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Author Topic: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?  (Read 58307 times)

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Short answer: Earhart could not transmit from the Electra if it was floating on the water.

Excerpts from Bob Brandenburg's research paper, "Bombing the Bridge to the Marshall Islands":

COMFRANDIV message to the Itasca, at 1525 PST/5:

… RADIO TECHNICIANS FAMILIAR WITH RADIO EQUIPMENT ON PLANE ALL STATE THAT PLANE RADIO COULD NOT FUNCTION NOW IF PLANE IN WATER AND ONLY IF PLANE WAS ON LAND AND ABLE TO OPERATE RIGHT MOTOR FOR POWER.

COMFRANDIV message to Itasca and COMHAWSEC 6 at 2245 HST/5, stating in pertinent part:


DYNAMOTORS ALL MOUNTED UNDER FUSELAGE AND WOULD POSITIVELY BE SUBMERGED IF PLANE WAS ON WATER.

COMFRANDIV message to Itasca at 2330 PST/5:

INFORMATION JUST RECEIVED FROM LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT COMPANY STATES POSITIVELY EARHART PLANES RADIO TRANSMITTER COULD NOT REPEAT NOT OPERATE IF PLANE WAS ON WATER.

  • The plane’s engine-driven generator provided all power for charging the batteries and operating electrical equipment. The generator output was connected to the batteries, radios, lighting, instruments, etc, at the main electrical junction box, under the cockpit floor.
  • A dynamotor ... under the pilot’s seat supplied the high-voltage power required for transmitter operation. The dynamotor was normally driven by the generator, but could briefly run on battery power if the electrical system was operational.
  • The plane’s center of gravity (CG) was forward of the wing, and virtually all buoyancy was aft of the CG. The unpressurized fuselage was not watertight. If the plane ditched, the nose section, the cockpit, and the space below the cockpit, would flood within minutes and the plane would float nose-down, with the engines and generator submerged and inoperable. The main electrical junction box would flood, short-circuiting the electrical system and discharging the batteries. And the transmitter dynamotor would be submerged and inoperable.
LTM,

           Marty
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« Last Edit: June 06, 2011, 06:00:20 PM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2011, 02:35:26 PM »

marty, I have one small thing to contest with your statement here.

The plane’s center of gravity (CG) was forward of the wing, and virtually all buoyancy was aft of the CG. The unpressurized fuselage was not watertight. If the plane ditched, the nose section, the cockpit, and the space below the cockpit, would flood within minutes and the plane would float nose-down, with the engines and generator submerged and inoperable. The main electrical junction box would flood, short-circuiting the electrical system and discharging the batteries. And the transmitter dynamotor would be submerged and inoperable.

the approximate CoG on an aircraft is roughly 25% back from the leading edge of the wing (simply put). this is also the center of gravity for the load and fuel carried in the plane. any combination of fuel tanks etc. would be centered on this point. there are times when an aft tank is added to a plane but in general they are only moving a small percentage of the fuel load into that tank as it would move the center of gravity dangerously rearward, making the craft unstable.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2011, 05:58:39 PM »

marty, I have one small thing to contest with your statement here.

It's not my statement.  It is Bob Brandenburg's.  He is the author of the material that follows the line that says "Excerpts from Bob Brandenburg's research paper, 'Bombing the Bridge to the Marshall Islands.'"  Bob outranks me in age, technical skills, TIGHAR membership, and military pay grade.

Quote
The plane’s center of gravity (CG) was forward of the wing, and virtually all buoyancy was aft of the CG. ...

the approximate CoG on an aircraft is roughly 25% back from the leading edge of the wing (simply put).

I know what you mean.  I even know how to calculate the Mean Aerodynamic Chord for various planforms, which is used to find a starting point for optimizing the CG of an aircraft.  I haven't done a calculation on the Electra's planform nor have I seen one on TIGHAR's website.  I agree that it cannot be "forward of" the wing, although perhaps "forward on" the wing might be an accurate description.

