Forum artHighlights From the Forum

December 12 through December 18, 1999

Subject: Re: Recovery, Repair, and Restoration
Date: 12/12/99
From: Tom King

If I'm not mistaken, Ric, it was recently found that the supposed Constellation in Baltimore actually isn't, but is an entirely different (and more recent) ship altogether, that was made to look more or less like the original Constellation sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Doesn't change your point any, but the example may not be as good as it used to be.

LTM (who could use a little face-lift herself, but then would she be Mother?)
Tom King

From Ric

Thanks. Very interesting. Many is the WWII era airplane that is painted in the colors of a famous ace who actually flew a slightly different model. A couple of years a go I met a very excited 8 year old who was convinced that he had just seen the Memphis Belle at an airshow. I didn't have the heart to tell him that what he had seen was a B-17G that had served only in a Stateside training role but had played the famous B-17F Memphis Belle in a very bad Hollywood movie.

That actually raises another interesting issue. Most "restorers" go to great lengths to make their creations as "original" as possible and the use of absolutely accurate materials (whether salvaged or fabricated) is rewarded in competitions -- but the long term effect, after several changes in ownership, can be to make it virtually impossible to tell what is real and what is illusion. The Smithsonian goes to great lengths to carefully label fabricated parts. Another, and more forthright, technique is to purposely use very different material to "fill in the gaps" for exhibition purposes. (Think of a typical dinosaur skeleton exhibit or a piece of re-assembled pottery.) But in order to do that you have to surrender the fantasy and embrace the reality -- and the historic aviation community (like the historic automotive community) is, for the most part, not yet ready to do that.


Subject: Re: Fire Extinguisher
Date: 12/12/99
From: Tom King

Ah, a mystery wrapped inside an enigma! The extinguisher is from PISS, and what did the Coast Guardsmen do to put out that fire on the beach? Must be a conspiracy!

Actually, I'll take your bet, Ric; I can't imagine what the PISS would be doing with fire extinguishers. Of course, you've looked at the Co-op store records a lot more closely than I have; I may be making a big mistake....

LTM (who hopes we all understand that PISS = Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme)
Tom King

From Ric

Fear not. The records do not indicate that the Co-op store ever stocked fire extinguishers, however, it would hardly surprise me if we eventually find a message from Gallagher to the Resident Commissioner which said something like:

"Very pleased with new Rest House here on Gardner which has been constructed entirely of local materials but must confess I would sleep more soundly if you could send along a good portable fire extinguisher with next shipment of provisions.

From William Webster-Garman

Since you mention it, 2-4-V-100 does look more UK than US to my eye as well.

From Ric

Sycophant. :-)

From Vern Klein

I'm much inclined to agree with that. I wonder if any of our friends in Britain can get a look at some old extinguishers, or pictures of old extinguishers?

From Ric

Nothing makes me more nervous than when people agree with me.

From Roger Kelley

A pretty off-the-wall thought... How sure are you that it's a fire extinguisher?

Might it be some sort of hand operated pump? There's a pump in either case but is that possibly all it is? If what is taken to be the outlet nozzle is actually the intake, the extended outer diameter would allow it to rest on the bottom of a container without blocking the inlet -- IF there's a slot.

What is that light rectangle I see near the bottom end in the photo? It does look like there might be writing on it. Is that your own identifying label?? Hence, no slot(s)??

If it's a pump, then there has to be an outlet, presumably at the top -- the handle end. I presume there is none such present. And I would certainly expect the handle to be in the center, if it's just a pump.

Tom mentioned that the nozzle is off-center. The handle appears to be off-center also -- lined up with the nozzle, I presume. That seems odd. It would be easier to make with the pump in the center, the way Pyrene does it. The American penchant for simplicity -- minimization? That makes it easier to form the end pieces. I see no good reason to place the pump part of a carbon-tet extinguisher off-center. To me, a concentric arrangement just seems natural. A curious, possibly unique, aspect of this artifact but I don't know what can be made of that.

From Ric

Worth thinking about. It's certainly designed to spray something. Bug spray? I doubt it. There's no provision for refill. What else might you spray?

Subject: New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey
Date 12/12/99
From: Peter Vincent

As a 20-year practitioner of the Scientific Method in an allied field, the posting of the December 99 hypothesis reinforced with me the investigative difficulty when experimenting, interpreting and testing data from the one element for which scientific precision is lacking -- the human element. Human beings can never be counted upon to react in a specific manner all of the time [even AE and our assumptions of her likely behaviour in a crisis].

And for witnesses in a cross-cultural setting [including with a local interpreter] when examined on matters of recall, particularly of what may be a seeming non-event or any significance in the past, any response -- to register a high credibility rating -- has to be balanced on the framing, environment and even the grammatical structure of the question posed; often down to the tonal and body language of the questioner.

Having spoken to ni-Vanuatu in Espirito Santo in relation to missing WW-II P-38s, and who with willingness and politeness can still "read" and produce an answer desirable to the questioner.

My observation and main query: Notwithstanding above, Emily Sikuli and Otiria O'Brian clearly have information nuggets and are the closest as living witnesses to the mother lode. But has there ever been any similar active research to identify/locate members of the New Zealand Survey team of 1938/39? There is certainly corroborative value in the formality of the NZ report but the lights could really go on if an actual expedition member could be located and interviewed.

Peter Vincent

From Ric

Excellent observations Peter. We are very aware of the hazards inherent in gathering anecdotal accounts when we're interviewing folks. We even go so far as to lay little traps for them to see if they're "reading" us and just telling us what they believe we want to hear. We feel very good about the information we've gotten from the folks on Funafuti and in Fiji -- not to say that what they told us is an accurate rendition of what happened, but that what they told us represents their best recollection of the events in question rather than their best guess of what we wanted to hear.

We've been trying for some time now, with the help of several of our New Zealand members, to track down any surviving members of the survey party. So far, as luck would have it, the only one we've found is Henderson who got sick just as they arrived at the island and was evacuated immediately. Still looking.


Subject: FAQs
Date: 12/13/99
From: Don Jordan

I glanced over the FAQs today, but to me it seems they raise more questions than they answer. I realize you do your best to make them as factual as possible, so there must be something I am missing.

For example in the "Would the Electra Float" question. We have long thought that the Electra would float for a long period of time, if not indefinitely. As early as July 2, 1937 the "Experts" were saying the Electra is a floating raft with all those empty tanks. I read in the FAQ's that the empty weight of the aircraft was 7,000 lbs. and that it would be 1,200 lbs. buoyant. So far, so good.

Then I turn to the Hawaii inventory list of parts shipped back to the states after the crash. It says the approximate weight of the damaged Electra and all of it's miscellaneous cargo, less fuel and oil is 14,114 lbs. estimated. They would not ship an airplane back full of fuel. I realize that some of that weight is packaging, but that is a hell of a long ways from 7,000 lbs.. What am I missing? It would seem to me that as soon as the air spaces in the fuselage were full of water, the Electra would sink like a stone. Maybe they were forgetting about all the non fuel and oil items on that airplane that day.

So, do we know the weight of the aircraft on take off from Oakland? It would seem that we could do the math and subtract the weight of the fuel on board to arrive at a fairly accurate weight on July 2, 1937 at fuel exhaustion.

Then we come to the "Did Amelia have an alternate plan" question.

She, at one time said she would turn back to the Gilberts if she could not find Howland. She must have thought she could make it or she would not have said it. Also, as for not having enough fuel to return to the Gilberts. That depends on where she was when she made the decision. And that is what we don't know. If she was in fact on the 157/337 line which ran from Howland to Baker and Niku, then she would have had to be about 100 miles south of Baker. She said she was flying north and south on the line looking for an island and none appeared. (that we can prove). So she didn't go very far north on the line or she would have hit Baker!

With an estimated three and a half hours fuel remaining at that point, then she could have just made Niku and not the Gilberts. But, what if she was on a direct course for Howland, but came up just 50 miles short. Then, she could just barely make Niku but would be in range of about three islands in the Gilberts. Arorae, Nikunau and Beru. It would have been a stretch, but she must have thought she could do it, or she would not have said it.

Looking at the wall map it looks like the only land fall on the 157 course to the south is Niku. miss it by ten miles either side and you are all through! But the Gilberts are far more islands, closer together and almost all in a row. She would have a much better chance of land fall, I would think.

The FAQ would lead you to believe that a turn back would be impossible. But I wonder if it would have been impossible.

Don J.

From Ric

You raise a good point about the discrepancy between the aircraft's empty weight of 7,000 lbs. and the 14,114 lb. total weight of the material shipped back from Hawaii. A photo of the fuselage being slung aboard a ship shows that no huge crate was constructed around it. It's hard to see where all that extra weight came from.

