Earhart Project Research Bulletin #20
The Lost Antenna
Technical drawing of Electra.

Electra rolling for takeoff at Lae.TIGHAR recently received the photograph shown here from Neil Royes in Australia. It was taken by Alan Board who, in July 1937, was a young employee of Guinea Airways at Lae, New Guinea. The photo shows NR16020 on its takeoff roll on the morning of July 2nd and is, as far as we know, the last still photo ever taken of the airplane.

Forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman of PHOTEK, Inc. had previously examined the Lae takeoff motion picture film and determined that, while the belly antenna masts were visible when the airplane taxied out, they were not visible when it came back by the camera on its take off roll. The resolution of the individual frames was not great and this “new” still photo allows us a much better look.

The following is Jeff’s analysis of the photo.


Dear Mr. Gillespie,

Thank you for sending me the photograph of A. Earhart’s takeoff from Lae, New Guinea on 2 July 1937. There is ample resolution in this photograph to resolve antenna masts. One antenna mast is visible on the roof to the right of the direction finding loop antenna.

Two antenna masts should also be visible on the belly of the airplane, however they do not appear in the photograph. Their absence from the photograph may be due to:

1) Insufficient image resolution,
2) the antenna masts may be obscured by another object, or
3) the antenna masts may be absent from the airplane.

Insufficient Image Resolution. There are objects of similar size to the missing antenna masts that successfully imaged in the photograph. Therefore, it is improbable that the antenna masts are absent from the photograph for this reason.

Obscuration. There is a single object capable of obscuring the belly antenna masts – the fuselage. For the fuselage to obscure the antenna masts, the film plane would have to be near the horizontal centerline of the fuselage or above. It can be observed from the photograph that the film plane was well below the centerline of the fuselage by the amount of the underside of the wing that has been imaged. Further, nearly the complete port and starboard landing gears have been imaged. Therefore, the fuselage could not have obscured the antenna masts.

Missing. Therefore, through deduction, the antenna masts must be missing from the belly of the fuselage.

Conclusion. This photograph independently corroborates the prior forensic analysis of the Lae, New Guinea takeoff film.

Thank you for your continued interest in PHOTEK.

Best Regards,
Jeff Glickman
Board Certified Forensic Examiner
Fellow, American College of Forensic Examiners

209 Oak Avenue, Suite 202
Hood River, Oregon 97031

Sometime between when the airplane taxied out for takeoff and the later half of its takeoff run, the belly antenna was lost. Just how the loss occurred is, of course, not known, but it is not hard to imagine the aft mast being knocked off in a ground strike while the airplane was being swung around to align with the runway for takeoff. The puff of dust visible early in the takeoff film could be the broken mast dragged by the wire antenna snagging on the ground and tearing the wire and center mast off the airplane.

Exactly what impact the loss of this antenna may have had on the progress of the flight depends on the antenna’s function (which has been a matter of considerable debate). However, the loss of the antenna would now appear to be quite reliably established.

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