“The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Paul Rafford gift to Earhart saga

In his introduction to Paul Rafford Jr.’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change,” in the November 1997 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Bill Prymak quoted an unnamed, recently deceased “old-time researcher’s poignant reflection on the problems the Earhart case posed for inquiring minds.”

“Fail to look under every rock, and you’ll never solve this bloody Earhart mystery,” Prymak beganAnd so, patiently, deliberately, methodically, PAUL RAFFORD has plunged into this tangled, labyrinthine morass of inaccurate data, misleading information, speculation, ill-based rumors, all in an attempt to bring some sense to AE’s disappearance.  The deep-six theory is too simplistic, leaving too many questions unanswered.  In the following three articles, Paul explores some new (provocative?) territory.

In Rafford’s revised 2008 edition of Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared, he revised his April 5, 1997 piece, The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change” and rewrote it in a more reader-friendly style.  Following is my attempt to combine the best elements of both pieces, which is then followed by Bill Prymak’s analysis.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

By Paul Rafford Jr.

4th stop, Miami: 23 May to 1 June

A photo taken upon her arrival in Miami shows the direction-finding loop still installed and the short factory version of the fixed antenna in place.  In 1940, John Ray was the flight instructor while I was the radio operator aboard Pan Am’s instrument training plane.  Flying out of LaGuardia, we trained pilots in instrument approaches and letdowns.  He told me that while moonlighting with his aviation radio service business in Miami, he had been contracted to remove Earhart’s trailing antenna. 

The shiny patch covering the spot where the aft window used to be, which is said to have appeared after repairs were made in Miami in late May-early June 1937, is the same sheet of aluminum that Ric Gillespie now claims he found on Nikumaroro in 1991.

The shiny patch covering the spot where the aft window used to be, which is said to have appeared after repairs were allegedly made in Miami on May 30 or May 31, 1937, according the information published in the Oct. 30, 2014 Miami Herald.  This patch is the same sheet of aluminum that TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie has claimed he found on Nikumaroro in 1991.

In January 1990, I wrote and asked him to confirm what he had told me 50 years before.  He immediately telephoned and repeated everything he had originally claimed: Soon after her arrival in Miami, he had removed her trailing antenna.  Seemingly unrelated at the time, Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie made the first round-trip commercial flight from New York to London and back from May 8 to May 14 in 1937 with a Lockheed Electra 10E.  They flew over newsreels of the Hindenburg disaster of May 6th, and returned with photographs of the coronation of King George VI of May 12th.

It was declared the first commercial crossing of the Atlantic, and the two men won several awards including the Harmon Trophy because of the feat.  To make the flight, the windows of the aircraft had been removed and the plane was modified to carry 1,200 gallons of fuel.  The fixed antenna was mounted as far forward as possible to create the best transmission, but no trailing antenna nor D/F loop were installed.

Merrill and Lambie then flew the Daily Express to Miami for the May 24 reception to be greeted by the Mayor plus 10,000 fans, and received silver trophies for their achievementEarhart, Noonan, and Putnam met them at the event. 

In April 1992, I had a long telephone conversation with Bob Thibert after I heard that he had worked on Earhart’s plane during her layover in Miami.  I had known Bob in the 1970s. when we both worked for Pan Am.  He claimed that the morning before Earhart’s departure, Len Michaelfelder, his boss, handed him a new radio loop and told him to install and calibrate it on the Electra, post-haste.  However, newsreels of the Electra taken just after it arrived in Miami from Burbank show a loop already mounted on it.

Thibert was quite surprised when I told him that pictures of the Electra taken during its arrival at Miami clearly show that it already had a direction finding loop.  So I asked him if he had seen any evidence that one might have been previously installed on the roof, such as filled-in bolt holes. He claimed he hadn’t. Later in the 1990s, I talked with both John Ray and Bob Thibert.  To my surprise, neither of them knew that the other had worked on Earhart’s plane.

An early photo of the Daily Express, the only which had been flown to Miami on May 24, 1937 by Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie following the first round-trip commercial flight from New York to London. I can't find a photo of the starboard side of the Daily Express, but it left rear rudder clearly lacks the dark signature of the Earhart Electra.

