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Author Topic: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility  (Read 35298 times)

John Hart

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2012, 07:24:53 PM »

Fascinating stuff about which I have no expertise and applaud the reasoned debate.  I do have an input though, once again in regards to atmospherics.  I think we all visualize the nice tall column of black smoke but the reality could be much different.  We often had fires in the Everglades caused by lightning or other sources.  Sometimes it was light smoke sometimes darker.  With the normal summer heating convection that produces first a haze layer ~1500-2000 feet then CU (we called puffies...looks like popcorn) the smoke would get caught up in that layer and just add to the haze.  From down wind, down sun it just looked like dark haze.  Up wind and up sun you could distinctly see the source and the fire but it was obscured from the other direction.  Wind that morning at Howland was easterly and sun was low in the E so it is very possible the smoke plume became just a dark haze layer vice a nice distinct column of dark black looking from the west.  All the clouds in that direction would look dark on the backside (looking at them from the west) due to shadow.  It may not have been the distinct marker you would expect to see from real far away.  Also as I have stated the perspective from standing on the ground (or a ship) can be far different than from an airplane several thousand feet up.  I still remeber the first time I went to be range officer at the bombing range.  I had been there thousands of times in the air but on the ground nothing looked the same. 

JB
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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #16 on: July 11, 2012, 09:18:12 AM »

"... the smoke would get caught up in that layer and just add to the haze."

I agree.  In my experience funnel smoke from a ship a sea tends to get flattened down and dispersed into a haze if the surface winds are strong.

I would say that three factors affect the column of smoke from a boiler.

1)  The pressure of the air feeding the furnace, through forced draft blowers.

2)  The geometry of the stack and the presence of equipment in the smoke path, such as tube bundles, superheaters, waste heat boilers, economizers, spark screens, baffles, and piping etc.

3)   The wind condition at the top of the stack, including strength and direction.

Smoke making can look great to observers on the ground and the ship, because they are in proximity to it.  I don't know how it would look to an aviator, but I do know from reading a lot of history that enemy warships have often been sighted by their haze they make.
"Six the Hard Way."
 
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2012, 09:53:26 AM »

How would the altitude of the aircraft searching for the smoke affect the probability of seeing it Anthony?
1000 ft the best altitude?
Higher?
Lower?
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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #18 on: July 11, 2012, 10:25:02 AM »

"How would the altitude of the aircraft searching for the smoke affect the probability of seeing it Anthony?"

It's hard for me to say.  My experience in naval aircraft was always as a passenger, and I cannot remember any time when I looked out the window and saw smoke.  The first time that I flew with the Navy, I was a passenger as a midshipman in a SH-60 Seahawk.  We took off from the USS Halyburton (FFG-40) in the Caribbean and overflew some of the Virgin Islands.  On the way back, I was struck for the first time how vast the sea was, and how tiny the ship was.  (Halyburton was a Oliver Perry Hazard Class frigate, with a length of about 450 feet.)  The Halyburton used LM2500 gas turbine engines, so she did not produce any visible smoke.  As I recall, the pilots can rely on the ship's beacon, plus their radar to return home to the ship.

It seems to me that the altitude of the observer would increase the distance.  In navigation and ship handling tasks, we found that the height of eye of the observer was important.  The ballpark estimate for an observer on the ocean's surface in excellent conditions is that the horizon is 11 nautical miles away.  Increasing the height of the observer increases this distance.  The height of the object to be detected is also a factor.  Ships are large, and the higher a ship's funnels are, the greater the distance you are going to see her.  The Electra was tiny compared to a ship, and I would expect that observers at Howland would hear the plane before they actually saw it.  If anyone was going to be first, I would say that Amelia Earhart should have seen Howland and Itasca first, and not the other way around.

An observer at 1000 feet is off my tables.  I have altitude correction tables for up to 149 feet above the surface.  But I imagine that a 1000 foot elevation would have given her the ability to see Itasca and Howland at a greater range, assuming of course that her visibility was not obscured by clouds.
"Six the Hard Way."
 