Quote
this is also the center of gravity for the load and fuel carried in the plane. any combination of fuel tanks etc. would be centered on this point. there are times when an aft tank is added to a plane but in general they are only moving a small percentage of the fuel load into that tank as it would move the center of gravity dangerously rearward, making the craft unstable.

Understood and agreed.  I know the characteristics of tail-heavy aircraft all too well, albeit only on a small scale.

We know something about the floatation characteristics of a standard Lockheed Electra.

From the old Forum:


Date:         Wed, 16 Dec 1998 16:01:07 EST
From:         Gary Moline
Subject:      Re: The aerial search

Concerning Tom Van Hare's comments on a ditching at sea, that whole scenario would be even more complicated based on the fact that we would have no idea about how they ended up in the ocean. Did AE pull off a perfect (ie: no significant damage to the aircraft) water landing? How long did the plane float? Were they able to get lots of useful equipment, food and water off of the airplane before it sank? Did they actually have a raft and/or life jackets aboard? Did she mess up the landing and then they got out by the skin of their teeth? Only one survivor of the landing? Etc, etc, etc.

Although they had at least some survival training, there were many instances of long periods of survival at sea by people during WW2. Eddie Rickenbacker spent 22 days in a tiny raft with two other men. (Ironically, his crew was on their way to Canton Island!!) They were not able to get any supplies off of the B-17 except for four oranges. The vast majority of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis made it for five days and they had neither rafts or life jackets. Another air crew survived for 31 days in a raft.

Of course, in order to believe that AE/FN ditched and then made their way to Niku, we would all have to disregard any and all possible evidence of aircraft parts on the island and also the reported radio transmissions after the flight. The possibility of a ditching at sea is another "mind boggler"!

LTM,   Gary Moline

**************************************************************

From Ric

For what it's worth:

According to a New London Connecticut newspaper article dated 8/28/67, Lockheed 10E N233PB belonging to Provincetown-Boston Airlines was landed in about 20 feet of calm water 200 yards off a beach 20 miles south of Boston. The plane stayed afloat for eight minutes permitting all 14 persons aboard to escape with minimal injuries (one person was briefly hospitalized).  Five nonswimming passengers were even rescued from the wing before the plane sank.

Of course, this aircraft did not have the fuel tanks featured on Earhart's Electra.
LTM,

           Marty
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« Last Edit: June 06, 2011, 06:02:44 PM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2011, 08:43:10 AM »

It's not my statement.  It is Bob Brandenburg's.  He is the author of the material that follows the line that says "Excerpts from Bob Brandenburg's research paper, 'Bombing the Bridge to the Marshall Islands.'"  Bob outranks me in age, technical skills, TIGHAR membership, and military pay grade.

I couldn't tell if the bullet points were your summation or not

I know what you mean.  I even know how to calculate the Mean Aerodynamic Chord for various planforms, which is used to find a starting point for optimizing the CG of an aircraft.  I haven't done a calculation on the Electra's planform nor have I seen one on TIGHAR's website.  I agree that it cannot be "forward of" the wing, although perhaps "forward on" the wing might be an accurate description.

the actual balance point is irrelevant, the general statement that the floatation was to the rear is flawed. not that it changes the outcome of a water landing any, there is still no way the electrical system would function with the plane floating flat and level. I still fail to see how it could function after being submerged even for a short time. (as would most likely be the case with a reef landing theory)

Understood and agreed.  I know the characteristics of tail-heavy aircraft all too well, albeit only on a small scale.

We know something about the floatation characteristics of a standard Lockheed Electra.