An early photo of the Daily Express, which was flown to Miami on May 24, 1937 by Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie following their first round-trip commercial flight from New York to London.  I can’t find a photo of the starboard side of the Daily Express, but its left rear rudder clearly lacks the dark signature  that marked the Earhart Electra throughout its world flight. 

The previous day, at Earhart’s request, Michaelfelder had modified the fixed antenna specifically to maximize transmissions on 6210 kHz.  Although it was reported that he lengthened the antenna, he actually had shortened the antenna wire and moved the mast back several feet, bringing the lead-in down the right side of the fuselage.  This arrangement was supposed to maximize transmission on 6210 kHz. Although never revealed publicly, Earhart switched airplanes after arriving in Miami.  In 1940, John Ray told me how he had been called out to remove her trailing antenna shortly after she arrived from Burbank.  Although John was an instrument flight instructor for Pan Am, he was also moonlighting an aeronautical radio service business.

Meanwhile, the sister ship to Earhart’s Electra, the Daily Express, had just arrived in Miami after a well-publicized round trip between New York and London.  The two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics.  They then prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra.  The Daily Express, however, had no trailing antenna.  When queried, Earhart explained to the press corps that she had the antenna removed to save weight and the bother of reeling it out and in.  But she did need a direction finding loop and this is how Bob Thibert found himself installing one the day before her departure.  Later, the calibration curve he left in the cockpit would be Harry Balfour’s prime reference when he checked the loop at Lae.

During Earhart’s visit with Pan Am officials in Miami, she had a discussion with Charlie Winter, our local radio engineer.  During World War II, he gave me the details.  Now that she had dispensed with the trailing antenna, he suggested they replace the 500 kHz crystal and coils in her #3 transmitting channel with a Pan Am direction-finding frequency.  This would allow our long distance direction finders to follow her progress across the Pacific.

To his surprise, she immediately cut him off with, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.”  Period.  End discussion.  Charlie was flabbergasted!  He couldn’t believe she would turn down such an offer without further consideration. Looking back, perhaps we can come up with at least one explanation as to why Amelia was so opposed to Charlie’s suggestion.  Could it be that she didn’t want her whereabouts known while crossing the Pacific?  In order to explain just what did happen during Earhart’s Miami transit I propose the following scenario. 

There was more than one Electra involved when Earhart departed on her second attempt to circle the globe.  After the original plane was rebuilt, she flew it to Miami.  There, John Ray removed the trailing antenna.  She then flew it to an unknown destination, dropped it off, and returned to Miami in plane #2 [the Daily Express].  Jim Donahue [author of The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection (1987)] claimed that Earhart left Miami in the Electra at least once during her layover.

However, some modifications were needed.  Radio antenna-wise, the Daily Express was a bare bones model 10E.  It carried no d/f loop or trailing antenna and its fixed antenna was the standard, short factory model.  Legend has it that Earhart couldn’t be bothered with the problems involved with carrying a trailing antenna.  However, I believe the reason she had her trailing antenna removed from plane #1 was because plane #2 [the Daily Express] would be delivered without one.

Removing it from plane #1 after her arrival in Miami would explain to the press and close observers why she had one when she arrived but not when she left Miami.  She had to cover up the fact that she had switched planes.  This is also why John Ray was contracted to remove the trailing antenna on #1, but Pan Am mechanics worked on the Daily Express.  Had any of the three mechanics worked on both planes they would have immediately recognized the difference.

Amelia with Nilla Putnam, her step daughter in law, is said to be from May 29, 1937, in Miami. The second window is clearly visible to their right, and means it must have been covered over between then and June 1.

Amelia with Nilla Putnam, her step daughter-in-law, reportedly taken May 29, 1937, in Miami. The second window is clearly visible to their right, and means it must have been covered over between then and June 1, unless the original Electra was switched with the Daily Express.  This photo was published in the October 30, 2014 Miami Herald Internet edition.

Although Earhart could dispense with the trailing antenna, she did need a loop and a more efficient fixed antenna.  This is where Pan Am came into the picture.  Radio mechanic Lynn Michaelfelder would lengthen the fixed antenna and Bob Thibert would install a loop.

I made two telephone calls to Thibert in April, 1992.  We had both worked at Miami in 1970, when he was Superintendent of Pan Am’s radio/electronic overhaul shops and I was in charge of communications for Central America. . . . He said the job was top priority as the plane was leaving the first thing the following morning.  He had to install a loop on it posthaste.

