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Author Topic: Drift Meter?  (Read 1265 times)

Gerald Johnson

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Drift Meter?
« on: February 12, 2020, 02:04:11 PM »

I'm a new member of TIGHAR, and based on my Air Force navigation experience (60 year ago) I have an interest in Fred Noonan's role in Earhart's flights. I recall that in DR navigation knowing the drift of the aircraft was important. This was usually determined by means of a drift meter. In looking at Earhart's flights I have been unable to find out if there was a drift meter available. Have I missed something?
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2020, 08:44:00 AM »

At least for the first world flight attempt, there was a drift meter aboard, as listed in the Luke Field inventory

Item 31 - 7 Aluminum Direction Bombs (containers of aluminum powder to be dropped onto the surface of the water as a target for a drift meter so that a navigator can judge wind direction and speed.)
Item 48 - Drift Meter stand
Item 60 - Base Plate for speed and drift meter
Item 107 - Speed & drift indicator, type D-270, with handbook

I can't find information or a picture of a "type D-270 speed and drift meter."
Supposedly, the drift meter was used by propping the cabin door open enough to see downward with the drift meter.  Not an ideal system.
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2020, 09:04:53 AM »

I'm hoping Ric and other navigators will weigh-in on this but I wonder if, that because of his extensive experience as a master mariner and aero-navigator, Fred would have been able to accurately estimate wind speed and direction by just observing the ocean state (wave height, whitecaps, spray/surface streaking, etc.), and seeing if the aircraft's track is in line with these things or at some angle to them.  Perhaps he didn't feel he needed a drift meter.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2020, 09:21:58 AM »

Perhaps he didn't feel he needed a drift meter.

You could be right. Contrary to popular legend, Noonan was a sloppy navigator.  The charts we have from the Oakland/Honolulu flight and the South Atlantic crossing show he made no attempt to keep the flight strictly on course and sometimes mis-identified stars.  He seems to have taken a we'll-figure-it-out-when-we-get-there approach, relying on the radio bearings on the Oakland/Honolulu flight and coastal landmarks on the South Atlantic crossing, to adjust course to the destination.
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Don White

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2020, 09:17:25 PM »

"Contrary to popular legend, Noonan was a sloppy navigator..."

This is interesting. Sounds like Noonan and Earhart were two of a kind in some respects, trusting to luck and to their ability to figure it out as they went along.

It's also interesting in considering some of the speculation about what happened on and after the final flight, some of which perhaps tended to think of Fred as the more capable or sensible of the two, or as having some kind of contingency plan in mind. Maybe this was  latent sexism creeping in -- it can show up even among those who don't consider themselves sexist.

Of course we don't know, and never will know, what their interactions were after they failed to find Howland, and then did find Gardner.

There seem to be two legends of Noonan -- the Drunkard Navigator, or the Brilliant Navigator who mapped out Pan Am's pacific routes. Perhaps there is an element of truth in both, or the truth is somewhere between them. Similarly there are two legends of Earhart -- and again the truth is in between. There was a tendency to denigrate them both posthumously, especially by people who wanted to absolve the authorities of blame, and a reactive tendency by their defenders to want to refute anything negative.

I must admit, I tended to think of Noonan as someone who would not be a sloppy navigator. Well, that's what this group is about, getting at the facts.

LTM,
Don


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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2020, 08:35:09 AM »

Well said.
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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2020, 12:14:13 PM »


Here is a description of how the Pelorus could be used to determine drift. It isn't clear to me which Noonan had available to use on the Second World Flight--a drift meter or Pelorus.

" A Pelorus Drift Sight is designed to function either as a Pelorus, for taking bearings on objects, or for improving dead reckoning aircraft navigation by measuring the angle between the heading and the track of an airplane. It consists of a small 'telescope' viewing vertically towards the ground, angled toward the direction of the aircraft. When viewing the ground through the scope while in flight, the navigator observes the travel of fixed objects across the lens. By rotating the scope on its base to align the path of these objects, the drift angle is determined by reading the location of the pointer on the base's scale. Once done, the course correction is calculated and communicated to the pilot."
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2020, 01:18:16 PM »

When viewing the ground through the scope while in flight, the navigator observes the travel of fixed objects across the lens.