Figuring an accurate takeoff weight for the Lae departure is problematical because we don't know the effect of the many changes that were made in the airframe between the time of the Luke field crash and the second world flight attempt. Elgen Long says the empty airplane was 342 pounds lighter but he doesn't say how he arrived at that number and, if his other research is any indication, it's a meaningless guess.

>She said she was flying north and south on the line looking for an
>island and none appeared. (that we can prove).

Well, no, not at all. Virtually every Earhart book you pick says that her final words were "We are running north and south." but the original Itasca radio log is not clear about what she said. What IS clear is that whatever she said caught the radio operator off-guard and he had to go back several minutes later and insert what he thought she said. What he crammed into the available space in the log can be interpreted as "We are running on north and south line." or "We are running on line north and south." but it's just as likely that she said something slightly different, perhaps. ""We are running on line north to south."

After considerable attmepts to find the original source, the whole turning-back-to-the-Gilberts thing appears to be pure folklore. There's no proof that Earhart ever said it and, if she did, it was not based upon the real life situation she faced when she was over the Pacific, and it was not Noonan talking. What makes following the line of postion make sense is that you don't need to know where you are on the line in order to find land. Just run to the southeast and you'll run into Howland, Baker or Gardner. Turning back to the Gilberts makes no sense unless you know exactly where you're starting from (in which case you're not lost in the first place). On your wall map the Gilbert's might look like a densely packed group of islands, but they're not. They're tiny atolls with vast stretches of empty ocean between them. A turn back to the Gilbert's would not be impossible -- merely suicidal.


Subject: Website updates/historic preservation
Date: 12/13/99
From: Dave Porter

Great job on the website updates. I encourage everyone who hasn't yet done so to check it out. I particularly like the instant links to documentation/supporting evidence.

Pat deserves to be singled out for high honors for redoing the FAQ section. FAQs sorted, organized, grouped and presented by topic/heading. Outstanding job.

Folks, the Earhart Project portion of the TIGHAR website is not the same site it was last week. It was great--now it's better than great. Tell your friends.

Regarding historic preservation, Ric, since you mentioned it, and I have a teensy bit of expertise in the area, I'd like to elaborate very briefly on the historic preservation of firearms, hoping that doing so will help illuminate the overall preservation discussion.

Most of the firearms on the Antique Arms Collector market just barely predate cars and airplanes, so some of the same problems arise. However, the sheer numbers of items in private hands does mean that the rules are rigidly adhered to because there is no other way to determine value when the items are bought/sold/traded/etc. Known manufacturer proof-marks and manufacturer letters of provenance and known dates of production for various batches of serial numbers establish what is or isn't original. Beyond that, condition dictates price. A beat-up specimen in original condition is worth far more than a pristine specimen that has been restored or modified. Thus, my uncle's Model 1873 Winchester, bought by his grandfather after it left the factory in 1891 (I have the letter of provenance) for about $15.00, which now has almost no bluing left on the metal, and no varnish at all remaining on the stocks, but still wears all the stuff it left the factory with, is worth something like $1,500.00. You can easily double that for one in better condition, and just as easily halve it for one that has been modified or restored. To get some idea of the value of the thing as a tool, a replica of current manufacture goes for about $300.00.

Since the "market" for historic cars is considerably smaller, and is smaller yet for historic aircraft, the number of people who understand and wish to keep the historic value of artifacts by preserving them rather than restoring them is smaller. As I understand it, Ric and TIGHAR stand with that smaller, but historically more important group. While I know nothing of dollar values for old airplanes, I'd suspect that the relic in the Carrington wreck photo, if found somewhere and recovered, would be worth far more to historians than Linda Finch's modified 10A/E.

If anyone wishes to discuss historic firearms, please contact me off-forum at

LTM, who is still in original, unmodified condition.
Dave Porter, 2288

From Ric

Dave, thank you for that. I was aware that the historic firearms community is far, far ahead of the cars and planes community but I had never thought of sheer volume and market forces as the explanation.

Unfortunately, while historians might value the airplane in the Wreck Photo, historians historically don't have any money. If that airplane were discovered today and looked just like it appears in the photo, it would probably be salvaged and rebuilt either for museum display or to be flown, or it might be parted out to supply "original" parts for other rebuild projects. Eventually it would end up just like Finch's airplane -- a modern re-creation of an old type which incorporates some material that is original to its earlier service life.


Subject: FAQs--The significance of 337/157
Date: 12/13/99
From: Ross DeVitt


All AE & FN had to be sure of was that they had gone at least as far East as Howland. They could continue for up to about 400 miles east if they overshot Howland, turn onto 157 and finish up smack in the middle of a collection of islands, mostly bigger than Howland. (For reasons shown below they didn't have to go that far).

The fact that if they overshot Howland, continued on for a while and turned Due South They would also hit the islands was mentioned to me yesterday, HOWEVER, they would have to go a long way past Howland to do that.

If they were South of Howland, when they thought they were at Howland's Longitude, and turned "left" to 337 or "right" to 157, they would still miss it or Nikumaroro.

So whatever happened, they could not reasonably be expected to turn to 337 unless they knew the distance they were south of Howland and the distance past (East). (If they knew that, they would have arrived exactly where they wanted.)

On the other hand, turning to 157 "anywhere" that they could reasonably believe they were at or past Howland's longitude put them on either a direct track for Niku, or the shortest possible direct line to the other islands in the Phoenix group, thereby limiting the fuel wasted searching for the tiny island.

Howland is about a mile long and a half mile wide. According to CIA listings it is only 10 feet (3 metres) high at the one high point on the island. Most of the island averages about 3 feet high. (have heard Howland reported as 20 feet high - but everything I can find in print lists it as 3 metres).

Niku and most of the other islands in what was the Phoenix group seem larger and would be easier to spot if one was flying around looking for somewhere to land.

They would have to leave the vicinity of Howland with about 2 hours of fuel to allow them to fly towards Niku, locate it and land. From their last reports to Itasca, it sounds as if they might have done that in time...

Ross D

Subject: Re: Fire extinguisher
Date: 12/13/99
From: Mike Meunich

As a volunteer fireman for over 30 years and numerous classes, ratings etc, I think you are looking in the wrong place. Both England and the US have extensive and numerous organizations, such as the NFPA, with even more numerous fire buffs and experts in various fields, including extinguishers. I have looked at Artifact 2-4-V-100 for some time and tried to find similar examples in many of the training manuels and publications. I could be carbon tet it could also be other types of vaporizing fluid extinguishers. My documents only go back to the mid 60's but the NFPA has a complete section on extinquishers and their expertese and records and substantial. There is a similar British organization. The advantage is that their knowledge is not limited to Pyrene, Kidde, etc, but is across the board. I am sure they probably have extensive photo archives and specification records as well. You might also try UL (Underwriter's Labratories since they certify a huge number of all catagories of fire apparatus and also have extensive libraries of all types and manufacturers.

Subject: Options
Date: 12/13/99
From: Don Neumann

There is one consideration that we should keep in mind regarding which direction AE/FN decided to turn when they were unable to establish any reliable contact (radio or visual) with Howland Island or the Itasca:

What information did AE/FN have regarding the habitability of the islands of the Phoenix Chain, for instance, did they know that Hull Island was inhabited & that Gardner Island was not inhabited?

Seems unlikely that AE would have had such knowledge (unless she had established an alternate landfall before the flight & made some pre-flight inquiries regarding habitation of the Phoenix Chain islands or FN still had some recollection of these islands from his Pacific charting days with PanAm).

Since AE/FN had no prior knowledge that their disappearance would touch-off the greatest air/sea search in history (until that time), it would seem that their only anticipation of being found & rescued (should they miss Howland) rested with being able to somehow establish reliable radio communication with the Itasca.

The thought must have occurred to AE/FN that the possibility of establishing reliable radio contact with Itasca.(given their unsuccessful efforts in the vicinity of Howland) would probably diminish the further away from Howland Island they flew.

Their dilemma:

1) Ditch the plane, in what they perceived to be the immediate vicinity of Howland & trust that the Itasca would launch a search for them in the waters in the general area surrounding the island;

2) Try to determine an accurate course (not knowing exactly where they are on the LOP FN had established) to turn back to the Gilberts (which they knew were inhabited, with the possibility of finding a radio available they could use to try & establish contact with Itasca) & probably have to ditch anyway when they ran out of gas short of landfall, but hopefully close enough to be picked-up by island inhabitants;

3) Turn SE on the lower leg of the LOP toward the Phoenix Chain (a more certain target, directly on the LOP, than trying to dead reckon a course to the Gilberts, from an unknown position on the LOP) which is several hundred miles closer to Howland than the Gilberts, with the possibility of making a wheels down landing & then using their own radio to try & contact Itasca, even though they have no sure knowledge that they could long survive on an uninhabited, isolated island; when they really aren't sure there are any other inhabited islands close enough to assist them in any rescue attempt or any radio equipment that could be used to let Itasca (and the rest of the world) know they had survived.

