Conclusion of Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio”: Former PAA flight officer’s findings still fascinate

In the conclusion of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” the former Pan American Airways radio flight officer examines further technical and other aspects of Amelia Earhart’s final flight, including the origin and effectiveness of the radio direction finder on Howland Island, some of the possible post-flight radio transmissions that may have originated from the Earhart Electra, and Fred Noonan’s alleged drinking problem as it may have affected the flight. As always, the real mystery is what transpired aboard the Electra in the hours before and after her last radio transmission, and the biggest question remains unanswered: Was Amelia actually attempting to reach Howland Island? If she was, then Gray’s conclusions remain highly relevant today.

THE HOWLAND ISLAND RADIO DIRECTION FINDER

Obviously Earhart had a misconception of the radio direction finder installed on Howland Island. She apparently envisaged it as being a PAA type Adcock high frequency system, or its functional equivalent, which would take bearings on her 3105 kHz signals and send them to her just as the PAA station at Mokapu Point had done during her flight from Oakland to Honolulu. Because of that she repeatedly asked Itasca to take bearings on 3105 kHz and transmitted signals upon which bearings were expected to be taken.   It appears that there may have been some justification for her having that concept.

When the decision was made to fly easterly around the world, and the long Lae-Howland leg was being studied, Earhart and Noonan suggested to the Coast Guard that a radio direction finder be set up on Howland (“PLANE SUGGESTS DIRECTION FINDER BE SET UP ON ISLAND, IF PRACTICABLE”). According to the research of Capt. Laurance F. Safford, USN, it was at about this time that Mr. Richard B. Black, the Department of the Interior representative, who was to go to Howland in Itasca, conceived the idea of “borrowing” a so-called high frequency radio direction finder from the Navy to use on Howland Island.  Black advised G.P. Putnam, Earhart’s husband and business manager, of his plans and advised him when the gear had been obtained and put aboard Itasca.  No doubt Putnam passed this information along to Earhart.

It was on Howland Island that Black supervised construction of the air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radioroom of the USCG Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

Richard B. Black, the Interior Department representative who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radio room of Itasca, as Earhart sent her last known radio transmissions. As a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1939, he was assigned as the U.S. Antarctic Service base commander, East Base, U.S. Antarctic Expedition. In 1954, Black served as the base operations officer of the first U.S. Navy Deep Freeze expedition.

In a message sent June 27 to Commander, San Francisco Division, USCG, the C.O. Itasca [Cdr. Warner K. Thompson]reported on his readiness for supporting the upcoming flight.   One item was “DIRECTION FINDER INSTALLED ON HOWLAND.”  This fact was reported to Mr. Putnam, then in San Francisco, and he in turn passed the news to Earhart, who was then at Darwin, Australia. While the Itasca message did not specifically say “High Frequency Direction Finder,” there apparently had been sufficient other information, probably via telephone from Putnam, to cause Earhart to believe that it was such a device. She likely assumed that the DF had been installed at Howland in response to the suggestion made earlier by Noonan and herself , and fully expected it to be a functional equivalent of a PAA-Adcock system.

According to Capt. Safford, who was in an excellent position to know, the direction finder station on Howland Island actually consisted of an aircraft type radio receiver and an aircraft type rotatable loop antenna which had been “hay-wired” together into a temporary DF installation. It operated off storage batteries borrowed from Itasca. The receiver and loop had been “moon-light requisitioned” (obtained by informal means) by Mr. Black and Lt. Daniel Cooper of the Army Air Corps, from a Navy patrol plane at Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor.

The equipment appears to have been a military version, or perhaps a twin, of the Bendix receiver and loop in the Earhart plane. At any rate, with a loop antenna, it certainly was not a high frequency direction finder and the probability of taking meaningful bearings with it on 3105 kHz over any significant distance, was practically nil. The Howland DF operator [Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani] had only two opportunities to try taking a bearing on the plane, and in each case the plane’s transmission was so short that a really good attempt could not be made. Had the transmissions been sufficiently long the operator no doubt would have found that he could get no “minimum” and hence no bearing.

POST-FLIGHT SIGNALS

NAURU

On July 3 (GMT date) an operator at public service radio station VKT, Nauru, sent the following “wire note” (an informal communication between operators) to RCA radio station KPH at San Francisco, with the request that it be passed to Itasca:

VOICE HEARD FAIRLY STRONG SIGS STRENGTH TO S3 [at] 0843 and 0854 GMT 48.31 METERS (i.e. 6216 kHz) SPEECH NOT INTERPRETED OWNING BAD MODULATION OR SPEAKER SHOUTING INTO MICROPHONE BUT VOICE SIMILAR TO THAT EMITTED FROM PLANE IN FLIGHT LAST NIGHT WITH EXCEPTION NO HUM ON PLANE IN BACKGROUND.”

Note that these signals were heard about 12-and-a-half hours after Itasca last heard the plane.

There is nothing that directly and positively connects these signals with the Earhart plane, however there is indirect evidence that warrants serious consideration:

(a) The frequency (6210 kHz) was right for it being the plane. It was not a com­monly used frequency in that area.

(b) The Nauru operator reported good signal strength and was able to judge the tone or timbre of the speaker’s voice yet was unable to understand what the speaker was saying. He suggested the possibility of modulation problems. The operator who had checked the plane at Lae and the DF operator at Howland who was trying to take a radio bearing on the plane, both had noted similar symptoms and suggested possible modulation problems.

(c) The probability of there being more than one transmitter in the area exhibiting the same symptoms of over-modulation on the same frequencies at essentially the same time is very small.

It is this writer’s opinion that the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the Naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford's verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers "were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew." Did Safford know more about the fliers' fates than he ever publicly admitted?

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford’s verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers “were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew.” Did Safford know more about the fliers’ fates than he ever publicly admitted?

PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS

Shortly after the Earhart plane became overdue at Howland, the Coast Guard requested PAA to use its communication and radio direction finding facilities in the Pacific areas to assist in the search for the plane and survivors. Instructions were immediately issued for the stations at Mokapu Point, Midway and Wake to monitor the plane’s frequencies as much as limited personnel would permit and be prepared to take radio bearings on any signals heard which might reasonably be believed to be coming from the plane. A special radio circuit was set up to permit intercommunication among the three stations.  Numerous weak signals were heard but nothing of interest until 0948 July 5, GMT time and date. The following is extracted from a report made by R.M. Hansen, the Radio Operator in Charge at the Wake Island station:

At 0948 a phone signal of good intensity and well modulated by a voice but wavering badly suddenly came on 3105 kc. While the carrier frequency of this signal did not appear to vary appreciably, its strength did vary in an unusually erratic manner and at 0950, the carrier strength fell off to QSA 2 (2 on a scale of 0 to 5) with the wavering more noticeable than ever.   At 0952, it went off completely.  At 1212 (GMT July 5) I opened the DF guard on 3105 kc. At 1223 a very unsteady voice modulated carrier was observed on 3105 kc approximately.  This transmission lasted until 1236 GMT. I was able to get an approximate bearing of 144 degrees. In spite of the extreme eccentricity of this signal during the entire length of the transmission, the splits were definite and pretty fair.

After I obtained the observed bearing, I advised Midway to listen for the signal (couldn’t raise Honolulu). He apparently did not hear it. This signal started in at a carrier strength of QSA5 (5 on a scale of 0 to 5) and at 1236, when the transmission stopped, it had gradually petered out to QSA2 during the intervals when it was audible. The characteristics of this signal were identical with those of the signal heard the previous night (0948 GMT) except that at DF the complete periods of no signal occurred during shorter intervals.  While no identification call letters were distinguished in either case, I was positive at that time that this was KHAQQ [Earhart’s plane]. At this date I am still of this opinion.

Midway heard a signal having the same characteristics, and almost certainly the same station, at 0638 GMT July 5.  A quick bearing of 201 degrees True was obtained, however the signal was not audible long enough to take a really good bearing and the 201 degree figure was labeled “approximate.”

