Radio traffic about the Howland Island runways

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  • Black: Miller's boss?
  • Campbell: on Howland Island.
  • Lt. William Cooper
  • Gruening, Director of Territories, Washington DC
  • Hampton, Acting Director Territories Washington
  • Col. J. M. Johnson. Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Washington, DC
  • James Christian Kamakaiwi
  • Miller: coordinating.
  • Poindexter, Governor of Hawaii, Honolulu.
  • John S. Wynne, CHIEF, AIRPORT SECTION, Bureau of Air Commerce, Department of Commerce, Washington, DC

The record numbers in the table below were assigned by Randy Jacobson. You can search for the individual message by that number when reading the .pdf source files.

My "from" and "to" fields are based on the content of the messages. Jacobson's database contains all of the routing and internal quoting in the original correspondence.

I have added some punctuation and corrected a few typos.

Rec # Date From To Content
Jacobson Database, Radio Messages, Group 3.
2429 15 Feb Wynne Campbell For Campbell Howland Island: advise number of runways length width and direction of each. Reference Bureau radio February tenth request landing surface be ready March tenth advise if possible.
2434 15 Feb Campbell Wynne One northeast southwest runway three thousand feet long. East west runway twenty four hundred feet long. North south runway four thousand feet long. All three runways one hundred fifty feet wide. Tracings in mail to you. Runways above described will be completed March ten as requested. Am completing east runway first as it will probably be one used. Average east wind about sixteen miles per hour.
2435 22 Feb Putnam Miller Please wire as soon as you arrive address Union Air Terminal Burbank informing where and when you reachable by phone later today. If this unreceived before tonight call our apartment Burbank 1173. Anxious receive dope on Howland runways. Regards.
2436 25 Feb Campbell Miller from Campbell: "Following is progress report for project. East west runway ninety five percent complete. North east south west runway fifty percent complete. North south runway eighty five percent complete. Will finish east west this week. North east south west next week. Approximately three days requested to complete north south runway. All runways gently rolling but slope less than two percent. Please advise if you wish any further or more detailed information."
2701 24 Feb Black Gruening following from Black: "Tracings Howland and Jarvis runway plans mailed sixteenth registered mail sailed Mariposa eighteenth. Did not use Clipper as no flight scheduled and none departed here to date."
2437 25 Feb Miller Campbell Your radios of February twentyfour received. Progress of work satisfactory. Your report includes sufficient information. When work on present runways is completed advise and if you have any spare time it suggested you make, fill, and extend north and south runway, if possible.
Jacobson Database, Radio Messages, Group 4.
2450 4 Mar Campbell Miller East west runway now complete. Two hundred feet of west end is sandy and soft though entirely usable. Have been having constant wind average about 16 miles per hour for past month since east wind prevails this time of year have made every effort to make east west runway as long and smooth as possible. Unfortunately have not equipment which can haul gravel to to be used as binder for sand. However balance of runway surface since being rolled is in excellent condition.
2452 5 Mar Campbell Wynne Serious breakdown with tractor will not allow completion of northeast southwest runway as originally planned. Cracked transmission, which we are able to repair sufficiently to haul light load. Runway will now be somewhat rolling in nature due to our inability to move sufficient material in the time remaining. Remaining machinery working day and night. East and west runways will be completed as planned. All runway will be useable though recommend east west if practicable at time of flight. Do you want me to notify Miller of this or would rather wait a week and see how I make out?
1406 5 Mar Poindexter Black I have advised Dr Gruening Washington it will not be necessary to use your services in representing Putnam on Howland Island. I will advise you March sixth relative to information on reporters accompanying you on next cruise. Following for Campbell, Howland Island: Miss Earhart due Howland about March seventeenth weather, permitting. She will arrive in the morning and depart for New Guinea in the evening of same date. Miss Earhart desires as long a runway as possible for takeoff. Advise if north and south runway will be ready; also length and possible wind direction and velocity in the evening. Advise if you think it advisable and practicable to have cutter Shoshone transport another tractor to Howland next trip. I have your report on east and west runway.