Given these choices, I'm thankful that such a decision wasn't left up to me!

Don Neumann

From Ric

It's actually possible to make the argument that Earhart and Noonan considered landing the Electra at sea to be so suicidal that they intended to evacuate the airplane in flight rather than ditch, should the occasion arise.

The evidence for that is the fact that a contemporaneous Darwin, Australia newspaper article says that (contrary to what was later published in the heavily-edited book Last Flight) Earhart and Noonan picked up two parachutes that had been shipped ahead to Darwin. Why fly two thirds of the way around the world without parachutes only to collect them prior to the long overwater legs unless you felt that a water landing was out of the question?


Subject: Preservation stuff
Date: 12/15/99
From: Margot Still

Two things I would like to add to the preservation dialog that is currently floating about:

1.) Having worked with several major exhibitions in the US, including Napoleon, Imperial Tombs of China, Titanic, etc. I have learned something important. There will always be some jackass who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. For instance, during the Napoleon exhibition we had a portion of the jewelry he bestowed on his women. As I would walk through the galleries checking on this or that, someone, at least once a day, would stop me and ask me the value of a certain diamond necklace that was on loan from the Smithsonian. It rounded out at about 200+ carats. I would respond "It is priceless" and they would always say, "Yes, but what is it really worth?" And I would explain the historical value of the piece and how it could never be replaced, etc. And still, "Yes, but how much is it worth?" By this time I was wondering about the future of the human race. So I just made up a figure and they were happy and went on their way. (How frightening these people are loose!)

2.) I am currently working in a regional history museum and I have plenty of school age children. They are fascinated by unrestored, original equipment ONLY as long as they can associate it to a major historical event. For instance, we have a Conestoga wagon that is 160 years old. The ancestors of the family who loaned the piece traveled in this wagon from South Carolina to settle in Tennessee. Kids are mezmerised by this wagon. But yet, the pieces we have from everyday life have no interest to these children. On explaining the mechanics of a rope bed, a child was overheard to say, "why didn't they just get a new one?" Further on, we have some Civil War muskets and clothing and let me tell you, I have to pry those kids off that glass with a scraper.

What am I trying to say? I am trying to say that the public is very finicky about historical objects. TIGHARs do not represent the majority of the public (unfortunately). Once you get out among the hordes it can be very surprising at how selective the interest of the public is as to how authentic an artifact may be. Some will admire at face value while others must have a dollar amount. Yet others will only be interested in an artifact if it is connected to major event with which they are familiar. You would be amazed at some of the things I have heard in museums over time. Just last week a nine-year-old boy tried to buy an artifact off me. He could not understand it was priceless and not for sale. He said, "Everything has a price." How frightening this is for the future.

LTM (who knows the value of everything)
the head TIGHAR's #1 fan.

From Ric

Fascinating subject. It seems to me that all historic preservation relies upon the informed observer understanding the connection an object has to PEOPLE. Objects are not interesting. Only people are interesting. Dead people go away and never return. Objects don't necessarily go away and, thus, provide us with a visible, tangible link to people who are irretrievably gone. The Great Pyramid is just a pile of cut stones until you know something about the people who built it.

The folks who insist upon knowing the monetary value of an object are, for whatever reason, unable to make that connection or simply have no interest in the people of the past. They seek to connect the object to themselves by putting it in a context they understand -- money -- but the concept is the same. The object must be connected to a person in order to have value.

Original objects which show the effects of time provide the strongest sense of connection to the people of the past. They stand in defiance of the mortality we all face and say, "Yes, they are gone, but I am still here to tell you about them." Other objects have been repaired and rebuilt so that they appear to deny rather than defy "the teeth of time." Like Peter Pan, they take us to a nostalgic Never Never Land, and like Peter, they are necessarily works of fiction. Ideally, we should all be able to enjoy and recognize the value of both of these manifestations of our desire to expand our experience beyond our own alloted time and connect with those who have gone before.

(Ya know, that's the first time I've been able to articulate that. Thanks.)


Subject: Parachutes
Date: 12/15/99
From: David

On Tue, 14 Dec 1999, Richard E. Gillespie wrote:

> Earhart and Noonan picked up two parachutes that had been shipped ahead to
> Darwin.

Okay Ric, so are you fairly sure that they had these 'chutes on the Lae-Howland leg, and if so, what would be left of them to find on Niku today? Do you know if they were organic (silk) or synthetic (nylon, though I don't think this came into widespread use until a few years later), and if we do know what they were made of, how would they have 'aged' in the tropical climate? What about the buckles, etc. - if they were stainless steel, they might be around in good shape, but would they have serial numbers stamped into them? Have any attempts been made to trace the manufacturer of these rigs? ...since parachutes generally do have serial numbers and a paper trail. Also, do you know if AE/FN had taken any training in using these devices, since body position in freefall does make a big difference.

LTM, (Who only cares that her 'chute works when required!)
David :-)

From Ric

Well, first let's be clear that we don't know that the 'chutes were carried on the Lae/Howland leg. We can be quite sure that they were picked up in Darwin because the newspaper article says they were there waiting for her and we have a photo of them, and some other stuff, stacked in front of the Electra's cabin door in Darwin.

Here's the passage from the June 28, 1937 article (describing the flight's arrival at Darwin):

Although Capt. Noonan appeared to be little affected by the long flight, Mrs. Putnam looked tired when she appeared smilingly before the crowd. She was hurried away to a quiet room in the civil aviation administrative block to discuss with her agents the arrangements for her short stay.

One of her first actions was to ask the Civil Aviation Officer (Mr. Alan Collins) whether two "Irvin caterpillar 'chutes'" had been delivered from America. Fully tested and ready for immediate use, the parachutes were waiting in Mr. Collin's office.

As a safeguard against emergency, they will be carried on the hazardous final stages of the flight.

Unless I am very mistaken, a parachute in 1937 was absolutely silk and was probably packed in a cotton pack. Such organic materials have a short life on Niku, but -- as you say -- the buckles, especially if they were stainless -- might well survive IF the 'chutes made it to shore. I certainly would have brought the 'chutes ashore for use as shelter (but remember that AE and FN were not expecting an aerial search so spreading out a parachute as a signal doesn't make much sense).

IF they brought the 'chutes along on the Lae/Howland leg and IF they brought the 'chutes ashore and IF they used them to construct some kind of shelter from the sun, could these be the "markers of some kind" that Lambrecht later told Goerner were the "signs of recent habitation'" he had referred to in his newsletter article?

At the very least, this whole bit about the parachutes is yet another example of how original sources directly contradict events described in Earhart's posthumously-published book Last Flight.


Subject: Re: FAQs, the significance of 337/157
Date: 12/15/99
From: Alan Caldwell

> If they were South of Howland, when they thought they were at Howland's
> Longitude, and turned "left" to 337 or "right" to 157, they would still miss
> it or Nikumororo.
> So whatever happened, they could not reasonably be expected to turn to 337
> unless they knew the distance they were south of Howland and the distance
> past (East).

Ric, I've seen several comments similar to this one which leads me to believe the LOP is not fully understood by all. Noonan did NOT need to know whether he was north, south, east or west of Howland to turn in either direction on the LOP to correctly over fly Howland or navigate on to the Phoenix group. It would have made the choice much easier and if he turned in the correct direction he could not miss Howland or the Phoenix except by visually missing them.. Let me explain how the LOP is made and used.

For sake of argument and referring to the diagram below let's assume Fred was around 200 miles west of Howland and flying a course (a) of due east. (so my drawing below will come out) Fred shoots a 2 minute sunshot giving him the altitude of the sun and its azimuth. In this case 67 degrees of azimuth. Using that information he plots his LOP (1) angled across his course. He knows now that he was on that line some place at the mid time of the shot. Ten minutes later he takes another sun shot and again plots the LOP (2) angling across course. Using the distance between the two LOPs and the time between them he now has his ground speed in addition to a new position. Next he draws a line parallel to the first two lines so that it will pass through Howland Island (LOP 3). Now he measures the distance between the second LOP and the line running through Howland and applying his ground speed to that distance he arrives at an estimated time to the Howland LOP. He still does not necessarily know where on the line he is. Now let's say he believes he is north of Howland so on his ETE he will turn right to 157 corrected for what he believes is his wind from the ground speed calculation. He will have Amelia lead the turn onto the LOP by a number of seconds calculated using her rate of turn indicator (turn and bank) and the number of degrees to turn. Perhaps ten minutes later Fred will take another sun shot which will NOW tell him whether he is drifting right or left of his LOP course. He now has a good wind to navigate by but still no north -- south position -- maybe.

