairvoyance club)
There is still an excellent runway at Canton but the only avgas there is a few drums left over from Finch's world flight. There are no landing facilities anywhere else in the Phoenix Group or the Tokelaus. Nikumaroro is about as remote a place as there is, except maybe some parts of Antarctica. You can't get there from here.
Given the interest in this, I went back and checked my field notes. For Friday Feb 28, 1997 I have the following entry:
So my recollection of the incidents was flawed (surprise, surprise). The lights on shore were seen long before the night the team members stayed ashore. My impression at the time was that engines were NOT radials. I remain quite sure that they were not turboprop either. I don't think anyone determined a direction of flight and I don't recall any imprssion that it circled. I was working in the abandoned village that day but people on the lagoon shore and aboard ship also heard it. Nobody saw it.
We haven't expended time and energy trying to check flight plans to figure out who it might have been. It's just one more weird thing that happened on Niku. It's a weird place.
It's good to have a friend working at Borders Books. Just got my copy of Elgen Long's book. Haven't read thoroughly, but skimmed looking for Noonan insights. No biggies, although a couple of things of note:
Elgen has an appendix exhibit showing the Electra's time aloft would be 22 hours and 29 minutes. This chart is modified from information Kelly Johnson sent to AE for the Hawaii flight, apparently providing gph at 150mph at various times into the flight. Do we have this Kelly Johnson data?? Also, do we have any documentation of the appropriate indicated airspeeds for max range and max endurance for AE's Lockheed??
blue skies, -jerry
The numbers Kelly Johnson provided were:
If you apply those numbers to 1,100 gallons you get:
Long says that Johnson's numbers were developed specifically for the Oakland/Honolulu flight for which he recommended a fuel load of 900 gallons (Earhart actually carried 947 gallons for that flight). For the Lae/Howland flight the fuel load was greater so Long says that Johnson's numbers must be adjusted to reflect the heavier weight. But how much heavier? Long says that the airplane at Lae, minus gas, was "approximately 342 pounds" lighter than the airplane was for the Oakland/Honolulu flight (two crew instead of four, no trailing wire antenna, etc., etc.). He also says that the 1,100 gallon fuel load was reduced 8 gallons by expansion and venting to 1,092. Based upon these allegations he presents the following table:
In other words, Long says that if Earhart had flown at the recommended 150 mph (130 knots) she would have had 1 hour and 40 minutes less fuel than indicated by a straight application of Johnson's numbers. Earhart was last known to be in the air at 20 hours and 13 minutes into the flight. Accepting (for the moment) Long's calculations, she would have still had 2 hours and 16 minutes of fuel aboard when last heard from. At 130 knots she can go 292 nautical miles. If, at the time of her last transmission, she's far enough south on the line of position to not see Baker Island, she can still reach Gardner Island within the fuel constraints Long suggests.
But Long's calculations depend entirely upon his statement of the weight difference between the Oakland/Honolulu airplane and the Lae/Howland airplane ("approximately 342 pounds"). How did he arrive at that figure? The available paperwork on the airplane is lamentably lacking in weight data and Long cites no newly discovered records. Nobody knows what the airplane weighed when it came out of repairs at Lockheed, what it weighed when it left Miami, much less what it weighed when it left Lae.
Of course, Long cannot have the airplane continue to fly for 2 hours and 16 minutes after the last radio transmission. In his scenario, the engines must stop at the very moment she is changing frequencies as she said she would do ("Will repeat this on 6210.") in the last message. He gets rid of those extra hours and minutes by declaring there to have been a 23 knot headwind over the entire route from Lae to Howland which, he says, prompted Earhart to abandon Johnson's figures entirely. Long say that the putative headwind is "An average of the forecast winds and actual reported winds aloft over the route." As his source he cites the Chater Report but the source does not support the allegation.
The farther I get into this book the more interesting it gets.
Thanks to the wonders of the Forum, I'm now in touch with the Pyrene Corporation, and they've kindly sent me engineering drawings of what they feel are the types of extinguishers represented in the Luke Field inventory. They don't very closely resemble the one we found on Niku, but they also don't very closely resemble the extinguisher we think we can see in a photo of Amelia and Fred loading the Electra in Burbank, and the extinguisher in that photo DOES resemble the one we found on Niku. Next step will be to send a picture of the Niku extinguisher to Pyrene and see what they think about it.