2462 6 Mar Miller Campbell It is necessary and desirable to have suitable runway of sufficient length for take off of Miss Earhart's plane as her longest flight is from Howland to Lae, New Guinea. Your information on east and west runway has been received. Advise progress of construction of north and south runway which as I understand will be longest runway. Also advise date of completion and latest information on length of all runways.
1413 8 Mar Miller Black Miss Earhart is ready to leave on schedule and it appears as if the completion of runways on Howland will delay her flight. It will be appreciated if you can expedite a reply from Campbell to my radios of March sixth and eighth requesting information on runway.
2196 8 Mar Miller COM14 et al. Reference communication from Secretary of the Navy dated fifteen February 1937 relative Amelia Earhart round the world flight. Request the USS Ontario, USS Whippoorwill, and the USCG Shoshone delay sailing until further advised. A short delay appears to be necessary in order to allow for the completion of runway construction on Howland Island.
1417 8 Mar Poindexter Miller Your message of sixth to Campbell has been sent; yours of eighth will go tonight. Day light schedules with island impossible on present equipment. Campbell said last night completion within twenty four hours after our arrival with spare parts for tractor. From messages going through here I judge northeast southwest runway only one in question unquote.
1416 8 Mar Miller Black Re your radio March 8: Your suggestion for the Shoshone to proceed as soon as possible from Honolulu to Howland appears to be most practicable solution. I will contact the Coast Guard Commander San Francisco Division and request the Shoshone depart Honolulu as soon as possible in accordance with your request. If possible ascertain after Campbell the time necessary to complete runway construction after arrival of Shoshone at Howland as this information is necessary in order to advise relative to sailing date of Ontario from Samoa as this ship has a limited time for cruising.
2475 9 Mar Johnson Miller Give Putnam all information on Howland runways at once.
1422 9 Mar Black Miller [Re your radio] March ninth: Will advise you immediately after departure, which is scheduled for seven AM March tenth. Atmospheric prevented contacting Howland last night or this morning but latest word is that two hours for repair of tractor and twenty four hours for completion northeast southwest runway. Is all of delay necessitated by Howland breakdown? We will make every attempt work Howland regularly from Shoshone en route.
1432 10 Mar Black Miller Sailed 7 AM 10th for Howland Island. Here whole message Campbell to Black last night: "Request your approval my wire to Wynne and Miller. Does this give you information wanted? There is no reason to delay departure either Shoshone or flight on my account. By keeping the remaining tractor going 24 hours a day we are getting by. Have arranged four 6 hour shifts. I take one time on the tractor and have to stay up for most of other shifts to outline work. The north-south runway will never be used because of too much cross wind, however will be ready since they seem to place a great deal of importance on length regardless of wind direction. Regards." Did not see messages to you and Wynne but this [bears] out my recommendation regarding Shoshone and station ships. We reach Howland on 15th.
1431 11 Mar Wynne Campbell Why don't you answer my cable question of March ninth? Reply immediately latest information concerning condition Howland runways.
2494 12 Mar Campbell Miller West end main the e w and ne sw runway sure sandy and somewhat soft for a distance of about two hundred feet from the extreme west boundary for beach. Do not believe it advisable to use this area unless we get rain before the flight. Advise if you want the south area flagged off.
2553 13 Mar Campbell Wynne This message has been delayed three days because of static interference to transmission and receiving. In reply your radio re airport completion status: east west runway completed length two thousand four hundred feet. Northeast southwest runway complete. Length three thousand feet. North south runway complete March fifteenth. Length five thousand two hundred feet.