If Fred thought he was south of Howland he would do exactly the same thing. Remember the LOPs are all parallel so again when his ETE arrives he has Amelia start her turn and again leading the turn but this time left to 337. When his ETE comes up he is ON the 157-337 LOP that goes through Howland no matter WHERE on the line he contacts it. In either case he has only two problems. One, where he is on the line; and two, visually spotting Howland.

As to knowing where he was on the LOP he could know that because he offset his course either north (b) or south (c) on the way in or because he also shot a moon shot to cross an LOP with his sun LOP or because he shot a running LOP on the way in. The running LOP takes into account the sun's azimuth changes over time thus making a subsequent LOP at a slightly different angle. By moving an old LOP up to the newest one the LOPs would cross at a very narrow angle and give him a rough idea of his position. The timing involved in doing a running fix leads me to believe there was insufficient time to do that in the approximately two hours from sunrise to his last radio call.

The bottom line is that Noonan had to know he was on an LOP that ran through Howland and they were ON that line unless he was unable to get a ground speed as noted below. He had the capability of fixing his position north and south and knowing reasonably how far they were north or south. I think they just flat could not see the island visually.

[diagram omitted; please refer to LOP Map for a simplified drawing]

The distances between LOPs are the same no matter whether they were on course (a) north of course (b) or south of course (c). For the sake of explanation assume LOP 1 was taken at 6:30am and LOP 2 was taken at 6:40am and the distance between the two is 20nm. That gives a ground speed of 120k. Now Fred draws LOP 3 through Howland and measures the distance between LOP 3 and LOP 2. Let's say the distance is 120nm so he now knows he will hit the LOP 3 some place in one hour or at 7:40am. It is at that time (less turning time) he has Amelia start her turn to 157 or 337.

The point is that getting on the LOP 3 passing through Howland was simple and I can think of no reason he wasn't on it. He had to be able to shoot the sun or he couldn't have obtained the 157-337 LOP. There remains the question of whether he could figure his north south position. If he could see the sun he could see the moon. It was up and at a good cross angle. That would give him a fair fix. It is also possible, of course, that because of weather he was only able to get one sunshot and so had to "guesstimate" his ground speed and thus his ETE to the LOP through Howland would not necessarily be all that accurate. I hope this was clearer to you guys than it appears to me after I have reread it. :-) One caveat here is that I have over simplified the procedures by leaving out all the DR figuring but the explanation still holds.


Subject: Gilberts and Gilbeys (?)
Date: 12/15/99
From: Patrick Gaston

The Dons (Jordan and Neumann) echo my thoughts. While charting a course for Niku may have made the most sense from a strictly navigational standpoint, there were other factors to be considered. -- specifically, people and water. The Gilberts had both and Gardner had neither. Let's not forget that nobody knows precisely where Our Heroes were when they turned right or left on that line of position. Was a turnback to the Gilberts necessarily suicidal? No, since AE could just as easily have been 100 miles north of Howland as 100 miles south. Was it worth the risk? Only if you think your chances of rescue are greater in an environment containing actual human beings.

In any event, I for one am unwilling to dismiss the puported "Gilberts backup plan" as Earhart folklore until the Vidal papers have been searched box by box and page by page.

Speaking of folklore, I am reminded of what was said about U.S. Grant, another Famous Alleged Drunk, by one of his contemporaries: Grant didn't drink any more than anybody else in the Army, so the story went. He just couldn't hold it. Which got me to wondering about Fred Noonan. Is it possible that Fred didn't drink more than anybody else, but simply ran afoul of a Boss Lady who disapproved of alcohol in ANY form? Certainly AE had an alcoholic parent, and she seems to have become less tolerant of the stuff as the years went by (going so far, I believe, as to ban it from her California home).

We know that on at least two occasions during the last flight, AE complained of "personnel problems" and "personnel unfitness." This has entered Earhart lore as code for Fred's On The Sauce Again. Still, it is difficult to reconcile these complaints with Fred's cheery, upbeat letters from enroute (copiously quoted in East to the Dawn) and the chipper Noonan who fairly sprints up the Electra's wing in the Lae takeoff film. This is a guy who was supposedly getting blind drunk on a regular basis? One wonders if Fred was no more than a social drinker (by the standards of his day), while AE, freethinker and pioneering feminist, was just a bit of a bluenose in the alcohol department.

Ric, any chance of making available in CD form the NZ Survey Report and all 78 photos, together with all of Bevington's and Maude's Niku diaries and photos? Perhaps you could even get permission from Maude's publisher to excerpt relevant chapters from Of Islands and Men. I dunno if I'd pay $100 for it, but maybe 25....

Patrick Gaston

From Ric

We just don't seem to able to get across why it is that following the LOP was greatly preferable to turning back to the Gilberts. Perhaps William Webster-Garman's recent posting will have more success than have my meager efforts.

I can think of no reason why Earhart or Noonan would have had any better information about the population situation in the Phoenix Group than did the U.S. Navy. If they turned back for the Gilberts, for whatever reason, it seems pretty certain that they went down at sea because (as you point out) the Gilberts were densely populated. It's a possibility, but like every other possibility we can think of except a landing at Gardner, there is a rather impressive absence of evidence to support it.


Subject: Re: Parachutes
Date: 12/16/99
From: Dustymiss

Because you have never heard of Amelia making a parachute jump, only means that she never had to exit a disabled aircraft while in the air. In those days it was not necessary to take training in jumping, as far as I know, it was just necessary to have one while flying, and if you had to jump. It was on the job training as far as how to use it. At least that is how it seemed when I heard Fay Gillis Wells talk about the time she was forced to jump back in the late twenties(I believe -- or very early thirties)

To the best of my knowledge, Amelia was not a member of the Caterpillar club, but it was SOP to carry a parachute any time you were flying in the late 20's and into the thirties - So, I am certain that she was familliar with having to wear one, even though she may never have had to use it. Some examples are Marvel Crossen who jumped out of her damaged aircraft during the 1929 Air Derby, with parachute; Fay Gillis Wells who became the first woman to join the Caterpillar Club and Charles Lindbergh, if I am not mistaken jumped with one in the story where the plane followed him because he forgot to cut the engine before jumping. Plus, as you recall, in the information I got from the University of Wyoming, while doing the research on Gene Vidal and a potential plan B that there was a newspaper article about Amelia being the first woman to test a stationary parachute jump platform. The photo that accompanied the story shows her in the air, under canopy.

If you wish, I shall endeavour to find out from Fay Gillis Wells if she ever remembers Amelia jumping, the next time I speak with her.

Yes, that would be interesting, but I have to take issue with your impression that pilots routinely carried parachutes during the '20s and '30s. Military and airmail pilots routinely wore parachutes, but airline and general aviation pilots did not. Earhart wore a 'chute when flying the Pitcairn autogiro in 1931 and seems to have carried a seat pack on at least some of her long distance flights in her various Vegas. There's a photo of her wearing a parachute (actually, just the harness for attaching to a seat pack) taken immediately after the completion of her Mexico City to Newark, NJ record flight in 1935. That long crossing of the Gulf of Mexico in her single engined Vega is supposedly where she got the idea that it would be much better to do overwater flights in a multi-engined airplane.

As you've noted, AE was not a member of the Caterpillar Club (Lindbergh set an unenvied record as a triple member) and in those days "sport" parachuting was limited to exhibitions at fairs and airshows. Amelia's supposed testing of a stationary parachute jump platform was a publicity stunt staged by GP. He was involved in a venture to market the towers as amusement park rides and military training aids. One tower ended up at Coney Island and another at Camp Benning, Georgia. Amelia's "test" was the subject of a newsreel. She sits in a swing-like seat and is hoisted to the top of the tower. When the 'chute reaches the top it drops a few feet before inflating and Amelia screams (it's not clear whether the sceam was real or dubbed in later).

In summary, Earhart was certainly familiar with parachutes but there is no evidence that she had ever made a parachute jump.


Subject: Re: LOP
Date: 12/16/99
From: Harry Poole

Ric - clarify the LOP question

I don't think most of us have any misunderstanding about what a line of position is, but the questions are related to it. Was there any evidence that they were on a LOP, in addition to that garbled message which could have many different meanings? If they were following the LOP, was his navigtion so bad that he missed his destination by 100 miles? If he was closer to Howland (which the "must be on you" received as a strong signal implies), why did they miss both Howland and Baker?

Harry #2300

From Ric

Once more - with feeling....