He went into detail about how he had worked alone doing both the metal and electrical work.  I asked Bob the obvious question: during the installation had he seen any evidence of where previous loops might have been mounted?  He said, “No,” and was quite surprised when I told him that at one time or another there had been at least two other loops mounted on Earhart’s plane.  Bob had found only virgin skin where loops are mountedHe was also quite surprised when I told him that John Ray had removed the trailing antenna after the plane moved in Miami. He didn’t know John Ray, or know that anyone else but Pan Am mechanics had worked on the plane.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, the aforementioned TIGHAR Tracks article [Page 16 of the September 1995 issue of TIGHAR Tracks shows pictures of Earhart’s Electra parked at Burbank, Calif., and then taking off from Miami at the start of her round-the-world flight] lends additional credence to the Miami plane change theory.  In the last paragraph of page 16 the author claims: “The most apparent change made to NR 16020 during the eight-day stay in Florida was the replacement of the starboard rear window with a patch of aluminum skin.  Again, legend has often described this feature as a removable hatch but the photographic record indicates otherwise.  The opening first appears in 1937, and is present as a window in every known shot of the airplane’s starboard side until Miami, when it becomes shiny metal which grows gradually duller in photos taken at progressive stops in the world flight.” 

The author implies that the starboard rear window was replaced by a patch of aluminum in Miami. However, I suggest that the plane is actually #2 [Daily Express], and the rear window was modified before the plane left Burbank.  (Editor’s note: See photo of Amelia with Nilla Putnam, above.)

The Daily Express was preferable to Earhart’s original Electra for a round-the-world flight because it had approximately 100 gallons greater fuel capacity and hadn’t been through a bad crackup. Meanwhile, stripped of its trailing antenna and repainted, plane #1 would no longer be recognized as having belonged to Earhart.  However, there was a discrepancy between the length of the fixed antennas on the two airplanes.  Plane #1 arrived in Miami with the short, factory version.  Its mast was mounted about midway between nose and tail.  By contrast, the mast on the Daily Express was mounted over the cockpit in order to provide the maximum length of antenna wire possible.  However, in order to make room for the new loop, it was necessary to move the mast several feet back toward the tail.  The end result was that the length of the fixed antenna on plane #2 was longer than the factory version, but shorter than the original Daily Express version.

The crashed Electa at Luke Field. Hawaii, March 26, 1937. The standard Bendix d/f loop is clearly visible atop the Electra. This rules out any possibility that Hooven's Radio Compass was installed at Miami in the original Earhart Electra.

The crashed Electra 10E at Luke Field. Hawaii, March 26, 1937.  The standard Bendix direction-finder loop is clearly visible atop the Electra.  This shows that Fred Hooven’s Radio Compass had been removed from Earhart’s Electra  before the first world flight attempt. 

However, even though the longer fixed antenna of plane #2 would put out a better radio signal than #1, the radiated power was only 5 watts on 6210 kHz. and one-half watt on 3105 kHz.  Thibert’s work was documented by the New York Times.

We can only guess why Earhart would secretly swap planes and do it in Miami instead of Burbank. Was it done at Miami because it would be easier to cover up?  What was different about the Daily Express that switching it for the original Electra was so important?  Did the powers-that-be feel it was better to switch to a new plane rather than risk flying the original, patched-up airframe around the world? Or, as proponents of the conspiracy theory would be quick to claim, was the Daily Express equipped with special aerial reconnaissance equipment?

As Professor Francis Holbrook wrote me some years ago in connection with the Earhart mystery, “Once you have answered one question about it you discover you’d raised ten more.

(End of Paul Rafford’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change.”)

“Did Amelia Earhart Really Change Airplanes?”
By Bill Prymak, AES Newsletter, November 1998

Several serious researchers over the years have bandied about the possibility that AE, for some secretive covert reason, switched planes “somewhere along the route.”  Strong anecdotal evidence backs these folks, but I have recently come across another way to identify her airplane as it flew some 22,000 miles from Oakland to Lae, New Guinea.  I call it a “signature.”