From the old Forum:


Date:         Wed, 16 Dec 1998 16:01:07 EST
From:         Gary Moline
Subject:      Re: The aerial search

Concerning Tom Van Hare's comments on a ditching at sea, that whole scenario would be even more complicated based on the fact that we would have no idea about how they ended up in the ocean. Did AE pull off a perfect (ie: no significant damage to the aircraft) water landing? How long did the plane float? Were they able to get lots of useful equipment, food and water off of the airplane before it sank? Did they actually have a raft and/or life jackets aboard? Did she mess up the landing and then they got out by the skin of their teeth? Only one survivor of the landing? Etc, etc, etc.

Although they had at least some survival training, there were many instances of long periods of survival at sea by people during WW2. Eddie Rickenbacker spent 22 days in a tiny raft with two other men. (Ironically, his crew was on their way to Canton Island!!) They were not able to get any supplies off of the B-17 except for four oranges. The vast majority of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis made it for five days and they had neither rafts or life jackets. Another air crew survived for 31 days in a raft.

Of course, in order to believe that AE/FN ditched and then made their way to Niku, we would all have to disregard any and all possible evidence of aircraft parts on the island and also the reported radio transmissions after the flight. The possibility of a ditching at sea is another "mind boggler"!

LTM,   Gary Moline

**************************************************************

From Ric

For what it's worth:

According to a New London Connecticut newspaper article dated 8/28/67, Lockheed 10E N233PB belonging to Provincetown-Boston Airlines was landed in about 20 feet of calm water 200 yards off a beach 20 miles south of Boston. The plane stayed afloat for eight minutes permitting all 14 persons aboard to escape with minimal injuries (one person was briefly hospitalized).  Five nonswimming passengers were even rescued from the wing before the plane sank.

Of course, this aircraft did not have the fuel tanks featured on Earhart's Electra.

Quote
yes, the only thing this example shows is that a 10E has the ability to survive a ditching.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2011, 09:13:35 AM »

I still fail to see how it could function after being submerged even for a short time. (as would most likely be the case with a reef landing theory)

You apparently don't understand the reef landing theory. We have demonstrated through tidal hind casting and on-site surveys that it should have been possible to land a Lockheed 10 successfully on the reef during the time Earhart could have arrived at the island and for the essential electrical components on the aircraft (battery, dynamotor, transmitter, etc.) to remain above water even at high tide for the several days that credible post-loss signals were heard.
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2011, 09:34:21 AM »

I still fail to see how it could function after being submerged even for a short time. (as would most likely be the case with a reef landing theory)

You apparently don't understand the reef landing theory. We have demonstrated through tidal hind casting and on-site surveys that it should have been possible to land a Lockheed 10 successfully on the reef during the time Earhart could have arrived at the island and for the essential electrical components on the aircraft (battery, dynamotor, transmitter, etc.) to remain above water even at high tide for the several days that credible post-loss signals were heard.

I understand it, I just don't agree that the electrical equipment would stay dry even if it was mostly above water. IMO (you know what that will get ya lol) the surf action would have gotten anything in the lower portion of the craft wet. With one side of the landing gear stuck in a "channel" in the reef the nacelle on that side would be pretty close to touching the ground/bottom. drawing a line across the nacelle to the opposite landing gear how high does that place the fuselage above the ground/bottom?? I for one am very leery of believing any of the post loss messages. like I said, this is only my opinion and given the publicity I find it hard to make any hard and fast argument for the post loss transmissions.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2011, 10:13:10 AM »

I couldn't tell if the bullet points were your summation or not

I've modified the message to put them all in green ink.  That's easier than using quotation marks.

Quote
the actual balance point is irrelevant, the general statement that the floatation was to the rear is flawed.

I am even less familiar with buoyancy calculations than I am with aerodynamics.

Bob Brandenburg, LCDR USN (retired) has a more than passing experience with flotation, I imagine.

It seems conceivable to me that the way the airplane responds while moving through the air (location of CG with respect to the center of lift) might differ from the way it responds to water. 

"Center of Gravity is the point in a body where the gravitational force may be taken to act.  Center of Buoyancy is the center of the gravity of the volume of water which a hull displaces" ("Center of Gravity--Center of Buoyancy").