There was nothing garbled about Earhart's statement "We are on the line 157 337" The questionable part is her subsequent comment about "running on north and south line" or "running on line north and south" and the only thing that makes it questionable is the way the entry was crammed into the available space by the radio operator who was typing the log and the clear indications that he was caught off-guard by this last part of the message.

Nobody in 1937 who understood celestial navigation techniques had any doubt that the "line" Earhart referred to was a Line of Position that fell through her intended destination. The same is true today. There is no other rational explanation. Let me try to explain.

On that day, in that place, the sun rose at 67 degrees. (You're flying along and you look out at the predawn horizon. Look at your compass, correct for variation, and find 67 degrees True. That's where the sun is going to come up.) Because the Earth is round, exactly where you are on this ball determines exactly WHEN you see the sun rise. Obviously, anyone to the left or right of you is going to see the sunrise at the same time you do, but somebody in front of you will see it sooner and somebody behind you will see it later. In other words, the precise moment you see the sunrise tells you (and your buddies along a line to your left and right) very accurately where you are in an east/west sense, but you don't have much information about your north/south position. That line you and your left/right buddies are on is a Line of Position.

Noonan knew ahead of time that the sun would rise at 67 degrees. A Line of Position is always 90 degrees to the observed body (in this case, the sun), so he knew in advance that the rising sun would give him a Line of Postion that ran 337 degrees one way and 157 degrees the other way. All he had to do was note what TIME the sun rose for him and he'd be able to draw a 337/157 line on his map and say, "Okay, we're somewhere on this line." That line is going to fall somewhere (200 miles more or less) west of Howland. Now he draws a parallel 337/157 line through Howland and measures the distance between the two lines (let's call it 200 nautical miles). He now determines how fast the aircraft is travelling (let's say 115 knots). He now knows that in an hour and fortyfive minutes he'll be somewhere on that 337/157 line that passes through Howland. If he doesn't see Howland right out there in front of him, he at least knows that it's somewhere on the line to his left (337 degrees) or right (157 degrees). Fortunately, there are other islands on or near the same line (Baker, McKean, and Gardner), all of which are on the 157 degree side of Howland. That means that he can't afford to look in the 337 degree direction very long because if he is already north of Howland there is nothing out there but the deep blue sea. Running down the line in the 157 degree direction, on the other hand, virtually guarantees that he'll find land of some kind before he runs out of fuel.

Think of the Line of Position as an interstate highway (spelled "dual carriageway" in Britain) with four exits but no signs. Noonan doesn't know where he is on the highway but he does know that as long he heads southeast while he still has at least three hours of fuel left he is bound to come to an exit. Turning back to the Gilberts would be abandoning the only sure bet he has.

Could Noonan have hit the LOP as much as 100 miles from Howland? Sure. Would that be terrible navigation? No. That's an error of less than 5 percent in a 2200 nautical mile flight with virtually no landmarks. Radio Direction Finding to "fine tune" the navigation for the last 200 miles or so was essential, but that part of the plan failed. The strength of the transmissions heard by the Itasca does indicate that the aircraft was "close" to Howland, but how close is "close" is purely a judgement call.

That's about as simple as I can make it. I hope it helps.


Subject: Re: Gilberts and Gilbeys (?)
Date: 12/16/99
From: Alan Caldwell

>If there is ANYBODY out there who thinks they help Don Jordan
>begin to understand what a Line of Position is - be my guest.

Ric, I tried. Maybe my "diagram" was too confusing. ;-)

> This is like Miranda. At this point, anything I say can and will be held
> against me. If there is ANYBODY out there who thinks they help Don Jordan
> begin to understand what a Line of Position is - be my guest.

Ric, I reformatted my diagram and sent it to myself to see if it would come out better. It did so maybe this will help. I can understand Don's puzzlement that our duo did not see islands if they were near or over them. I've tried to find islands like that many times before in the Pacific and in the Atlantic. The islands were big islands - Bermuda, the Azores, Guam, Hawaii and so on. With broken cumulus clouds at a low level it is not easy to do to spot them visually. The cloud shadows look like islands. Then look at the highly restricted view from the Electra cockpit just to make it more difficult. It doesn't surpise me at all if they flew right over Howland AND Baker and didn't see them. Any way for what it is worth below I repeat my reformed LOP diagram.

1 2 3
b _____\ __________\ ____________________\
\ \ \
\ \ \
a _____\ __________\ ____________________\ *___Howland
\ \ \
\ \ \
c _____\ __________\ ____________________\
\ \ \
LOP LOP LOP (157/337)

> Because Ric, most of us don't believe she was on the LOP which ran
> down the middle of Howland, Baker and on to Niku.
> Think about it for a minute. She said she was running north and
> south on the line. That means maybe thirty or forty miles north and
> then maybe a hundred miles south, or visa versa.

One more comment to Don. I don't know how many of us believe she was or was not on the LOP but you can count me as a believer. I see no evidence to believe other wise. It was a simple navigation matter to be ON the LOP. They would have to work to be off of it. And the running north and south comment does not imply ANY particular distance north or south. They could have been 3 miles north or south as WELL as 100 miles north or south. DR would get them closer than that.

Granted it was a long leg into Howland and it is possible Fred couldn't get a star shot but he DID get a sun shot. If he only got one he would have trouble with ground speed and that could put his LOP projected through Howland off but he would still have a good idea of over all ground speed from Nauru to the LOP so he was not totally without input. He also could take drift readings so even with only one sun line he should have been pretty close. I'll stick to my theory of just not being able to visually sight the islands until I see evidence to the contrary.


Subject: Re: Gilberts and Gilbeys
Date: 12/16/99
From: Dave Bush

>From Ric
>This is like Miranda. At this point, anything I say can and will be held
>against me. If there is ANYBODY out there who thinks they help Don Jordan
>begin to understand what a Line of Position is - be my guest.

WELL! Ric, I will give it a try. Draw a line (Line Of Position) from Cincinnati to Vicksburg. You can verify when you reach that line, but you don't know WHERE along the line you are for absolutely sure. You could be north of Cincinnati or south of Cincinnati. You DO KNOW you are on that line or within plus or minus 5 miles of the line. At 1000 feet under an overcast, it is difficult to see far. Cincinnati airport is only two football fields long and one football field wide with NO bleachers. Good luck in finding it! So you know that there are five or six other, even larger airports along that line and if you don't find Cincinnati, you have a very good shot at finding the others or reaching Vicksburg itself. Vicksburg, by the way is about 10 times the size of Cincinnati and it's painted bright red! Now change the names to Howland (Cincinnati) and Gardner (Vicksburg) and see if it doesn't make some sort of sense, especially given that they are the only landfalls within your current fuel range and the only other option is to "ditch" in the middle of Lake Michigan (re: Pacific Ocean).

LTM who prefers the nearest land, parachute or no!
Blue Skies,
Dave Bush

Subject: Gilberts and Gilbeys
Date: 12/16/99
From: William Webster-Garman

Don Jordan wrote:

> Because Ric, most of us don't believe she was on the LOP which ran
> down the middle of Howland, Baker and on to Niku.

Who is "most of us"? I'd like to see that statement backed up by some verification. Until then, the statement is so categorical that it undermines the credibility of the accompanying statements, which I'll briefly respond to anyway.

>To have Noonan be on that line he would have to be pretty damn far off course
> north or south but not east or west.

Ric is correct, Don, when he says you don't understand what a line of position is. The whole point of the LOP is that Noonan's accuracy north or south is irrelevant-- spot-on, or hundreds of miles off course, he would still hit the calculated LOP without fail.

> If he were north of Howland, they would have seen it when the turned
> south. If they were south of Howland, they would have seen Baker when
> they turned north.

This idea is incomplete. There is no assurance that they would have seen either island under any circumstance other than an almost precise flyover below cloud cover. It is more likely that, whatever their final fate, Earhart and Noonan were within nominal visual range of Howland (and later, presumably Baker), and failed to see either of them because of scattered cloud cover and cloud shadows. It helps to have the experience of actually having flown over the tractless and immense Pacific to fully appreciate how difficult it is to pick out a small island from hundreds of dappled cloud shadows. Without a good DF bearing, spotting your target from more than a few miles at any altitude can quickly become a lottery.

> But what if they did hit the line a hundred miles south, do you
> think they would say to themselves,
> "Well. . . Howland is not here. I don't think we know where we are,
> so let go south for three hours and see what's down there"

Whether or not they actually made an attempt to follow the LOP to Gardner, Noonan had no reason to ask what was on the southern extremity of the line: As one of the foremost experts of Pacific aerial navigation of his time, he certainly knew the answer: The Phoenix group, including Gardner.