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2012, 10:46:38 AM »

Thanks Anthony. I am trying to visualise what we have so far
An airplane at 1000ft
Circling, so covering all points of the compass and degrees of a circle
A White ship on a blue background putting out smoke
An island
And clouds!
Itasca didn't hear anything or see anything
AE and FN didn't see anything
Were they even as close as they and Itasca theorised? The previous observations would suggest not.


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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #20 on: July 11, 2012, 01:13:16 PM »

Just to be clear on my thoughts, I think Commander Thompson ordered smoke making a little too early.  My thoughts are based on some facts, some experience, and of course the speculation that always creeps in.

At 0614 (local time) Itasca receives and logs the following message from Earhart:  "WANTS BEARING ON 3105 KCS // ON HOUR // WILL WHISTLE IN MIC ABOUT 200 MILES OUT// APPX// WHISTLING."  I imagine her estimated range from Howland is based on the DR line that Fred Noonan is keeping, based on their last fix during the night.  (Which we don't know or have anyway of knowing.)

The deck log of the Itasca indicates "Vessel began laying down heavy smoke to assist Miss Earhart."  This entry appears immediately after the 0614 radio message, and the similar information regarding the 200 mile distance appears in the deck log with a local time of 0614.

Commander Thompson orders the fireroom to produce black smoke.  This was most likely done by increasing fuel supply of bunker oil to the burner fronts, and throttling back the air registers to the boiler.  (The whereabouts and contents of the engineroom logs are not known to me right now.)  There is probably a delay of only a couple of minutes before the fireroom begins making smoke.  The local wind on the surface is strong, so the term "laying down" smoke is pretty accurate.  The local wind is flattening the smoke and dispersing it as it drifts away from the ship, streaming it into a horizontal smudgy haze and eventually dissipating altogether.

The fireroom makes smoke for about 30 minutes.  At some point, the senior watch stander in the engineroom is getting concerned about the safe operation of the boiler with so much bunker oil being burned in a black smoke condition.  He probably called the bridge and requested permission to stop.  The commanding officer or Officer of the Deck would either grant it or refuse.  If ceasing smoke was refused, at some point the Chief Engineer is going to want to talk to Commander Thompson and point out the dangers by continued smoke making, and Commander Thompson has to make a decision between helping Amelia Earhart find Howland Island, and endangering the Itasca.

Meanwhile, the radio room is struggling to get contact with the Electra.  The ship is packed with reporters and various civilian guests, and the watchstanders on the bridge of the Itasca are concerned with topside operations such as monitoring Itasca's position westward of Howland Island, and the boats that were launched carrying the landing parties to Howland.  It's not surprising that the deck log omits any reference of when the smoke making stopped.

I don't know whether a compromise was reached with Commander Thompson as to smoke making.  Perhaps he ordered it intermittently, or perhaps it ceased altogether.  The engineering logs would help.

At 0645, around the time the Engineering Department would want to stop making so much black smoke, the Itasca radio personnel log the following:  "PSE (please) TAKE BEARING ON US AND REPORT IN HALF HOUR -- I WILL MAKE NOISE IN MIC -- ABT 100 MILES OUT."
Again, I think this estimate of range from Howland is based on the DR.  (I do find it hard to believe that the Electra has covered 100 miles in half an hour.  This reflects that Amelia is bad at putting times on her fixes and estimated positions.)

James Kamakaiwi later reports that the Itasca was making huge clouds of smoke.  That tells us that smoke was being made, but not when or how long.  A reporter later notes that when the Itasca leaves Howland to search, she is making smoke.  But that would be typical, because boilers in those days did not have the automatic controls that we have today.  As the ship began ordering speed, the Itasca would drain current on the electric motor powering the ship's screw.  This would increase steam demand on the turbine generator, which would in turn increase demand on the boiler.  The fireroom personnel must then increase feedwater flow to the boiler, and increase fuel and air to the burners.  The ship would make smoke during acceleration, until the fireroom was able to get the water, air, and fuel flowing at a rate to meet the demand.  Then the smoke would taper off.