Honolulu (Mokapu Point) also heard the “peculiar signal” on 3105 kHz several times. From 1523 to 1530 GMT July 4 an attempt was made to take a bearing on it, however due to weakness and shifting of the signal, only a rough bearing could be obtained. It was logged as 213 degrees, but it was implied that it was a doubtful bearing. Sometime between 0630 and 1225 GMT another bearing was attempted on the “peculiar signal.” The log describes it thus: “SIGNALS SO WEAK THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO OBTAIN EVEN A FAIR CHECK. AVERAGE SEEMS TO BE AROUND 215 DEGREES — VERY DOUBTFUL BEARING .” It is obvious that the bearings from Honolulu were greatly inferior to those taken from Wake and Midway and are useful mainly as indications that the unknown station continued to function.

Not much attention was paid to these interceptions at the time because no one was aware that Earhart’s radio signals had been abnormal. Had it been known that she was having over­ modulation problems more attention probably would have been given  them  because the “Wavering” in the carrier strength is consistent with a varying degree of over-modulation rapidly increasing and decreasing carrier power.  The gradual drop of signal strength from QSA5 to QSA2 over a span of 13 minutes is consistent with the further discharge of an already partially discharged storage battery power supply. The peculiar signals on 3105 kHz heard by Wake, Midway and Honolulu may very well have come from the Earhart plane, and there is good reason to believe that the radio bearing taken on those signals by Wake was accurate within a degree or so. The one from Midway may have had a somewhat larger error.

(Editor’s note: A number of radio operators, including several in the continental United States, reported hearing signals that they believed originated from Earhart and Noonan, and some have already been presented on this blog. Please see  Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages’ Real or fantasy?  and Experts weigh in on Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages.)

FREDERICK J. NOONAN

There has been much speculation as to whether or not Fred Noonan could send and receive International Morse code. From personal observation the writer knows that as of late 1935 Noonan could send and receive plain language at slow speeds, around eight to 10 words per minute. Recent research by Noonan biographer Michael A. Lang has revealed that circa 1931 Noonan held a Second Class Commercial Radio Operator license issued by the Radio Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Second Class licenses of that vintage certify that the holder has been examined and passed the following elements:

(a) Knowledge of the general principles of electricity and of the theory of radio­ telegraphy and radiotelephony.

(b) Adjustment , operation and care of apparatus.

(c) Transmitting and sound reading at a speed of not less than sixteen words a minute Continental Morse in code groups and twenty words a minute in plain language.

(d) Use and care of storage battery or other auxiliary.

(e) Knowledge of international regulations and Acts of Congress to regulate radio communications.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia and Fred. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as has been alleged.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as some have alleged.

Those writing about the Earhart disappearance have, in general, been very rough on Noonan because of his admitted problem with alcohol. In some cases much rougher than was justified by the facts. For example in one book it is related that the night before the departure from Lae for Howland, Noonan went on a binge and did not get to the airfield until just before the plane was due to take off, and even then was so intoxicated that he had to be helped aboard the plane. The implication being that he was largely responsible for the failure of the flight. The official report of Guinea Airways Ltd., at Lae, made in response to a request from the U.S. Government, paints quite a different picture. According to it the Lae wireless operator made attempts all throughout the day of June 30 to get time signals, requested by Earhart and Noonan, to permit Noonan to check his chronometer, but owing to local interference was unsuccessful that day.  That indicates that Noonan spent most of June 30 at the radio station.

At about this point, Earhart decided to take off for Howland Island at 9:30 a.m. on July 1, subject to obtaining the time signal.

At 6:35 a.m. July 1st Earhart took the plane up on a 30-minute test hop after which the tanks were topped off and she was ready to go, except that a time signal had not yet been obtained. This day the difficulty was at the radio station which transmitted the signals. Extraordinary steps were taken to get a time signal but when one had not been obtained by 10:50 a.m. Earhart decided to postpone her departure until the next day, July 2. During the rest of the day constant watch was kept for the reception of time signals and finally at around 10:20 p.m. an excellent signal was received by Noonan which showed his chronometer to be three seconds slow.  Noonan obviously had spent most of that day at the radio station.

On July 2 at 8:00 a.m. another time signal was received, this one from Saigon, and the chronometer checked the same as the previous night. Both Noonan and Earhart expressed their complete satisfaction and decided to leave at 10:00 a.m., which they did.

Only Noonan would have checked the chronometer, so the report seems to indicate clearly that Noonan was sober and in good shape at 8:00 a.m. and probably was that way when the plane took off.

CONCLUSIONS

From the standpoint of radio, Earhart’s decision to rely completely on radiotelephony, and her removal of the trailing antenna, showed poor judgment and introduced unnecessary and unjustifiable risks. However it cannot be denied that she got as far as Lae without trouble with what she had. It was her mistake in designating 7500 kHz as the homing frequency for Itasca that got her into deep trouble. Even that difficulty probably could have been overcome had she been able to communicate with Itasca and agree on a suitable homing frequency. Fate intervened, however, and something occurred in her receiving system which made it impos­sible for Earhart to hear any signals with her gear set up in the configuration she was accustomed to use for communications.

She did not understand the technical aspects of radio well enough to diagnose her problem and was not sufficiently familiar with the radio gear to know all the options available to her. She had been taught to shift the receiver to the loop antenna when she wanted to take a bearing, but probably no one had ever explained to her how the loop also could be used in carrying on communications. Had she been aware of that option and listened on the loop for Itasca‘s voice signals on 3105 kHz, no doubt she would have heard the ship and been able to establish two-way communications.

The probability is very high that the failure of the receiving system to receive signals when using the fixed antenna was due either to a defective feed line between the receiver unit and the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter, or a defect in that relay itself. The odds are about 95 to 5 that the relay was at fault. It is considered therefore that a failure of that relay was the one single thing most responsible for the failure of the Earhart flight.

If it is assumed that the “peculiar signals” intercepted by Nauru and the PAA stations at Wake and Midway were in fact from the Earhart plane then the following may be deduced from the radio signals:

(a) The landing was fairly successful. The plane did not nose over or break up, otherwise the radio could not have been used.

(b) The landing was not in the open sea. Had it been, enough salt water would have seeped in to enter the wiring and disable the radio transmitting gear in a relatively short time.

(c) Earhart survived the landing. She was heard by the Nauru operator long after the plane would have run out of gas.

(d) Noonan survived. A man’s voice was distinctly heard on the “peculiar signal” by Midway. It was unintelligible.

Almon Gray at Gray's Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray's analysis of Earhart's radio problems "

Almon Gray at his Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray’s analysis of Earhart’s radio problems during her last flight “one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.”

(e) Either Earhart or Noonan, or both, were alive and with the plane at least until 0948 July 5, 1937 GCT time and date. The “peculiar signals” were last heard then.

(f) The “peculiar signals” probably were coming from the eastern or southeastern part of the Marshall Islands. (End of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio.”)

Bill Prymak’s note:  Capt. Gray, USNR (Ret.) received his Commercial Radio Operator License in 1930, and went with Pan American in 1935, when they started the trans-Pacific service. He became Flight Radio Officer on China Clipper type aircraft, and later was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Communication in 1937.

The AMELIA EARHART SOCIETY finds the above radio analysis of the last flight to be one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.

Editor’s note: We should remember that in considering this analysis of Earhart’s final flight, Almon Gray took the position that the fliers were actually trying to reach Howland Island, and that all their actions were directed toward that goal.  If Amelia and Noonan were not trying to reach Howland, but were engaged in some sort of covert operation, which certainly cannot be ruled based on our limited knowledge of what transpired during those final hours, then many of Gray’s findings become largely irrelevant. 

David Martin reviews Second Edition of “The Truth at Last”

The remarkable work of David Martin — news analyst, commentator, poet and observer of the passing scene (not to be confused with the better-known but far-less accomplished CBS newsman of the same name) — is known to regular readers of this blog.  On his website, DCDave.com, the erudite Martin educates his discerning audience about many things, including the sacred cows that the Washington establishment has protected for decades.

Nowhere else on the Web can one find such a vast collection of insight and truth, with myriad offerings that include such treasures  as Who Killed James Forrestal?Upton Sinclair and Timothy McVeighand  America’s Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster. 

I contacted Martin about 11 years ago when I learned of his work on the James V. Forrestal case, when his third Freedom of Information Act request resulted in the 2004 declassification of the Willcutts Reportthe full report of the investigative review board appointed the day after the first secretary of defense’s death and kept secret for 55 years. Basically, the Willcutts Report revealed that Forrestal almost certainly was murdered and did not commit suicide, a myth that has persisted since his bizarre death on Oct. 11, 1949 at the Bethesda, Md., Naval Hospital. I told him of Thomas E. Devine’s claims of Forrestal’s presence on Saipan at the time of the discovery of the Earhart Electra, and Martin was naturally interested. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and I still cannot keep up with the depth and breadth of his incisive writings, focused as I’ve been on the Earhart case, and as prolific as Martin’s output continues to be. 