The article about the sinking of a standard Electra appears in "Amelia Earhart's Crash Reconstruction" by the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).  It sounds to me as though that aircraft did not assume a substantially nose-down attitude--the passengers were reported to have been rescued from the wing.

Quote
not that it changes the outcome of a water landing any, there is still no way the electrical system would function with the plane floating flat and level. I still fail to see how it could function after being submerged even for a short time. (as would most likely be the case with a reef landing theory)

TIGHAR has collected tidal data on several of the latest expeditions and found out how to correlate the conditions on Niku with other areas nearby that have established tide tables.  This allows "hindcasting" the expected tides for July, 1937.  I presume, without evidence, that TIGHAR has calculated the effect that the high tides might have on the fuselage and dynamotor.  I don't have any of the data in hand nor do I know where it might be on the website in an easily accessible form, but here are some conclusions drawn from TIGHAR's studies:

"Some portions of the reefs surrounding the uninhabited atolls of the Phoenix Group are smooth enough to permit a normal, wheels-down landing and are dry at low tide. During the late morning hours of July 2, 1937, the time when the Electra could have arrived overhead, the tide was out in the Phoenix Islands" (Gillespie, Finding Amelia, p. 178).

"On the reefs of the southwestern Phoenix Group, late in the morning on Monday, July 5, 1937, it was roughly the midpoint of an incoming tide. Water levels on the reefs ranged from a few inches to a couple of feet, depending on the exact location, but even at full high tide the levels did not reach five feet. There could be knee-deep water in the cabin if the plane was on its belly, but in that situation the radio would be submerged and inoperable. For the messages to be legitimate, it had to be possible to run the plane’s right-hand, generator-equipped engine to recharge the battery. For the right-hand propeller to have clearance, the right-hand landing gear had to be supporting the engine" (Gillespie, Finding Amelia, p. 180).

"In Gardner’s case, the protecting reef is a broad, flat expanse of hard coral. At high tide, upward of four feet of water cover the surface, but at low tide, the reef flat at Gardner is dry or covered by only a thin film of water. At such times, from the air, the island looks like it is surrounded by a giant parking lot. In many places, especially near the ocean’s edge, the reef surface is smooth enough to ride a bicycle—or land an airplane. On the morning of July 9, 1937, the tide was high at Gardner Island, and a photograph of the shoreline taken from one of the search planes shows lines of surf running across the flat to the beach. Heavy breakers all along the reef’s seaward edge hide anything that might have been there" (Gillespie, Finding Amelia, p. 208).
LTM,

           Marty
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2011, 12:54:52 PM »

I understand it, I just don't agree that the electrical equipment would stay dry even if it was mostly above water. IMO (you know what that will get ya lol) the surf action would have gotten anything in the lower portion of the craft wet. With one side of the landing gear stuck in a "channel" in the reef the nacelle on that side would be pretty close to touching the ground/bottom. drawing a line across the nacelle to the opposite landing gear how high does that place the fuselage above the ground/bottom??

I agree that would be a problem.
We don't know what happened.  All we can do is look at the clues we have and try to construct hypotheses to explain them. "Nessie" appears to be aircraft wreckage - possibly landing gear components.  It shouldn't be there 3 months after the event unless it's jammed in a groove.  It's in an area near the reef edge where grooves are common but the aircraft cannot have landed that close to the reef edge because the water is too deep and the reef surface is cut with grooves.  So the landing had to be further up on the reef flat where the surface is drier and smoother. in that area, the water level at high tide does not get high enough to cause a problem until after the credible messages have stopped.

 The current working hypothesis is that the aircraft landed intact on the high, dry and smooth part of the reef and was able to send radio signals for several nights before it was swept seaward. Nessie was left behind as the aircraft was swept over the edge. Why would it be swept seaward?  Normally the surf action on the reef in that area is west to east - straight toward the shore.  There are times, however, when the flow comes around the northwest tip of the island and surf travels NNE to SSW across the reef flat. Those conditions could drive the plane seaward.

