Forum artHighlights From the Forum

December 19 through December 25, 1999

Subject: Engines
Date: 12/19/99
From: Don Jordan

OK. . . here is another little question which has been gnawing at me. Should aircraft wreckage be found somewhere, anywhere, and say the only thing identifiable is an engine. Are we sure we have the correct serial numbers for her engines?

It would seem that after such a crash and engine sudden stoppage as took place in Hawaii, that it would be better to exchange the engines as opposed to taking them apart to inspect the crack? Today that is mandatory, was it then? At the very least, I think they would have changed the crank.

Don J.

From Ric

Lockheed 10E Special c/n 1055 was delivered on July 24, 1936 with P&W R1340 S3H1 engines numbers 6149 and 6150. The Bureau of Air Commerce Aircraft Inspection Report which was signed upon the completion of repairs on May 19, 1937 shows those same engines still in place.

Similarly, the aircraft was delivered with Hamilton Standard 12D-40 propeller hubs numbers 26333 and 26334. The same hub serial numbers appear on the May 19, 1937 report.

The only documented change is to the propeller blades. The aircraft was delivered with Hamilton Standard 6095A-6 blade sets numbers 58831-32 and 58833-34. The May 19th report shows blades sets 66570-71 and 66572-73 installed.

I agree that, from the look of the props after the accident, I would have suspected crankshaft damage. The prop tips on both engines were bent forward -- a dead give away that both throttles were still advanced when the props hit the ground. However, the paperwork is quite clear that they just put on new prop blades. Must be tough engines.


Subject: Choir
Date: 12/19/99
From: Mark Prange

5:58 N 60

>....if they were all on one longitude......, and the sun was over the
>equator, the Vee should hold good if they all had to see the sunrise at the
>same time due again to the curvature of the earth.

That would be at the times of the Equinoxes, at about the 23d of March and September. The terminator should run very nearly north and south. One nautical almanac tabulates these sunrise times for March 22, which indicate that at that time the terminator is almost meridional.

Somewhere there's a website which shows a view of Earth as if from space; the user can specify the date and time, I believe, and the orientation of the terminator is shown.

From Ric

And, no, the URL is not

5:58 N 58
5:59 N 56
5:59 N 54
6:00 N 52
6:00 N 50
6:01 N 45
6:01 N 40
6:02 N 35
6:02 N 30
6:03 N 20
6:03 N 10
6:04   00
6:04 S 10
6:04 S 20
6:03 S 30
6:04 S 35
6:04 S 40
6:03 S 45
6:03 S 50
6:03 S 52
6:03 S 54
6:03 S 56
6:02 S 58
6:02 S 69


Subject: Re: Sunrise
Date 12/19/99
From: Alan Caldwell

Ric, I WAS using the screwy Itasca 11.5 hours off Z and that's what the tables are based on. Your altitude question certainly makes good common sense that the higher one is the earlier one would see the sun and that is true but the effect is fairly negligable. I found this comment in celestial navigation information.

(negligible to 2 degrees)

This factor is normally negligible. According to the IGRF, a 20,000 meter climb even at a magnetically precarious location as Resolute, 500 kilometers from the north magnetic pole, would result in a two-degree reduction in declination.

While altitude may not have a significant effect the observer's east/west postition clearly does. If Noonan is several hundred miles West of Howland he will see the sun at a later time than an observer AT Howland. In checking the tables I found that at 180 miles west of Howland Fred would see the sun ten minutes AFTER an observer at Howland. If the sun rose at 6:20a at Howland Fred would not see it until 6:30a if he was 180 miles west of Howland.

As to the screwy time between the Itasca and Howland I elected to use the Itasca time of 11.5 off Z solely for illustrative purposes and have given no thought yet to resolving the difference to determine what someone at Howland would actually see. When I have some more data of possible positions for shooting 67 degree azimuths I'll worry about real time.

I have given a lot of thought to the "200 mile out" call also and I think you are dead on that it had to be based on pre dawn celestial or maybe just DR. There is no possibility Noonan could have taken a sun shot at 6:15.


Subject: Info on Amelia
Date: 12/19/99
From: Roger Kelley

Last month the question of where Amelia had her L-10-E repaired following the Luke Field crash provoked me to do a little research. As a result, I discovered information which might provide answers.

I discovered newspaper articles in the Glendale News Press which were published in March and April, 1937, which quoted Amelia as stating that her L-10-E was being repaired at the Lockheed Burbank facilities.

One article in the Glendale News Press, dated April 1, 1937 related to Amelia and her mother, Mrs. A. O. Earhart, while they were shopping in downtown Glendale. This article mentions Amelia's residence and the repair of the L-10-E. It states, "At her Valley Spring Lane home in North Hollywood this morning, Mrs. Putnam verified the report that she and her mother had been in Glendale to 'do some shopping.'" Later in the article, "Her airplane, which crashed at Honolulu on her proposed world circling flight two weeks ago, is being repaired a the Lockheed Aircraft Corp. factory in Burbank."

To date, I have found nothing which indicates that the L-10-E was repaired in shops located at the Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale.

The Glendale News Press article of April 1, 1937 also confirms previous information that Amelia was residing on Valley Spring Lane at the time of her second World Flight attempt.

I discovered some other neat stuff about Amelia. Although most, if not all, is known to Amelia's followers.

First, I discovered two pieces of upholstery, approximately 5" x 4" each, dark red or maroon in color with a hand written note stating, "Pieces of upholstery used in Amelia Eheart's plane. Gift of Mrs. Max Green, March, 1975." Nothing more than this brief statement. Note that Earhart was misspelled. Could it be that Max was employed by Lockheed and snatched some scraps after the seats were completed and installed (or re-installed)?

I'm searching for Max or his survivors at the present time. No luck so far.

Second, I discovered the obituary of Neta Snook Southern, dated March 26, 1991 and published in the Los Angeles Times. She died at the age of 95 and was a flight instructor in her youth. Southern claims to have taught Amelia how to fly in 1921 at Kinner Field in what is now South Gate, CA.

