Earhart Project Research Bulletin
September 11, 2000
A Lae Gallery

This Research Bulletin presents sixteen photos taken in Lae, New Guinea during the time Earhart and Noonan were there (June 29 – July 2, 1937). Several of the photos here have never before, to our knowledge, been shown publicly. Others are often identified as showing “the final takeoff” when, in fact, they probably do not.

Each photo is represented with a numbered thumbnail. Click on the thumbnail to open a full-sized image in a new window.

In attempting to place the photos in space and time it is useful to have an understanding of how the airfield at Lae was laid out. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find an aerial view of the strip taken in 1937 but more recent photos show the basic configuration of the runway and facilities.

Lae Approach tnAerial View of LaeThe main facilities are on the east (at left in the photos 1 & 2) side of the field about two-thirds of the way down Runway 15. This picture seems to have been taken at an earlier time than the first photo. The taxiway may still be unpaved and the large runup area off to the west (right) side of the runway has not yet been built.

Lae 1967Photo #3 is from Ann Pellegreno’s book World Flight – The Earhart Trail, and was taken on June 30, 1967. It shows the hills that border the airfield and no taxiway is apparent. Pellegreno says that the Guinea Airways hangar, rebuilt after the war, is “nearer the seaward end of the runway” than the main terminal.

Lae Airport 1943The earliest photo (#4) we have of the airstrip at Lae was taken by the U.S. Army Air Force on July 31, 1943 soon after the field was recaptured. Japanese aircraft have been numbered and identified on the photo by 5th Air Force Intelligence. There is considerable bomb damage to the field and, not surprisingly, no standing hangars are in evidence but, based on the 1967 photo and Pellegreno’s description, the Guinea Airways hangar probably once stood where the red rectangle is shown. The unpaved runway and taxiway are easily seen and appear to be the same length (3,000 feet) they were in 1937.

Lae Airport 1937Photo #5, of uncertain origin, has been said to show the Earhart aircraft on its final takeoff from Lae. Although the aircraft does appear to be NR16020 and the airfield is clearly Lae (compare the background to the Lae takeoff film), this appears to be an arrival rather than a departure. The airplane is near the departure end of Runway 15 and is in the three-point attitude (meaning that all three wheels are on the ground). At this point in the final takeoff the aircraft was in the two-point attitude (tail up) and ready to fly. This airplane appears to be taxiing, which would be consistent with an arrival on Runway 15 and subsequent taxi to the Guinea Airways facility.

The question becomes, which arrival? Earhart’s Electra arrived at Lae twice: once on June 29, 1937 at about 2 p.m. after a seven hour, forty minute flight from Darwin, Australia; and once on July 1, 1937 at about 7 a.m. after a thirty minute local test flight.

Lae Arrival 1Lae Arrival 2Photo #6 was taken by Guinea Airways employee Alan Board. It too shows the airplane taxiing at the departure end of Runway 15. Note the man in the sun helmet carrying what might be a movie camera. The detail, #7, shows two men, one in coveralls and one in shorts and white socks, running alongside the aircraft. It is hard to imagine why they’re doing that unless they’re trying to get Amelia's attention to direct her to where to park the airplane.
Lae Arrival 3This photo, again of uncertain origin, also has been said to show the final takeoff but it was quite obviously taken moments after the Alan Board photo immediately above. The man in the shorts and white socks has caught up to the man in coveralls, who appears to be pulling down on the airplane’s aileron which would, of course, wiggle the control yoke in Amelia's hand, thus attracting her attention. The absence of trees in the background indicates that the airplane has made a left turn since the previous photo and is now headed in the direction of the Guinea Airways hangar. Because it seems reasonable that AE would be more likely to need taxiing guidance on her initial arrival than after the test flight, these photos were most probably taken on June 29th. Note also that in the few moments between the two photos, the loop antenna over the cockpit has been rotated 90 degrees. It is also worth noting that in this photo both belly antenna masts can be seen.
Hangar 1When the flight first arrived at Lae the airplane was taxied up and nosed into the Guinea Airways hangar. A welcoming crowd gathered at the base of the left wing and many photos were snapped by a variety of onlookers as Fred and AE emerged. (Note what seems to be the same man in the sun helmet in the left foreground.) This photo, taken by Alan Board, seems to be the earliest of the ones we’ve seen. What is interesting about it is that Noonan has obviously exited the airplane first. Contrary to legend, Fred usually rode in the copilot’s seat, not back in the cabin, but to get out first he had to clamber around or over AE to clear the stage for her grand entrance.

Arrival, AEPhoto #10 – AE exits the hatch. Good shot of her blucher oxford flying shoes.

Arrival, Down the WingNumber 11, another Alan Board photo. AE starts down the wing. Fred waits below, apparently ready to help her down.

Arrival, Hangar 2Photo #12, taken by Guinea Airways employee Aubrey Koch, seems to be next in the sequence. AE has removed her leather jacket and has closed the cockpit hatch. Fred still waits at the base of the wing.

Arrival, ConversationPhoto #13, AE is on the ground talking to Guinea Airways manager Eric Chater. Fred is at her immediate left. The tall man in the right foreground appears in several other photos. The cockpit hatch is open again.

Arrival Conversation 2AE and ChaterThe conversation has moved back close to the tail of the airplane. AE is still talking to Chater and the tall man is still looking on.

It’s photo-op time. Mr. and Mrs. Chater pose with the famous flyers. Fred has a smoke.

Arrival, Group PicHangar 3Aubrey Koch took photo #16 of AE and Fred posing with more local people. That’s Mrs. Chater again in the polka-dot dress. The man between AE and Fred is said to be Mr. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company. The others are unidentified.

After the crowds dispersed Alan Board took photo #17of the aircraft nosed into the hangar. All the antennas can be seen in place.

Hangar 4Engine WorkNumber 18, left rear view of the Electra nosed into the Guinea Airways hangar. Note the step ladder in front of the port engine.

That’s Capt. Noonan on the step ladder in #19 by Alan Board, helping someone work on the prop hub while another man looks on.

Final TakeoffAlan Board’s photo of the final takeoff was snapped just before the aircraft left the ground. The vine-covered “Y” shaped dead tree on the left in the photo is a useful landmark. It’s the last tree before the end of the runway and can be seen in the takeoff film both as the airplane begins to taxi out and as it leaves the ground at the end of the takeoff run. Given the length of the runway at Lae it is inconceivable that the airplane would still be on the ground at this point in anything but a desperately overloaded takeoff. There appears to be no reasonable doubt that both the film and this still photo show the aircraft taking off on July 2, 1937. (See The Lost Antenna and The Lost Antenna II for the significance of these photos.)
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