There is no evidence that he hit the LOP several hundred miles to the south (on the contrary, the evidence indicates that he guided Earhart to a point on the LOP rather close to Howland), and as has been explained countless times here in the past, he didn't need to be several hundred miles south of Howland in order to hit the LOP. However, in the very unlikely event that they were off course by several hundred miles to the south, it would have placed them that much closer to the Phoenix group and made a course of 157 even more compelling.

> In my opinion, they simply could not have been on the Howland LOP
> and not found Baker at least.. With maybe four hours fuel left, they
> could have almost gone to Niku and back.

This is false, for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, visual conditions could have precluded them from seeing Baker unless they were virtually on top of it. Second, it is possible that they reached the LOP south of Howland or Baker, and despite an attempt to run the line north for several miles, saw nothing. Knowing that with 4 hours of fuel remaining they were virtually assured of reaching the Phoenix group by following their known LOP (and, if they were unknowingly north of Howland, reaching Howland or Baker long before that), there remains a very strong possibility, even probability, that they ultimately chose to fly a course of 157 degrees.

Combined with the strong physical and anecdotal evidence that has built up over the years, it is, in the absence of hard physical evidence otherwise, impossible to reasonably deny the possibility (note "possibility") that they reached Gardner and landed there, dying of injuries and/or exposure in the weeks that followed.

LTM (who liked sunrises)
william 2243

Subject: Re: Gilberts and Gilbeys (??)
Date: 12/16/99
From: Don Jordan

Alan wrote,

> I can understand Don's puzzlement that our duo did not see islands if
> they were near or over them. I've tried to find islands like that many
> times before in the Pacific and in the Atlantic.

Maybe they could not see the islands! But if that were the case, how could the islands not see them. I'd be willing to bet that not everyone who knew she was coming was in the radio room listening to the radio! I wonder how many were on the railing with binoculars scanning the horizon, and how many were on Howland doing the same. If they couldn't see them, surely they could have heard them. We already know you can be on one of those island and hear but not see an airplane.

Nobody heard them, nobody saw them! I'd also be willing to bet they were not within 25 miles of Howland at any given time and certainly not within 50 or 60 miles south of Howland on a bearing of 157 degrees at any given time.

Don J.

From Ric

In 1967 Ann Pellegreno and her three-man crew were within 10 miles of Howland before one of them caught a glimpse of the island. With 50 percent fewer eyes aboard they may not have seen it until they were much closer. Could someone on the deck of the Itasca have heard a Lockheed Electra that was 10 miles downwind at 1,000 feet? Ever been on the deck of a ship with generators running? My guess would be that the airplane would have to buzz the ship to be heard by anyone on deck. Can you see an Electra that's 10 miles away at 1,000 feet? Dream on.

Could the people on Howland or Baker have heard a Lockheed Electra that was 10 miles downwind at 1,000 feet? Ever been on an atoll? Any idea how much ambient noise is created by the surf on the surrounding reef? We didn't hear the "phantom" airplane on Niku until it was very close. Those of us onshore didn't see it because we were back in the bush and couldn't see the sky. I don't know why the people aboard Nai'a didn't see it.

But you're right about one thing. Nobody at Howland or Baker saw the or heard the Electra because it never got close enough to be seen or heard. A stunning conclusion.


Subject: LOP Sine Qua Non
Date: 12/17/99
From: Bob Sherman

Ric: Should you refine and condense your LOP explanation, and I think that you should as a document for the record, consider the following. Fred's LOP was in effect a 'band' due to the errors inherent in most LOP's. In the instant case, the astronomical data was rounded, a second or two in noting the rise of first light, and again when the lower limb cleared the horizon, ditto the second line to determine ground speed since the first line, the assumption of what the ground speed would be to the advanced line thru HOW, and the fact that Fred's HOW was several miles west of its actual position, results in a line that has 'width'; a cumulative error easily between one and ten miles; for even the best of navigators.

Since an error that positioned the line further east would put them even closer to Howland [acct. error of Howland's position], increasing the possibility of seeing Howland [initially or when flying the LOP] it is more reasonable to believe the line was a couple miles, at least, short of Howland's '37 position. Thus increasing their actual distance from Howland initially, and while flying the LOP. It would thus be farther from Bak as well, and perhaps fortuitously right on Gardner. The LOP thru Howland's position passes about 5 - 7 mi. [as I recall] east of Gardner. Conclusion: Flying the LOP along its westerly limit of accuracy would decrease the possibility of seeing Howland and Baker, but increase the possibility of seeing Gardner. Turn that over in your mind.

Regards, RC

Subject: Gilberts vs. Niku
Date: 12/17/99
From: Patrick Gaston

Per Ric: "We just don't seem to able to get across why it is that following the LOP was greatly preferable to turning back to the Gilberts"

Think you missed my point. I probably didn't make it very well. Assuming AE had absolutely no idea what she was going to do if she failed to find Howland, then certainly it made sense to follow the LOP. On the other hand, if she had a preconceived Plan B (and 3.5 hours of fuel remaining) then it would not have been out of character for her to follow that plan. That's why I consider the Vidal papers so important. Sure wish we had a Forum member in Laramie! (By the way, I agree that if they DID turn back to the Gilberts they didn't make it, but a documented backup plan could open up new areas of inquiry.)

Alan's explanation of LOP navigation is the best yet, but the fact remains that FN's sunrise LOP still had to be advanced to Howland by dead reckoning. There is no evidence that Fred was able to take the additional sun and moon shots that would have allowed him to get a better fix on their position. If FN was able to get only a single sun shot (remember AE reported cloudy weather), the margin of error increases the farther the LOP is advanced eastward by DR. This would seem especially true if Fred was having trouble gauging headwinds or drift. (And if he wasn't having trouble with one or the other of these items, they should have found Howland.) So it is well within the realm of possibility that AE was considerably short of (or past) Howland when she turned onto the 157/337 line -- in which case said line would not run through Niku. If Alan's theory is correct, then two people who were desperately seeking land -- any land -- not only flat out failed to see Howland, but probably missed Baker as well. I suppose in sunrise conditions this, too, is possible.

BTW, a contemporary news account, written during the search and datelined Honolulu, reported the total population of the Phoenix Group in July 1937 as three (count 'em) people. Another reason Earhart MAY have thought her chances were better in another direction, even if Niku was closer.

LTM (who realizes all this stuff was hashed and rehashed some months ago)
Pat Gaston

From Ric

The only comment Earhart made about weather was "partly cloudy" logged by the Itasca at 04:53 (and probably sent at AE's regular transmission time of 04:45). The other alleged reports of "overcast" conditions do not appear in the original log and seem to be the later invention of Warner Thompson, captain of the Itasca, as part of his campaign to exonerate himself from blame.

Let's remember that the alleged comment about turning back to the Gilberts was made by Amelia Earhart, not Fred Noonan. Let's remember also that the happy coincidence of the sunrise LOP, advanced through Howland, falling through several other islands was entirely a function of when the flight took place. The world flight was far behind schedule and neither AE nor FN could have known, until the night before the flight, exactly what day they would be making the trip.

As long as we're debating anecdotes, I'll mention that Martin Aircraft Company representative Francis "Fuzz" Furman, who in 1937 was based in Bandoeng , Java, spent quite a bit of time with Fred while the Electra was there having maintenance done. Fuzz (whom I interviewed in 1989) remembered that Fred was concerned about the Lae/Howland leg and was almost obsessive about repeatedly checking the accuracy of his chronometer. Conversely, Chater describes Earhart and Noonan as being very confident about the flight immediately prior to departure. Of course, by that time, Fred knew that he'd be approaching Howland on the mornng of July 2nd and precomputing his sunrise LOP showed him that he'd have a line that would give him three other islands as alternates. Couldn't be better.


Subject: Re: Gilberts and Gilbey
Date: 12/17/99
From: William Webster-Garman

Well, one last response.

Don Jordan replied,

> If they knew that a course of 157 degree would take them
> to Gardner, then shouldn't they have known that 337 degree would
> take them Howland?

If you can't answer this question for yourself by now, I respectfully assure you that you are unqualified to discuss any navigational options or probabilities of choice based on celestial navigation.

> Can you guarantee that Fred was able to get good celestial fixes
> during the night, ...Can you guarantee he knew the wind
> speed, cross wind component and ground speed, exactly. If he knew that
> exactly, this forum would not exist because the Electra would have
> touched down to refuel right on time!

Oh my goodness. What a stunning observation. It never would have occurred to me, without your assistance, Don, that this forum would probably not exist if Earhart and Noonan had landed successfully at Howland. My perceptions are forever transformed.

"Guarantee"? If you are looking for guarantees, you are in the wrong forum. You might try a political forum, however.