At 0742, Radioman Galten's radio log has the following: "KHAQQ CLNG ITASCA WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE U BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO WE ARE FLYING AT A 1000 FEET."  Of course, we don't know when Amelia Earhart descended to 1000 feet, or what her altitude was at the 0614 transmission of her being 200 miles out.

This is almost an hour and a half after the deck log indicates smoke making began.  From all of that, my conclusion is that Commander Thompson started smoke making early.  He should have started at 0730, not 0614, but I can understand his decision given the amount of confusion over when Amelia left Lae, where she was, her confusing estimates of her distance from the island, and logical assumptions (which were probably erroneous) that the Electra was travelling faster than it actually was.
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Gary LaPook

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #21 on: July 13, 2012, 01:52:21 AM »


At 0614 (local time) Itasca receives and logs the following message from Earhart:  "WANTS BEARING ON 3105 KCS // ON HOUR // WILL WHISTLE IN MIC ABOUT 200 MILES OUT// APPX// WHISTLING."  I imagine her estimated range from Howland is based on the DR line that Fred Noonan is keeping, based on their last fix during the night.  (Which we don't know or have anyway of knowing.)

The deck log of the Itasca indicates "Vessel began laying down heavy smoke to assist Miss Earhart."  This entry appears immediately after the 0614 radio message, and the similar information regarding the 200 mile distance appears in the deck log with a local time of 0614.

Commander Thompson orders the fireroom to produce black smoke.
The fireroom makes smoke for about 30 minutes.  At some point, the senior watch stander in the engineroom is getting concerned about the safe operation of the boiler with so much bunker oil being burned in a black smoke condition.  He probably called the bridge and requested permission to stop.  The commanding officer or Officer of the Deck would either grant it or refuse.  If ceasing smoke was refused, at some point the Chief Engineer is going to want to talk to Commander Thompson and point out the dangers by continued smoke making, and Commander Thompson has to make a decision between helping Amelia Earhart find Howland Island, and endangering the Itasca.


I imagine that this conversation went something like this:

The engineering officer, Lt (j.g.) Brandenburg, comes onto the bridge.

Er..Sir?

WHAT IS IT NOW, BRANDENBURG?

I'm becoming concerned that if we keep making smoke we might cause damage to the boilers, I believe we should secure from making smoke.

WELL LIEUTENANT, I GUESS YOU DIDN'T NOTICE THAT THE REASON WE ARE HERE IS BECAUSE OF COMMAND EMPHASIS THAT COMES ALL THE WAY FROM THE WHITE HOUSE. WHY DO YOU THINK THEY BUILT A WHOLE AIRPORT FOR HER ON THIS SPECK OF AN ISLAND? I HAVE BEEN ORDERED TO MAKE SMOKE TO GUIDE HER IN AND SHE HAS BEEN NOTIFIED TO LOOK FOR THIS SMOKE AND NOW YOU WANT ME TO DISOBEY MY ORDERS AND STOP MAKING SMOKE? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT, LIEUTENANT?

Well Sir, that would be the safest thing to do to protect the boilers.

LIEUTENANT, YOU SEE ALL THOSE CIVILIANS OUT THERE ON DECK AND ON THE ISLAND, THEY KNOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO MAKE SMOKE. IF ANYTHING GOES WRONG, AND SHE DOESN'T MAKE IT, THOSE CIVILIANS WILL RUSH TO PUT THE BLAME ON THE COAST GUARD, THAT MEANS TO PUT THE BLAME ON ME! IT ALREADY LOOKS LIKE THIS OPERATION IS GOING TO HELL IN A HAND BASKET BECAUSE THAT DIZZY DAME DOESN'T KNOW PROPER RADIO PROCEDURE AND SHE JUST ASKED US TO TAKE A BEARING ON HER AND WE HAD INFORMED HER THAT OUR RADIO DIRECTION FINDER DOESN'T HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO WORK HER FREQUENCIES. I'M NOT GOING TO LOSE MY CAREER BECAUSE YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT THE BOILERS!

