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Author Topic: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?  (Read 31186 times)

Gary LaPook

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Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« on: February 20, 2012, 04:26:55 AM »

Some have claimed that the Williams' strip chart and list of courses for the Howland to Lae flight as the flight plan that Noonan and Earhart used for that flight but that is very unlikely. First, keep in mind that there is no proof that Noonan used Williams' plans and, since Noonan was a more experienced flight navigator than Williams, Noonan most likely did his own computations, not trusting the work of others. I know I would have if I were in Noonan's position, I have always done my own computations in the past, I don't rely on anybody else for this type of work.

But, in fact, there is strong evidence that Noonan did not use Williams' flight plans. All you have to do is compare Williams' strip chart for the Atlantic crossing from Natal to Dakar with Noonan's chart for the crossing and the differences jump out at you. I have attached both of these charts. Williams' strip chart for this route is just like the one for the Lae to Howland leg, with a line plotted connecting calculated points along the great circle, also spaced every 2° 30' of longitude, just like on the Howland to Lae strip chart. He calculated the distances in statute miles between these points, consisting of seven legs and each of these legs is a different length. He also marked the expected flying time for each of these legs and these times are all different since the legs were all of different lengths. He calculated the true great circle course from Dakar to Natal at various points along the great circle starting at 221.6° near Africa, 220° in the middle of the Atlantic and 220.4° near Brazil. Because the variation also changed along the line, the magnetic course is listed by Williams as 240° all the way and 060° for the eastbound direction.

Now look at Noonan's chart. He did not plot any great circle points, he just drew in a straight line, which is the rhumb line, from Natal to Dakar. He did this simply by using a straight edge laid on the chart from Natal to Dakar. How do we know he did it this way? Look at the bottom of the chart and you will see that the course line and the other line, ten degrees to the left of the course line, extend past the neat line (that is the line making the border of a chart) and converge on the position of Natal. Since Natal is not on this chart, Noonan used the standard method used by navigators for this situation, you simply attach an extension piece of paper to the chart on which you plot the departure and then lay your straight edge from that point to the destination. Ask any of your pilot friends how they plot a course on their Sectional Charts and they will tell you that this is the standard method that they use when both the destination and the departure are not on the same side of the chart. 

Noonan then marked the magnetic course as 061° for the first part of the route and 060° for the end near Africa, not the constant 060° that Williams used for the whole route.

Noonan then marked check points spaced evenly at 150 SM intervals representing one hour of flying time for each leg at the planned speed of 150 mph.

We can also see that Noonan actually used nautical miles for his navigation. Next to the left most line, ten degrees to the left of the course line, just at the bottom of the chart, we find Noonan's notation "410" which is the distance in nautical miles from Natal to that point crossing the equator at the bottom of the chart. Follow further up that line and you will also find Noonan's notation of "1017 mi from Natal" and those are also nautical miles.

So, it is very clear that Noonan had a very different method of planning his routes than Williams did so it is most unlikely that he used Williams' chart  for the last leg but it is highly likely that he used used own, his preferred methods when planning the Lae to Howland leg. Unless someone can come up with evidence showing that Noonan used Williams planning documents we can conclude that he did not but that he did his own planning and plotting using his methods that he showed us on the Natal to Dakar chart.

I would bet money that Noonan chuckled, as did I, at all the unnecessary work that Williams did, planning all those unnecessary great circle points and courses, when Noonan knew, based on his superior flight navigation experience, that a simple rhumb line was the better way to go.

gl

« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 02:26:05 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Heath Smith

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 04:52:00 AM »


I believe you are attempting to prove a negative. Lack of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. Can you produce any evidence that he did not in fact just follow the previous plan?

I can think of a good analogy. I write software for a living. Through the decades, I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered absolute rubbish code that should have been immediately thrown away. Some of these systems are safety critical and often very dangerous. Logic should dictate that these pieces once identified should be immediately re-written. Then there is reality.

Then comes the real issues of the work place. First, there are the issues of money. Companies rarely want to spend a dollar to re-work something that they have already paid for. There are always budget issues and timing issues that prevent code from being re-worked. Often out of laziness and unwillingness to spend more money the problems are forgotten and neglected.

Add in lazy people who do not really care what they are doing as long as they are making a paycheck and you have a completely reasonable explanation why very little software is ever re-worked. Unless customers are calling and complaining or someone dies, you never would know it. The garbage code continues to run, sometimes for decades.

