Earhart Project Bulletin #3
1/30/1998
The Search for the Canton Engine

On Saturday, February 14th an eight-person TIGHAR archaeological team will depart Honolulu aboard a chartered Gulfstream I twin-turboprop aircraft for the 2,000 mile overwater flight to Canton Island, an atoll two hundred miles northeast of Nikumaroro. The team will return to Hawaii on Monday, February 16th. The purpose of the expedition is to find and, if possible recover, a nine-cylinder radial aircraft engine reportedly brought to Canton in 1971 from an outlying atoll. The engine may be from Amelia Earhart's lost aircraft. If sufficient additional fuel can be obtained at Canton, an aerial photo run will be made over Nikumaroro to attempt to confirm the suspected presence of aircraft debris along a particular stretch of the island's shoreline.

The story of how the engine came to be on Canton Island is told in “The Canton Engine.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Few airstrips on Earth are as remote as the 6,000 foot paved runway on Canton Island. Built in 1941, it was an important transpacific refueling stop during World War Two and, during the 1950s, hosted the Boeing Stratocruisers of Pan American and other airlines. With the advent of non-stop jet service across the Pacific in the mid-1960s, scheduled air service to Canton came to an end. Aside from a USAF missile test program which was based there from 1970 to 1976, the island was essentially abandoned. In 1979 Canton became part of the new island nation of Kiribati and the spelling of its name was changed to Kanton. Today the only residents of Kanton are a few Kiribati families who take weather observations and maintain the airfield. Last year, a re-enactment of Earhart’s world flight refueled at Kanton using avgas that was specially shipped in at great expense. The jet fuel that is now on the island has been there for nearly a year and cannot be assumed to be safe.

The problem has been finding a way to fly a team there and back without relying on refueling at Kanton. Normally, the only available refueling stop enroute from Hawaii is Christmas Island (Kiritimati), which is also part of Kiribati. But flying to Kanton via Kiritimati means making a considerable dogleg which puts you at Kanton without enough fuel to get back to Kiritimati.

Straightening The Dogleg

There is, however, another island with an airstrip which is in a more direct line from Oahu to Kanton. That island is Palmyra, an uninhabited, privately owned atoll which is part of the U.S. The airfield there, built during WWII, was closed down and unusable until just two months ago when it was reopened to allow inspection of the atoll for possible sale.

TIGHAR has made arrangements to use Palmyra as a refueling point enroute to Kanton. This will enable us to arrive at Kanton with sufficient fuel remaining to return to Palmyra without refueling. A ship is currently underway from Hawaii to Palmyra carrying jet fuel, refueling equipment, and personnel to service our aircraft enroute to Kanton on Feb 14th and again on our return to Hawaii on the 16th. If we are able to take on additional fuel at Kanton we will be able to fly an aerial photo run over Nikumaroro.

Wanna Come Along?

This plan is not without its hazards. Palmyra atoll is home to an estimated one million seabirds. Landings and takeoffs must be made at daybreak while the birds are off fishing. The runway at Palmyra is only 4,500 feet and we’ll be very heavy for the early morning departure for Kanton. For this takeoff, the G1’s Roll Royce Dart engines will be boosted with water/methanol injection. Weight limitations limit us to a maximum of 14 passengers. The TIGHAR archaeological team comprises eight people, including the man who brought the engine to Kanton in 1971. The remaining six seats are available for media representatives or private individuals who are willing and able to help fund this important expedition. To make this work we need a minimum of $10,000 per seat.


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