SO NO, LIEUTENANT, WE ARE NOT GOING TO SECURE FROM MAKING SMOKE AND YOU ARE GOING TO DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO KEEP MAKING SMOKE,  I DON'T CARE IF YOU PERSONALLY HAVE TO PUT ON AN ASBESTOS SUIT AND GO INTO THE FIREBOX AND SCRUB THE TUBES WITH YOUR OWN TOOTHBRUSH. HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR, LIEUTENANT?

Yes Sir!

NOW GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!

Yes Sir!

gl

« Last Edit: July 13, 2012, 01:55:55 AM by Gary LaPook »
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JNev

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #22 on: July 13, 2012, 11:32:44 AM »

Well, whatever the case really was with the smoke, apparently AE didn't see it.

If it was laid down as heavily as you believe, Gary, where would the search box had to have been to have missed it?

LTM -
- Jeff Neville

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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #23 on: July 13, 2012, 11:43:59 AM »

The 'other' direction along the LOP ?
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Dave Potratz

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #24 on: July 13, 2012, 12:46:58 PM »

J. Nevill asked Gary,
Quote
"where would the search box had to have been to have missed it?"

Jeff wrote:
Quote
The 'other' direction along the LOP ?

That's got my vote!  :)

dp
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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #25 on: July 13, 2012, 01:14:24 PM »

Quote
I imagine that this conversation went something like this:

Confrontations like that may seem campy, but have never been uncommon.

In 1950, the USS Missouri ran hard aground on Thimble Shoals in the Chesapeake.  Although the CO was desperately trying to extricate himself from the shoal, the engineers were shutting down equipment and ballasting down.  "Hard aground, ballast down."  The CO was later relieved, and the Chief Engineer promoted.

In 1996, we pulled into Singapore for a port visit.  Our XO, who had good intentions but a lack of technical skills, insisted on going cold iron and plugging our ship's 4 shore power cables into the pier.  Our department, from the Chief Engineer to the electricians protested, pointing out that plugging 60 Hz equipment into a 50 Hz source was a very bad idea.  The CO deferred to the XO, and we were overruled.  Fortunately, when the working party went to plug in our shore power cables, the connecting fittings didn't match.  Whoever designed the pier facilities had enough foresight to make it idiot proof for Americans.

These issues happen all the time.  A good CO will know when to rely on his technical experience or rely on those who have it.  Command at sea carries with it absolute authority, and absolute responsibility.
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Gary LaPook

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #26 on: July 15, 2012, 12:27:29 AM »

Just to be clear on my thoughts, I think Commander Thompson ordered smoke making a little too early.  My thoughts are based on some facts, some experience, and of course the speculation that always creeps in.

In the past we have discussed whether Thompson made smoke too LATE since the wind speed was low the smoke would not have had enough time to extend far downwind. ...

gl

N.B.: Obsolete link removed.  MXM, SJ
« Last Edit: July 15, 2012, 09:35:46 AM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #27 on: July 15, 2012, 09:37:07 AM »

I have created this FAQ to accumulate, as much as possible, all posts about Itasca's capacity to make smoke, the color of the smoke, the visibility of the smoke, the duration of the smoke, and all other smoke-related questions.  If you have other favorite posts on this topic, please place links to those posts and/or threads here. 

Thanks.
 
LTM,

           Marty
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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: FAQ: Itasca smoke signal--possibility, duration, visibility
« Reply #28 on: July 16, 2012, 09:38:00 AM »

Quote
Any chance of those surviving somewhere?

I sent an e-mail to the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office, inquiring about the Itasca's engineering logs.  I received the following reply this morning:  "The USCG Historian's Office does not maintain logs.  To my knowledge, engineering logs are not permanent record, as such they would have been destroyed."

I'm still looking. :-\
"Six the Hard Way."
 
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