While obviously FN had lots of spare time, it is quite possible that he was lazy about this return flight and might have forgotten or lost his reference material along the way. I thought I read something about FN losing an Almanac but I cannot recall where that was. Something about it being lost out of a window. Maybe that is just a story, who knows.

Is laziness, perhaps a drinking issue, and perhaps lost reference material enough to speculate that he used the Williams chart? I think that is plausible.

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Gary LaPook

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 04:58:18 AM »


I believe you are attempting to prove a negative. Lack of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. Can you produce any evidence that he did not in fact just follow the previous plan?
I just did.
Quote
Is laziness, perhaps a drinking issue, and perhaps lost reference material enough to speculate that he used the Williams chart? I think that is plausible.
You can speculate all you want but I just provided proof that Noonan did not use Williams' chart on a prior leg so now it is your turn to provide a chart showing that Noonan did use Williams' chart on  a different leg or else all you have is your speculation. In addition I posted long ago about Noonan's navigation on the Oakland to Hawaii flight and that navigation also did not look anything like a Williams flight chart. On both the Hawaii and Dakar flight the plane was more than 100 NM off the course line at various points, he did not slavishly attempt to stay on the course line.

gl
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 02:27:26 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Heath Smith

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2012, 05:10:52 AM »


Well, he must have created his own where they were not already provided to him correct?

You cannot prove that he did not use Williams flight plan for the reverse flight and you currently believe that the Williams chart is correct on the return flight so why would FN not believe so as well?
 
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2012, 05:35:11 AM »


Well, he must have created his own where they were not already provided to him correct?

You cannot prove that he did not use Williams flight plan for the reverse flight and you currently believe that the Williams chart is correct on the return flight so why would FN not believe so as well?


Williams drafted the Natal to Dakar strip chart so that was available to Noonan but, as we can see, Noonan chose not to use it. Why would Noonan choose not to use the Williams' charts, that's easy to answer, because it was Noonan's life that was on the line, he was in the airplane and if they got lost then he died, not Williams. Experienced navigators trust their own work above the work done by anybody else.

gl
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 02:28:22 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Tom Swearengen

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2012, 06:19:43 AM »

HUM---Noonan "chuckled" over William's charts? In light of the events that happened, maybe he should have thought about it instead of chuckling. Williams probably isnt chuckleing though. He probably laid out the route charts to the best of his ability, AND to the success of the flight. I would guess that after hearing that the flight didnt make it to Howland, he may have felt some responsibility, until realizing that Noonan did his own route.
It doensnt matter who you are, what you do, how many degrees you have-------there is someone out there that is better, more experienced in a specific job than you are. Everyone should learn from that.
Tom Swearengen TIGHAR # 3297
 
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Monty Fowler

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2012, 06:52:24 AM »

And the point of this particular nit is? Other than obfuscation, I'm not seeing one.

But maybe that's just me.

LTM,
Monty Fowler, TIGHAR No. 2189 CER
Ex-TIGHAR member No. 2189 E C R SP, 1998-2016
 
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Tom Swearengen

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2012, 07:12:31 AM »

"Why would Noonan choose not to use the Williams' charts, that's easy to answer, because it was Noonan's life that was on the line, he was in the airplane and if they got lost then he died, not Williams."
That was the point I was making, Monty. It doesnt matter if Noonan used William's charts or not
Tom Swearengen TIGHAR # 3297
 
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Harry Howe, Jr.

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2012, 11:26:37 AM »


Tom
"It doensnt matter who you are, what you do, how many degrees you have-------there is someone out there that is better, more experienced in a specific job than you are. Everyone should learn from that."

An interesting generalization.  I remember a man named Albert Einstein,  who developed the Special Theory of Relativity, the General Theory of Relativity, The Photoelectric Effect Theory, etc.
Who exceeded his accomplishments in these areas?
No Worries Mates
LTM   Harry (TIGHAR #3244R)
 
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2012, 12:09:39 PM »


Throw the Williams chart out of the window - no impact that I can see with Mr. Noonan in the back.  The chart is informative and interesting - and provides a reasonable example of how we might expect the flight to progress. But it's also clear that we'd expect FN to use whatever methodology he was most confident in.  I think we'd rationally expect that he would have altered his plan as he deemed necessary along the way.