Third, I discovered another article in the Glendale News Press dated July 10, 1929, announcing the arrival at Grand Central Air Terminal of the first Transcontinental Air Transport planes to complete the New York to Los Angeles air/rail commercial trip. By rail and air, the trip took two days. The lead aircraft was piloted by Co. Charles A. Lindbergh and one of his passengers was Amelia Earhart. Amelia was listed as the "Assistant Traffic Manager of T.A.T."

Help me out here folks. Was Transcontinental Air Transport the forerunner of Trans World Airlines? Does anyone know what became of T.A.T.?

And last, I discovered several photographs of Amelia.

One such photo was a non-professional snap shot depicting Amelia, a small girl, (approx age 5?), and a gentleman about 40 years old standing near each other, in front of a wood frame house. Between the house and the three people is the upper and lower wing, and right landing gear, of an unknown type bi-plane. The caption reads, "Bert Kinner and daughter Dorothy with their favorite customer. Amelia Earhart's first airplane was Kinner-built in 1920. The Kinner residence, located on Flower Street, permitted easy access to the runway. (Cora B. Kinner)"

Flower Street is located on the west boundary of Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, CA.

Another photo appears to be a professional 8 x 10 depicting a young (25) Amelia standing next to the engine and prop of a bi-plane. The caption reads, "Amelia Earhart promoting Kinner aircraft and engines."

One photo depicts Amelia in flight suit, wearing leather helmet and goggles, standing with her hand on the prop of a bi-plane which has "Kinner" painted on the tail. The caption reads, "Amelia Earhart beside her Airster, 1921." Although well composed, this photo appears to be a snap shot.

Two other photos which appear to be professional 8 x 10, depict a bi-plane with a three cylinder engine and two bladed prop. One photo depicts the entire aircraft from the left side and the other depicts the entire aircraft from left front. The word "Kinner" is not painted on the tail. Nor can I detect any other writing on the aircraft. The hand written caption on one reads, "Built for Amelia Earhart in 1923 (but not delivered to her, due to health problems.) Had to quit flying because of sinus infection. However, she did fly it occasionally. See John Bark's book, shows A.E. with this job, tho incorrectly captioned as Canary." The statement "(but not delivered to her due to health problems.)" has a line drawn through it as if it might be a strike out. This same photo has a stamp on it stating, "JOHN W. UNDERWOOD."

The other photo has three captions on the back. The first is hand written and states, "Kinner Airster for Earhart, c 3/23." The next caption is typed and reads, "Amelia Earhart's second plane built by Kinner aircraft in March, 1923. Built in Glendale." The third caption reads, "Amelia Earhart's second airplane was this Glendale-built Kinner Airster, c. March 1923. It was very much an experimental proposition. The engine was a Kinner-copy of the Wright L-2, forerunner of the Whirlwind, but it was fraught with eccentricities. It threw more oil than it consumed and vibrated excessively. Even so, it gave A.E. great pleasure to be a part of the development program. The experience gained from her flying helped Kinner build a better engine and by 1930 he was a leader in the field."

Does anyone know what became of Kinner engines?

Can anyone on the forum tell me if this info is new or just rediscovered?

LTM (who hates long postings)
Roger Kelley, #2112

Subject: LOP Forever
Date: 12/19/99
From: Alan Caldwell

> I've only scanned all the LOP postings but I don't think anyone has,
> recently, commented on how simple it was for Fred to establish that Sunrise
> Line of Position. He didn't have to measure any angles hence didn't need to
> use his sextant (nor octant). All he required was a chronometer that was
> correct and an eye-ball view of the edge (limb) of the sun first peeking
> above the horizon. Sunrise was almost dead ahead. (He would need to make
> some minor adjustments for their altitude and for atmospheric refraction but
> he knew all about that stuff.)

Sorry, Vern but that is not going to work. True he will get an azimuth for his LOP but he needs an accurate altitude of the sun to PLACE the LOP. To get an accurate sun shot the sun needs to be between 20 and 70 degrees altitude and the ole I-ball will never get an altitude even close. What he CAN do as the sun just barely peeps over the horizon is get a great azimuth to reset his gyros and he needs to shoot the sun to get that. We don't want him turning the plane just to eyeball in a heading. Next, we would only know if the sunrise was dead ahead if we knew what course they were flying and we don't. Finally, you are correct that Fred needed to deal with refraction error but that's routine. Altitude is not going to make a whole ton of difference.

But I might add that all this LOP stuff is making everybody think and as it becomes clearer it becomes easier to see why we are saying they were ON the LOP someplace and why it is so much easier to see that their option was heavily weighted to drive down the LOP to Niku than blunder blindly out to sea in search of the Gilberts.


From Ric

Does the rest of the Celestial Choir agree with Alan?

Subject: T.A.T.
Date: 12/20/99
From: Doc Holloway, Dick Pingrey

Roger Kelly wrote:

>Help me out here folks. Was Transcontinental Air Transport the
>forerunner of Trans World Airlines? Does anyone know what became of

T.A.T. was indeed one of the forerunners of Trans World Airlines. T.A.T. joined with Western Air Express on 1 October 1930 to become Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. The corporate name was changed to Trans World Airlines in May of 1950.

LTM (Who always loved the TWA Royal Ambassador service.)
R.L."Doc" Holloway
TWA Capt., Ret.


In 1942 and probably for some additional years TWA stood for Transcontinental and Western Airlines. I think the Change to Transworld Airlines came after WW-2.

Dick Pingrey 908C

From Ric

The standing joke in the 1930s was that TAT stood for "Take A Train".

Subject: Re: Sunrise
Date: 12/20/99
From: William Webster-Garman

It is my understanding that the azimuth of the sunrise is the same along any given latitude (it changes a little hour by hour as the earth rotates about the sun and the relative orientation of the earth's axis to the sun changes but this variation is apparently not significant to sextant tolerances over a 12 hour period). In principle, by observing and measuring the azimuth of the sun at sunrise, and comparing this reading to the correct date column on a table (reflecting altitude too), Noonan was able to determine the latitude (NS) of the Electra. It is not necessary to know the time of day to successfully accomplish this first step-- but it is necessary to have a sextant and a set of printed tables (azimuth/date/latitude/altitude) to consult.