1449 13 Mar Miller Black Suggest Lt True contact Samoa Naval Radio and request weather information from Australia and New Guinea. If there is a financial charge for obtaining weather information the cost will be paid by Mr Putnam. No arrangements have been made other than requesting gov American Samoa to obtain all possible weather information in the antipodes. Answers to inquiries in your radio March eleventh and final data pertaining to Miss Earhart's flight being transmitted this date. Following for Campbell Howland Island: request any hazardous area on runways be flagged off. No change in flight schedule to date. Will advise any change also time Miss Earhart's departure from Oakland.
2257 13 Mar Black Gruening Will arrive Howland about nine Monday morning. Runways ready now. Will radio upon arrival.
1456 15 Mar Black Gruening Landed safely on Howland at 1005. Campbell and all hands well and happy. Have gone over runways and endorse Campbell's reports on them, namely that they are ready and adequate. Will keep you constantly advised.
2555 15 Mar Campbell Wynne All runways completed and ready for use. North-south runway 5,200 feet long by 150 feet wide. Since breakdown remaining tractor has been working day and night for total lapsed time of 312 consecutive hours excepting two stops for minor repairs.
1457 15 Mar Keane Associated Shoshone arrived Howland tenthirty AM Honolulu time. All runways completed perfect condition according Robert L Campbell Dept Commerce. Solid rolled crushed coral marked with flags and flares. Probably use east west runway. Length twentyfour hundred feet width onefifty. Prevailing wind east twenty miles. North south runway fiftytwohundred feet completed twelve days twentyfour operation, one remaining usable tractor. Southwest runway threethousand feet. Airport construction starting February second. No rain since February first. Shoshone will make smoke screen starting daybreak. Should be visible more than hundred miles. Earhart will be greeted by four permanent residents who have provided comfortable rest quarters in government building. Hot and cold fresh water showers. The water imported from Honolulu. This island very arid, flat, kidney shaped, seventeen feet above sea, one and onehalf miles long, mile wide. Earhart will also be greeted by thousands sea birds formerly nested runway locations. Not expected to be hazardous but expedition equipped with dozen shotguns, three thousand shells. Will scare birds away with gunfire if necessary. Honolulu time official, altho should be one and onehalf zone difference. Richard B Black Dept Interior announced today airport officially named Kamakaiwi Field for Dept Commerce honoring James Kamakaiwi, Honolulu kamehameha boy. First Hawaiian landing Howland, thirtieth March nineteen thirtyfive. Leader of colonists since.
1468 17 Mar Cooper General, 18th Wing Following for Commanding General 18th Wing Fort Shafter, Honolulu: For the purpose of determining which runway should be used at Howland in connection with Amelia Earhart flight request information on take off at Wheeler Field as follows: length of run required to get wheels of airplane off the ground. Wind velocity at time of take off. Amount of gasoline in tanks at take off. Does plane have tendency to settle after leaving ground first time? All runways at Howland safe for flying.
1469 17 Mar Campbell Wynne Airport and runway construction inspected and work commended by Black, Captain Meyer, Lieutenant Cooper. Consensus that facilities provided are entirely adequate. I will be in Honolulu about March thirtyone. Plan on leaving for San Francisco as near fifteenth of April as is possible to obtain transportation. Will make final inspection of work and complete reports and assemble data. Respectfully submit I come direct to Washington to make report in person.
1474 17 Mar Miller Black Miss Earhart took off into a 14 mile wind using 1897 feet of runway and took off in 25 seconds.
2558 17 Mar Miller Johnson Miss Earhart took off from Oakland airport for Honolulu at four thirty seven half PM Pacific time. Aboard her plane were Paul Mantz, Captain Harry Manning, And Fred Noonan. Mantz leaves plane at Honolulu, Noonan leaves plane at Howland Island, and Manning leaves plane at Darwin, Australia. Miss Earhart took off into a fourteen mile wind utilizing one eight nine seven feet of runway. Takeoff time twenty five seconds. An excellent takeoff on a muddy field in rain.
1494 18 Mar Black Earhart, Putnam Following for William Cogswell, Pan Pac Press Honolulu; phone 5573. Following for Amelia Earhart, Putnam: "Portable radiophone on Howland 2670 kcs. Campbell will stand by to answer any questions on runways as you come over island. All here wish luck."
1989 20 Mar Miller Campbell Miss Earhart intends to resume her world flight when plane is repaired. Leave aviation gasoline and oil and gas pumps on Howland. Suggest if lumber available a temporary roof be constructed for protection to fuel. Pumps to be kept well greased. Advise if you deem it is advisable to leave tractor grading equipment and sufficient personnel on Howland for further construction of runways. Advise number of personnel will remain on Howland.