Following the June 2012 publication of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Martin’s review, Hillary Clinton and the Amelia Earhart Cover-up set a standard that hadn’t been matched until today. As he wrote in closing his August 2012 piece, “Don’t expect any of our mainstream press to be directing you to Campbell’s book, though. If he is to be ignored, it will not be because the case he makes for the capture of Earhart and Noonan by the Japanese is too weak. It will be because it is too strong.”

A recent photo of David Martin at the Parthenon, Athens, Greece.

A recent photo of David Martin at the Parthenon, Athens, Greece.

Thus I was pleased when Martin agreed to review the Second Edition of The Truth at Last, and today he posted it on his site, as well as Rense.com, probably the busiest site on the Net, where a novice needs a roadmap to locate a columnist or story.

Without further introductory jabber, here is David Martin’s review of the Second Edition of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.

“Amelia Earhart Truth Versus the Establishment”

A Review

H.L. Mencken opens “The Champion,” one of his most memorable and entertaining essays with this question: “Of the forty-eight sovereign States of this imperial Federation, which is the worst?” With his next sentence he clarifies his question: “In what one of them is a civilized man most uncomfortable?” The answer, as one who knows Mencken might expect, turns out to be that most thoroughly American of all the states, California.

Mencken was a journalist—albeit a truly great one—so he didn’t define “worst” like a person of higher values might have. As I was reading the new and improved second edition of Mike Campbell’s Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, a superior way of clarifying the question, as it applies to the countries on this globe, came to my mind. “In what one of them is a virtuous, truth-telling man most unwelcome?”

Now anyone who knows anything about the human race and its history knows that such people tend not to be welcome anywhere, particularly among those who have a close hold on power over the fellow members of their group. If, as is often the case, their power is built upon a foundation of lies—sometimes known as myths—their hostility is likely to be particularly great. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mike Campbell with his rock-solid story of pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart’s capture by the Japanese in 1937, and the 21st century ruling establishment of the United States of America.

An Important Myth

As we all know, the prevailing myth about the popular aviator’s disappearance in the South Pacific as she failed to reach tiny Howland Island is that it remains a big mystery that likely will never be solved. The really interesting thing is that our press increasingly feels the need, more than three-quarters of a century after the fact, to reinforce the myth with tales of efforts to locate traces of the lost airplane and its two occupants, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. We detailed some of these myth-reinforcing efforts in our review of the first edition of Campbell’s book, Hillary Clinton and the Amelia Earhart Cover-up,” published in 2012.  It can be found in the concluding section entitled “Continued Media Misdirection.” We note in that section that right in the forefront of the myth reinforcement was no less an establishment figure than the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The essential outlines of the truth—as opposed to the myth—concerning what happened to Earhart, Noonan, and their twin-engine Lockheed Electra are by now well established through the testimony of a large number of witnesses. The airplane went down on an island in the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands to the north of Howland Island. Earhart and Noonan were taken prisoner by the Japanese and treated as spies. From there they were transferred to the Japanese headquarters for the region, the island of Saipan, for incarceration and interrogation, with a likely intermediate stop at Kwajalein Atoll.

There are a number of questions that remain open at this point, but most of them are minor. After Campbell’s latest effort, it’s probably correct to say that it’s no longer an open question that Earhart intentionally missed Howland Island. Uncle Sam was paying the piper and the tune he called was for her to “get lost” and to stumble into Japanese territory. The botched radio transmissions from Earhart’s airplane could not have been those of a person running out of fuel, desperate to save her life before going down in the vast Pacific, whose only lifeline was the radio.

A pithy quote from our 32nd president, who nonetheless chose to do nothing when Amelia Earhart was imprisoned on Saipan by the Japanese in 1937.

A pithy quote from our 32nd president, “a schemer of the highest order,” who chose to do nothing when Amelia Earhart was imprisoned on Saipan by the Japanese in 1937. This betrayal of Amelia and Fred Noonan, two of America’s finest, continues to be denied and covered up by our government, media and academic establishments. The time for official disclosure has long passed, and the sacred cow of the Earhart truth is as closely protected as ever.

President Franklin Roosevelt, a schemer of the highest order, we may safely speculate, was certain that the Japanese would treat the international celebrity Earhart well and would welcome the good publicity they would receive by rescuing her and then letting her go on her way. It was a very tragic miscalculation insofar as the fate of Earhart and Noonan was concerned. FDR had greatly underestimated the degree of suspicion and the level of barbarity of the Japanese militarists.

Our government certainly knew that Earhart and Noonan were in Japanese hands, but we couldn’t let them know that we knew without giving away the game, a large part of it being that we were listening to Japanese radio communications, having broken their codes. Comparing what our decodes said with what we likely knew of Earhart’s route would have been a good way to further nail down the code breaking.

We might have gained some valuable intelligence, intelligence that bears upon the question of our foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, but in the process FDR had maneuvered himself into a position where his only political course of action was to abandon the fliers to their fate. From that time to the present it has been in the interests of the governments of the United States and of Japan to stick with the story that Earhart just got lost, ran out of fuel, and disappeared without a trace, or perhaps crash landed on tiny Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) and survived there for a while.

Military Parallels

Campbell doesn’t make the connection, but at this point we can’t help but notice the great similarities between the Earhart episode and our government’s abandonment of large numbers of POWs in North Vietnam and Laos after the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon and his top adviser Henry Kissinger had painted themselves into a corner by making secret promises that were politically impossible for them to keep, so badly did they want a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese. Chief among them was a promise of reparations for the damage that we had done to the country in the war. The Communists held back prisoners as a sort of collateral, and we never paid up. The truth makes both the Communist governments and the U.S. look bad, so the politically expedient course of action has been to leave the POWs to their fate, just as Earhart and Noonan were left to theirs.

Another great parallel in the two abandonments is that on one side are the governments and their compliant press and on the other side are large numbers of witnesses, many of whom are American military veterans. In the Earhart case, Campbell reminds us, that latter category includes three high-ranking officers who might not have been eyewitnesses, but they have lent their authority to the story told by the many witnesses on Saipan and the Marshall Islands. They are Saipan veteran Marine General Graves Erskine, former Marine Commandant General Alexander A. Vandegrift, and the famous Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who had been the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Forces.

With the mention of those three illustrious military officers, we are reminded further of the Earhart parallels with another historical incident in which a famous military leader has taken strong issue with the position of the government and the press. The incident is the 1967 attack on the USS Liberty by Israel that left 34 American servicemen dead and 174 injured. The military officer who rejected the official story that it was an accident, a case of mistaken identity by the Israelis, was Admiral Thomas Moorer.

I am also reminded of my own experience in the U.S. Army that is recounted in my article, A Condensation of Military Incompetence.” I was on mid-tour leave in Japan in early 1968 from the Eighth Army in Korea. A traveling companion, a soldier stationed on the DMZ, had told me about hearing a large number of infiltrators who had come through their lines at night, he and his fellow sentinels had fired in the direction of the noise, but had not hit any enemy soldiers. When a 31-man squad ended up in the heart of Seoul my companion was certain that it was the same group, and his story checks out with what I later learned from talking with my outfit’s inspectors from Eighth Army headquarters. Yet the official story from that day until now is that we knew nothing about any such infiltrators until a couple of Korean civilians many miles to the south encountered them, that is, we did not know of any such infiltrators who had come through our lines.

Marine General Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps at the Battle of Saipan. In late 1966, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS radio newsman, "It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You'll have to dig the rest out for yourselves."