I for one am very leery of believing any of the post loss messages. like I said, this is only my opinion and given the publicity I find it hard to make any hard and fast argument for the post loss transmissions.

That's okay. You haven't seen all the evidence yet. We're still tweaking the Post-Loss Radio Signals Catalog. We should have it ready for publication soon.
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John Joseph Barrett

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2011, 01:44:19 PM »

Another aspect to consider is that there is a difference between wave action and spray slapping against the bottom of the aircraft and the bottom of the aircraft actually being immersed in the water. Although not a pressurized craft, I would have to think that the build quality of the Electra would have been sufficient to keep out waves slapping against it, at least for a time. Depending of course, on damage caused by the landing, the height of the surf, severity of the wave action, and the length of time the fuselage was subjected to it. Immersion in the water for any length of time would likely lead to a fair amount of water seeping in through seems in the skin, around rivets, etc. Ric, when the surf is running across the reef and out to sea are the prevailing winds flowing that direction as well? I've driven cars, atv's, etc in moving water on occasion. It wouldn't need much surf against those big, fat tires, and some wind to get the plane to move a bit, but I'm not sure if I can see that causing enough downward force to jam a wheel into the reef. Maybe a good sized wave to lift the plane and then drop it hard could do it, but I would sooner think it more likely to be at the end of the roll out. In the location where Nessie was, would the surf have been high enough at any time to lift and then drop the plane? About how much depth does it take to float an Electra? Looking at the reef today, would the location of Nessie be at the end of the best possible roll out area or does farther inshore on the reef look better?   LTM- John
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2011, 02:21:12 PM »

Another aspect to consider is that there is a difference between wave action and spray slapping against the bottom of the aircraft and the bottom of the aircraft actually being immersed in the water. Although not a pressurized craft, I would have to think that the build quality of the Electra would have been sufficient to keep out waves slapping against it, at least for a time. Depending of course, on damage caused by the landing, the height of the surf, severity of the wave action, and the length of time the fuselage was subjected to it. Immersion in the water for any length of time would likely lead to a fair amount of water seeping in through seems in the skin, around rivets, etc.

I agree.

Ric, when the surf is running across the reef and out to sea are the prevailing winds flowing that direction as well?

Not necessarily.

I've driven cars, atv's, etc in moving water on occasion. It wouldn't need much surf against those big, fat tires, and some wind to get the plane to move a bit, but I'm not sure if I can see that causing enough downward force to jam a wheel into the reef.

Nothing could jam a wheel into the reef but a wheel could roll into a groove and easily get jammed in there. I used to think that was the most likely explanation for Nessie but I don't think that's what happened.

Maybe a good sized wave to lift the plane and then drop it hard could do it, but I would sooner think it more likely to be at the end of the roll out.

The problem is that if the airplane ends up that far out at the end of the roll out the water is too deep for the post-loss radio signals to be sent.

In the location where Nessie was, would the surf have been high enough at any time to lift and then drop the plane?

Lift and drop?  Probably not. Knock it sideways hard enough to collapse the gear? Definitely possible. That's the hypothesis Bob Brandenburg and I are currently investigating.  Once the plane is on its belly it's much more susceptible to being pushed seaward.  If the gear failed like it did in the Luke Field accident (check the photos) Nessie could be the wreckage of a gear leg and tire that got jammed in a groove and left behind as the aircraft was being pushed seaward.

About how much depth does it take to float an Electra?

Sitting on its gear?  Something over ten feet. Not gonna happen without a major storm.  Sitting on its belly?  Maybe seven feet.  Again, you're just not gonna get that much water on the reef without a weather event for which we have no evidence.