2525 21 Mar Campbell Miller Interior personnel competent now to operate equipment. It was originally planned to leave equipment and have residents continue work of filling and rolling as maintenance. However only 2 drums tractor gas remain which is sufficient to operate 1 tractor 4 days. Consensus of opinion runways are adequate now. Further improvements would require additIonal equipment to grade and lengthen E-W runway and surface all usable area. Fuel and pump will be stored as suggested. Advise time estimated for necessary repairs.
Jacobson Database, Radio Messages, Group 7.
2727 10 June Hampton Black Letter from Putnam just received indicates possible arrival Earhart at Howland before July first, barring accidents, weather details, etcetera. Approximate date can be gauged after she arrives Karachi. Putnam states all arrangements with Coast Guard and Navy have been made and cutter will leave Honolulu sufficiently in advance to permit several days at Howland to recondition runways and disperse bird population, also to establish radio contact with Earhart plane. Understand you have custody gasoline, oil, spare parts, etcetera previously provided. You are authorized to proceed with coordination all arrangements and if departure necessary before July first to make special trip to Howland. Regular expedition to follow at such time as you may decide after nineteen thrityeight appropriation becomes available. Please cooperate and assist in every way possible and keep this division closely informed as to developments.
2728 10 June Black Hampton [Re your radio] nite tenth: Will proceed with coordination of arrangements as directed. Twenty nine drums aviation gas on Howland. Four more drums recently received standard oil. Here navy mechanic with spare parts and certain spare parts in my custody. Will be ready for departure at any time. Please give me direct radio address Putnam or other direct contact flight. Must enlist Army aid again for shotguns, ammunition, and an enlisted man to care for same as cannot be borrowed without man. Also plan request army air officer as observer. Radio report from island indicates runways condition good.
2611 15 June Black Hampton Itasca arrived today noon. Since Earhart at Karachi this morning think advisable depart here morning seventeenth unless otherwise instructed, time departure subject approval Itasca commander. Following information from Howland today: east wind last few days average fifteen. Crawling weeds cover two thirds of runways; flat to ground and probably not hazardous. One tractor fair running order. Ninety five gallons luboil and twenty nine drums aviation gas, good condition. Large bird colonies on runways. William Cooper, Fox Movietone news representative, applied today for passage Howland. In view division authority McFarland film all island activities, July cruise. Would recommend that Cooper if allowed be restricted to flight shots only. Request division authority to take or reject. Former Coast Guard authority for press representatives carrying through to this expedition.
2613 16 June Hampton Black [Re your radio] June fifteenth: Please advise immediately if possible to carry out Admiral Waesche's recommendation to combine regular quarterly expedition to three islands with special trip to cover Earhart flight as outlined in radiogram June sixteenth to you from Acting Secretary West. Cannot understand why four colonists on Howland could not keep runways clear and also keep island free of birds. If combined expedition as requested by Admiral Waesche of Coast Guard can be arranged in sufficient time with understanding all obligations incurred to be dated July first or thereafter it is assumed that both Cooper and McFarland will desire to visit islands this trip if agreeable to you and Coast Guard. In view of distance and shortage of time you must exercise your best judgement in proceeding.
166 22 June Black Kamakaiwi Please burn large fire your camp site starting at dusk tonight until day light. Remove as many large birds as possible from runways. Catch lobsters for ship. Mr Kenner is aboard. See you soon.