Marine Gen. Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps at the Battle of Saipan. In late 1966, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS radio newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”

Preserving FDR’s Reputation

A major reason why our ruling establishment cannot admit the truth in the Earhart case is what it would do to the reputation of President Roosevelt. According to the dominant myth, he was the great, wise man who led us on to victory in the Good War, a war that was forced upon him by the unanticipated Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

How great is the need to keep FDR’s reputation intact was brought home to this writer in his reading of three recent books that are generally scathing in their criticism of the wartime president’s policies, particularly with respect to the Communists. They are Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia by Tim Tzouliadis, and American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character by Diana West. The key action that each of these authors took to protect the Roosevelt myth is summed up in this passage from my review of the latter book:

West’s most obvious intentional weakening of her argument is her failure to mention the anti-Communist Jewish journalist Isaac Don Levine. In my essay,FDR Winked at Soviet Espionage,” I fault another conservative journalist, Ann Coulter, when, in her book Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism she airbrushes Levine out of the picture as the man who set up and attended the fateful meeting in 1939 between Communist defector Whittaker Chambers and Roosevelt security chief Adolf Berle, in which Chambers revealed to Berle the existence of a Soviet spy cell that included State Department officials Alger and Donald Hiss, Treasury official Harry Dexter White, and even White House aide Lauchlin Currie. I further fault Tzouliadis and imminent Red exposer M. Stanton Evans for protecting FDR by falsely stating that Berle never informed Roosevelt of what Chambers had revealed. West goes them one better. She inexplicably leaves out any mention of the meeting itself.

These critics of Franklin Roosevelt surely knew that what they wrote about this episode was not true (or in West’s case, knew that it was much too important to be omitted). What this tells us is that preserving the reputation of FDR is such a big deal that even his putatively most severe critics would jeopardize their own reputations to cover up for the man.

Unacceptable Truth

That, in a nutshell, shows you what Mike Campbell is up against with his definitive books on the Earhart saga. I provided a sample of the establishment wall of rejection in my August 2015 article, Wikipedia’s Greatest Misses:”

The Amelia Earhart Wikipedia page has a very extensive “Bibliography of cited sources” and “Further reading.” There is no trace of Campbell or his work there. One may survey the history of the site to see that references to Campbell and his work have been put up, but have been quickly taken down. It is obvious that the site is still closely policed and Amelia Earhart’s disappearance continues to be a very important historical hot potato. So what we have here is a brand new mystery to solve: Who is making Mike Campbell disappear from Wikipedia, and why is it so important that he be made to disappear?

Click here to continue Dave Martin’s review of Truth at Last.

Almon Gray’s “Amelia didn’t know radio,” Part II of III

We continue with noted Pan American Airlines radio officer Almon Gray’s analysis of the radio problems that Amelia Earhart encountered during her final flight. Before we proceed, a word from the late Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, who directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to the Lockheed facility following the “ground-loop” at Luke Field, might be instructive.  In Kennedy’s 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ’em Flying, he was quite frank in his appraisal of Amelia’s radio skills, or lack of same.

Kennedy believed that Earhart’s cavalier attitude toward radios led to her undoing. “In her unique fashion Earhart was quite a lady, although it is well known that she punctuated her airport conversation with a spectacular lexicon of aviation vulgarities,” Kennedy wrote. This was especially the case when she had trouble contacting the tower, because she was notoriously lazy about learning how to use the radio properly. She would get so frustrated that her language became unprintable and Burbank tower operators often found it necessary to reprimand her. That failure to learn radio procedures may be significant in light of the apparently frantic transmissions before she disappeared. I remember Paul Mantz telling her that she must be up to speed on frequencies for daylight and night transmissions, but she flippantly replied that if she couldn’t get what she wanted she’d just keep trying until she got a response.”

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, circa 1991. According to Bill Prymak, who knew him well, Kennedy fabricated stories about what Amelia Earhart told him after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937. These tales from Kennedy have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission.

Art Kennedy, circa 1937, who directed the repairs for Amelia Earhart’s Electra at the Lockheed facility at Burbank, Calif.  Kennedy said that Earhart was “notoriously lazy about learning to use the radio properly.”

 “AMELIA EARHART AND RADIO,” By Almon A. Gray

Part II of III

ANATOMY OF A GOOF

While we shall never have a positive and complete answer to the above questions, it is possible to deduce a great deal. Therefore there follows a hypothetical scenario which, it is believed, reflects quite accurately what actually transpired. It is emphasized that some parts are conjecture.

1. Earhart was at Bandung having maintenance done on the plane when the query came in from Itasca as to what radio frequencies she wished Itasca, Ontario and Swan to use in supporting her flight from Lae to Howland. Time was running out and she had to provide the answers right away. It had been pounded into her head time and time again that-she needed low frequency radio beacons for homing purposes. She knew that was what she wanted from the ships but she did not know what particular frequencies to specify. She therefore sought advise from the best local source available and arranged for herself and Noonan to meet with the top KLM airline communications man.

2. The KLM man did not speak English very well and was accustomed to talking in terms of wavelength and meters rather than frequency and kilocycles. From his service in the British Navy, Noonan was familiar with the wavelength/meters system so he and the KLM man did most of the talking. Earhart scribbled notes. Among them they developed the following plan:

(a) Ontario and Itasca would both use the same frequency but transmit at different times. This would allow Earhart to receive signals from both ships without the necessity of re-tuning her receiver. To avoid any uncertainty as to which ship’s signals were being received, Ontario would transmit the Morse code character for the letter “A” rather than the customary Morse “M O” as its homing signal. Itasca would transmit the Morse character for the letter “N” as its homing signal. These same characters (A and N) were used it identify the quadrants of the four-course radio ranges in the United States and Earhart could readily recognize them.

Apparently it was envisaged that there would be an overlap of signal coverage over a good part of the leg, and that Earhart would be able to take bearings alternately on the two stations and thus keep on course. The frequency chosen for Ontario and Itasca was 400 kilocycles, which is equivalent to a wavelength of 750 meters. It was a frequency assigned worldwide for aeronautical radionavigation and was an excellent choice. It probably was chosen over equally good frequencies in the same band because it was easy to remember and easy to find on the receiver tuning dial.

(b) Swan used the frequency of 333 kilocycles which is equivalent to a wavelength of 900 meters. Use it for voice communication with the plane if possible, but in any event be prepared to send homing signals on it. 333 kc was in the band allocated worldwide for aeronautical radio navigation and air-ground communications. It was widely used in Europe, the Commonwealth nations and other countries having close ties with Europe, as a calling frequency and for ground-air communications. Earhart had probably received on it during earlier legs of her flight but called it “nine hundred meters.” It was an excellent direction-finding frequency.

In this rarely seen photo taken from Last Flight, Amelia is shown shortly after her arrival at Lae, New Guinea on June 30, 1937,

In this rarely seen photo taken from Last Flight, Amelia is shown shortly after her arrival at Lae, New Guinea on June 30, 1937,

3. Noonan left the meeting satisfied that the radio navigational plans were adequate, or at least as good as could be developed.

4. Earhart went back to the hotel and drafted and dispatched her message of June 27 to Itasca (Black). She did not show the message to Noonan.

5. It had been difficult for Earhart to understand the adviser’s English, and she had experienced great difficulty in following the discussion as it shifted rapidly back and forth among “frequency,” “wavelength,” “megacycle,” “meter,” kilocycle,” etc. Perhaps too she was suffering from dysentery and was actually ill. Whatever the reason, the message she drafted suggested frequencies for the Swan and Itasca vastly different from those settled on in the meeting. Specifically:

(a) The frequency for Swan was changed from an intended 333 kilocycles (900 meters) to 900 kilocycles. One can readily deduce that the wavelength in meters was used but was labeled as frequency in kilocycles.

(b) The frequency for Itasca was changed from an intended 400 kilocycles (750 meters) to 7.50 megacycles. Again it appears that the figures for the wavelength in meters were used but labeled as a frequency.

Had normal air-ground communications existed between Itasca and the plane, the homing problem could almost certainly have been solved quickly. All that was needed was for Itasca to tell Earhart to home on 500 kHz, which frequency was already being transmitted (in addition to 7.50 MHz) by Itasca. She should have been able to get bearings on that frequency that would have taken her right in to the ship. Unfortunately she was unable to hear signals from Itasca on 3105 kHz, although the ship was hearing her well. It thus was impossible for Itasca and Earhart to coordinate their actions.

THE AIR/GROUND COMMUNICATION PROBLEM

Why could Earhart not hear Itasca‘s transmissions on 3105 kHz?  Here again we probably shall never know for sure, but from the information which is available it is possible to hypothesize an answer which is reasonable and probably reflects quite accurately the actual situation. Following are some of the things that are known which are germane to the question:

1. There was but one radio receiver aboard the plane and it was used for both communication and radio direction finding purposes. There were two antennas aboard, a conventional fixed antenna and a rotatable shielded loop. Either of these, but not both simultaneously, could be connected to the input of the receiver by means of an antenna selector switch on the receiver. Radio signals could be received on either antenna but usually were stronger when using the fixed antenna, therefore it was the one generally used for communications. Direction finding could be done only when using the loop antenna.