Over water there are no fixed objects below, so a pelorus wouldn't be much use for observing drift unless you also used the aluminum smoke bombs.
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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2020, 03:20:43 PM »

As with a drift meter, whitecaps can be used when overwater during daylight. Not perfect, but better than nothing.
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Randy Conrad

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2020, 12:17:13 AM »

Hey guys...its totally amazing how we go from one venture to another on here...and find all kinds of things about what should have been used or what wasnt used. Anyway, it makes good for a good adventure. In relation to questions risen from the elusive buckling of the patch and the drift meter...I ran across two articles which I found really neat. One was a naval drift meter and the other were army style drift meters used back in the day. Is it possible that even though the window was taken out due to structure integrity...is it still possible that Noonan could have taken the naval drift meter and placed it hanging outside the window at bottom of the patch. Now granted I dont know what exactly a D-270 drift meter is...but would somewhat make sense if you were trying to gain access to the patch. Anyway, something to think about. As far as using the door to take measurements...Not a good thing to do...maybe unless youre a paratrooper from the 82nd airborne division and then maybe yes...but with Fred...most likely no! Anyway, the article with the army drift meters are on pages 282-284.


https://timeandnavigation.si.edu/multimedia-asset/pioneer-drift-meter

http://hangarthirteen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/12_Astrograph_Clocks_Compasses_Flux_Gate_Sextants_Driftmeters.pdf
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2020, 08:59:03 AM »

Digging further into Noonan's navigational record, I came across an interesting document.
In 2017,TIGHAR member Brian Harrison was doing research for "Across The Pacific," a television documentary about Pan American's pioneering Pacific flights. Apparently the film never got made due to lack of funding, but Brian sent me something he found that he thought I would find interesting.  I had forgotten about it until I stumbled upon it yesterday.

As part of his research Brian interviewed Warren Leuteritz, son of Hugo Leuteritz, the RCA radio engineer and inventor hired by Pan American in 1928 to develop communications and navigational technology for the fledgling airline.  Leuteritz devised the radio direction finding system that guided PanAm's Clippers across the Pacific.
In later life, Leuteritz made notes for an autobiography he never got around to writing.  Among his notes was the attached account of a revealing episode involving PanAm Chief Pilot Ed Musick and Senior Navigator Fred Nunan (sic).
Leuteritz does not provide a date for the incident, but he says it was shortly before Fred "went with Amelia Earhart."

The last time Musick and Noonan flew together was the October 21 to November 4, 1936 Martin M-130 "Hawaii Clipper" flight from Alameda to Manila and back - PanAm's first revenue passenger Pacific crossing.  The "Preister" who chewed out Noonan was PanAm Chief Engineer Andre Priester.
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2020, 06:38:28 AM »

So, now we have three verified instances of Fred's navigation expertise using nothing but sun/star sightings (as far as I know anyway).  First is the case Ric just posted (above) where Fred missed Wake Island by 200 hundred miles to the south.  Second is the leg of the world flight from South America to Africa where he again missed the intended destination to the south.(perhaps intentionally).  Third and last is the Lae to Howland Island leg where he again missed to the south, again perhaps intentionally.

What if it wasn't intentional? 

A question for our celestial navigators:  Is it possible there was something in Fred's navigation technique which induced (deliberately or otherwise) a bias to the south? Rounding-off of numbers or something similar?

I know three is not a terribly large sample but perhaps there is something here.

Something to think on for a cold winter day.

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2020, 10:07:09 AM »

So, now we have three verified instances of Fred's navigation expertise using nothing but sun/star sightings (as far as I know anyway).

There's another one.  On the first world flight attempt leg from Oakland to Honolulu, without DF correction (courtesy of Harry Manning and the PanAm station at Mokapu) Noonan would have missed Oahu entirely.

First is the case Ric just posted (above) where Fred missed Wake Island by 200 hundred miles to the south.  Second is the leg of the world flight from South America to Africa where he again missed the intended destination to the south.(perhaps intentionally). 

Looking at his map (see attached), I don't think it was intentional.  For the early part of the flight the weather was terrible, forcing him to rely solely on DR. When the weather cleared enough for him to see the sun, he got an LOP of 241° - 61° Magnetic. About hour later, at 1415Z, he got a second sun line.  Not a great fix but it told him they were way north of course. He passed a note to AE (attached) telling her to change course to 76°. I think that was his estimate for what it would take to get them to Dakar. He over-corrected and they hit the African coast about 150 miles south of Dakar.

Third and last is the Lae to Howland Island leg where he again missed to the south, again perhaps intentionally.


I think Earhart's 19:12Z transmission "We must be on you but cannot see you..." is a clear indication that Noonan had given her an ETA and she expected Howland to be there.  I used to think she had mis-interpreted Noonan's ETA to be for arrival at Howland rather than merely arrival at the advanced LOP, but Noonan's misguided confidence in his work in the Wake Island incident makes me think he was as surprised as Amelia when Howland didn't appear.

A question for our celestial navigators:  Is it possible there was something in Fred's navigation technique which induced (deliberately or otherwise) a bias to the south? Rounding-off of numbers or something similar?

In the Oakland/Honolulu error he was off to the north. 

All of this needs a research paper in TIGHAR Tracks setting the record straight about navigator Fred Noonan.  Bob Brandenburg and I have taken on that project.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2020, 10:08:56 AM by Ric Gillespie »
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Ross Devitt

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2020, 10:59:16 PM »

It seems Noonan was involved to some extent with an Aussie who was possibly one of the best aerial and nautical navigators in the world at the time.  Gatty was an expert in use of the Pelorus and designed (along with Weims I believe) an excellent Drift Sight/Meter.

