Forum artHighlights From the Forum

January 21 through 27, 2001

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Synthetic Aperture Radar John Pratt
Re: Space Shuttle Experiment Dan Postellon
"Amelia Putnam" reference Ron Bright
Fred's Head Wound (wild surmise) Marty Moleski
Re: Canton Squadrons and Losses Chris Kennedy
Re: Canton Squadrons and Losses Mike Holt
Re: Canton Squadrons and Losses Andrew McKenna
Re: Fred's Head Wound (wild surmise) Chris Kennedy
What's Up Ric Gillespie
Proving Negatives (Again) Marty Moleski

Message: 1
Subject: Synthetic Aperture Radar
Date: 1/23/01
From: John Pratt

Following up on the satellite photo idea and the NASA web-report of the summer study that included investigation of Nikumaroro, let me raise a question of the expertise available on the forum.

The NASA site Remote Imagery indicated that there was no SAR imagery of the island and that was the ideal product to have:

Active radar satellite images were needed to see objects under water. The only way to get active radar satellite images of Truk and Gardner would be to pay thousands of dollars to send commercial satellites to cover the area. The image in Appendix A-2 is a photo of Gardner Island also with varying amounts of cloud cover. On this image, however, there is a break in the clouds and Gardner can be seen clearly. By finding an active radar image researchers would have been able to see if anything could be identified along the shoreline or in a lagoon at the southeast end of the island.
(Above quote is from the NASA site; see link.)

There is another NASA program, AIRSAR. This uses a DC-8 to obtain SAR images. It appears to be primarily used for resources surveys, sometimes archeology. It is at least partly user-funded. AIRSAR is on the web at AIRSAR and they just finished the 2000 Pacific Rim survey. They obtained no images of Nikumaroro. As to the future, well, the possibilities need discussion.


AIRSAR flights are performed in response to flight requests submitted by the Principal Investigators (PIs) of NASA-sponsored scientific investigations and by sponsors from other organizations who contract to acquire AIRSAR data on a reimbursable basis.
Therefore do we have anyone with the experience and credentials to compete for NASA sponsorship? If so, we also have the means to first ask if SAR can help find the aircraft debris.

Second, if such a person is available, would AIRSAR actually solve the problem? The General Reference Manual is quite complex, and the usual acquisition mode (straight line at 26,000 feet) may not be optimal for this application. However, the usual operation generates these parameters:

I also want to make sure that you are aware of a few limitations in using imaging radar, specifically AIRSAR, to search for possible remains of the aircraft. The radar does not see through the water surface although it may pick up surface expression of bathymetry in very shallow water. Also the resolution of AIRSAR is about 3 meters - meaning it will not see things smaller than 3 meters and in the standard modes at which we operate, the resolution is more like 5-9 meters.
(E-mail from the project senior scientist, Ellen O'Leary.)

Also, foliage reflects relatively well:

A useful rule-of-thumb in analyzing radar images is that the higher or brighter the backscatter on the image, the rougher the surface being imaged. Flat surfaces that reflect little or no microwave energy back towards the radar will always appear dark in radar images. Vegetation is usually moderately rough on the scale of most radar wavelengths and appears as grey or light grey in a radar image.
(From Airsar site; see link.)

So it doesn't sound like AIRSAR penetrates well through the vegetation or the sea water. However, it should be fairly easy to look up the "skin depth" of sea water and of sand for the frequencies used: L- band (lambda ~ 24 cm); C-band (lambda ~ 6 cm) ; and P-band (lambda ~ 68 cm) Perhaps at near-vertical viewing at low tide we could still get a return on metal objects.

It also isn't clear how fast the coral grows on things left on the reef flat and what such a coral-layer does to radar return. Would that coral, or ALL the coral appear "rough" and reflect well?

Finally, does the three-meter resolution mean that the aircraft would have to be nearly intact to show up? Or would the pixel-value area-average over the high return of the metal and the lower return of the rest of the surface? This would require a sensitivity analysis to estimate detection probability as a function of fragment size. (NASA would undoubtedly expect that from the PI, anyway.) The information to answer this probably includes:

  • What is the radar-albedo of the aircraft metal?
  • What is the radar-albedo of the reef flat?
  • What is the size-distribution of the aircraft debris?
  • To what extent is the debris buried or covered and by what?
Even if the numbers look good we should look for some experimental validation, ideally conveniently near the JPL/Moffett base. One idea is a calibration run on aluminum samples hidden in the salt flats in the south end of San Francisco Bay.

So would AIRSAR detect the aircraft debris?

Naturally LTM applies to attractive technology.
John Pratt 2373

From Ric

Backing up a few steps:

I think there is often a temptation to use technology "because we can" rather than because there is no other way to get the information. It dosen't sound to me like synthetic aperture radar is likley to tell us as much as we might learn from a black and white photo with 1 meter resolution. Our on-the-ground eyeball inspection of the suspect areas, both above and below the surface of the water and the land, will have far higher resolution than anything that can be done from the sky.