Aluminum aircraft skin production in the mid-1930s was a new, burgeoning science, and the process produced various different tones and shades, even from sheet-to-sheet off the same lot. So, each tone or shade becomes a unique signature, and if we study the rear half of the left vertical rudder below the horizontal stabilizer as illustrated on the blow-up below you will find that the same dark shade consistently repeats itself on every photo I have ever seen as the plane wends its way around the world.

I have only included in this NEWSLETTER five photos showing this unique signature, and I would certainly like to expand my file on this issue. If anybody out there has a photo of AE’s airplane with the above signature clearly shown, please send a clear copy to me. It’ll be deeply appreciated. (End of Prymak analysis.)

The quality of the photos of the Electra displayed in the photocopy and electronic copy of Bill’s article isn’t good enough to reproduce here, but at the bottom of the piece are five photos of the Electra and its dark signature, reportedly taken during the world flight.  Three locations are identified:  Caripito, Venezuela; Karachi, Pakistan; and Lae, New Guinea.  It seems inarguable that this is the same Electra that left Burbank, Calif.

Although Prymak’s dark signatureappears to be the key to dismissing Rafford’s plane change theory, nagging questions remain.  Why did Bob Thibert recall seeing onlyvirgin skinon the Electra’s roof where two other devices, the Hooven Radio Compass, a domed direction finder, and the Bendix Radio Direction Finder, with its unmistakable, distinctive loop, had been previously installed?  How can this be a case of old age or faded memory, when Bob Thibert was simply confirming an incident he told Paul Rafford about more than 50 years previously?  Could Thibert have actually installed a new d/f loop in the Daily Express, which then left Miami for parts unknown, instead of carrying Earhart and Noonan on to the next leg of their doomed world flight?

Undated photo of Amelia next to left read rudder and its characteristic “dark signature,” as Bill Prymak described it.  In his November 1998 AES Newsletter story, Prymak displayed five separate photos of the Electra at various stages of the world flight, all with the dark signature in the left rear rudder.  Photo taken March 4, 1937, according to Purdue University Archives. 

What is known about the fate of the Daily ExpressPrecious little is available on the Internet, but two sources agree that the plane wound up in Russia.  Paragon Agency Publisher Doug Westfall, who published Rafford’s Amelia Earhart’s Radio, writing on the Verkhoyansk, Siberia Trip Advisor, reported, “It was sold to the USSR in 1938, disassembled and reassembled, being used in WWII.  It was last seen crashed on the tundra near Verkhoyansk about 10 years ago.” 

The  TIGHAR site, when not promoting Ric Gillespie’s erroneous Nikumaroro hypothesis,is often an excellent source of Earhart-related material, and in its Earhart Project Research Bulletin,Detective Story,” of  July 12, 2007, we find:  “After its epic transatlantic flight, the Daily Express was sold to the Soviet Union and used in the search the lost transpolar aviator Sigismund Levinevski.  The airplane’s ultimate fate is unknown.” 

Once again, the reader should understand that I’m neither promoting nor dismissing Paul Rafford Jr.’s theory, but am presenting it for your information and entertainment.  In the big picture, it makes no difference whether Amelia and Fred landed at Mili Atoll in the Daily Express or the original Earhart Electra. 

One problem I have with Rafford’s proposed scenario, besides Prymak’s dark signature that appears to preclude its possibility, is that when Paul wrote that the two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics,” who then “prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra,” he doesn’t tell us where, when or how the Daily Express was painted with “NR 16020” on and under the wings and tail.  This operation would have been necessary if the Pan Am mechanics working on the Daily Express never suspectedit wasn’t the Earhart bird.

In a recent email, Paul Rafford’s daughter, Lynn, told me her father still believes in the “possibility of a plane switch at Miami, but does not really know what could have happened to the plane that was switched out.”  For now, that’s where we’ll have to leave it. 

14 responses

  1. I would doubt that this occurred ( the airplane change ) due to the complexity of the plumbing of the extra fuel tanks in the fuselage. One would have to research as to whether Lockheed installed the extra tanks. If so, were Lockheed Reps ( mechanics ) present at Miami? It would appear to be a major undertaking.

    I doubt Amelia would have trusted local mechanics at Miami to execute the transfer of the tanks, valves, plumbing, etc. Just my views.