1672 24 June Carey Associated Press Associated Press San Francisco; USCGC Itasca off Howland. Survey flag marking three runways Howland. Combined preliminary attempts scare thousands gooneys, terns, frigates north made this afternoon [by] personnel assisting Earhart world flight. Runways pronounced good shape, though covered growth "pigweeds." Landing first boat 845 am, supplies, gasoline, equipment Earhart, and island colonists. 2400 feet east west runway most probably used because prevailing easterly winds. Found [ground?] soft west end. 200 feet unavailable landing takeoff. East end bounded coral reef marked off 75 feet flags. 3050 feet northeast southwest runway smooth, hard, though line cross winds. Best runway 5300 feet northsouth available provided winds shift line away direct cross. Complete protection plans Earhart arrival departure include details covering crashing, repairing, servicing, fire fighting, medical aid, beach offshore patrols radiotelephone to ship. Two colonists replacements made. Jacob Haili, Joseph Anakalea relieve veteran leader James Kamakaiwi, William Tavares. Remaining William Kaina, new leader; You Fai Lum, radioman, student aerologist. Query Earhart whereabouts. Itasca not informed. Using Howland time one hour earlier Honolulu.
1671 24 June Hanzlik Unipress Unipress collect San Francisco; aboard Itasca, Howland Island. Ready for arrival Amelia. First boat Itasca landed ninefortyfive HST morning. Black, interior and Cooper, US Army, survey runways marked [with] red bunting strips. Birds on south end being frightened to north end. Small but noisy shots, TNT, and men chasing. Minute preparations for every emergency: land detail, fire detail, offshore boat. Bath for Amelia readied. Will probably stay ashore. All personnel on toes. Weather clear, visibility unlimited; wind south east, velocity fifteen miles. Black: "Field in same condition as March expedition except pigweed overgrown two thirds area. expect no trouble." Lieut Cooper: "All preparations for servicing and minor mechanical repairs have been completed. Runways are well marked and wind socks erected. The field is now ready for Mrs Putnam." Colonists in excellent health, morale. Two six weeks old cats put off Howland--first ones. James Kamakaiwi, leader Howland, leaving after nine months. Baker tomorrow, Howland tomorrow night. Standby Amelia.
2618 24 June Black Hampton Made Howland beacon light last evening and landed this morning. All personnel well. Relieving two after nine months service. All supplies and water and flight special supplies landed. Pigweed on two thirds area of runways, flat to ground and beneficial as binder rather than detrimental. Birds numerous but will control and feel they will cause no unusual hazard. As Earhart still in Java as noted in radio press we proceed to Baker tonight; working that island tomorrow. Please tell Putnam we would appreciate direct notification of all progress. Ontario and Swan at stations.
1547 25 June Cooper Putnam, Earhart All runways at Howland Island in good condition with good approaches as now marked. Wind socks erected at intersection of runways and at west end of east west runway. Runway distances between markers as follows: north south 4200 feet, north east south west 2600 feet, east west 2250 feet. Prevailing wind from the east 15 mph. A 300 foot strip 50 feet wide is being added to west end of the east west runway to increase the total length to 2750 feet for take off. Numerous large birds at Howland Island create a hazard for airplanes.
1673 27 June Hanzlik Unipress Unipress collect San Francisco; aboard Itasca. Shark infested waters reality. Crews caught two eight foot maneaters, boats report numerous following into landings. Four drums special high octane gas for Amelia takeoff; plane has special tank. East west runway shortest [to be?] used. Prevailing wind, slopes each end toward lower center--added impetus take off. High frequency radio directional finder installed Howland yesterday. Coast Guard, low frequency finder on itasca. Both locate Amelia's course from her signals. Personnel fishing, but sharks take fish off. Swimming in tank on deck, studying birds on island, movies every night, suntanned men enjoying standby.
1677 29 June Carey? Associated RDO press collect USCGC Itasca ... ; via Mackay Radio; Press Associated collect San Francisco; from Lae Earhart radioed Itasca tonight: "Plan start July first one thirty PM Lae time if weather OK." Takeoff coincide four PM Howland time tomorrow. Opinion officials Itasca estimated eighteen twenty hour flight; put arrival here ten twelve AM Thursday. 2570 statute mile nonstop hop, longest single jump equatorial earth circling trip. Officials estimate average speed 140 miles per hour. Weather forecast Howland: surrounding area easterly headwinds probable, local rain squalls slight. Runways ready. Birds, excepting small terns, migrate northern end island off runways. Plan final clearing tomorrow late dusk. Late this afternoon Earhart radioed, "plan takeoff Lae. Please send forecast Lae Howland soon possible. If reaches me will try leave otherwise July first. Will broadcast hourly." No sig.