The limitation of our eyeball search, of course, is that we can only cover the most highly suspect areas, so the principal value of aerial imagery is to try to confirm that there is something of interest in our suspect locations and also take a general look at other areas. The SpaceImaging photos in the visual spectrum may be able to confirm that there is material of some sort in the area where we think there should be material, or --- if the lagoon bottom seems clearly visible and yet nothing of interest is apparent --- we could save a lot of time with a quick on-site ground-truth confirmation and then move on to other areas.

SpaceImaging will get us a black and white photo with 1 meter resolution and a color photo with 4 meter resolution, and guarantee no more than 20 percent cloud cover, for about $4,200. If the first try is successful, they can deliver the product within about 60 days of placing the order. That would give us imagery to use in plenty of time before the Niku IIII expedition in August/September. Sounds to me like something we should do.


Message: 2
Subject: Space Shuttle Experiment
Date: 1/24/01
From: Dan Postellon

There are 2 NASA/Space shuttle photos of Nikumaroro on the internet. NASA lists it as Gardner Island in their search list. The typical shuttle photos don't have enough resolution to be of much use, other than for drawing an outline map of the island. You can see that it is an atoll, with vegetation, a reef, and beaches. You can not see the wrecked freighter, or anything smaller. I'd sure like to see a high resolution photo, either from space imaging or some fly-over.

Dan Postellon

Message: 3
Subject: "Amelia Putnam" Reference
Date: 1/25/001
From: Ron Bright

In Betty's notebook there is a reference to AE signal as "This is Amelia Putnam."

I ran across an interesting entry about AE as described by George Putnam in his autobiography Wide Margins, written in 1942. He is describing various Ameila traits and preferences and his marriage to her. He writes:

But she had a kind of flat conviction that she should continue as a matter of course to be called by her own name. If it had been hers by happenstance in the beginning, in the end she had done the things which gave it distinct personal significance. In this I sided with her... and cannot remember introducing her even once as Mrs. Putnam.
Of course this doesn't prove AE wouldn't have transmitted this is "Amelia Putnam" in an emergency, but all in all, it casts suspicion on that phraselogy. In my opinion she would use and repeat to use the name most familiar to the world and to George!! Just a bit of trivia that possibly relates to the notebook entry.

Of other note, GP doesn't describe any of the search and World Flight events in this book except receiving some letters after her disapperance and that she was "lost near Howland Island."

I didn't see any other insights into the mystery in this book.

Ron Bright

From Ric

According to Betty's anecdotal elaboration on the notebook, she first heard, "This is Amelia Earhart" repeated several times, which prompted her to get out her notebook and started copying down what she heard. When she later heard, "This is Amelia Earhart Putnam" she wrote only "Amelia Putnam" to save time.

What Betty actually wrote in her notebook is, "This is Amelia Putman" (not Putnam). As part of my inteview with Betty, I asked her to write down phrases I dictated out of the notebook. When I said, "This is Amelia Putnam" she wrote "This is Amelia Putman."

It's also worth noting that, although she was otherwise able to copy down the words and phrases I read quite accurately, when I read off the strings of numbers from the notebook she did much worse.


Message: 4
Subject: Fred's Head Wound (Wild Surmise)
Date: 1/25/01
From: Marty Moleski

I had an insight over Christmas vacation.

Sorry I can't link it to preceding threads. But someone had asked why all of the post-loss stories presume or assert that Fred must have been addled in the landing.

My theory is that if Fred was not out of commission due to an injury, he would have given Amelia far more specific information to broadcast about where they were. I suppose it's also a way to account for the fact that all of the post-loss transmissions star Amelia (they do, don't they?).

No big deal if I'm wrong. The wreckage will still be where it is or isn't regardless of what we imagine happened to Fred's head.

Marty #2359

From Ric

Interesting insight. So far, of the reports of post-loss voice receptions that include mention of gender, most --- but not all --- report hearing a woman's voice.

Message: 5
Subject: Re: Canton Squadrons and some losses
Date: 1/26/01
From: Chris Kennedy

Do we know how many of the 22 losses went down at sea, as opposed to crashing on an island/reef where the metal could be recovered?