>but the fact is. . .somebody messed up!

Yes, Don. Someone, somewhere, failed to adequately prepare for at least one variable.

> Ships log;. . . Sky Conditions; Clear!

Regarding the cloud cover recorded on the log of the Itasca for the time period during which Earhart and Noonan were presumably in the vicinity of Howland, you are incorrect. You cannot advance your position here by citing inaccurate or fictional history. Again, you might want to try a political forum.

> With four hours of fuel remaining... they could have
> gone one hundred miles to the north, then one hundred miles back to the
> starting point and still had enough fuel to reach Gardner and circle for
> 45 minutes. (Based on what we think we know about fuel flow and airspeed
> of the Electra)

I will allow your remarks here speak for themselves regarding your expertise in trans-Pacific aviation, navigation, aircraft reliability curves and pilot judgement in the late 1930s.

> I agree, it is possible! But I 'm not willing to bet the farm on it.

Actually, the idea here, using your metaphorical device, is that Earhart and Noonan, if they did decide to fly a course of 157, did it because they knew that not the "farm", but their lives were "on the table", and that a heading of 157 was probably their "best bet" for keeping them. There is fascinating evidence, but no proof, that they "won" the first "bet", only to lose the next "wager", that of survival on an uninhabited island.

LTM (who preferred Bridge)
william 2243

Subject: Re: LOP
Date: 12/17/99
From: Mark Prange

Ross D. wrote:

>to determine the sun line Noonan has to not only see where
>the sun comes up, but also to take a sight for the angle of the sun over
>the horizon

Knowing the sun's azimuth, and noting the time that the sun first emerges is sufficient for a single sun line if the negative angle and the refraction are known. Just how good an idea Noonan had of refraction at very low angles is hard to know. The table in HO 208 doesn't provide refraction information for angles below about +5 degrees.

>....unless the sky was clear enough of clouds (a possibility) between about
>5.15am to 5.54am local to let him take 3 star shots, (and that assumes he is
>lucky enough to catch stars exactly on the meridian at twilight), he can't
>get a reasonable fix until around 10.30am local.

Sighting two bodies is enough for a reasonable fix, and neither needs to be near the observer's meridian; it is just good to have enough azimuthal separation for a good cut.

>Noonan had around 9 hours when he:
>1 Would find it difficult to get a celestial fix. (No horizon - and yes,
>an inverting eyepiece may help, but trying to keep the aeroplane dead level
>at night is not like having a horizon to reference so any readings would be

Air navigators get good sights using artificial horizons. An airplane that is trimmed for level flight is a good platform for observations, (if the pilot keeps hands and feet off the controls during the observation).

>He could not know with only one sun shot......his longitude i.e. the
>distance he had travelled from Lae.

The Sun LOP was very nearly perpendicular to the course line, so it did give some idea of the distance traveled.

The Moon had risen very high around the time of sunrise, and sighting it might have been impossible without an overhead window, but if it was visible it would have been useful later in the morning for a cross-LOP.

>And he could not get a simple latitude shot until noon, when the sun was at
>its highest overhead.

That kind of sight would be good for approximating longitude, too.

>> Obviously, anyone to the left or right of you is going to see the sunrise
>> at the same time you do, but somebody in front of you will see it sooner and
>> somebody behind you will see it later. In other words, the precise moment
>> you see the sunrise tells you (and your buddies along a line to your left and
>> right) very accurately where you are in an east/west sense,
> Close, but it only works like that on the South of the equator. North of
> the Equator for your buddies to see the sunrise at the same time they would
> have to be on a line more like 023/203.

Over Howland, the direction of sunrise that day was 067 True. That azimuth of the sun would be approximately the same for a fairly wide area, even a little south of the Equator. A sunrise Sun Line is very nearly a great circle, with the azimuth toward the Sun changing by a degree each 69 miles or so. Howland is very near the Equator; the Sun's LOP for the early daylight hours was about 157-337 for that vicinity, both north and south of the Equator.

To see the sun rising perpendicular to where its LOP is 023/203 that day, the observer would have to be well north of the Sun's (North 23 degrees) track.

Subject: Re: LOP (again)
Date: 12/17/99
From: Mark Prange

Ross D. wrote:

>When the sun rose on the 2nd of July:
>At 10 degrees North of the equator and 90 degrees angle to the equator it >was about 5.55am
>At 5 degrees North of the equator , sunrise was about 5.45am
>At the equator 0 deg on the 2nd of July the sun rose about 5.35am.
>At 5 degrees South of the equator, sunrise was about 5.45am.
>At 10 degrees South of the equator it was about 5.55am.
>So the line of "beginning of daylight" is a vee with the point at the equator.

The Sun rose not in the direction of 090, but rather in the direction of about 067, because its declination at that time of year is about 23 degrees north of the Equator.

Interpolation of the 1937 Nautical Almanac Sunrise table gives sunrise times at 10 degree intervals, with the times for N 10 deg., 0 deg., and S 10 deg. being about 5:45, 6:01, and 6:18. (Pages 706, 708, 710, and 711). Rather than a V, the Sun LOP at that time, the terminator, is very nearly straight and circles the earth.

Subject: Sun LOP
Date: 12/17/99
From: Mark Prange

>....the fact remains that FN's sunrise LOP still had to be advanced to
>Howland by dead reckoning.
>There is no evidence that Fred was able to take the additional sun and moon
>shots that would have allowed him to get a better fix on their position.
>If FN was able to get only a single sun shot (remember AE reported cloudy
>weather), the margin of error increases the farther the LOP is advanced
>eastward by DR.

The sunrise LOP would only have to be advanced to Howland by dead reckoning in the event that the sun became so obscured that it couldn't be seen. Is there evidence that Noonan was able to see the sun at exactly sunrise? The 157-337 LOP corresponds to the alignment of the Sun LOP for a good while after sunrise as well.

From Ric

If the airplane was where it should have been (at 10,000 feet) and the weather where it was was similar to the sunrise weather at Howland (some widely scattered cumulus with bases at maybe 1,500 and probably no significant build up), it seems like he should have been able to see the sun if not exactly at the moment it broke the horizon, very soon afterward. When they get in closer they need to descend below the cloud bases in order be able to look for the island (hence Earhart's later comment that she is at 1,000 feet). Once they're down low and the sun is up, they'll have to make do without further sun shots. The question is, how far out did they descend? If I was Noonan and I was still about 200 miles out when the sun came up, I'd want to stay high long enough to shoot some "speed lines" to confirm my groundspeed. Fuel economy was also much better at altitude. I might start down about 50 miles out, but that's just a guess.


Subject: Re: LOP
Date: 12/17/99
From: Randy Jacobson

I'm sorry, but I can't let this misinformation pass without comment:

Ross DeVitt wrote:

>Close, but it only works like that on the South of the equator. North of
>the Equator for your buddies to see the sunrise at the same time they would
>have to be on a line more like 023/203.
>So the line of "beginning of daylight" is a vee with the point at the

This is utter hogwash. The LOP obtained locally is good for about 100 miles in either direction, and is, in reality, a tangent line to a great circle around the earth. Look at any picture of earth from space, and you will see the terminus, or the edge of light and shadow. It is a smoothly varying position (and angle) relative to its position. The LOP angle changes slowly with latitude, but does not become a "V" anywhere, nor does it change angles to 23/203 degrees until nearly a change of 90 degrees latitude.

As stated, the LOP is locally valid, and all aerial navigatiors, including FJN, knew their best fixes were good to about 10 nautical miles, which is good enough (usually) to get you close to visual range. FJN knew that the LOP was valid wherever he observed it, and that it was valid for approximatley 100 miles to either side of him. The errors associated with an inaccurate latitude within 100 miles or so is well within the 10 nm error limit.

There are really two critical questions that can't be answered. (1) Did FJN really observe the sun at daybreak, or did he pre-calculate the LOP without an actual observation that would fix his longitude? (2) Did he take another sun shot later on to determine if his dead reckoning navigation of the previous LOP to Howland was still accurate? Unfortunately, we will never be able to definitively answer these questions.

From Ric

Don't take it personally Ross. We don't.

Subject: Lambrecht Revisited
Date: 12/18/99
From: Don Neumann

Just spent some time re-examining Lt. Lambrecht's report on the website.

One of the things that occurred to me was the fact that Lambrecht & his flight seemed to experience no difficulty in locating or identifying any of the islands in the Phoenix chain (except for Winslow Reef, which was probably awash when they searched for it) or in navigating their way back to their ship, which was apparently underway during the search.