After this step, using a very accurate chronometer (to read the correct time of sunrise in hours, minutes, and seconds), consultation of another column on a table, based on pre-calculated times of day of progressive sunrise at a given latitude, would have given him his longitude (EW). One would assume that they were above cloud cover when they spotted the sunrise. The sun sighting is distorted by the atmosphere as the sun appears over the limb of the earth but there are techniques for compensating for this, including timing a wait until the sun is high enough for an undistorted view and then taking the angle and subtracting the wait time.

To sum up, with a sextant, a good chronometer (which is a very accurate clock or watch), a relatively unobstructed view of the sunrise, and a set of printed tables, Noonan would have been able determine both his latitude and longitude within roughly 30 miles.

He could have done some additional double checking against any nocturnal celestial sightings he might have taken earlier, combined with an estimate of distance (and bearing) traveled, calculated as a function of time and average airspeed.

A line of position is a "sun line", directly related to the axis of the earth and the orientation of that axis to the sun according to the earth's position in solar orbit, along which the sun will rise at the same moment across all latitudes. On the morning of 2 July 1937 in the central Pacific, this line was approximately 157/337, irrelevant to latitude or longitude. As an absolute, it became a convenient known line which could be advanced by "dead reckoning" along their course to Howland.

From Howland, this line extended at a bearing of 157 degrees to the vicinity of Gardner island). This means that on 2 July 1937 the sun rose at about the same time on both Howland and Gardner, but at a different azimuth (slightly more northerly at Gardner).

Because their flight gradually progressed to a more northerly latitude, the anticipated azimuth of the coming sunrise would have increased slightly as they traveled along their route.

As a matter of trivia, historically, the primary economic motivation in past centuries to develop really accurate timepieces was that knowing the time of day (or elapsed time over long periods) was essential to calculating longitude (EW) on long ocean voyages made by merchant vessels.

I hope this helps-- and I welcome corrections on anything I've missed.

william 2243

Subject: RE: Sunrise
Date: 12/20/99
From: Alan Caldwell

Vern asked:

> Would not the sunrise be seen at the same azimuth, within the accuracy of
> observation, all along their route? They were flying almost directly toward
> the point where the sun would rise and their latitude changed by only a
> couple of degrees during the last few hours. It seems to me they would wind
> up with the same Sunrise LOP, 157/337, wherever they observed the sunrise --
> clearly somewhere west of Howland. The time of sunrise told them where they
> were along their route - esentially their east/west position. From there
> they advanced the LOP by dead reckoning.

That's close, Vern. It is true the sunrise azimuth would be essentially the same IF their latitude did not change. Any change in latitude would have a corresponding change in the sun's azimuth. We don't know what their course was inbound to Howland. If their flight deviated from planned course because of weather (winds, storms, cloud cover) then their inbound course could vary greatly. Even more so if Noonan felt a need to correct back to course rather than set a new course direct to destination. Also the only part of their course we are concerned with as far as sunrise is concerned is from 6:20a to 8:44a. Otherwise it is dark.

You are also correct that the sunrise moment would tell them where they were as to their east/west position -- but at sunrise that information is not accurate. Again to get an accurate LOP the sun must be between 20 degrees and 70 degrees altitude. At ten degrees the accuracy is OK for a reasonable position but not any great accuracy can be achieved until the sun is higher.

I can see your reasoning that if the sun peeps up at 6:20a then they had to be ON or NEAR the line of LOP going through Howland because the table says at that time the sun will have an altitude of 0.7 degrees. But such is not the case. Perfect time to get an azimuth as just the tip of the sun's arc shows above the horizon but because of refraction and atmospheric disturbance the accuracy at that low altitude cannot be determined with significant reliability. Thus they could not get a speed line nor an LOP to advance.

I also checked my maps and depending on whether they over flew Nauru or passed considerably south of Nauru and whether they came in over Howland or as much as 100 miles north or south of Howland their inbound course could have varied from about 64 degrees to as much as 97 degrees. And THAT we don't know.

Making assumptions is OK for the sake of gaming out possibilities but not for much else. Your comment, "They were flying almost directly toward the point where the sun would rise and their latitude changed by only a couple of degrees during the last few hours," cannot be supported with the information available. Celestial navigation is highly precise in spite of inherent errors. Relatively small changes mean a great deal in fixing a position. You will note the azimuths in the table are in tenths though shooting to that accuracy is dubious.

You can see that it is easy to make statements based on what we think, what we thought we read, or what someone else erroneously wrote. Unfortunately those statements take on a life of their own. Thankfully, Ric does a good job of getting us back on track as well as do the comments and questioning from each of the members. That's what we do well -- question each other.

If I'm not mistaken what we know about Amelia's inbound leg to Howland is that it came from a westerly direction of unknown course, at an unknown altitude and unknown ground speed. We believe at some time and place between 6:20a and 8:44a Noonan was able to get a sun shot. DRing from a pre dawn star fix would NOT give the 157-337 LOP. We don't know whether they obtained more than one sun shot, obtained a moon shot or drift information. It DOES seem clear to me they thought they had an LOP going through Howland and they thought they were on it. Rough fuel consumption exercises indicate they may have had about 3 1/2 hours of fuel reserve at 38 GPH. On the trip to Hawaii Amelia indicated she could meter back to 20 GPH if she had to. The only point of this is that there is a reasonable chance they had fuel to make it to Niku. Keep in mind the fuel problem is far from being resolved and at this time is only an educated guess. With the LOP they had an almost certainty of reaching one of the Phoenix group but not the slightest clue how to get to the Gilberts without a latitude position.


Subject: RE: Sunrise
Date: 12/20/99
From: Bob Brandenburg

The sunrise azimuth on July 2nd is 067 degrees for an observer anywhere on, or even within a few degrees of, the latitude of Howland Island.