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

Here's the list:

What Happened
March 16, 1940 USN PBY-2 BuNo 0487 of VP-25 Hit reef on takeoff from Canton.
January 1942 USN PBY of VP-23 Lost near Canton during night takeoff.
October 1942 USAAF B-17D Enroute Hawaii to Canton missed Canton and ditched near the Ellice Group. (Rickenbacker on board).
November 13, 1942 USAAF P-39D Crashed on Canton, pilot killed.
December 15, 1942 USN PBM Hit reef while taxiing at Canton.
February 12, 1943 USN PBY-5 BuNo 8033 of VP-71 Engine fire on takeoff at Canton. Crashed and sank.
March 27, 1943 USN PBY-5A of VP-54 Destroyed in Japanese bombing attack on Canton.
August 13, 1943 USN PBY-5 Beached at Canton after being shot up by Japanese Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat.
September 18, 1943 USAAF P-39Q Spun into sea on takeoff at Canton. Pilot killed.
October 5, 1943 USN PBY-5A BuNo 33967 Forced landing at sea enroute to Canton. Sank while under tow to Canton.
October 20, 1943 USN PB4Y-1 BuNo 32102 of VB-106 Missing enroute from Canton to Funafuti. Nine crew.
October 23, 1943 IJN Kawanishi H8K "Emily" Shot down by P-40s 70 miles south of Baker. Two other emilys had previously been shot down by F-6-Fs from the light carrier USS Princeton CV-22 in the vicinity of Howland and Baker.
December 17, 1943 USAAF C-47A 43-30739 Crashed at Sydney Island during sightseeing flight. Nine fatalities.
December 30, 1943 USN PBY-5A BuNo 3393 Missing enroute from Baker to Makin.
January 11, 1944 USN PBJ (B-25) Missing enroute from Canton to Tutuilla, Samoa.
February 16, 1944 USN PBY-5 Sank off Canton
June 10, 1944 USN PBM-3D BuNo 48199 Engine fire, forced landing, beached at Howland. Aircraft burned.
August 2, 1944 USN PV-1 Gear up landing after aborted takeoff at Canton.
September 5, 1944 USN PBM-3D BuNo 45236 of VP-200 Engine failure, forced landing at sea (exact location unknown); flooded and sank in high seas.
October 22, 1944 USN PBJ (B-25) Destroyed in taxiing accident on Canton.
October 31, 1944 USN PBJ (B-25) Destroyed in taxiing accident on Canton.
April 26, 1962 FAA Lockheed L-749A Constellation Crashed during touch and go landing at Canton.


Message: 6
Subject: Re: Canton squadrons and losses
Date: 1/26/01
From: Mike Holt

Any carriers ever in the area? How about cruisers with aircraft embarked? The Japanese might have sent a sub with its airplane to have a look at some point.


From Ric

There was, of course, intense carrier activity up around the Gilberts associated with Operation Galvanic (the landings at Tarawa) in the late fall of 1943 but we know of no such operations anywhere near the Phoenix Group. No need. Little or no enemy activity in that area. Canton got bombed a couple times by very long-range missions from Tarawa and there was apparently some prowling around by long-range flying boats. There were some submarine scares at canton and even one at Gardner in 1944, but no evidence that any subs were actually there. Airplane-carrying submarines were very rare.

Aside from events at Canton during the fall of 1943, the Phoenix group was really outside the active war zone.

Message: 7
Subject: Re: Canton squadrons and losses
Date: 1/26/01
From: Andrew McKenna

Yes, but how many before 1940, or whatever date the earliest accounts of airplane wreckage on Niku date back to ?

From Ric

Emily's anecdote about old aircraft wreckage on the reef dates from sometime between her arrival on Gardner in early 1940 to her departure in November 1941. There are no known losses in the region, or the whole Central Pacific for that matter, prior to that time which could account for that wreckage --- except one.

The chances of an unknown aircraft loss in that region prior to that time is so remote as to approach nil. Bottom line: if Emily saw aircraft wreckage, it was NR16020.

Message: 8
Subject: Re: Fred's Head Wound (Wild Surmise)
Date: 1/26/01
From: Chris Kennedy

Actually, I find there to be something really disturbing about the similarities noted in all the post loss messages that I don't think has been brought up before. That is, none of them, to my knowledge, gives any indication WHERE Earhart is, when she should have been easily able to give a rough distance and direction calculation from Howland even if Noonan were unable to give a longitude/latitude fix. Why are we all assuming that Earhart needed Noonan to be coherent in order to tell her where she was before she could report an approximate position to the world? This reminds me of the assumption we are all making that Noonan died first on Gardner.

