Earhart Project Research Bulletin #2
11/21/97
(For background information go to Is This Earhart’s Electra?)
Photographic Proof or Wishful Thinking?


Over the years, photographs purporting to show Amelia Earhart or her aircraft after July 2, 1937 have occasionally surfaced and have, invariably, been disproven. A snapshot of Amelia wearing handcuffs, with a uniformed Japanese guard in the background, turned out to be a picture of Amelia in 1935 wearing a favorite metal bracelet with a chauffeur in the background. Another widely publicized shot of a dejected and haggard Earhart supposedly in Japanese custody was found to have been taken in Hawaii on March 20, 1937 shortly after the wreck that ended her first world flight attempt. Similarly, a wartime aerial reconnaissance photo of a Japanese airfield showed a twin-tailed, twin-engined aircraft prompting one author to proclaim the airplane was Earhart’s because “The Japanese built no twin-tailed monoplanes, either before or during World War II.” Of course, the truth is that several twin-tailed types were in widespread use by Japanese forces both before and during the war (the Tachikawa Ki-70, the Kawasaki Ki-56, and the Mitsubishi G3M, to name a few) and several twin-tailed Lockheeds (including an Electra) were purchased by Japan during the late 1930s.

Theorists who were already convinced that Earhart had been abducted by the Japanese found it difficult to evaluate such photos objectively. Because the photograph presently under investigation by TIGHAR seems to show a wrecked Lockheed Electra in a tropical setting that could be Nikumaroro, we have to be especially careful not to fall into the same wishful-thinking trap. For that reason we have asked an independent forensic imaging expert – Jeff Glickman of Photek, Inc. – to digitally analyze the photo. We have also invited input from any interested person, asking only that opinions be supported with documented fact.

  The Electra of Turin

The photo has already generated controversy reminiscent of that surrounding the fabled Shroud of Turin. At times, it has seemed to be like a Rorschach inkblot, prompting widely differing responses from various individuals. Some see an aircraft on its back. One individual saw a jumble of wreckage from several different aircraft. Another saw a high winged amphibian such as a Grumman Goose. There are even people who are quite familiar with the Lockheed 10 who say that the airplane can not possibly be an Electra. None of these perceptions, however, has stood up to scientific scrutiny.

After months of analysis and careful interpretation, the photo is looking more and more like it might be the real thing – a post-loss picture of NR16020. The implications of that are so profound that the better it looks the more cautious we get.

Wrecked Airplane in Jungle

  What You See Is What You Get

This is what we know from a purely objective analysis of the photo:
  1. This is the center section of a medium-sized, multi-engined aircraft of stressed aluminum skin construction.
  2. The nose section, from the base of the cockpit windshield forward, is present but has collapsed downward. The base of the windshield centerpost is present. Several rectangular sections of skin are missing from the nose section. The windshield, cockpit overhead, and the entire cabin structure aft of the cockpit are missing.
  3. The left-hand (port) engine is present. The undamaged two-bladed propeller appears to be of the variable-pitch or constant-speed type, but is not full-feathering. Only the forward-most portion of the cowling, the ring cowl, is present.
  4. The angle of the port engine, the unbent propeller, and the collapsed nose section indicate the presence of an extended and intact landing gear leg under at least the port side and probably also the starboard side of the center section.
  5. The right-hand (starboard) engine is missing leaving only the firewall, the left and right edges of which appear to have been ripped away.
  6. The leading edge of the starboard inboard wing (between the missing engine and the nose section) has been split open to reveal the underlying structure.
  7. The wreckage is surrounded by dense vegetation, some of which has grown up through the structure. The vegetation gradually increases in height with distance from the camera. Several mature but distinctly unhealthy coconut palms are visible in the background.

  Make and Model

But what make and model of airplane is it? All of the visible structure appears to be consistent with the Lockheed Model 10 Electra and some features, such as the flared base of the windshield centerpost and the two large lightening holes behind the inboard leading edge of the wing, are quite distinctive markers of the type. So far, we have not been able to identify any other aircraft that fits what we can see in the photo. In the absence of any other candidate, we have proceeded on the assumption that the airplane in the photo is what it appears to be – a Lockheed Model 10.

There were a total of 149 Electras built between 1934 and 1941. The majority, 106, were 10As equipped with the Pratt & Whitney R985 engine of 450 hp. Another 19 were 10Bs equipped with the Wright R975, also of 450 hp. A very few of the early Electras were equipped with the larger, heavier P&W R1340 SC1 engine which still delivered only 450 hp. Lockheed at first rejected the engine as too heavy, but Pan American (a good customer) had a large surplus of these older engines and insisted that they be used on 8 new Electras they had ordered. These were designated 10Cs.

In relenting, Lockheed also offered to install a newer, 550 hp version of the R1340, the S3H1 variant. Known as the 10E, Pan Am bought 3 of these heavier but more powerful Electras and another 12 were eventually sold to other customers, one of whom was Amelia Earhart. In 1937 a one-off modification of the Model 10 was built for the Army Air Corps as a pressurized, high-altitude research ship. Designated the XC-35, the airplane is currently in storage at the Smithsonian’s Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

  Narrowing The Field

For our purposes in analyzing the wreck photo, the important point is that all Lockheed Model 10s used Hamilton Standard propellers with a nine-foot diameter. Therefore, if the airplane in the photo is a Model 10, the propeller on the port engine is exactly nine feet long, thereby providing a convenient ruler by which we can measure the diameter of the engine cowling and determine whether this is a 10A or 10B (diameter of cowling opening 33 inches, exterior cowling diameter 47 inches) or a 10C or 10E (diameter of cowling opening 37 inches, cowling diameter 53.5 inches). Photek performed a meticulous measurement of the cowling in the photo and came up with an cowling opening of 37.1 inches with an error band of ± .3 inches. The exterior cowling diameter was measured as 54 inches with an error band of ± 1.34 inches. In other words, the airplane in the wreck photo appears to be equipped with the P&W R1340 engine and can not be a 10A or a 10B.

Eight 10Cs and 15 10Es were built. In addition, one 10A and one 10B were later given the larger engine. (The converted 10A was eventually rebuilt as an approximation of Earhart’s and flown around the world in 1997. The converted 10B was ditched off Cape Cod in 1967.) Of the 23 remaining candidates, the disposition of 14 is known. If the logic is sound, the airplane in the wreck photo must be one of the remaining nine. Four of the nine were in tropical locations at last report – three in Central America and one (guess which one) was in the Central Pacific. We may be able to hone it down further. On the Model 10, each engine’s oil tank is mounted high on the firewall directly behind the motor. In the photo we can see where the oil tank for the starboard engine was once attached. Lockheed specs show that the standard oil tank for the 10C and 10E was 8.5 gallons but an optional 11 gallon tank could be ordered. Numerous photos show that Earhart’s airplane was equipped with the larger tank. The attach points visible in the wreck photo appear to match the attachments for the large oil tank and are not consistent with the mounting features of the standard tank. However, we do not know if any of the other eight unaccounted-for aircraft also carried the big oil tanks.


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