2. The fixed antenna was used for both receiving and transmitting purposes. There was a so-called “send-receive” relay in the transmitter which switched the antenna back and forth between the units. Normally the antenna was connected to the receiver, but when the relay was energized by pushing the “push to talk” button on the microphone, the antenna was switched over to the to the transmitter and remained that way until the microphone button was released.

3.  Energy from the loop antenna went directly to the antenna selector switch of the receiver. Energy from the fixed antenna passed through the “send-receive” relay mentioned above before reaching the antenna selector switch of the receiver.

4. The receiver had six frequency bands; however, the vacuum tubes, voltage determining resistors, bypass capacitors etc., were for the most part, common to all band, and it was rare that a single band would fail. It usually was none or all.

5. The radio equipment aboard the plane was checked at Lae by Harry Balfour, the Guinea Airways wireless operator, and was found satisfactory. The only unusual thing noted was a roughness of the transmitted signal on 6216 kHz, which made Earhart’s speech difficult to understand. Two-way communication was maintained during a 30-minute test hop at Lae.

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart.

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea and the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart.

6. After takeoff from Lae to Howland it appears that two-way communication with Lae was maintained until about 0720 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) (6 p.m. Lae time) July 2, at which time Earhart shifted to her “night” frequency (3105 kHz). Several times after that, throughout the night, she was heard by Nauru and Itasca broadcasting at the pre-arranged times, but little of what she said was intelligible. Nauru, and later Itasca, called her numerous times but there is no indication she heard any of the calls. At 1744 GMT (seven hours, 44 minutes into the flight), she asked Itasca for a bearing on 3105 kHz and made a signal upon which the bearing was to be taken. Itasca made a response but Earhart did not acknowledge receiving it. The same thing happened at 1815 GMT. At 1912 GMT (0742 Howland Island Time), Earhart said the following to Itasca:

“WE MUST BE ON YOU NOW BUT CANNOT SEE YOU. RUNNING OUT OF GAS. ONLY ONE-HALF HOUR LEFT (there is controversy about that phrase). BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO. WE ARE FLYING AT ONE THOUSAND FEET.”

At this time the signals from the plane were very strong. It is known that the Itasca was putting out strong signals and was on the correct frequency. (They were heard in San Francisco.) Therefore the statement “BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO” clearly indicated that a failure had occurred in her radio receiving system, and that it probably had occurred early in the flight. Inasmuch as she could still transmit it was obvious that the fixed antenna was intact; beyond that there was no clue as to the nature of the failure. That clue was given very shortly however. AT 1925 GCT Earhart asked Itasca to transmit signals “on 7500,” meaning 7.50 MHz. This indicated that she intended to take radio bearings on Itasca with the plane’s direction finder.

Itasca complied immediately and sent the desired homing signals. The transmitter had no radiotelephone capability so it was impossible to also talk with the plane by voice on that frequency. Earhart responded immediately saying, “WE RECEIVED YOUR SIGNALS ON SEVENTY FIVE HUNDRED BUT UNABLE TO GET A MINIMUM. PLEASE TAKE BEARING ON US AND ANSWER THREE FIVE NAUGHT FIVE (3105 intended) WITH VOICE.” This was followed by a series of long dashed on 3105 kHz on which bearings were expected to be taken by Itasca/Howland. This was the first (and only) time Earhart acknowledged hearing signals from Itasca. From the fact that Earhart asked for the homing signals it is clear that she intended to take a bearing, which could be done only with the loop antenna. From her report of hearing the homing signal but being unable to get a minimum on it, it is obvious that she, in fact, shifted the receiver to the loop antenna, and that the homing signals were received on the loop antenna.

Why could she receive 7500 kHz signals on the loop but not 3105 kHz on the fixed antenna? At the distances and time of day involved, propagation would not account for it, so something must have changed in the receiving system. Actually two changes had been made: (a) The receiver had been shifted from band IV which included 3105 kHz to Band V or VI, both of which included 7500 kHz and (b) The receiver had been shifted from the fixed antenna to the loop antenna.

It is possible that some component peculiar to band IV had failed making reception on that band impossible, whereas reception on other bands would be normal. However, as mentioned previously, the probability of that happening was small, therefore it is unlikely that shifting bands, per se, made the difference between not receiving and receiving signals. Shifting antennas however was a horse of a very different color. With the antenna selector switch in the “DF” position incoming signals picked up by the loop antenna went directly to the input of the receiver. With the switch in that position Earhart heard signals from Itasca.

With the antenna selector switch in the “FA” (Fixed Antenna) position, signals picked up by the fixed antenna did not go directly to the input of the receiver; instead they passed through contacts on the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter. With the switch in the “FA” position Earhart did not hear signals from Itasca. This indicates very strongly that signals from the fixed antenna were not reaching the receiver and that the receiver, in effect, had no antenna.

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy's high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O'Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and "rated" to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told former Pan Am Radio flight officer Paul Rafford Jr., “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

The feed line from the fixed antenna was in two sections. One was between the antenna and the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter. This section was used both for receiving and for transmitting. Earhart’s transmissions were being heard, therefore this section, including the “send” part of the relay, was functioning. The other section was between the receiver input and the “send/receive” relay, including the “receive” part of the relay. There appears to have been an open circuit or a complete “ground” in this section, either of which would have prevented the receiver from picking up signals.

It is possible that the wire in that section of the feed line broke or came loose from a binding post; however, that possibility is very small.  It is much more likely that the trouble was in the “send/receive” relay. Those devices were subject to damage from several sources. Lightening or heavy static discharge sometimes burned the contacts completely off or welded them together. Contacts on the “receive” part of the relay were particularly subject to this type of damage. Mistuning of the transmitter or antenna sometimes caused arcing and subsequent pitting and sticking of contacts. And sometimes contacts would stick, or not make good contact, for no apparent reason.

It should not be implied from this that the relays were inherently unreliable; they were not. Most went hundreds of hours between routine replacement with no trouble, but occasionally one would fail. This appears to have been one of those times. In this writer’s judgment the odds are about 95 to 5 that Earhart was unable to hear Itasca on 3105 kHz because she was switched to the fixed antenna and the “send/receive” relay was defective on the receive side.

Had she shifted to the loop antenna she no doubt would have heard Itasca very well on 3105 kHz or whatever frequency the ship might be using and she was tuned to. It probably never occurred to her to do that, however. Earhart knew very little about the technical aspects of radio and consequently operated the gear by rote. Obviously she had been taught to turn the antenna selector switch to “FA” if she wanted to talk, and to “DF” if she wanted to take a bearing — and that is precisely what she did. (End of Part II of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio.”)

For the pilots and other technically astute readers among you, Almon Gray’s analysis might be easily understood, even if you disagree with some or all of his ideas. But for the lay person, which includes this writer, it’s not so easy to follow Gray’s narrative with clear comprehension. Just when I thought Gray was attributing Earhart’s radio failures to a misunderstanding about the meters and wavelengths that the “KLM man” was advising Earhart and Noonan to use during their meeting at Bandung, he launched into completely different set of reasons to explain the communications nightmare that was the final flight. I must admit that I don’t fully grasp the totality of  Gray’s narrative thus far, and may never.  Still, I think it’s important to present the important and unique work of experts like Almon Gray, regardless of how much I fail to understand.

In the final segment of “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” Gray will examine some of the possible “post-flight signals” that have long been sources of controversy and contention among researchers, take a closer look at Fred Noonan’s role in the proceedings, and present his well-informed conclusions. Please stay tuned.

Pan Am radio pioneer Capt. Almon Gray: “Amelia didn’t know radio,” Part I of III

Almon Andrew Gray was a pioneer in aeronautical communications.  After graduating from the George Stevens Academy  in 1928 and the Massachusetts Radio Telegraph School in 1930, he enlisted in the Navy, where he was a radioman and gunner aboard cruiser based aircraft. He also learned to fly.