Here's my argument: First, no one disputes that Earhart knew she must have been close to Howland the morning of July 2nd (the "we must be on you but cannot see you" message). Using this as a starting point, I think it is a safe assumption that she would also have known her approximate speed. She also would have known roughly how long she was flying after that message, and the general direction (we are "running north/south on the line"....) Am I missing something, or can you simply multiply your hours in the air from the "we must be on you" message times your airspeed and direction, and then report something like "This is Earhart. Crash landed on reef about 450 miles south of Howland". While it's hardly exact, this is a simple calculation that she wouldn't have needed Noonan to calculate as a longitude/latitude. Also, if Earhart was in the situation we suspect (crashed, delirious navigator, rising water and very low power supplies to use for radio transmission) this message, or one like it, has real value--I'm trying to get rescued fast. The best way to do that is to use my limited resources to give rescuers the best message I can as to where I can be found. I wouldn't worry about hoaxes, reading off the names of wrecked ships near me, embarrassing the Roosevelts, etc. Indeed, I am beginning to wonder whether the "injured Noonan" similarities is a fiction created by hoaxers to conveniently remove him from the picture so as to account for the fact that Earhart doesn't include a position report in her messages? What hoaxers probably would not have known at the time is that the "we must be on you" message existed, that a time can be assigned to it, and that Earhart also gave the "running north/south on the line transmission". From these, she should have been able to give a rough distance/direction from Howland calculation, yet none of these transmissions (including Betty's) report this. This may be the most telling coincidence of all the post loss messages.

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

Actually, several of the alleged post loss messages contain apparent attempts to describe location. "281 north Howland" is just one example. There are several references to latitude and longitude, and other cases of estimated distances from Howland. We're not going to be able to draw any conclusions about this until we've looked at all the alleged post-loss messages as a body and made what determinations we can about which are more and which are less credible.

Message: 9
Subject: What's Up
Date: 1/26/01
From: Ric Gillespie

8th Edition owners will find a ton of new material authored by Randy Jacobson mounted online effective 01/22/01, including a moment-by-moment, message-by-message account of what happened in the Itasca radio room. We expect to begin sending out hard copy soon.

In other news, the analytical laboratories at the Winterthur Museum here in Delaware are testing the shoe fragments recovered on Niku in 1991 to confirm their material makeup ( a case of dotting old "i"s and crossing old "t"s) while the forensic imaging lab at Photek in Oregon is doing a hi-tech measurement of the shoe-on-the-wing photo to address the questions about sole versus heel length raised recently by Rollin Reineck.

Other work by Photek has determined that the "dash-dot" object visible in the 1937 Bevington photo is in the same location as a large section of Norwich City debris which appears in photos taken during the 1938/39 New Zealand survey. I'll write up a Research Bulletin showing how this was done but the net effect is that we do not (yet) have photographic corroboration of Emily's anecdote about aircraft wreckage on the reef.

Expedition Team member Van Hunn and I are finalizing our plans for a research trip to Tarawa in early March, and Expedition Team member Skeet Gifford will soon be coordinating with Space Imaging on the acquisition of satellite imagery of our favorite atoll.

Meanwhile, Tom King and his co-conspirators are wrapping up the last details of their book about TIGHAR's investigation-so-far and hope to have it to the publisher for production next week. Release is targeted for July.

Preparations are also underway for this year's offering of the TIGHAR Introductory Course in Aviation Archaeology and Historic Preservation combined with a Training Expedition to a real live (or real dead) historic crash site. We hope to be able to announce the details and begin accepting registrants by February 15th.

And the beat goes on.......


Message: 10
Subject: Proving Negatives (Again)
Date: 1/27/01
From: Marty Moleski

I had time today to read the TIGHAR Tracks for January, 2001. It is a great publication, and I hope it helps to bring in the cash you need for Niku IIII.

I'm very sad that you threw in the false, unproven, and unprovable generalization that "You can not [sic] prove a negative hypothesis" on p. 7. Mathematicians, scientists, and historians do this all the time. For example, the Michelson-Morley experiments in the late 19th century proved that there was no aether acting as a substratum for electro-magnetic radiation. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is a universal negation thoroughly supported by all available evidence from quantum mechanics: measuring the velocity of quantum particles disturbs their position and vice-versa. To come closer to home, your trip to the Lady of the Lake showed that parts were missing from the airframe; there is no reason why further evidence, as yet undiscovered by TIGHAR, might not prove some day that the belly antenna was lost at Lae. Just because the photo alone is not sufficient evidence does not mean that the hypothesis of antenna loss is an Unprovable Negative.

A few more negatives known to be true:

  • There is no Man in the Moon.
  • The moon is not made of green cheese.
  • There are no canals on Mars built by intelligent beings and visible on earth.
  • There is no face on Mars.
  • There is no formal system of logic that can be proven to be both consistent and complete.
  • There is at the present time no commonly-accepted Grand Unification Theory of the four forces of nature.
Negatives that may be proven true in the next year or so:
  • AE and FN did not splash down in mid-ocean.
  • AE was not taken prisoner by the Japanese.
  • AE did not return to the U.S. in disguise.
All the best.


From Ric

Any hypothesis can be stated in negative terms. That doesn't make it a negative hypothesis. A hypothesis can only be proven by confirming the truth of a positive statement.

We can only prove that AE and FN did not splash down in mid-ocean by finding them someplace else.

Ditto for AE was not taken prisoner by the Japanese.

To prove that AE did not return to the U.S. in disguise we'll need to find her remains someplace else.

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