There's no reason to think that the one we found is anything but a Loran station artifact, but we shouldn't leave a slab of coral unturned.
LTM (who says to
wash hands after playing with CTC fire extinguishers)
As a new forum member, I find many of the comments interesting and informative. I also sense some confusion regarding critical fuel factors associated with Earhart's last flight. Some thoughts follow:
Most people tend to discuss the number of gallons onboard the Electra when Amelia departed Lae. The important issue, however, is not how many gallons were in the tanks, but how many pounds of fuel were in the tanks. The reason is that engine mixture ratio refers to the weight ratio of fuel and air delivered to the engines.
Three temperature dependent factors impact how much fuel weight there was at takeoff: fuel evaporation, overboard venting (due to thermal expansion during the heat of the day), and the gasoline density (specific weight, pounds per cubic foot). One suspects there may have been a bit of evaporation and possibly overboard venting, but the most significant factor was the fuel density. It can be stated with reasonable certainty that the fuel was at an elevated temperature (compared to standard temperature) due to the equatorial heat. Therefore, the fuel weight in total pounds was diminished over what it would have been at say 60 degrees F.
To give you an example of what this can mean, the late Paul Mantz used fuel density to his advantage during the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race. The fuel he loaded into his wet wing P-51 Mustang racer was chilled to get a more dense liquid. This was done by lowering buckets of dry ice into the tanker truck from which Mantz would draw his fuel. In addition, the wings of his racer were covered to insulate against the sun's rays. The insulating blankets were removed shortly before takeoff and thus Mantz was able to takeoff with an inte rnal fuel load of well over 5,000 pounds of fuel. Amelia's situation was just the opposite, of course. The volumetric capacity of the fuel tanks remained constant, but the fuel weight was reduced because of the elevated temperature.
A second critical factor was mixture ratio control. Assuming Amelia utilized good fuel management (she was aloft over 20 hours), one must also consider variables associated with the Cambridge Fuel Analyzer instrumentation aboard the airplane. This instrument utilized a Wheatstone bridge as the measuring element around which flowed a sample of the exhaust gases. Resistance in the bridge wires vary as exhaust gas thermal conductivity changes. The resulting thermal conductivity can be related to the input mixture ratio producing these gas mixtures. Kelly Johnson relied upon this instrument while establishing a generic long distance flight profile and corresponding engine power settings prior to the first world flight attempt.
Note than even marginal fuel rich off-mixture ratio engine operation will become significant during a 20 hour flight -- when every pound of fuel becomes precious. If an off-ratio condition existed, it could have been pilot error or instrumentation error, even a little of both.
Incidentally, it is quite feasible to estimate a realistic fuel consumption for Amelia's last flight by analyzing each element of the flight. There will be an error band associated with the calculations, but I believe it will be within say 5 percent. This is certainly within the range of most estimates and speculations about Amelia's fate.
That's worth considerably more than two cents. It does sound like you have some expertise in the field. The problem with analyzing each element of the flight is the paucity of reliable data.
Back on October 15, Ric wrote: "I agree that the Wreck Photo shows a big-engined Lockheed 10 (a C or an E) but there is nothing in the photo that is unique to NR16020. Forced to choose between the Wreck Photo (of unknown provenance) and the "Wreckage Photos" of known provenance, I have to go with the latter."
Hmmmm. Seems to me that the Wreck Photo which generated so much excitement a couple years back has been rather unceremoniously dumped in favor of the current crash-near-the-shipwreck hypothesis. Are we being premature here, and is it absolutely necessary that only one hypothesis be "active" at any one time?