Time relationships are best considered in terms of GMT.

Sunrise for an observer on the ground at Howland Island on July 2nd occurs at 1746 GMT.

An observer at 10,000 feet has a geometric horizon distance of 114.4 nautical miles. The sunrise terminator moves at 15 degrees per hour which, at or near the equator, corresponds to a speed of 900 knots. This means that a stationary observer at 10,000 feet will, assuming a clear horizon, see sunrise approximately 7.6 minutes earlier than an observer on the ground at the same geographic position.

An observer 200 miles west of Howland will see sunrise approximately 13.3 minutes later than an observer at Howland, at the same altitude. To get the time of sunrise at 10,000 feet 200 miles west of Howland, subtract 7.6 minutes from the surface sunrise time, giving 1738.5 GMT. Then add the correction factor, 13.3 minutes, for an observer 200 miles to the west. This gives sunrise there at 1751.7 GMT, or 1752 GMT which is close enough for government work.

Wherever Noonan was when he saw sunrise, he saw the sun at an azimuth of 067 degrees, and his sunrise LOP would be parallel to the 157/337 LOP through Howland.

Noonan had plenty of time between his sunrise and arrival at the Howland LOP to take sun shots and estimate his ground speed and ETA at the LOP. Even though the Sun's azimuth was shifting counterclockwise with time, it didn't shift more than a few degrees between 1752 GMT and 1912 GMT, which would be the latest time of arrival at the Howland LOP. Consequently, his ground speed calculations were not significantly impacted by the shift in the Sun's azimuth, and he could accurately time his turn onto the Howland LOP.

The sunrise calculation procedure is only slightly more complicated in the case where the airborne observer is known to have been at some position before sunrise and it is desired to know when he will intercept the terminator. In that case, one uses the relative closing speed between the observer's platform and the terminator to compute the sunrise differential.


From Ric

So, if the sunrise from 10,000 ft 200 nm west of Howland is seen at 1752 GMT, then Earhart's statement at 1745 GMT that she is "approx. 200 miles out" can not be based upon an LOP established by observing the sunrise -- OR - she's closer than 200 nm. How much closer? We're only talking a difference of 7 minutes. How far is she from Howland if she sees the sunrise at -- say -- 1740? Or what if she's at 12,000 feet?

My point here is that the 1745 transmission may be a very important clue to where the airplane was at that time. Itasca hears Earhart at her regularly scheduled transmission times at 02:45 local (1415 GMT), 03:45 (1515 GMT), 4:45 (1615 GMT) but never gives any estimate of her position. Nothing is heard from her at 5:45 local (1715 GMT) but then at 06:14 local (1744 GMT) she comes on with her first request for Itasca to take a bearing on her. A minute later she says that she's "ABOUT TWO HUNDRED MILES OUT/ APPX." and begins whistling into the mic.

Sounds to me like 200 miles is the magic number. Once she is that close she expects to be able to get the all-important DF bearing that will allow her to find Howland. The question is: Does the sunrise have anything to do with the 200 miles out estimate?


Subject: Re: Prop strikes
Date: 12/20/99
From: Ty Sundstrom

In most cases of prop strike damage, low power prop strikes tend to do the most harm(to the engine), where as high power prop strikes most often but not always do very little damage to the crankshaft. This is possibly caused by the rotational contact intervals being closer together at higher rpm, which would provide a somewhat smoother contact than the lower rpm would. This is not the same as a real sudden stop where the prop stops turning upon impact even though most power prop strikes are referred to as "sudden stops". The likelihood of damage is also determined by the particular model of engine/crankshaft in question as some are definitely worse than others for ending up as a non-serviceable part. I have seen P&W 1340's come back(during agricultural spraying) with the No. 1 cylinder busted off and they were still running but making a lot of noise! They are tough old engines.

Ty N. Sundstrom

From Ric

So the issue is much more "How quickly did it stop?" than "How bent are the props?". Makes sense.

Subject: Refraction
Date: 12/20/99
From: Mark Prange

>He needs an accurate altitude of the sun to PLACE the LOP. To get
>an accurate sun shot the sun needs to be between 20 and 70 degrees

Is this because of the uncertainties of refraction for sights below 20 degrees?

>....Fred needed to deal with refraction
>error but that's routine. Altitude is not going to make a whole ton of

It probably was routine for Noonan, being the practitioner that he was. It would be interesting to learn what refraction tables or formulas were available in 1937. I wonder what the editions of American Practical Navigator that far back say about solving for refraction at altitude.

I am under the impression that refraction is considerable for very low sights--for a sextant altitude of 0 degrees the refraction being about 32 minutes of angle at Sea Level, and about 22 minutes at 10,000 feet MSL. We have tables now to give us a prediction of refraction; maybe working from experience Noonan had a very good idea of what refraction correction to apply.

Subject: Norwich City Sextant
Date: 12/20/99
From: Dave Bush

Ric: I originally mentioned that the captain of the NC was swept overboard by a wave while trying to get a lifeboat away, and the reply was that he wouldn't have been trying to get in that lifeboat because as captain he would be the last person off. Very true, but the story said both lifeboats were swept away, meaning everyone that got to shore did so the hard way, by swimming. Very, very unlikely they would try to swim with something as big and clunky as a sextant in a box. Ergo, the sextant found on the island was either washed up from the wreck of the NC (possible separating the box from the sextant and the inverting eyepiece, etc) or else it was scavenged from the NC at a later time by the local islanders, but I see no reason for them to claim to have found it somewhere else other than the wreck, unless there was some tabu associated with approaching the wreck. I find it very plausible that the sextant box found by Gallager would be from the NC because it is unlikely that the captain was able to take the sextant off with him. Considering that they knew where they were, they didn't need a sextant. They would, most likely, take only those things that would insure their survival until help could arrive. That's my story and sticking with it.