"Miss Earhart" in all of Miller's correspondence. "Mrs Putnam" in one message.

200' soft sand on west end of East/West runway.

Propagation problems with daytime radio transmissions. Only night traffic working with Howland.

312 consecutive hours at one stretch. Campbell got very little sleep.

4 barrels of high-octaine fuel on Howland? "FOUR MORE DRUMS RECENTLY RECEIVED STANDARD OIL" (of standard oil? Or from Standard Oil?).

Looks like Cooper recommended extending the East/West runway. Not in the plans for the first attempt.

"Portable radiophone" on Howland for first attempt--but on a frequency AE couldn't transmit on?

"Cannot understand why four colonists on Howland could not keep runways clear and also keep island free of birds."

Different methods of measuring runway length

#2434, Campbell to Wynne, 15 February
Development of the runways started on 2 February. These numbers represent a plan, not a reality.
  • N/S: 4000'
  • NE/SW: 3000'
  • E/W: 2400'
#2450, Campbell to Miller, 4 March
Here we have the first mention of 200'. This is exactly the discrepancy that turns up in the last message about runway length. Although Campbell says the 200' are "entirely usable," he later has doubts about the quality of this section and flags it off for landing.
"East west runway now complete. Two hundred feet of west end is sandy and soft though entirely usable."
#2494, Campbell to Miller, 12 March
This is where Campbell suggests "flagging off" 200' from the runway. Miller agreed to the suggestion.
"West end main the E/W and NE/SW runway sure sandy and somewhat soft for a distance of about two hundred feet from the extreme west boundary for beach. Do not believe it advisable to use this area unless we get rain before the flight. Advise if you want the south area flagged off."
#2553, Campbell to Wynne, 13 Mar
  • N/S: 5200'
  • NE/SW: 3000'
  • E/W: 2400'
#1672, 24 June, Carey to Associated Press
  • N/S: 5300
  • NE/SW: 3050'
  • E/W: 2400'
- "Found [ground?] soft west end. 200 feet unavailable landing takeoff." ["Unavailable for landing" fits with the data; I think it had to have been OK for takeoff.]
- "East end bounded [by a] coral reef [and is] marked off [for] 75 feet [with] flags." [Conjectural interpretation inserted.]
1547, Cooper to Putnam and Earhart, 25 June (second attempt)
All three distances given in this message indicated shorter distances for the runways than in the previous summary. Clearly, something has changed in the assessment of the field. The purpose of the "markers" is apparently to aid Earhart in landing the plane on the best portions of the three runways. It seems to me that the E/W runway was judged to have 2250' available for landing but 2750' for takeoff.
"Good approaches ... now marked." Runway distances between markers as follows:
  • N/S: 4200'
  • NE/SW: 2600'
  • E/W 2250'
2250' feet between markers, plus the narrow 300' addition, plus the flagged off 200', gives a total of 2750' available for takeoff.