What we have is a photograph that, pedigree or no pedigree, appears to depict a big-engined Lockheed which has crashed in a tropical setting. According to TIGHAR's 11/21/97 research bulletin ("Photographic Proof or Wishful Thinking?" ) only "[e]ight 10Cs and 15 10Es were built. In addition, one 10A and one 10B were later given the larger engine. (The converted 10A was eventually rebuilt as an approximation of Earhart's and flown around the world in 1997. The converted 10B was ditched off Cape Cod in 1967.) Of the 23 remaining candidates, the disposition of 14 is known. If the logic is sound, the airplane in the wreck photo must be one of the remaining nine. Four of the nine were in tropical locations at last report - three in Central America and one (guess which one) was in the Central Pacific. We may be able to hone it down further."
Since one of the remaining nine Electras was Earhart's, it means there were really only eight 10C's/10E's whose fates were unknown as of November 1997. I'm wondering whether you ever were able to narrow the list further, or if those efforts have been discontinued in light of the most recent expedition. Obviously, the more big-engined Electras that can be accounted for, the more significant the Wreck Photo becomes. I would be happy to assist in this project if I had the foggiest idea where to start.
I confess I don't understand the apparent contention that one MUST choose which of two apparently-conflicting hypotheses to pursue. Can't both be investigated simultaneously, as long as both remain plausible? Several weeks ago on this Forum, Ric accused me of setting up theoretical straw men so I could knock them down. Guess I could reply, "If the blucher oxford fits..." in the sense that nothing and no one is forcing a choice between the Wreck Photo and the Wreckage Photos. At present, either could depict the ultimate fate of NR16020. I'm just hoping that all efforts to trace the eight remaining Electras have not been abandoned, and would greatly appreciate an update on the subject.
I have nothing against multiple hypotheses -- we probably have a half dozen cooking at any one time -- but with limited resources we have to focus on the most promising leads. If someone would like to chase the fate of big-engined Lockheeds I'm all for it.
There's not been much about "Irish" recently, so here's something from the historic research side of the house that is either marginally off subject or tangentially on. I was struck, while reading Farewell the Trumpets, An Imperial Retreat, by James Morries, by what could have been a description of "our" man. The following is a long analysis of the personalities of the British colonial administrators, how they arrived in their positions in the 1920s and 30s, and the man who put them there. It caught my attention as a concise summary of the times in which Gerald Gallagher lived, and may partially explain this honorable, eminently likeable gentleman whose congenial and fair administration is apparently still remembered.
LTM, who prefers
exquisite manners to bombast,
Page 308, Chapter 15, Section 5:
These thoughts are in response to Ric Gillespie's comments on my notes concerning fuel loss through evaporation, overboard venting and reduced fuel density. Also perhaps to partially respond to JVZ's concerns about emphasis on fuel consumption over that of headwinds.
I agree that there is not a tremendous amount of surviving data with which to analyze Amelia's last flight. There is enough, however, to make a reasonable estimates of her flight profile, fuel consumption rates and probable headwinds encountered.
1. Her radio transmissions provide enough information to establish a reasonable facsimile of her flight profile as a function of time.
2. Breaking down the flight profile elements allows us to calculate reasonably accurate fuel consumption rates for each element of the flight from engine warm up at Lae, to a final lean cruise power setting near Howland.
3. The amount of data still available is not insignificant. It includes Pratt & Whitney power curves for her specific engine model; P&W operating recommendations for manifold air pressure / engine rpm values under different operating conditions; Kelly Johnson's recommended cruise power settings and flight profile; a reasonable Lae takeoff weight estimate based upon a Lockheed weight statement for the airplane; and Lockheed polar curve data for the Electra Model 10 airplane. The combination of these data allows one to calculate performance for each element of the flight.
4. There is not an abundance of upper air weather data available, but there is some. We know reported data which includes an indication of velocity and direction over segments of the route to Howland. This permits calculation of headwind components with respect to the direction of flight. This is different from Elgen Long's reliance on a 26.5 mph headwind (apparently) for most of the flight. Incidentally, quoting a wind velocity to the nearest half mile per hour implies an accuracy that surely is not there. Analyzing the wind data permits an assessment of ground speed.
I want to emphasize that the above approach cannot yield a precise description of fuel consumption, ground speed, etc., but the resulting answers have to be within the ball park due to the engineering relationships that prevail. To carry the metaphor further in deference to you Yankee fans, the results should be within the infield and probably between home base and the pitcher's mound.