  2. Do you have a photo of Earhart landing at Miami that shows the left side”
    Also, the photo of Earhart with Nilli Putman, the Lockheed is a Model 12 Junior. Why is she standing in front of a Lockheed 12? (Or was the photo taken somewhere else?)


    1. In response to your questions: 1) Not that I’m aware of, but in Part I of the three-part Fred Goerner series, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” published Sept. 19, 2016 on this blog, you can see the left side of the Electra as it takes off from Lae, New Guinea. Other photos have been published of the plane along the route to Lae, which you should be able to locate via google searches. I can’t publish images in the comments section.
      2) I know only what Rafford offers in his cutline of that photo.


    2. I don’t doubt that you know what you’re talking about, I’m just curious. How can you tell the photo shows a 12? I wonder how long she owned her 10E? Maybe this photo was taken when 16020 was being built or customized. She didn’t have access to it, so she just stood in front of a similar fuselage for the picture.


  3. I believe that the above article is putting before us some important evidence but, quite understandably, making some incorrect deductions.

    Edmond Locard, the famed criminalist, states that every crime leaves trace evidence and you have to know where to look. This is what we have here – trace evidence of something. Before I suggest an alternative interpretation of the events above, I think I need to give a brief overview of how I see things.

    Once Amelia needs funds to repair her plane, a plot is hatched to make use of her. We conspiracy theorists naturally would suppose this would be the ideal opportunity to rig up her plane. This would have been discussed. However, the risk of discovery by ‘friendly countries’ would be great, and having to keep the secret for so long would place a toll on someone already undertaking such an arduous trip – she needed to be fresh for the final leg, not burdened with worry of discovery. Much better if you can get your hands on a back-to-basics Electra with a big fuel tank already installed. So far, so good. So, I believe that pragmatism won out and what seemed the obvious chance to alter her plane was passed over for a better opportunity later – Miami was the start of the modifications, but not the conclusion to them … They were almost conducted in ‘plain sight’ under the guise of readying Amelia’s plane for the last longest leg of her journey.

    Going with the switch-of-planes notion in Miami, we keep butting our heads against the brick wall of what happened to her original plane if we agree that it is to be found in 1945 crashed in New Britain – not far from Lae. I believe a switch of planes had to take place – but not in Miami. Put simply, the switching of planes was sold to Pan-Am as giving Amelia a better chance over the last part of her journey. They agreed and seem to have been most helpful. This plane (Daily Express) was always going to have to go elsewhere – back to factory? – to have its paint job / registration changed (and, of course, cameras added).

    Furthermore, if we conjecture that it is the sister plane Daily Express that is being used on the final leg from Lae, and lost, we must also accept that its sudden disappearance could be a possible loose end – which is why, maybe, a clone was created. Moreover, Pan-Am would be entitled to a replacement plane for the Daily Express, which they know has gone to the bottom of the sea because of what they have been told, but the world cannot know about this – they must believe this award-winning plane, Daily Express, still exists! So, we can reasonably speculate that a Daily Express II was created to compensate Pan-Am and leave no loose ends.

    I am not a pilot, but if I knew I was going to fly a plane with an altered centre of gravity (caused by the additional fuel tank), it would be imperative for me to ‘get a feel for it’. Thus, her disappearance from Miami can be accounted for, even expected. I postulated that she would want to have a go and was pleased to see a researcher writing on this very subject. I even thought about her flying the plane out to have its spy cameras installed, but the rushed installation of the Bendix seems to preclude this, and besides, installation of military equipment would be done in a military place, not in full view of the public.

    So what am I suggesting? There was an intended switch which, 80 years later, still confuses as it was meant to do at the time. How so? Amelia’s plane had to look like the sister plane, the Daily Express. This necessitated the removal of the trailing aerial and (I believe) the installation of a patch to match the one worn by the Daily Express. Everything was need-to-know because this was the start of a covert operation and the fewer people knew what was intended, the better.

    Pan-Am and the Government did some kind of deal whereby Pan-Am was told that their plane, Daily Express, was better suited for Amelia’s circumnavigation, but she needed a few modifications to be made to it. Whatever the terms of the agreement, Pan-Am were quite happy for this to take place. They were clearly ‘not in the know’ as they wouldn’t have volunteered the use of what we would call ‘a tracking device’ – the last thing the Government would want on their plane on its delicate mission!