Now I realize that although they were out of visual contact with the ship for most of the search, Lt. Lambrecht did specifically comment upon the excellent radio communications they experienced (something AE/FN obviously did _not_ have as they approached Howland) & that they were probably never more than 100 miles away from the ship at any given time; Never-the-less, they did navigate a somewhat circuitous route, changing course & direction on numerous occasions in order to reach each of the islands in the chain. However they were able to make such landfalls in very close proximity to the headings recorded on their charts, having no more available navigational equipment (maybe less) than AE/FN had aboard the Electra.

Lambrecht also reported no difficulty in seeing any of the islands upon their approach, other than occasional rain squalls that were apparently quite common to that area & usually these were very local occurrences. He also reported being able to see the ship some 30 miles away. (Maybe she was smoking?)

While there is always the possibility that Lambrecht & his flight experienced more pristine weather conditions than AE/FN, a week after their flght terminated, it would seem that if AE/FN, did elect to fly southeast on their LOP & if their fuel consumption estimates were reasonably accurate, they should have been able to spot these islands at the same locations on their charts as the Navy flyers did, the only _IF_ being whether they did have sufficient fuel reserves to actually _reach_ one of the islands & then pick out a reasonably safe appearing stretch of reef flat to negotiate a wheels-down landing.

Don Neumann

Subject: Re: LOP
Date: 12/18/99
From: Alan Caldwell

Mark Prange writes:

> The Moon had risen very high around the time of sunrise, and sighting it
> might have been impossible without an overhead window, but if it was visible
> it would have been useful later in the morning for a cross-LOP.

Good comments, Mark. I'm having a little trouble understanding the point of our LOP discussion unless some would have a master navigator not having much of a clue as to what he is doing. Unless I am misinterpreting some of the postings it would seem there is a determination to "prove" Noonan headed out into oblivian not knowing where he was or where he was going so we all ought to just pack it in. Or am I being too harsh?

There have been good LOP explanations on the forum in addition to my posting which apparently was not as simplified and clear as I had hoped. I'm not certain everyone understands LOP yet. To post celestial procedures doesn't get us any where and that's why I tried to boil it down to only make a couple of points -- how to get a ground speed and how to know when one is on an LOP going through destination. I'm missing the point on the rest of the arguments. No one has claimed that they know Noonan did or did not take star or sun shots. We can not know what altitude he was at or what altitude the clouds were or their extent. We only have the Itasca log giving an indication of cloud cover and those entries looked to me as though sun shots were possible.

If the sun was visible I would almost believe the moon was also. That morning the moon's azimuth allowed for a good cut on Noonan's sun shot -- at least 30 degrees and the highest altitude was 76.7 degrees. One posting by Ross said, "Don't forget that to determine the sun line Noonan has to not only see where the sun comes up, but also to take a sight for the angle of the sun over the horizon - something he cannot do until at least 7.30am on the 2nd of July, followed by another one about 3 hours later (to give the sun time to move -well the earth to move- far enough for an accurate second sight."

Not exactly, Ross. First of all I don't know how to take a sun shot when the sun is over the horizon. The sun as it peaks over the horizon is basically good only for an azimuth to reset DGs. Until the sun is about ten degrees altitude the LOP would not be very accurate which would not stop a navigator from shooting for LOPs, however. They'll refine as the sun gets higher. Also it doesn't take 3 hours to get a second shot. The sun rises fairly rapidly and ten minutes is sufficient. Below, courtesy of the Naval Observatory is the selected sun table for Howland on the morning of July 2, 1937.

Time Altitude Azimuth
06:20 0.7 67.0
06:30 2.8 67.0
06:40 5.0 66.9
06:50 7.2 66.9
07:00 9.5 66.8
07:10 11.8 66.6
07:20 14.1 66.4
07:30 16.4 66.2
07:40 18.6 65.9
07:50 20.9 65.6
08:00 23.2 65.2
08:10 25.4 64.7
08:20 27.7 64.2
08:30 29.9 63.7
08:40 32.2 63.0

You will note the sun peeped at about 6:20a local with an azimuth of 67 degrees. That was not good for very long. You will also note the altitude changed about two degrees every ten minutes. That's a sufficient change to use as a plot. By 8:40a local the azimuth had changed 4 degrees. Granted that makes a skinny convergence but better than none. While I'm at it here is the moon table for the same period.

Time Altitude Azimuth Fraction Illuminated
06:20 72.5 40.7 0.37
06:30 74.0 34.1 0.37
06:40 75.2 26.4 0.37
06:50 76.1 17.5 0.36
07:00 76.6 7.6 0.36
07:10 76.7 357.3 0.36
07:20 76.3 347.2 0.36
07:30 75.6 338.0 0.36
07:40 74.4 329.8 0.36
07:50 73.1 322.9 0.36
08:00 71.5 317.1 0.36
08:10 69.7 312.3 0.36
08:20 67.8 308.3 0.36
08:30 65.8 305.0 0.36
08:40 63.8 302.2 0.36

Ross, I'm not clear why you think Noonan needed a three star fix between 5:15 and 5:54a. The significance of those times escapes me but it is late and I'm tired - Christmas shopping. I also don't understand why you think he couldn't get a reasonable fix until 10:30a. By 7:00a he ought to have obtained a Hell of a fix with the sun at almost ten degrees altitude and the moon, albeit high in the sky, at about a 60 degree cut. Where am I wrong? Someone will say Noonan could not see the moon at that altitude because of the cockpit configuration but they will be incorrect. I guarantee I could see the moon from the cockpit and if you'll think about it you'll figure out how to do it.

I think Ric answered the no horizon comment and how to keep the airplane level so I won't. We apparently don't know if Noonan had drift flares aboard so we can't say he couldn't use the drift meter at night but if he could get any star fixes in those 9 hours he was OK. The wind didn't need to stay constant. I know of no place where it does. Noonan would have been the last person to expect it to do so. Also he didn't need to know the the start wind speed and direction. That was easily computed as he was in sight of land periodically for a long way out. We know he went past Nauru so he was doing OK at that point and his problem now was from Nauru in to Howland. It is possible he could get a position over flying the Gilberts. I sure would have tried if I had visibility and there were ANY lights. Ross, you are correct that one sun line would not tell Noonan where he was on the LOP nor would it give him his exact longitude. He still needed to cross the LOP with another to know that but I have a feeling he didn't wait till noon to get another sun shot for latitude.


From Ric

Because the 67 degree postion of the sun, from which a 337/157 LOP is derived, was only valid at sunrise and for 10 minutes thereafter, we are pretty much forced to assume that IF the 157 337 "line" that AE referred to is an LOP, he had to get it in those first ten minutes. We must also assume that it is that LOP and not a later one that he advanced through Howland, otherwise AE would have said, "We are on the line 155 335" or some such. Why would Noonan cling to an early, and perhaps less accurate, LOP unless there was something about it that he really liked? Such as the fact that it offered alternate destinations?


Subject: Sunrise
Date: 12/18/99
From: Alan Caldwell

> Because the 67 degree postion of the sun, from which a 337/157 LOP is
> derived, was only valid at sunrise and for 10 minutes thereafter, we are
> pretty much forced to assume that IF the 157 337 "line" that AE referred to
> is an LOP, he had to get it in those first ten minutes.

Ric, you will notice in the sun chart that although 67 degrees held only for the first ten minutes an azimuth minutely close to that held for much longer - say until 7:00a or possibly even 7:10a where the azimuth was within 4/10 of 67.

Also that 67 degree azimuth was for someone exactly over Howland and we don't know that is where and when Fred took his sun shot. A 67 degree azimuth could also be obtained in other areas near Howland but at different times of course. The block of time we are working with is from 6:20a when the sun rose to 8:44a when Amelia announced the 157-337 report. I'm trying to pin down where and when a 67 degree azimuth could have been found and whether the area is specific enough to be of value.


From Ric

Yes, of course. I should have thought of that (duh). Okay, so the sun comes up at 06:20 local. First question: are we sure we've got that right? Remember the Itasca was using that screwy 11.5 hour time zone. 06:20 Itasca Time would be 17:50 Greenwich. Zat what the tables say?

Assuming 06:20 is the correct sunrise time for on-the-ground at Howland, is that the time that the first "limb" (I think it's called) peeks over the horizon or when the whole ball clears the horizon? How would being at 10,000 feet directly over Howland effect the time you saw the sun rise? Would you see it a few seconds or a few minutes earlier than the folks on the ground? Now go 200 hundred miles to the west. When you gonna see the sun?

At 06:15 AE told Itasca that she was approximately 200 miles out. That was her regularly scheduled transmission time so the estimate may or may not have been current, but assumming that it is, Is there anyway that they could have seen the sun at, say, 06:10 (17:40 Zulu) from 200 miles west of Howland at 10,000 feet? If not, then the estimate almost has to be based on a predawn star shot and DR. Yes?


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