Put another way, calculated engineering estimates should be within say + or - 5 percent of the actual situation. A lot depends upon the reasonableness of the assumptions used.
The purpose of these exercises is twofold. First, it shows where Amelia could not have gone due to range limitations thereby eliminating some of the more exotic speculations. Second, if the results from analyzing different aspects of the flight are internally consistent (the answer from one analysis is not at odds with that from another), you gain confidence in the overall conclusion.
Hope I haven't put anyone to sleep or impaired their eyesight . . .
No, you have not. To my knowledge, the kind of analysis you decribe has never been done in an open, peer reviewed manner. I would like to suggest that we assemble a small team of qualified people to undertake such an analysis. Recently we've had several forum postings (like this one) on the subject of aircraft and engine performance which imply that the poster has some genuine credentials in the field. I'd like to request that any forum subscriber who would like to work on this project email me privately with a brief summary of their education and experience. There is an opportunity here to do something really worthwhile - and let me say up front that if a thorough analysis results in a supportable conclusion that the airplane could not realistically have reached Nikumaroro TIGHAR will have to seriously reconsider its hypothesis.
I have Xerox (tm) copies of three telegrams written by Kelly Johnson, two dated March 11, 1937, and the third dated March 13, 1937. All three are addressed to Amelia Earhart at the Oakland Municipal Airport. Copies of these documents were obtained from Lockheed archives during my research for the book "Beyond the Horizons" written by Walter J. Boyne. I am quite willing to share these. Give me an address and I will send copies.
The first telegram does two things. First, it gives details of the fuel consumption flight tests on the Earhart Electra. Second, it tells Amelia that he (Kelly) is advising Marshall at Pratt & Whitney of his flight profile and corresponding power setting recommendations. Although these may have been specifically for the Oakland - Honolulu flight, they also represented a generic long distance flight plan (which would include the initial leg to Honolulu). This first telegram recommends a (multiple) step climb to altitude.
The second telegram (same day) informs Amelia that Pratt & Whitney confirmed his power setting recommendations. It also requests fuel consumption data be sent back to Lockheed so that Kelly can recheck his fuel consumption data and recommendations for the next leg to Howland.
And finally, the third telegram on March 13 gave Amelia revised instructions on power setting for the first six hours of the flight to Honolulu.
I would be interested to know how a qualified analysis of engine performance and fuel flow for the purpose of determining actual fuel consumption can cope with at least two missing variables: These are 1) The true performance of that particular airframe and propellers while moving through the air and 2) The accurate weight of the aircraft. The unknowns in these combined factors, combined with the gaps in what is known about the cumulative headwinds, appear to me to be capable of introducing a margin of error in a range of 10-20% if calculating fuel consumption for a 20 hour flight.
On the other hand, a thorough analysis would probably definitively reveal the existence of that sort of unacceptable error margin, which would probably be of sufficient size to debunk any claims (favorable to any theory) to solving the mystery based on fuel consumption.
Off the top of my head I'd say that Kelly Johnson's figures, which were the result of actual flight tests in NR16020, provide at least a starting place for calculating the performance of the same machine (after extensive repairs and modifications) with the same engines (but different prop blades) on July 2nd.
The big bugaboo, I suspect, is going to be the airplane's weight at Lae. We should be able to work out the fuel load in pounds within fairly reasonable constraints but the rest of the airplane is a huge question mark. None of the paperwork I've seen so far provides an empty weight for the machine when it came out of repairs on May 19, 1937 but we know that several siginificant structural changes were made. Removals or installations of equipment, if any, in Miami are undocumented. There is no inventory of what was carried in the cabin for the Lae/Howland flight. Unless we can find records that we don't have right now we have no way of knowing for sure whether the Lae airplane weighed more, less, or the same as the Oakland airplane.
As you say, the exercise will at the very least help us define the boundaries of what can and can not be said about the airplane's endurance - broad though those boundaries may be. (But I don't think we'll be able able to match Elgen Long's precision in establishing the precise moment of engine failure.)
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