    Once Pan Am were on board with the arrangement Amelia and the Government could get their hands on the Daily Express for FUTURE USE. THE PLANE SHE LEFT MIAMI IN WAS THE SAME PLANE SHE ARRIVED IN. The difference was that it had been modified to look like the Daily Express. Whilst in Miami, almost as an afterthought, it seems, the new direction finder was added, and she got to fly the Daily Express to familiarise herself with its controls and its different handling characteristics. Most likely, the Pan-Am people were told that the Daily Express needed to be taken away and prepared for the longest and most dangerous part of her circumnavigation – Lae to Howland.

    I considered the possibility of Amelia flying the Daily Express off to somewhere but leaving Miami in her original Lady Lindy pretending it was the modified Daily Express, but the application of the Bendix to the Daily Express the day before she leaves blows a hole through this. Therefore, back to original theory that Pan-Am knew the planes were going to be switched – but not at Miami – and that the plane she flew out in was the plane she landed in – Lady Lindy.

    The rest of my theory (not unusually where Amelia is concerned) is based on a healthy dose of pragmatism and one possible key point, which up until now, seemed completely misplaced and unusable. Hard as I tried, I could not fit it in with what I perceive to be the weight of evidence pointing towards an unpleasant end at the hands of the Japanese.

    Amelia and Fred continued with their circumnavigation not worried about what might be discovered on board their plane because there was nothing to see! They had a scheduled rendezvous with the Daily Express and possibly some hands-on training on how to use the camera equipment. If it didn’t happen in Lae, it was somewhere close. Why? David Billings and the ‘loose end’ in New Britain. I have posted this elsewhere, but I believe she was lost in the Daily Express spy plane (Mili Atoll) and in a failed or deliberate attempt to get rid of her original plane at night when it could not be recognized and, also, in a hurry – she was supposed to be lost at sea, remember, crashed over the jungle of New Britain.

    And this is how we reconcile Amelia being in the jungle of New Britain and Mili Atoll / Saipan. For this theory to work, we have to accept the existence of Lady Lindy (Amelia Plane #1), Daily Express #1 (Amelia Plane #2 – spy plane), and Daily Express #2 (replacement for lost spy plane). It’s a lot to swallow, but in a case like this where deception was clearly the order of the day, I don’t feel it is so far-fetched as it might initially seem.


    1. Thanks Phil, as good an explanation as any for the discovery of the wreck in PNG in 1945. Until we know how and why CN/1055 was inscribed on the map case, this will be a large loose end, a true “mystery,” not the crap sold to the world by the U.S. government since 1937.


  4. Thanks Mike for not shooting me and my ideas down in flames! I would not be able to have these ideas if it were not for the hard efforts of people like yourself – simple as.

    Two further points occur – the first trifling, the second, possibly more significant.

    1) I have previously suggested that the switch happened at Lae and that the PNG crash at night was an attempt to conceal the switch by removing the switched plane from the scene. I still believe this to be the case, but whereas I have previously suggested it happened as a result of a panicked response, I now think it much more likely that if somebody planned the switch, they would have had an exit strategy too – and this was it. Fly the plane out at night. I assume there are other airfields in the area, one of which they would have been making for. The cynic in me thinks that the beauty of this plan is that it can’t fail – if the plane crashes en route that would be a result because the evidence of a switch and the people who performed it have disappeared; if the plane makes it, fine we can do with it what needs to be done, but can we rely on those flying it to keep quiet? But for any of this to ‘come into play’ we need to turn up that wreck!

    2) This second point puts us, I believe, on firmer ground and is connected to the switching. Once again, it is courtesy of researchers that I can even discuss it.

    i believe there exists a letter (I am sure you know the one I mean) explaining why it would not be in the best interests of Amelia’s reputation to explain to Eleanor Roosevelt what really happened and how, in doing so, it would become public knowledge. Other contributors queried this view and, to be honest, so did I, basically thinking that if she was working for the Government, how could this tarnish her reputation? Surely, it makes her even more of a role model and heroine? I couldn’t see what the writer of this letter was getting at.

    Obviously, he knew more than I, but what? One of the things he must surely have been getting at was that if it was known that Amelia was happy to perpetrate a deception upon the American People (even if for reasons of national security) by allowing them to believe that she circumnavigated the world in the same plane – when she didn’t – it might totally destroy the credibility of what she had done before or wanted to do in the future.