LTM, who prefers to survive in style
Blue Skies,
Dave Bush

From Ric

I wouldn't exactly call it a taboo, but Emily has said that the Norwich City was off limits to the colonists. Besides, it's hard to explain how a wooden box would survive a fire. That means that IF the sextant box came from the shipwreck it almost had to go into the water at the time of the evacuation. It certainly seems possible that, even though Capt. Hamer had already gone for an involuntary swim, the box with sextant was placed aboard the second lifeboat and the sextant itself was lost when the boat capsized, leaving the wooden box to be washed ashore and later found by the mysterious castaway(s).

Subject: Tropical vis, reenactment, cel nav from a jet, etc.
Date: 12/20/99
From: Doug Brutlag

Greeting to all AE sleuths. I just got home from a Carib trip & I get avalanched by all these emails---62 to be exact! Wow-- we all got too much time on our hands! Anyway....

I flew a 757 to the carib this weekend. I was holding at a fix to the NW waiting for my turn to get into to St. Thomas. The humidity was much higher than normal (even for the tropics). A few small rainshowers in the area. I observed alot of scattered cloud cover and the visibility was advertised as 10 miles+. Holding at 3000 ft. 10 miles from my island target I could not see it. The vis may be 10+ on the surface but in the air it varied a few miles plus/minus. Lucky for me my airplane has 3 laser-ring gyro Inertial reference systems along with a flight mangement unit, 2 vor's, & 2 ADFs. For AE & FN to have missed seeing Howland which is much smaller than Thomas makes perfect sense although unfortunate for them. If they were searching at 1000 above the waves their prevailing vis would likely be even worse. I have no doubt whatsoever that FN was one of the best if not the best navigators in the universe at this time and if anyhone could have nailed a rock in the middle of the pacific no bigger than Howland he could do it. It must be understood by those who have not done cel nav or island hopped in an ocean enviornment that the danger of a navigation problem or missing your target this small was very great. Weather reporting then was crude in the civilized world but for their part of the globe not existant. Celestial nav can work very well but you still must be able to eyeball your target. It's accuracy for aviators was not as precise as it worked for mariner due to aircraft speeds, sight reduction methods, moving platforms, and equipment limitations to name a few. What's my point? Give Fred his due and a break at the same time. Put yourself in Fred's boots. If I knew the risks of missing my target in a pond as big as the pacific were that great, my backup plan would be to hit some real estate where my odds would be better to make a landfall and the Phoenix islands would be a very good (multiple)target. Fred could have also deduced a northly wind aloft that would aid them in their diversion to the SE-make their fuel reserve stretch a little further. Disagree if you wish, but my instincts go with Gardner.

A 767-300ER for the reenactment? A possibility. Some problems though. It could certainly get the job done of going from point A to B with lots of range but it would be next to impossible to fly it anywhere close to Electra speed for the landfall & diversion. You would be carrying 10's of thousands of pounds of fuel to do that portion of the trip. Add that to the empty weight of the airplane, passengers, bags, and you could not slow it down enough. Even if you could, your fuel flow would go up exponentially (gear, slats,& flaps hanging out). I also see a problem of some of these island airports(i.e. Kanton, Tarawa, Christmas island) not being equipped or unable to service a wide-body aircraft. I personally would favor a prop aircraft. It could fly much lower & slower and do it much more efficiently. C-130 as suggested might be a good candidate. Got a few other candidates but prefer to research their performance & range first. I have shot celestial from a 767 though with an A-10 sextant. It can be done. You have to know what part of the windshields to shoot from for the least refraction error. There are curves toward the corners that will throw your sight off 20-40 miles. I have fixed the standard refraction error on a good observation at a -4 minutes of arc.

Whatever you put together Ric, my gear is ready to go. Let's do it.

Doug B.

From Ric

Our choice of flying machine will necessarily be dictated by economics and availability. The paying passengers will make the experiment possible.

Whatever shape it takes, let's remember than the reenactment was originally Doug's brainchild.

Subject: More on Fred Noonan
Date: 12/21/99
From: Doug Brutlag

In his book, Skyway to Asia, William S. Grooch then an Operations Manager for Pan Am in the late 30's commented about Fred Noonan's navigation skills. When describing the survey flights across the Pacific to Midway & Wake Island he writes: "In the Clipper, (Fred) Noonan shot the sun every hour: his fixes agreed with the direction-finder bearings. (Captains) Sully & Tilton (Clipper Pilots) hit Wake Island on the nose." He is also described training navigators for Pan Am. In another section, Fred was descibed able to quote "shoot the sun standing on his head". Everything said about FN is entirely complimentary and reguards him as nothing short of a skilled professional. All the information of him written at the time says nothing negative. The alcoholism stories to me are pure unadulterated BS. You cannot have a problem as that and do the job of an aerial navigator at all---and doing it with Fred's reputation for skill & accuracy---forget it! I think it can be agreed that he navigated the Electra very close to Howland Island judging from the strength of the radio transmissions. Factor in though fatigue, days of flying and crossing many time zones, and possibly fumes from all that 100 octane in the cabin could only compound the problems they were encounting. Working around petrol fumes gave me a big headache once and Tylenol was not invented back then.

From Ric

Picky detail: While I certainly agree that gasoline fumes are no fun to work around, the notion that the Electra was plagued by that problem is another example of various authors blowing a single comment by AE way out of proportion. On the South Atlantic crossing AE complained that gasoline fumes made her sick, but that was because the tanks had been overfilled. And the gas used on the Lae/Howland flight was mostly 87 octane (not that it smells any different).

Subject: 200 Miles? 100 Miles?
Date: 12/21/99
From: Randy Jacobson

Sorry, Ric, but someone has provided possible 'bum' information. At 1811GMT, AE says she was 100 miles out. If true, she was at 25.5'N, 178o, 15.4'W. Sunrise at that position was at 1755GMT, just about enough time between sunrise and the later radio report for FJN to work up the LOP.