Upon expiration of his enlistment he signed on with Pan American Airways, and in 1935 helped build the bases to support the first trans-Pacific air service and was first officer-in-charge of the PAA radio station on Wake Island. After the San Francisco-Hong Kong air route was opened in late 1935, he was a radio officer in the China Clipper and her sister flying boats. Later he was assistant superintendent of communications for PAA’s Pacific Division. Gray was also  a Navy Reserve captain,  flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. He died at 84 on Sept. 26, 1994 at Blue Hill Maine. In coming weeks and months, some of Gray’s writings will be featured on this blog.

Capt. Almon Gray, USNR. wrote extensively on Amelia Earhart's radio problems during her last flight.

Capt. Almon Gray, USNR, wrote extensively on Amelia Earhart’s radio problems during her last flight.

More than anyone in Earhart research history, with the possible exception of Paul Rafford Jr., Almon Gray was qualified to discuss Amelia Earhart’s radio arrangements and behavior. “Amelia Earhart and Radio” first appeared in  the June 1993 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.

From the outset, readers should understand that in this analysis, Gray assumes that Earhart was actually trying to reach Howland island, and that she was attempting to establish two-way communication with Itasca, which never happened. In his piece, Gray also doesn’t try to explain why she was never on the air for more than 10 seconds, something that has led many to speculate that Earhart didn’t want her position to be known and that something else was afoot besides her official flight plan.  

 “AMELIA EARHART AND RADIO,” By Almon A. Gray

Part I of III

INTRODUCTION

Most of that written about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart while on an around-the-world flight in 1937 attributes her failure to reach Howland Island to unstated deficiencies related to radio. It appears however that very little has been written about the nature of those deficiencies, or how they came about. What follows will attempt to fill that gap and show what errors in planning and execution were made in respect to radio; what failure or malfunctioning of radio equipment occurred and the probable reason for it; and will point out the single item or event deemed most directly responsible for the failure of the plane to reach Howland Island.

Since 1937 the unit of measurement for radio frequencies had been changed from “cycles” to “hertz” (Hz), consequently kilocycles (Kc) and kilohertz (kHz) will be used interchangeably, as will megacycles (Mc) and megahertz (MHz). It is assumed that the reader already is familiar with the general history of the flight.

BACKGROUND

In early 1937, several weeks before her Oakland-Honolulu flight, and while she still intended to circumnavigate the world in a westerly direction, Miss Earhart met at Alameda, Calif., with George Angus, the superintendent of communications for the Pacific Division of Pan American Airways. Angus was responsible for the radio communication and radio direction finding networks which supported the PAA clippers on their trans-Pacific crossings, and Miss Earhart wished to arrange for help from those facilities during her planned flight. She was particularly interested in obtaining radio bearings to augment her celestial navigation. At that time PAA had specially designed versions of the Adcock radio direction finding system in service at Alameda; Mokapu Point, Hawaii; Midway Island; Wake Island; Guam; and Manila, Philippines to support Clipper operations.

These systems were capable of taking radio bearings on frequencies much higher than could be utilized successfully by conventional loop-type direction finders, hence were effective over much greater distances. They were commonly referred to as “high frequency DFs,” and were the only ones of that type in the United States and its territories. Angus agreed to help Earhart while she was within radio range of PAA stations, and details for so doing were worked out.

This was somewhat complicated inasmuch as PAA was not equipped to transmit on either of Earhart’s communication frequencies (3105 kHz and 6210 kHz.) and could not transmit voice on any frequency. The solution agreed upon was that the plane would request a bearing by voice on the frequency in use, (usually 3105 kHz at night, 6210 kHz during the day) and follow the request with a series of long dashes lasting in the aggregate a couple of minutes. The PAA DF station would take a bearing and transmit it to the plane on a previously agreed upon PAA frequency, using “CW” (telegraphy) sent at such a slow speed that the individual dots and dashes of the numbers could be copied on paper and later translated into numbers. This arrangement was tested on the flight from Oakland to Honolulu with the bearings being taken by PAA on 3105 kHz and sent to the plane on 2986 kHz It worked out very well.

The RA-1B was a brand new Bendix product and was reputed to be pushing the state of the art in aircraft receiver designed

The Bendix RA-1B, used in Amelia Earhart’s Electra during her final flight without apparent success, was a brand new product and was reputed to be pushing the state of the art in aircraft receiver design.

The Oakland-Honolulu flight was uneventful, and from the standpoint of radio was handled much the same as a Clipper flight. Captain Harry Manning, an experienced radio operator, handled the Electra’s radio and DF gear while the ground radio facilities were operated by the regular PAA professional radio operators. Radio bearings were furnished the plane at frequent intervals, first from Alameda and later from Mokapu Point. They checked well with the positions Noonan determined by celestial navigation. As the plane neared Oahu, Manning set up the plane’s direction finder to home on the Marine Radio Beacon (290 kHz.) at Mokapu Point (near Diamond Head) and Earhart homed in on it to a successful landfall.

During an attempted takeoff for Howland Island from Luke Field, near Honolulu, on March 20, 1937 the Electra ground-looped and was damaged to the extent that it was shipped back to the Lockheed plant in California for repairs. There had been no major damage to the radio gear, and the main thing done to the radio system while at Lockheed was to replace the Western Electric Model 20B radio receiver and its remote control apparatus with a Bendix Type RA-1B Aircraft Radio Receiver and its accessories,which included means for complete remote control from the cockpit. This work was done by Lockheed contract technician Joe Gurr.

 THE NEW RECEIVER

The RA-1B was a brand new Bendix product and was reputed to be pushing the state of the art in aircraft receiver design.  It was a super heterodyne, which had the frequency range .150-1.50 and 1.80-15.0 Megahertz, which was divided into six bands: I: .150 – .315; II: .315 – .680; III: .680- 1.50; IV: 1.80 – 3.70; V – 3.70 – 7.50; VI: 7.50 – 15.0.

The gap between 1.50 and 1.80 MHz was to accommodate the intermediate frequency. It could receive voice or “CW” signals, and there was a three-position antenna selector switch which permitted three choices of antenna. With the switch in the “DF” position, the receiver was connected to the Bendix type MN-20 rotatable loop mounted atop the fuselage over the cockpit, and the combination comprised a radio direction finder. With the switch in the “TA” position the receiver was connected to the trailing antenna, and when in the “FA” position it was connected to the fixed antenna. It should be noted that signals from the loop antenna went directly from the loop, through the antenna switch, to the input of the receiver, whereas signals from the fixed or trailing antenna passed through the “send-receive” relay in the transmitter before going through the antenna switch to the receiver input.

It also should be noted that on this model receiver any radio signal within its overall frequency range could be received on the loop antenna. Because of this, some people had the impression that radio bearings could be obtained on any frequency within the receiver’s frequency range, and the unit was sometimes spoken of as a “high frequency direction finder.”  The unit of course had no such high frequency direction finding capability, and in later models circuitry was introduced to limit reception on the loop antenna to only frequencies in that part of the overall range deemed suitable for radio direction finding with a loop antenna, i.e. below about 1.80 MHz.

A rare photo of Amelia Earhart and her Electra at the Burbank repair facility sometime during the spring of 1937.

A rare photo of Amelia Earhart (right) and her Electra 10E, NR 16020 at the Lockheed repair facility in Burbank, Calif., sometime during the spring of 1937.

THE RADIO SYSTEM

When the plane left the Lockheed plant after being repaired the radio system was comprised of the following elements:

(1) Bendix Type RA-1B Aircraft Radio Receiver. Mounted in the cabin but having remote controls in the cockpit.

(1) Western Electric Model 13-C 50-watt Aircraft Transmitter. It had three crystal-controlled channels, 500, 3105 and 6210 kHz and could be used for voice or “CW” (radiotelegraph) transmissions. It was mounted in the cabin but there were remote controls in the cockpit.

(1) Bendix Type MN-20 rotatable shielded loop antenna. It was mounted on the top of the fuselage over the cockpit, with the knob which rotated it located on the overhead of the cockpit, between the pilots. It was used primarily for taking radio bearings but was useful as a receiving antenna under conditions of heavy precipitation static noise.

Provision for plugging in a microphone, headphones, and a telegraph key at each side of the cockpit.

A telegraph key and provision for plugging in headphones at the navigator’s table.

