Earhart Project Research Bulletin #54
8/1/2009
A Piece of the Grail?
Abstract

A piece of bent sheet metal alleged to be a souvenir from the March 20, 1937 accident in Hawaii that ended Amelia Earhart’s first world flight attempt appears to match a specific feature on her aircraft.

 Background

On September 19, 2008 TIGHAR received a request from the television production company that films the PBS series “History Detectives” for assistance in evaluating an artifact alleged to be a piece of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. According to a document submitted with the artifact, it was obtained as a souvenir by a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps 50th Observation Squadron at Luke Field, Oahu on March 20, 1937 following the accident that ended Earhart’s first world flight attempt. The serviceman sent the piece of debris home to his mother who received it on April 3, 1937. She kept it “as a reminder of her admiration for Amelia Earhart.”

There is, of course, no way to be certain that the artifact came from NR16020, but photos sent by the production company showed several distinctive features. TIGHAR agreed to investigate further to determine whether the piece is consistent with its alleged origin. The artifact arrived at TIGHAR’s offices on October 20, 2008 and, for administrative purposes, was assigned TIGHAR artifact number 2-9-L-1.

 General Description
Artifact photoArtifact 2-9-L-1 is a fragment of severely deformed sheet metal measuring nominally 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) by four inches (10.2 cm) with a thickness of .032 inch.

A.   Both edges of the long axis of the piece are fractured.

B.   One short edge features a .75 inch (1.9 cm) wide reinforcing strip of what appears to be anodized aluminum. The strip is attached to the sheet with flush rivets. Set into the reinforcing strip is the female component of a Dzus fastener – a closure device in which a slotted post (the male component) engages a wire (the female component) and, with one quarter-turn twist, draws the two components tightly together.

C.   The reinforcing strip ends with a finished corner after which the sheet features the rolled lip of what appears to have been a circular opening roughly five inches (12.7 cm) in diameter.

D.   The other short edge appears to have been cut using snips.

E.   Near the cut edge the sheet fractured through what appears to have once been a .125 inch (.3 cm) rivet.

The aluminum exhibits no sign of corrosion and appears to have been polished before, but not after, the event that resulted in its deformation. The exterior surface (based upon the orientation of the Dzus fastener) exhibits evidence of impact and abrasion.

 Clues
Polished Electra
Earhart’s technical adviser Paul Mantz with the Electra on March 19, 1937, the day before the accident.
  1. The sheet metal is consistent with 24ST (known today as 2024) Alclad, the type of aluminum used in the construction of Earhart’s Electra. Polishing Alclad to a shiny finish is a labor-intensive process and is usually done purely for show. Photographs of Earhart’s Electra prior to the accident show that the aluminum was polished.
  2. The metal shows no sign of weathering, suggesting that it has been in a protected, dry environment. It is unusual for aircraft wreckage to be carefully preserved. The artifact’s condition is consistent with it being kept as a treasured souvenir.
  3. Dzus fasteners are usually used on aircraft to close access doors and to attach panels that need to be easily removable for maintenance. The female component of the fastener is naturally mounted to a stable surface, often a bulkhead or the reinforced frame around an access door. In this case, the female component of the fastener is mounted on sheet aluminum with no nearby line of reinforcing rivets – an unusual application.
  4. The strip in which the Dzus fastener is mounted ends in a finished corner. Beyond the corner, the edge of the metal sheet is rolled to form the lip of a circular opening.
 Comparison to C/N 1052
C/N 1052
Lockheed Electra 10A c/n1052 at the New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
AE and plane
Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10E Special, c/n1055.
Luke Field wreck
On November 19, 2008, TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie made a direct comparison of Artifact 2-9-L-1 to Lockheed Electra 10A constructor’s number (c/n) 1052 at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Although only three serial numbers from Earhart’s c/n 1055, the airplane in Connecticut is a 10A, equipped with 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R985 Wasp Junior engines. Earhart’s Electra was a 10E equipped with 550 hp Pratt & Whitney R1340 S3H1 Wasps of slightly larger diameter.

No location on c/n 1052 matches artifact 2-9-L-1. However, there are double-sided doors on the underside of each engine nacelle that provide access to the carburetor.

Doors on 1052
Double-sided access door on underside of engine nacelle, Lockheed 10A c/n1052.
Nacelle
Artifact 2-9-L-1 overlaid on drawing of underside of
left engine nacelle of Earhart’s Electra
The doors are secured closed by means of Dzus fasteners. Because the female components of the fasteners are mounted on half of the door, rather than on a stable structure, they match one of the distinctive features of the artifact – a female Dzus fastener set in a piece of plain metal sheet.

Photos of the same area on Earhart’s 10E c/n 1055 reveal a similar double-sided door closed with Dzus fasteners, but of somewhat larger dimensions and with different cut-outs.

A photo of the Luke Field wreck taken during salvage operations shows extensive damage to the area in question on the underside of the left engine and may show a hinge where the door was torn off.

Conclusion

There appears to be a high probability that Artifact 2-9-L-1 is as represented – a souvenir piece cut from Earhart’s wrecked Lockheed Electra.


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