At 200 miles out, sunrise would be even later. At 10k feet elevation, there is an 8 minute advantage towards sunrise, so it would have been seen at 1748GMT. It is simply impossible for Noonan to calculate the fix, give AE the information in time for her to broadcast the 200 miles out at 1744GMT. Times are based upon middle limb of the sun, so a minute or so advance beyond above is possible if FJN was making measurements at the leading edge of the sun (upper limb). Based upon readings of all prevous FJN charts, it took him at least 15 minutes to work up LOP's into a fix.

If FJN did sight a sunrise prior to 1744GMT, and worked it up so AE had a decent distance to go, then why was the next broadcast 30 minutes later state only 100 miles out?

LTM, who never looks directly into the sun.
Randy Jacobson

From Ric

I think we're all pretty much in agreement that the 200 mile estimate was probably not based on a sun shot. The Itasca radio log entry which has traditionally been interpreted as an estimate by Earhart that she is 100 miles out was recorded at 06:45 local (1815 GMT) -- not 18:11 (not that it's any big deal). I agree that the timing suggests that this estimate could much more likely be based upon a sun shot and LOP calculation. However, there are two possible problems with that hypothesis:

- If they're 100 nm miles out at 18:15 GMT and they have covered that distance at the time Earhart says "We must be on you.." at 19:12 GMT (57 minutes later) they're making only making 105 knots. I suppose that's possible if they've already made their descent down to 1,000 feet, they're playing it real conservative on the power, and they have a bit of a headwind. There's also the point that Earhart's scheduled transmissions can be conveying old information.

- The original radio log entry looks very suspiciously like the appended notation "abt 100 miles out" was not intended as a quote but was the radio operator's own estimate based upon the strength of the transmission.


Subject: Re: Re-enactment
Date: 12/21/99
From: Dennis McGee

Ric said:

>Our choice of flying machine will necessarily be dictated by
>economics and availability. The paying passengers will make the
>experiment possible.

Really, how viable is this exercise?

I know money talks and b.s. walks, but think about it . . . . pay BIG bucks to sit in the back of a modern airliner (?) just to fly at 1,000 feet from Howland to Niku. Then what? Bend your neck down about 45 degrees (I'm 6'2", sorry) and twist your head left and right to look out those dinky damned port holes to maybe spot the island (if you're not sitting on the wing), and if you're lucky, see the Norwich City as we circle for about 30 minutes.

I love riding in (and driving) airplanes but for my money I would want something a lot more than just to LOOK at Niku et. al. If there was some adventure involved -- other than being low, slow, and heavy! -- I could see it, but as proposed the idea needs a little more sizzle to put 481 butts into those dinky damned seats for several hours. Sounds boring, and only marginally educational/productive for the overall search effort.

((Sizzle? How about this for sizzle: four MiG-25 Foxbats, sold by a rogue Russian Air Force General to a local government and piloted by cannibals, intercept the airliner just northeast of Niku. A running air battle (going vertical, dude!) ensues, leaving the airliner damaged and limping back to Howland where the forced landing uncovers the Ark of the Covenant, and . . . and . . . and . . . oh, never mind, I just forgot to take my medication this morning.))

LTM, a former adventurer
Dennis O. McGee #0149CE

From Ric

There's an old saying at TIGHAR, "Adventure is what happens when things go wrong." Adventure exists only in memory. It is merely terror and discomfort remembered from the perspective of security. We're intersted in answers, not adventures.

The point of the reeenactment, for the passengers, will be to participate (as sponsoring observers) in a valid experiment and to see what the islands look like from the air. A video camera in the cockpit will provide real time coverage of what's happening "up front" as well as the view directly ahead.

People who are seeking adventure should go white water rafting or bungee jumping.


Subject: Sextant boxes
Date: 12/21/99
From: Dennis McGee

This is long, so get a big cup of joe before you start reading.

In June I inspected, at TIGHAR's request, about two dozen sextants/octants and their carrying cases that are part of the Smithsonian Institution's collections of navigation equipment. The sextants were formerly owned by Capt. P. V. H. Weems, a noted navigator of the 1930-40 era. Weems and FN were friends, and the reason for the inspection was to see if there was any link between the Weems collection sextants and the sextant box found by Gallagher on Niku. There were no obvious connections.

In all, I inspected approximately 12-15 sextant carrying cases. Generally, the carrying cases were wooden boxes about 10 inches wide, 8-9 inches deep and 5 inches tall. They were all durable and well-constructed, but were far from indestructible.

The construction techniques were straight forward, dove-tailed corners on all four sides with the top and bottom panels nailed on. The latches tended to be simple hook-and-eye or hook-and-post affairs and the hinges were generally a pair of one-inch piano-style on the inside back of the top cover. This technique, with few exceptions, was generally the same whether the manufacturer was British, American, Japanese, or German.

The wood used for the boxes surprised me. I am not a woodworker, so I'm not qualified to identify definitely the types of wood used. However, generally (again, that word) the wood was wide-grained, light weight, light color, and about one-quarter to three-eighths inch thick. My inexpert opinion is the wood is pine, poplar or something similar. Personally, I expected heavier/thicker wood due to the intended purpose of the box.

Some of the boxes were painted, some varnished, some stained, but the underlying composition, construction, and materials of the boxes remained constant, i.e.. light-weight relatively thin wood.

These boxes were sturdy, but not would not survive deliberate abuse. As an example, if you dropped one of these boxes containing a sextant and its eye pieces etc. onto a hard surface, (steel or concrete decking for example) from a height of say 6-8 feet, I believe the box probably would be damaged. They were certainly adequate to survive day-to-day bouncing, jostling, bumping, etc. but they would not survive heavy hitting (a good solid kick for example), in my estimation.

So, could a sextant box from the Norwich City (if one existed) have made it ashore to Niku? Yes, if it was constructed similarly to the ones I saw in the Weems collection, BUT only if it were carried.

The construction of the boxes are such they would have easily survived, I believe, being dropped overboard from a life boat by a sitting passenger (2-3 feet to the water) and may even survive being dropped from the deck of the ship itself. So it is possible the box could have survived entering the water, losing its sextant, and being washed ashore.