Having used a primitive form of Pelorus for many years without realising what I was using, both in marine and terrestrial navigation, I, like many people found myself automatically setting one up using reference points in a cockpit when navigating.

And so to drift.

I can see where the pelorus listed in the Luke Field Inventory would be very useful for Fred Noonan when flying over land.  I can see that it 'could' be useful flying over water, especially if there were recognisable islands in sight.   Mu Hand Bearing Compasses served a similar purpose.  Check object Left, Check object Right, draw a line at the angle to each object and you 'might' be where the lines cross.

However, the Pelorus listed in the Luke Field Inventory is a Mark IIB.  The information about the IIB says in part:

A Pelorus Drift Sight is designed to function either as a Pelorus, for taking bearings on objects, or for improving dead reckoning aircraft navigation by measuring the angle between the heading and the track of an airplane.    (my pretty bits)
It consists of a small 'telescope' viewing vertically towards the ground, angled toward the direction of the aircraft. When viewing the ground through the scope while in flight, the navigator observes the travel of fixed objects across the lens. By rotating the scope on its base to align the path of these objects, the drift angle is determined by reading the location of the pointer on the base's scale. Once done, the course correction is calculated and communicated to the pilot.

I think I saw the operating Instructions for Fred's Pelorus in this post already, but here they are again, to confirm that both the Drift Meter Model D-270, and the Pelorus  CAN be used over water.  The Pelorus usually REQUIRES Smoke Bombs for that porpoise!

So the question about Drift Meters probably boils down to 'Was a Pelorus amongst the stuff left behind at the start of the second flight?  In my opinion he would not have left Either the Pelorus OR the Drift Meter behind with so much water around.

It seems unlikely, especially as Fred Noonan was 'most likely' well versed in the use of both Drift Meter AND Pelorus over water, and there was 'a possibility' he might have to navigate over water at some time.

In BOTH cases the instrument must be able to be used from BOTH sides of the cockpit.  And the Luke Field Inventory lists a 'spare' base for both Pelorus AND Drift Meter.
However the bases are NOT 'Spare'...  There are Two Bases for Each instrument.

***   RossD  E D I T  ***
I should not get on board TIGHAR Forum when I am ill or tired !  (which is most of the time)  And I apologise that my mind and fingers don;t always work in concert.

What the sentence abouve SHOULD have said is:
In BOTH cases the instrument must be able to be used from BOTH sides of the AEROPLANE.   
- (my Bad)  I had been looking at the Nav manuals and stuff for a single or 2 place aircraft with no cabin.  You can use a Pelorus while sitting on a horse.  All you have to be able to do is look at stuff.

Please forgive me for not being quite up to date with this topic after all these years.  I'm sure we discussed all this in the old days, but sometimes things are lost in the mix.  So my apologies if I'm doubling up on old info..

Th WOMBAT

This seems to be the Pelorus type that Fred had:
This one is Early WWII, so a couple of years might not have changed it much:
https://aeroantique.com/products/drift-sights-mk-ii-b-pelorus-wwii-us-navy-aircraft?variant=46712079050

And the 'How To' guide for Boy Scouts and other adventurers..
https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1343/9895/files/Drift_Sight_Mk_IIB_from_US_Navy_Navigation_Manual.pdf?2830330365304809310

I know this type has already been linked.  The Type Lindbergh tried but found impossible 'in his aeroplane'.  :
https://timeandnavigation.si.edu/multimedia-asset/pioneer-drift-meter
https://www.wy2.org/maint/speed-and-drift.php
« Last Edit: February 18, 2020, 02:45:16 PM by Ross Devitt »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Drift Meter?
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2020, 07:54:07 AM »

I think I saw the operating Instructions for Fred's Pelorus in this post already, but here they are again, to confirm that both the Drift Meter Model D-270, and the Pelorus  CAN be used over water.  The Pelorus usually REQUIRES Smoke Bombs for that porpoise!

Bombing porpoises was probably not on the agenda, but a photo taken upon their arrival in Lae (below) shows the pelorus in place at that time.

In BOTH cases the instrument must be able to be used from BOTH sides of the cockpit.  And the Luke Field Inventory lists a 'spare' base for both Pelorus AND Drift Meter.
However the bases are NOT 'Spare'...  There are Two Bases for Each instrument.

I agree, except in this case the pelorus mounts were in the two standard cabin windows, as shown in the March 7, 1937 photo below of AE and Manning.

This seems to be the Pelorus type that Fred had:
This one is Early WWII, so a couple of years might not have changed it much:
https://aeroantique.com/products/drift-sights-mk-ii-b-pelorus-wwii-us-navy-aircraft?variant=46712079050

Yes, that looks right.  Good find.
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