Earhart Project Research Bulletin #82
June 2, 2017
The Bevington Object: What’s Past is Prologue

Do these photos show two occurrences of the same failure?

Luke Field, Hawai’i, March 20, 1937 Gardner Island, October 15, 1937

On March 20, 1937 Amelia Earhart attempted to take off from Luke Field, Hawai’i for the second leg of her world flight attempt. She lost control and the Lockheed Electra ground looped, collapsing the landing gear. In the crash, the right main landing gear assembly separated, came apart, and was left behind as the aircraft slid backward on its belly.

In October 1937, as the Royal Colony Ship Nimanoa stood to sea after a three-day visit to Gardner Island, Colonial Service Cadet Officer Eric Bevington snapped one last picture of the atoll and the shipwreck that dominated its western shoreline. The small British expedition was evaluating the islands of the uninhabited Phoenix Group for possible future settlement. Gardner had been the first stop. It was bigger than expected and judged to be an acceptable site for a village and coconut plantation.

Unbeknownst to Bevington, his photo of the shoreline captured something sticking up out of the water on the island’s fringing reef. First noticed by TIGHAR forensic imaging expert Jeff Glickman in 2010 during a routine review of historical photos, the object appears to be man-made.* As detailed in “The Object Formerly Known as Nessie” (TIGHAR Tracks, Vol. 29 #1, February 2013) Glickman’s analysis concluded that the sizes and shapes of various parts of what became known as the Bevington Object, are consistent with Lockheed Electra landing gear components. In 2011, three photo analysts at the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research Imagery Center reached the same conclusion.

The implications are staggering. If the Bevington Object is really the wreckage of Lockheed Electra landing gear, it can only be from Amelia Earhart’s NR16020 – but to most people, the image, smaller than a grain of sand in the original photo, is just a blurry blob. Accepting it as landing gear wreckage requires trusting the expertise and judgment of trained photogrammetrists.

TIGHAR researcher Greg Daspit turned the question around. Jeff Glickman and the State Dept. photo analysts looked at the image and asked, “What does the thing on the reef look like?” They concluded, “It looks like Electra landing gear wreckage.” Greg asked, “If we put Electra landing gear wreckage on the reef and look at it from the same angle, at the time of day, does it look like the thing in the photo?”

Piling Electra landing gear parts on the reef was not a realistic option, but Greg is adept at using AutoCAD (Computer Aided Design) to create 3D illustrations of structures. He reasoned that it should be possible to do a virtual test of the hypothesis that the Bevington Object is Electra landing gear wreckage.

The first step was to build an accurate AutoCAD model of the Electra landing gear. Greg used Lockheed engineering drawing “40650 Gear Assembly” as his main source, checking his work against photos of Earhart’s aircraft and other early Electras. With the components of the landing gear accurately modeled, Greg then arranged them in the way suggested by the photo.

Starboard gear – outboard view Starboard gear – inboard view

To place the assembled wreckage on the reef he used the location and angle of view established by Jeff Glickman. Greg went a step further and calculated the approximate height of the camera above the sea surface to make sure he was viewing the wreckage as if seen from the deck of Nimanoa.

Left, locations plotted by Jeff Glickman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below, AutoCad location.

Critical to the new analysis was the question of lighting. In the Bevington Photo, some parts of the object are dark and some are light. If the object is landing gear wreckage, the dark parts are the tire and shadows. The light parts are reflective metal in sunlight. AutoCAD has the ability to calculate and render sun shadows for 3D objects for any time and location on the earth. Was the play of light and shadow on the object consistent with the hypothetical components at the time of day the photo was taken?

According to Bevington’s diary, the only time when he was in a position to take the photo was when the ship was leaving the island in the early afternoon on the final day of the expedition’s three-day visit. Greg had AutoCad run a series of images showing the changes in lighting on object in fifteen-minute increments from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There was a problem. At no time did the areas of light and shadow match the photograph. In particular, the tire always cast a shadow on the worm gear which appears to be in full sunlight in the photo. Something was wrong.

AutoCAD lighting study.

A close examination of photos of the landing gear assembly that was ripped from the airplane during the crash in Hawai’i offered a solution to the mystery. In that accident, the shaft pulled out of the sleeve of the shock strut and the worm gear tore through the tire. Greg had modeled the tire fully inflated but, if it was ruptured in the Gardener Island event the same way it was in the Luke Field event, the worm gear would be in full sunlight at 1:00 p.m.

Tire ruptured in Luke Field accident. AutoCAD wreckage with ruptured tire at 1:00 pm, October 15, 1937. Bevington Object.

Jeff Glickman took Greg’s analysis a step further. The object in Bevington’s photo is a fuzzy blob and Greg’s reconstruction of the landing gear is a crisp image. Do they show the same thing?

We can’t sharpen the historical photo without introducing information that isn’t really there, but we can degrade Greg’s reconstruction. Jeff asked, “If we had a bad photo of the landing gear, would it look like the fuzzy blob?

To find out, he subjected Greg’s AutoCAD image to 20% Gaussian monochromatic noise, and 5.6 pixel Gaussian blur.

Object in photo. Degraded AutoCAD image.

Greg asked, “If we put Electra landing gear wreckage on the reef and look at it from the same angle, at the time of day, does it look like the thing in the photo?” Not only is the answer a resounding “yes,” but the landing gear on the reef appears to have come apart exactly as it did in the Luke Field accident.

“We all were sea-swallowed, though some cast again
And by that destiny, to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue...”

The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1
William Shakespeare


* Note: The possible similarity to Electra landing gear was first suggested by TIGHAR researcher Ted Campbell #2615.


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