I believe also it is doubtful a box could have survived any sustained surf action, much less surviving being rolled up and down the reef during tidal periods. They simply are not that sturdy.

Also, all of the boxes I saw were painted, stained, or varnished all of which would have suffered greatly under the harsh conditions of sun, sand, wind, and salt water at Niku. Gallagher makes no mention of his box having any weathering damage, suggesting to me it was in "relatively" good shape. The fact he could still read numbers written and stenciled on it suggests at least those portions of the box were protected from the elements.

All of this suggests to me that Gallager's sextant box was deliberately brought to the island and did not arrive by happenstance. I would also guess that its previous owners on the island made it a point to keep the box protected and intact for whatever use it served.

LTM, who's winded at the moment
Dennis O. McGee #1049

From Ric

This same argument says the the box is not just a piece of flotsam that happened to wash ashore after having been lost in a mishap somewhere else. No. I agree with Dennis (Lord help me). The survival of the numbers on the box, and of the box itself, strongly suggest that is was deliberately brought ashore and not all that long before 1940.


Subject: Re: Down the LOP
Date: 12/22/99
From: Don Jordan

Dick Pingrey wrote:

> What makes you think that 337 would have taken AE and FN in the
> direction of Howland? If they were in the area of Howland they could be
> on either the north or the south with no way to know which was correct.
> The only thing they could know was that heading south on the 337 line would
> take them to some Islands eventually".

The whole point of my questioning is not what they would have done once they found themselves on the line between the islands, but rather if they were on the line at all. If they were in fact in that position, then the 157 degree heading would take them to only one island, they would miss the rest of the Group by hundreds of miles. They would have to over shoot Howland by two hundred miles to have the 157 degree heading take them to the main group of islands.

Since my questioning began on this point, there have been over 40 posts explaining what an LOP is, the time of sunrise, cloud cover, surface visibility quote after quote from some of the best pilots and navigators in the business. If I missed the post which said,"I guarantee they were north of Gardner Island on a bearing of 337 degrees, less than 300 miles range for this reason. . . . " please repost it.

Don J.

From Ric

Hope springs eternal....

1. There are no guarantees and no one ever suggested that there were. The best we have are hypotheses based upon (we hope) an intelligent assessment of the available evidence.

2. AE said they were "on the line 157 337." We take that to mean that she, and presumably Noonan, believed that the aircraft was on the 157 337 sunrise LOP advanced through Howland and, coincidentally, through Baker and Gardner.

3. The strength of the radio transmissions heard by Itasca indicate that the aircraft was probably very close, almost certainly within 100 miles.

4. Noonan certainly had the expertise and probably had the wherewithal to establish such an LOP with considerable accuracy. We, therefore, conclude that the aircraft was probably where Earhart and Noonan thought it was- - that is "on the line 157 337" passing through Howland, Baker and Gardner.

5. Such a line, if followed in the 157 direction, provides the proverbial "highway in the sky" to land. To abandon it to head for the Gilberts or the other islands of the Phoenix Group would be foolish in the extreme. We do not think that Earhart and Noonan were foolish in the extreme.

6. Quite clearly, the aircraft did not reach Howland or Baker. Therefore, if Earhart and Noonan were where they said they were and following the most intelligent course of action to insure their survival. they must have been south of Howland and Baker and proceeding 157 toward Gardner.

In short, while it is of course possible that something else happened, the available evidence argues strongly in favor of the flight following a course that would bring it to Gardner. The building body of physical, documentary and photographic evidence that the flight did reach Gardner greatly reinforces the above interpretation of the navigational evidence.


Subject: Brass Hinges?
Date: 12/22/99
From: Dave Bush

Phil Tanner writes:

>But we'd be talking about a wooden box left outdoors in a tropical
>environment for some 11 years which remains in a fit state for stencilled
>numbers to be legible and with hinges not rusted away. Is this feasible?

Most of the maritime and nautical items I have seen had very heavy brass fittings that were not prone to rusting or other forms of corrosion. I have a trunk at home that I put together from an old wood typewriter shipping case (turned upside down) with nautical hardware that I got from the first (and at that time - oldest) hardware store in Texas. The hinges, hasp, etc are some of the heaviest and prettiest hardware I have ever seen - and all brass. Although its kept mainly indoors, there just isn't the faintest hint of tarnish or corrosion.

LTM - who has a lot of brass herself!
Blue Skies,
Dave Bush

From Ric

Take a look at "The Sextant Box Mystery" research bulletin at The Sextant Box Mystery.

You'll see that the hinges on the Pensacola sextant box are not brass.

Subject: RE: 200 miles? 100 miles?
Date: 12/22/99
From: Randy Jacobson

It also could be that at the time AE said 100 miles out (1815GMT) and "must be on you but cannot see you" (1912GMT), that she had already reached the LOP and was moving north and south on it when she broadcast.

From Ric

If she had already reached the advanced LOP at 1815GMT why would she say she was 100 miles out?

To me, the 1912GMT "We must be on you but cannot see you" message makes the most sense if they have just recently reached the advanced LOP and have looked around without seeing any islands. Noonan may even have had time to recheck his arithmetic ("We MUST be on you..") They've been trying in vain to get Itasca to take a bearing on them all during the run up to the advanced LOP. Now they've reached the line and there's no island there. Getting some DF information is now of paramount importance and this is when Earhart starts thinking about using her loop. At 1928GMT she asks for a long count on 7500. Noonan knows that they can only afford to run up the line (337) for a little way and he probably has AE fly that course (348 magnetic) while she tries to use the loop. By the time AE makes the final transmission heard by Itasca at 2013GMT, Noonan has had her reverse course to 168 magnetic.

Earhart may not entirely understand what Noonan is doing. She may be reading the phrase "We are on the line 157 337" from a note Fred has handed her in the deafening cockpit. Her subsequent comment about "running on north and south line" or "running on line north and south" are probably her own general descriptions of what she has been doing.