    Do you not think?



    1. P

      The great researcher Bill Prymak has shown that the plane that took off from Lae was the same Electra that left Oakland on June 2. The “dark signature” on the back half of the left tail rudder is there throughout the world flight. The first two links below show the plane’s last takeoff and a still photo of the “dark signature.” If you look closely at the takeoff, you will see it’s there. I have a rare still photo of the Electra at Lae being gassed, but this comments site doesn’t allow photos to be posted. The two bottom links are earlier posts by Prymak and Paul Rafford Jr. that are related to this discussion. If she switched planes, when did she do it? She was heard on schedule by Harry Balfour and again at Nauru by T.J. Cude as she passed one-third of the way. The Ontario also most likely heard her flying overhead shortly thereafter. The more you think you have the answers to these vexing questions that the PNG 1945 discovery suggests, the more elusive they are. This is the true Earhart mystery. Keep swinging.

      Electra takeoff from Lae film

      Fred Goerner’s Orbis Magazine (British) Retrospective (1984)




      1. Thanks very much, Mike, for this information. Despite it looking bad for the switch theory, I can conceive of how it might still have been done – but we would need the opinion of Electra owners or engineers to verify its possibility. But, strangely, in thinking about the conundrums of the switch, I think I have something that sounds possibly a little less far-fetched…

        First of all, I feel sure that when she left Lae, she was either in a switched plane or in her modified original. As you say, she kept to time and even modern planes have to dump loads of fuel before landing so I have ruled out any notion of landing after the final take-off as unfeasible.

        Landing secretly before Lae to make the switch – maybe, but I am sure someone would have come up with some unexplained gaps in her timeline. No, if there was a switch, it was probably at Lae. But how can she be in a different plane that looks exactly like the original? Surely, this was the point? It had to be exactly the same not to risk the mission and her reputation. The solution may lie in the ease with which panels can (or cannot) be switched from one plane to the other.

        Initially, I had the notion of the Daily Express all kitted out with cameras and Earhart’s markings concealed under some temporary markings. I concede this would never pass a close-up inspection and the ‘patina’ test is hard to ignore. Hence the panel switch notion (IF POSSIBLE!). This would account for the original Lady Lindy having the wrong panels, markings etc. and needing to be got rid of. Maybe.

        Then I go to thinking of another explanation, possibly a little more feasible. It can still account for the PNG Crash, but I struggle with the motivation for flying at night over such difficult terrain when, I believe, even modern planes avoid doing so… Yet, I can also see practical reasons why it might have been this way.

        Let us suppose just for a minute that the rushed fitment of the Bendix to the Daily Express is part of an elaborate ruse. For the specified reason to Pan-Am, the Lady Lindy is being made to look like the Daily Express. The removal of the trailing aerial and installation of the fuel tank patch fits with this. But what if the patch was not merely cosmetic but functional? What if both planes are spirited briefly out of Miami so that a) a spare tank can be installed like the Express, or the fitments for it put in place for later installation b) possibly the mounting points for the cameras and the holes to fit them in – but NO CAMERAS until Lae. To complete the cover story, Pan-Am have to think that their plane is being used in this ruse – which it possibly was in a kind of way – so a Bendix is installed as requested by Amelia. So, speculating, the trailing aerial and Bendix are part of the cover story for the switch, the panel is needed for real. After all, they had to get their hands on the Express one way or another for both measurements etc. and for Amelia to see what the handling differences might be.

        Fast forward to Lae. An Electra (possibly not the Express if you don’t buy the cloning theory for how it ends up in the USSR) but with the same engine HP (only 10E had this?) flies out with camera equipment and any spare parts that might be needed to keep the Lady Lindy in the air for such a long time. But if there was no switch of plane, how could one of her engine mount repair tags end up in the PNG crash? If the plane was not switched as previously hypothesized and if David Billings has not been right all along, we must conclude that one or both the engines were swapped over. If this was to happen, quite apart from the other ‘extra’s’ she is having installed, the integrity of her circumnavigation would undoubtedly be compromised because it would be considered another form of deception if she concealed the change of one or both engines. Therefore, if it was done, it was done in secret to preserve her reputation and possibly for operational reasons to give her ‘fresher’ engines with which to make the final leg and give the mission every chance.