A 250-foot flexible wire trailing antenna on an electrically operated, remote-controlled reel, located at the rear of the plane. The wire passed to the outside through an insulated bushing and had a lead weight, or “fish,” at the end to keep it from whipping when deployed. There was a variable loading coil used in conjunction with this antenna to permit its use on 500 kHz. This antenna was long enough to give excellent radiation efficiency on all three of the transmitting frequencies.

 A fixed antenna which was a wire “Vee” with its apex at a stub mast mounted on the top of the fuselage, about over the center section of the wing, and the two legs extending back to the two vertical fins. This antenna was so short that its radiation efficiency was extremely low. It was not intended to be used on 500 kHz and probably the radiated power on the other two frequencies was very low. It was meant to be used mainly for local communications around an airport when it was not possible to have the trailing antenna deployed. According to some accounts there was a second “V” antenna mounted on the underside of the fuselage and connected in parallel with the top “V” antenna.  If so, it was removed or disconnected before the plane left Miami.

THE SECOND MISTAKE

Earhart flew the plane to Miami in the latter part of May 1937, and there made her second major error of judgment in respect to communications. (The first was in deciding on rely completely on radiotelephone for her air-ground communications.)

One of the first things she did after arriving in Miami was to have the trailing antenna and associated gear completely removed. John Ray, an Eastern Airlines technician, who had his own radio shop as a sideline, did the work.

This had a devastating impact both on her ability to communicate and on her ability to use radio navigation. With only the very short fixed antenna remaining, virtually no energy could be radiated on 500 kHz. This not only precluded her contacting ships and marine shore stations, but more importantly, it prevented ships (including the ITASCA) and marine shore direction finding stations from taking radio bearings on the plane, inasmuch as 500 kHz was the only one of her frequencies within the frequency range of the marine direction finders. Thus any radio aid in locating Howland Island would have to be in the form of radio bearings taken by the plane on radio signals from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca.

The shortness of the antenna also drastically reduced the power radiated on the two high frequencies. Paul Rafford Jr., an expert in this field, estimated that the radiated power on 3105 kHz was about one-half watt. This obviously was a tremendous handicap in the high static level of the tropics.

The fixed antenna also may have been responsible for the distortion in Earhart’s transmitted signals reported by the operators at Lae, Howland and Nauru as seriously affecting the intelligibility of her voice transmissions. (A mismatch between the antenna and the final amplifier of a WE-13C transmitter could cause the transmitter to over-modulate and thus introduce distortion.)

Despite the shortcomings of her radio system, Miss Earhart got as far as the Dutch East Indies without major incident. There however, through lack of understanding, she made an error which ultimately lead to her failure to reach Howland Island.

Amelia with the loop radio direction finder

Amelia with the Bendix Type MN-20 rotatable shielded loop antenna, which was mounted on the top of the fuselage over the cockpit and apparently failed to help her in any significant ways during the final flight. 

THE THIRD MISTAKE

Three ships had been assigned to assist Earhart on the South Pacific over-water flights.  Itasca was at Howland Island, Ontario  about half way between New Guinea and Howland, and Swan between Howland and Hawaii. One function of these vessels was to transmit radio signals upon which Earhart could take bearings with her radio direction finder and thus be helped with her navigation. Suitable homing signals from Itasca were extremely important, in fact vital. Should Noonan’s celestial navigation not hit Howland right on the nose, homing in on Itasca‘s signals with her DF was the only way Earhart could be sure of finding Howland before her fuel was exhausted.

In a message dated June 23, 1937 addressed to Earhart at Darwin or Bandung, Mr. Richard Black, aboard Itasca, advised her of the radio frequencies available aboard the Ontario, Swan and Itasca, and asked her to designate the frequency she wished each ship to use to provide homing signals for her. The same day the Commanding Officer of Itasca requested that he be advised twelve hours prior to her departure from New Guinea of her desires in matter of radio, and warned her of the slowness of communication via Port Darwin.

Miss Earhart received these messages while she was at Bandung, Java, having work done on the plane. On June 27, the day before she took off from Bandung for Koepang and Darwin, she sent the following response:

From: Earhart via RCA Manila & N-PM Navy Radio Honolulu
To: ITASCA (Black) June 27, 1937 (Java date: June 26, Howland)

SUGGEST ONTARIO STANDBY ON 400 KILOCYCLES TO TRANSMIT LETTER N FIVE MINUTES ON REQUEST WITH STATION CALL REPEATED TWICE END OFEVERY MINUTE STOP SWAN TRANSMIT VOICE NINE MEGACYCLES OR IF I UNABLE RECEIVE READY ON 900 KILOCYCLES STOP ITASCA TRANSMIT LETTER A POSITION OWN-CALL LETTERS AS ABOVE ON HALF HOUR 7.5 MEGACYCLES STOP POSITION SHIPS AND OUR LEAVING WILL DETERMINE BROADCASTING SPECIFICALLY STOP IF FREQUENCIES MENTIONED UNSUITABLE NIGHT WORK INFORM ME LAE STOP I WILL GIVE LONG CALL BY VOICE THREE ONE NAUGHT FIVE KCS QUARTER AFTER HOUR POSSIBLY QUARTER TO (signed) EARHART

A person experienced in radio direction finding would find that message very strange. Why would Swan be asked to transmit homing signals on 900 kc, a frequency in the broadcast band, when a lower frequency in the aeronautical radio navigation band would be much better? And why would Itasca be asked to send homing signals on 7.5 Mc when that frequency was so high that the possibility of getting useful bearings on it with the plane’s direction finder was nil? Perhaps some of the personnel in Itasca had those questions but took the attitude “She is in the Flying Laboratory. Who knows what hush-hush gear she has aboard? If she wants 7.5 Mc, that is what she is going to get.”

No one questioned the message and Itasca tuned up its transmitter to send homing signals on 7.5 Mc. What happened after that has been well covered in the media and in numerous books. When the plane arrived at what Earhart believed to be the vicinity of Howland, no land could be found despite considerable visual searching, whereupon Earhart asked Itasca to send homing signals on 7.5 Mc, Itasca complied. Earhart heard the signals but reported to Itasca that she was “unable to get a minimum” on them. This meant she could not get a bearing on that frequency. She then asked Itasca to take bearings on her 3105 kHz. transmissions, apparently believing that the direction finder ashore on Holland Island could take bearings on that frequency just as the PAA Adcock systems had done on the earlier flight from Oakland to Honolulu. When she heard no response from Itasca (the reason she did not hear any response will be addressed elsewhere) she transmitted her line of position, said they were running north and south and that she was shifting to 6210 kHz. She was not heard again by Itasca.  Apparently she commenced execution of her Emergency Plan at about that point.

Because the unsuitability of the homing frequency used by Itasca had such an adverse impact upon the flight it seems appropriate to digress a bit here to try to find out:

(a) How was the plan for the use of radio homing beacons aboard the three ships developed?

(b) What was the plan?

(c) Did the message of June 27 from Earhart to Itasca (Black) accurately reflect the plan which had been developed? If not, what were the differences and why had they been introduced? (End of Part I.)

In Part II of “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” Almon Gray will continue to analyze Amelia Earhart’s radio communications during her doomed last flight. He will also attempt to explain how and why Amelia’s transmissions were so completely ineffective, or at least appeared to be.

Reineck’s 1997 letter to Bill Clinton one of many ignored by U.S. leaders through the years

When Fred Goerner’s bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart rocked the nation in 1966, selling over 400,000 copies in an age when many Americans actually read books, untold numbers of congressmen and senators from coast to coast were besieged by constituents demanding that they get to the bottom of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Nothing happened.

In 1968, Goerner appeared in Miami before a Republican platform subcommittee chaired by Kentucky Governor Louie Broady Nunn. Calling his presentation “Crisis in Credibility—Truth in Government,” a title that perfectly describes the appalling corruption that so pervades our current ruling class, Goerner appealed to the members’ integrity and patriotism, and did his utmost to win them to the cause of securing justice for Amelia and Fred Noonan. Nothing happened then, either.

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Occasionally someone suggests that I should write to the president, or that they’ve written to their congressmen, to demand action in the ongoing Earhart travesty. I tell them it’s a waste of time, based on what we know and all that’s gone before, but I never try to actually discourage these vain appeals to our rulers. Those who care enough about the truth to actually sit down and write a letter are to be respected and applauded for their diligence, despite the fact that all their letters will be ignored. 