LTM -
It looks like we finally agree on something. That is the point I have been trying to make for awhile Jeff, because so many have hung on every nuance of Williams' plan, as though it were gospel, in doing their own analyses of the flight path of the Howland flight and this reliance is misplaced.

gl
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Irvine John Donald

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2012, 01:05:59 PM »

So you agree Gary that FN would have adapted his plan along the way as he deemed necessary.  So faced with the fact AE and FN did not find Howland, is it safe to say a rationale, experienced, trans Pacific qualified, ADAPTABLE navigator might say to AE " Let's just search locally until we find Howland. Yes, I know there are other islands we have the fuel to reach Amelia, they are printed on my chart, and I know how to navigate to them, but let's just search around here until we run out of gas and crash.  I know we dumped all our survival gear Amelia but lets just do the search thing."

Wouldn't a better plan be to work the fuel consumption and alternate plan backwards?  Pick the Phoenix Island group and calculate flying time there.  Figure out what spare flying time they had remaing to play with and use that time to search?  Times up and they head south. But they get there sooner because they were further south of Howland than originally planned so now they land on Gardner with spare fuel to make radio calls with. Pure speculation on my part, but an ADAPTABLE navigator like FN, as we all agree he is, might just be that adaptable.
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2012, 01:08:02 PM »


If the two approaches are so close, why belittle the application of Williams' chart as a reasonable basis for the 'plan'?  ;)


I checked his math and he was amazingly accurate and he had to do the work using trig tables and logarithms and I used my calculator so my hat's off to his computational ability. But if I asked you to open a can of soup and instead of using the can opener on my counter you went to Home Depot and came back with a chainsaw, then I would belittle you too. Either method will open a can.

gl
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Irvine John Donald

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2012, 02:12:18 PM »

LOL!!  A breathe of fresh air Jeff!!  I got this great mental image of Gary in a splattered kitchen with chain saw in one hand and can opener in the other. 
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
« Last Edit: February 20, 2012, 02:23:18 PM by Irvine John Donald »
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Irvine John Donald

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2012, 02:24:41 PM »

Jeff, I think you and I will be lucky if Gary even talks to us at the symposium. I'm guessing an invite to dinner is just not in the works.
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Did Noonan use William's flight plan?
« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2012, 05:38:02 PM »


Plus, although I agree that FN was likely more reliant on taking shots along the way to nudge the course as needed, the fact is a simple rhumb approach DOES have some built-in error that MUST be accounted for along the way.  Williams' is the only approach that gives a truly accurate theoretical steer, segment by segment - now which is truly the best DR policy here?  I'd go with Williams in that strict sense; I merely agree that FN seemed to have a practical approach that probably worked well - apparently until this last flight.

I don't know where you ever got the idea that a great circle is any more accurate than a rhumb line, they are both equally accurate, either one will get you to exactly the same point. If Earhart could fly a perfect course, no wind no compass errors, etc. and if she had just kept the plane on a heading of 078.1° for 2556 SM then she would have hit Howland the same as if perfectly flying Williams' rhumb line segments that approximate the great circle.

There are times when computing and flying a great circle is worth the additional effort, not because is is more accurate but because the length of the great circle is shorter than the rhumb line. Try this on Google Earth. As a starting point use 43° 00.0' North, 88° 00.0' West. For the end point use 43° 00.0' North, 85° 00.0' East and have Google Earth calculate the distance in nautical miles. You will notice that the initial course takes you almost straight north and the final course is almost straight south. I picked those two spots because it is easy to calculate the rhumb line between them. Since they are both at the same latitude, the true course is straight east, 90.00000000000000°. To compute the rhumb line distance figure the difference in longitude, 88 + 85 = 173 degrees. At the equator each degree of longitude is 60 nautical miles so the space between these two longitudes, at the equator, is 173 x 60 = 10,380 NM. At the latitude of 43° the length of a degree of longitude is equal to the cosine of the latitude times the 60 NM distance at the equator. So to find the distance between our two points we just multiply the 10,380 NM times the cosine of 43°, which is 0.731353, so the distance on the rhumb line between these two points is 7,591.45 NM. Compare that to the Google Earth result for the great circle course that passes near the north pole.

If you don't want to use Google Earth, you can use the standard formula for computing the length of the great circle:

GC dist. (in NM) = 60 x arc cos[ sin lat (start) x sin lat (end) + cos lat(start) x cos lat(end) x cos difference in longitude(between start and end)].

gl
« Last Edit: February 21, 2012, 11:29:44 PM by Gary LaPook »
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