Looking at the reef today, would the location of Nessie be at the end of the best possible roll out area or does farther inshore on the reef look better?   LTM- John

No.  You'd have to land at least 30 meters closer inshore.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2011, 03:16:35 PM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
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John Joseph Barrett

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2011, 06:01:04 PM »

I guess then that it's possible that the plane didn't so much float off the reef to sink in deeper water, even at the edge of the reef, as it did get moved enough by the surf to eventually get sideways and suffer a gear collapse, or a total gear collapse if the left gear had gone first on landing. Once on its belly and in the water, no more radio signals could be sent. The surf then continues sliding it seaward, one gear gets caught in the groove and torn off, the rest slips over the edge into the spur and grooves where it is obscured by the surf during the Colorado's search. Sliding across the surf and being buffeted by the waves and the coral could easily open up the fuselage and allow it to quickly fill with water and not float far. Being a tail dragger I would have to think the rudders and elevator would be an easy surface for the water to act upon, turning the plane, maybe with every tide change, and pulling it toward the sea. If that is the case I can't imagine how horrible it would have been to watch what was happening without being able to do anything about it as the water would have been too high to run the engines enough to hold position. Assuming that both gear were down and tires intact. I know the Nessie analysis is being done in Jeff Glickman's free time. Any idea of when it may be possible to say with any degree of certainty what Nessie is?     -John
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david alan atchason

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #11 on: June 07, 2011, 06:54:15 PM »

I happen to have the book open in front of me, "The Search for Amelia Earhart" by Goerner. Page 210: Mantz and Putnam say the extra fuel tanks had been constructed in such a manner that the aircraft would float. Then P. 211 Mantz and Putnam say a special battery had been installed in the cockpit to meet such an emergency (the plane in the water). Were Mantz & Putnam heavily medicated or why do they say this? Also Goerner is very sympathetic to Capt. Thompson of the Itasca. He figured if they were south of Howland they would see Baker. If they were close to Howland they would see the Itasca's smoke. So he figured they were most likely NW of Howland. I think this was very perceptive on his part. Going on the 337/157 message he headed NW. What if they flew quite a ways, realized they probably were going in the wrong direction. Now it's too late, they don't have enough fuel to go back SE of where they were. So they land in the water. The plane does float. The radio does work as Putnam & Mantz said. They make their weak transmissions for 3 days or so. 281 is the heading for Marianas. Then Betty hears their alarm about the water level. The plane is finally sinking. Luckily, the Japanese have been watching and they pick them up.................
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david alan atchason

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #12 on: June 07, 2011, 07:11:50 PM »

Another point I just thought of. The L-10 that landed in the water off Humarock. That Provincetown-Boston flight is only 20-25 miles as the crow flies. How much  gas did that plane have in it? Would you fly with almost empty tanks to save weight, or would you fill up and then fly a certain number of flights till the gas was low and then fill up again? With full tanks they would sink quickly. With empty tanks they might float a while. With empty tanks and empty auxiliary tanks is it possible they would float indefinitely?
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david alan atchason

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #13 on: June 07, 2011, 07:24:32 PM »

Couldn't an engineer calculate how much buoyancy 1200 + gallons of air space would provide and compare it with the weight of the plane to see if it is possible to float the plane? Doesn't a submarine get floated by blowing air into the ballast tanks? I would think there would be a standard table showing the volumes needed. Yes, you would think Lockheed engineers did this. You would also think the auxiliary tank people would calculate this. Did Lockheed install the auxiliary tanks?
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Could Earhart’s Transmitter Operate If Her Plane Was Afloat?
« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2011, 08:00:18 PM »

John, I think you summation is spot on.

I know the Nessie analysis is being done in Jeff Glickman's free time. Any idea of when it may be possible to say with any degree of certainty what Nessie is?     -John

I do not yet have Jeff's written report but I will answer you with an abstract question.

At what point does TIGHAR's evidence become so good that we don't dare release it before we've had a chance to secure the site?  Is there such a point?
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