In 1997, well-known Earhart researcher Rollin Reineck thought he’d take a shot at it, and he sent the below missive to our beloved President Bill Clinton in hopes of effecting a miraculous breakthrough in the Earhart case.  Reineck could have saved a stamp, but then we wouldn’t have this letter to serve as a fine example of the sort of good-faith appeals to our nation’s leaders that continue to be ignored.

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

8 June 1997

Subject: Public release of information relating to Amelia Earhart.

Dear Mr. President:

The second of July, this year, will mark the 60th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. This single episode remains the greatest unsolved air mystery of our time.

President William J. Clinton, circa 1997.

President William J. Clinton, circa 1997. After six decades of government suppression of the truth in the Earhart disappearance, can anyone imagine this president breaking the mold and revealing the facts about Amelia’s sad end on Saipan?

The issuance of your 17 April 1995 Executive Order (12958) declassifying all government documents that were 25 years old should have shed some light on this specific area of interest. However, it has produced no results to this date.

From circumstantial evidence, most researchers feel they know the answer to this 60-year-old mystery, but they also feel that the “HARD COPY OF FACTS” are still sealed away in the files of the intelligence community in Washington, D.C.

Consequently, I am writing to ask you, as President of the United States, to issue another Executive Order. This time directing that the various military and other intelligence agencies as well as the CIA immediately release — to the public — all materials in their files relating to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart so the world may finally know the truth.

Ms. Earhart was the heroine of her era. She epitomized the ideals of women and American feminism, and is still an inspiration to all women today. The cheers, accolades and outpouring of emotion received by another young lady who just completed emulating the Earhart around-the-world flight in the same type vintage airplane reaffirms the desire of the world to know the facts and the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

I, and others like me, have been trying to piece together exactly what happened on that fateful day of 2 July 1937. Personally, I have spent over 26 years — a third of my life — searching for the truth about this great and courageous lady of the air. From this research, I have concluded:

Without presenting supporting evidence of any kind, the United States Government has always taken the position that Miss Earhart died at sea after ditching her airplane (attachment I). Yet, in direct contradiction, we researchers have evidence, including statements made by noted Americans, as well as others, who were in a position to know the facts and the truth about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. For instance:

1. The late Henry Morgenthau Jr., Secretary of the Treasury for President Roosevelt, stated (attachment 2) in a telephone  conversation with Malvina Scheider, secretary for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders. We have evidence that the thing is all over. And, if we ever release the report of the Itasca (Coast Guard vessel standing off Howland Island) on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she’s got is gone.”

2. Mr. Carl Heine, a missionary who had lived in the Marshall Islands for 48 years (executed by the Japanese during the war), reported seeing a letter in the Jaluit Post Office on 27 November 1937, addressed to Amelia Earhart. The address read: Amelia Earhart, Marshall Islands, Ratak Group, Maloelap Island, South Pacific Ocean (Attachment 3). Mr. Heine felt it interesting that someone would be writing to Amelia Earhart in the Marshall Islands, and that the return address on the envelope was the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood, California. It appears to be more than a coincidence that Ms. Earhart’s personal secretary lived at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at that time.

The late Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps during the World War II, told Fred Goerner in a 1971 letter that Amelia Earhart died on Saipan.

The late Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps during the World War II, told Fred Goerner in a 1971 letter that Amelia Earhart died on Saipan.

3. The late five-star Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Chief of Pacific Operations during WW II said, “She did go down in the Marshall Islands and was taken prisoner by the Japanese.” This statement by Admiral Nimitz (attachment 4) can be seen today in the Earhart Room of the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.

4. General Alexander Vandegrift, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps during WW II, said (attachment 5), “It was substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan. This information was given to me by General Tommy Watson, who commanded the Second Division during the assault on Saipan.”

5. Graves P. Erskine, who commanded the 5th U.S. Marine Corps Division at Iwo Jima and was on the staff of Gen. Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith during the invasion of Saipan and served in intelligence capabilities, said (attachment 5), “We did learn that Earhart was on Saipan and that she died there.”

6. Mr. Robert Reimers, native of the Marshall Islands, was born in !909, when the Germans occupied the Islands. He has spent his life as an entrepreneur and is the genius behind the Robert Reimer Enterprises Inc. of the Marshall Islands. In a recent interview Mr. Reimers stated among other things, “It was widely known throughout the Islands by both the Japanese and the Marshallese that a Japanese fishing boat found Amelia Earhart, her navigator and the airplane near Mili Atoll. They were brought to Jabor where one of our people (Billamon Amoron [sic] attachment 6) treated them. They were then taken to Kwajalein, and from there to Truk and then to Saipan. There was no mystery . . . everybody knew it.”

7. In addition, there have been numerous reports by our GIs in the Marshall Islands and on Saipan of seeing photographs and other memorabilia of Ms. Earhart in the Marshalls and on Saipan. Each and every one of these reports states that the found material related to Earhart was turned over to Officers in the field never to be seen again.

Marine General Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps at the Battle of Saipan. In late 1966, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS radio newsman, "It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You'll have to dig the rest out for yourselves."

Marine General Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps at the Battle of Saipan. In late 1966, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS radio newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”

8. After the liberation of the Japanese Weihsien Internment Camp, China, messages (attachment 7) were dispatched, dated 21 August 1945 to the next of kin, or other interested parties of the internees. One of those messages was addressed and delivered to G.P. Putnam, 10042 Valley Spring Lane, North Hollywood, California. The message read, “CAMP LIBERATED, ALL WELL, VOLUMES TO TELL, LOVE TO MOTHER.” G.P. Putnam was Amelia’s husband and 10042 Spring Valley Lane, North Hollywood, California, was where they lived as man and wife before she departed on her around the world flight. Although the message was unsigned, there is little doubt as to who wrote the message. G.P. Putnam responded to the message 10 days later.

(Editor’s note: Reineck’s claim was later proven to be absolutely false by Earhart researchers Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston. The telegram was actually sent from the Weihsien Camp by a man named Ahmad Kamal, a close personal friend of George Putnam. Amelia Earhart was never at Weihsien, but this idea survives among some who inhabit the Earhart fringe.)

Although I have worked with both the State and Treasury Departments, as well as the National Archives, I have not been able to obtain information to reconcile these various viewpoints and happenings on what should be a matter of fact.

Which version concerning Earhart’s disappearance are we to believe? Why can’t the people of the United States be told the truth about this event that took place almost 60 years ago? How could the release of the true facts of this historical event possibly affect the security of this country today, or have any other significant consequences? What will it take to set the record straight and get the truth about the fate of Amelia Earhart?

In May 1938, the Honorable Hattie W. Caraway, Senator, of your State of Arkansas, said on the floor of the U.S. Senate: “Amelia Earhart was a courageous woman who was one of the 12 most notable women of the past 100 years.” Senator Caraway went on to say that: “She was a woman who symbolized, to a remarkable degree, the courage, the pioneering spirit and the broad achievements of American womanhood” (Attachment 8).

Senator Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway presides over the U.S. Senate in May 1932. Caraway, of Arkansas, was the first woman elected to serve a full term as a United States Senator.

Senator Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway presides over the U.S. Senate in May 1932. Caraway, of Arkansas, was the first woman elected to serve a full term as a United States Senator.

What Senator Caraway said on the floor of the Senate in 1938 was true then and it is true today. Amelia Earhart was indeed a very courageous woman who served her country well in time of need. It is only fitting that the truth now be known and that her name be placed in the HALL OF FAME with other great Americans so that her countrymen and women of today and tomorrow are made aware of her noble deeds. Mr. President, you can make it happen by directing the immediate release to the public of all CIA, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard and other intelligence files relating to Ms. Amelia Earhart.

Your early response to this letter would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Rollin C. Reineck
Colonel USAF (Ret.)

Of course, Reineck received no response from Bill Clinton, not early nor at any other time.  Clinton likely never even saw Reineck’s letter, which was probably deposited into the nearest circular file by one of an army of lackeys paid exorbitant amounts of taxpayer dollars to screen White House mail and remove these little annoyances from taxpayers.

This is the inevitable fate of any attempts by our good citizens to appeal to the better angels of those who keep our national secrets. To begin with, these people have no better angels, as their spiritual protectors likely gave up on most of these lowlifes long ago. Secondly, and most importantly, the Earhart case remains among Washington’s most precious sacred cows, a status that will almost certainly remain unchanged for decades to come. Welcome to the Earhart saga.

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