Subject: Re: Norwich City Sextant
Date: 12/22/99
From: Janet Powell

In my previous posting I was expressing a *genuine* interest in Dave Bush's comments about the possible origins of the sextant box, and certainly did not intend to appear to disagree.

My only point was that I didn't believe that Capt. Hamer was attempting to leave by the port boat at that time, and consequently doubt that it had been 'equipped' with anything.

For what it's worth, I agree with Ric in that *if* the sextant box originated from the NC, then it would likely have got to Gardner in a manner such as he describes, i.e. after originally being placed the starboard lifeboat.

I'd go further to express my personal belief that the probability of anyone carrying anything during their reach for safety is unlikely. Anecdotal accounts support the available official documentation in stating that many of the survivors felt the need to discard boots and clothing to aid their swim ashore. I suspect that they didn't much care for any possession at that particular time and were exceedingly grateful to find what had been washed ashore.

Randy said:

>If you are abandoning ship with lifeboats, then the sextant is
>probably the most important piece of gear necessary for survival and
>navigation. If the NC folks hadn't made contact with another ship, and
>were ensured of rescue, then they might have to take to the lifeboats and
>navigate someplace where civilization exists. You can't do that without a
>sextant. Thus, sextant in lifeboats is one of the first orders of business
>in abandoning ship. It certainly is not the last thing to take!

You describe the reasons behind my beliefs perfectly.

LTM, (whose thoroughly and *genuinely* enjoying *all* contributions to this discussion!)
Janet Powell

Subject: Re: Down the LOP
Date: 12/22/99
From: Ross DeVitt

Ric writes:

>3. The strength of the radio transmissions heard by Itasca indicate that the
>aircraft was probably very close, almost certainly within 100 miles.

I wasn't going to post on LOP again, but this one is a problem. I trained as a radio tech in the Air Force. I also fly (though not as often as I'd like, and not commercially).

We use a signal strength of 1 to 5 and a similar readability scale. Is there anyone on the forum that can say for certain that such a scale was used on Itasca.

If a 1 to 5 scale was used I doubt very much that AE was anywhere near 100 mles distance from Howland regardless of what frequency she was on. A readability of 5 and signal strength of 2 or 3 could put her almost anywhere with a good radio and antenna, given nice atmospheric conditions and different times of the day.

Mid morning, a signal strength of 5 regardless of readability means that "must be on you" is pretty accurate. Once again none of us were there, so we don't know the power of the set. I have sat in IDA on VHF and talked to the tower from 10 miles away and been given a signal strength of 3.

The other thing to think about is that the antenna ran lengthwise down the fuselage. When Itasca got a reading of sig strength 5 AE was probably passing them right at that moment, either overhead, or more likely to one side.

Of course that might suggest that AE was heading directly towards Itasca for most of the morning and the antenna was too directional to receive Itasca's signals very well. (AE couldn't get a "null" on her DF antenna, but she unintentionally had one of the comms one).

More speculation (sigh), but that's all we can do really -- come up with theories and discuss them...

Ross D

From Ric

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing -- and when it comes to the Earhart case none of us have much knowledge and we're all dangerous.

Signal strength judgements are very much a part of the information recorded in the Itasca radio log and it was the opinion of the authorities at the time that the strength of the signals received indicated that the aircraft was probably within 100 miles.

We know that the Electra's transmitter was rated at 50 watts but that the actual output of the aircraft's antenna array (a dorsal vee) was much less than that. Just how much less is presently being researched by Bob Brandenburg through computer modeling.


Subject: Re: 200 miles? 100 miles?
Date: 12/22/99
From: Alan Caldwell

> The "200 miles out" estimate comes at 1745 GMT
> The "100 miles out" estimate comes at 1815 GMT
> The "Must be on you.." transmission comes at 1912 GMT

Guys, that Electra was hardly doing 200k or MPH unless there is something I'm missing but 100 miles in 30 minutes is wrong unless they were diving toward Howland. What's redline? I read the 1815 call differently. I took it to mean she would whistle in the mike when she was about 100 miles out NOT that she was already 100 out. Changing to a high airspeed would have really messed Noonan up.


From Ric

It's a given that the 200 and 100 mile estimates can't both be right if taken literally. One of the problems with trying to interpret what Earhart said is that we tend to dissect individual messages without regard to the context provided by all of the messages.

At 1745 the entire log entry is:


A half hour later at 1815 the log entry looks like this:


She almost certainly did not say "IN HALF HOUR" but rather "ON HALF HOUR" which would be her next normal listening time. But Itasca, contrary to AE's instructions, was using local time. For them, the message came at 06:45 so the reference to "half hour" didn't make any sense.

The "- ABT 100 MILE OUT" entry is clearly a later addition to the log because the platen is not aligned with the rest of the message. It could have been added 10 seconds or 10 minutes or 10 days later. There's no way to tell for sure, but I don't think it's something Earhart said at all. I think it's the operator's own estimate of her distance based upon the strength of the transmission.


Subject: Re: 200 miles? 100 miles?
Date: 12/23/99
From: Randy Jacobson

Other nits to pick: The first reference to the 1815GMT AE transmission is at 1812-1815GMT on the non-Leo G. Bellarts radio transcript. Bellarts has it at 1815GMT (all times converted to GMT, of course!)

The 1745GMT AE transmission is first recorded at 1742GMT by the non-Leo G. Bellarts radio transcript, again at 1743 GMT. Bellarts has it as 1744 to 1745GMT.

While we both agree that Bellart's version is more contemporaneous (it is the raw, uncorrected version), one must give credence to the other record as far as times are concerned. I doubt that anyone would deliberately change the times of transmissions forward/backward or to match the two radio log versions. Both radio receiving stations aboard ship were trying to jot down what AE said.

From Ric

By the non-Leo G. Bellarts radio transcript I take it you mean Warner Thompson's "Radio Transcripts Earhart Flight" compiled later and O'Hare's notations in the other Itasca radio log. If nothing else, I think this further demonstrates the confusion that reigned aboard Itasca that morning and that we shoudn't take anything in any of the logs as gospel.

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