        Phew! Someone said when commenting on David Billing’s article that engines got swapped all the time. This might have been so. Where I still struggle is the notion of the Express or ‘spare parts plane’ flying off at night when a daylight flight would have been safer. Because it had something incriminating on board? Or was the crash in PNG simply a tragic accident? The flight was delayed and one of Amelia’s swapped engines started to give out and down it went waiting for its 1945 discovery?

        Apologies for stating the obvious but I believe that whatever was done to conceal Amelia’s mission were done artfully. No body must be allowed to think that her mission or she herself was anything other than it was supposed to be. When and if the truth were to come out later (after a successful mission) it would, doubtless, have been ‘spun’ into the best possible light.

        Probably, if we ever get enough of the facts (and that’s a big IF) we would sit back and wonder why we didn’t consider it or wish that we had only pursued some line of inquiry a little further.

        I hope I have shown (with the info. I have picked up and been given) that the dots can be joined up but I am equally sure that somebody has gone to a lot of trouble back then to ensure we don’t join up the dots! To fit the ‘dots’ together, I feel like I am having to be ‘unduly creative’, and this may simply be because the original plan was ‘creative’ too, or more likely, because I am missing something ….



      2. Phil,

        I’m sure you’ve read The Search for Amelia Earhart. Sometime in 1965, after Adm. Nimitz told Goerner that the Japanese had picked up Amelia and Fred in the Marshalls, a Commander Pillsbury, who had just retired as the public affairs officer for Nimitz, told Goerner, “The admiral wants you to know that you’re onto something that will stagger your imagination (page 265, first edition).” If it’s anything like you imagine, Pillsbury wasn’t lying!

        This is also why I avoided speculation such as this in The Truth at Last. We have too much solid information that places Earhart and Noonan in the Marshalls and Saipan, combined with the media’s overwhelming aversion to this truth, to be engaging in speculation, at least in a published book, about how and why that plane was found in East New Britain.



      3. Mike,

        Good thing I’m going on vacation what with all this speculation! I remembered Admiral Nimitz’s words but I confess that I had forgotten the ‘staggering your mind’ bit.

        What we have here is a mystery within a mystery and blogs are good for speculation but not book! Fair point. I am convinced her fate is already known and believe there can be little doubt about this. To me, the fate of what happened to Amelia is in no doubt and is the subject of a cover up to this day.

        I always thought that once the right theory came along, it would feel more logical than any others. The statement by Admiral Nimitz encourages me to think down one last path which I don’t think anybody has promoted – maybe because it would be ‘mind- blowingly’ difficult to achieve. But not impossible!

        I have said all along that it was very clever and a form of conjuring trick. Now, I will lay before you something even more wacky than the wackiest ideas I have come up with. So wacky in fact that it almost could be true!

        First we go to the world of automobiles – specifically older ones. The bodywork of the car can be separated from the engine and chassis. True or not true? You could lift the bodywork up, fit a more powerful engine, lower the chassis back down and no one would be aware of any changes – except when the extra performance kicked in!

        I have wavered to and fro between was it a switch or was it a modification? I now believe it could have been both – which is why it was so clever. It also answers the puzzling issue with the Bendix needing to be installed on the Daily Express.

        Buckle up – here we go!

        Mind blowing it may seem, because it was – and very clever!

        1. The skin of Lady Lindy had to match the Daily Express – down to lack of trailing aerial and patch to accomodate fuel tank

        2. Everything was going to plan until somebody remembered that there was no installation of the Bendix on the Daily Express – hence the hurried rushing around to get the exact hole location correct

        3. Measurements taken, Bendix installed on Daily Express, Lady Lindy takes off to commence her circumnavigation while Daily Express undergoes a whole host of changes – apparently listed in a Top Secret document kept under lock and key

        4. Both planes are present at Lae where this unconventional – but cunning – switch takes place. Off comes the top skin of Lady Lindy, complete with top of wings (?) rudder section, and gets bolted onto the Daily Express – the Daily Express top goes on Lady. Now we have the perfect switch unsuspected by anyone until Daily Express awkwardly turns up in PNG…

        Hats off to them. If this is what they did, it is very very clever, I’m sure you will agree and would explain why we have been butting our against so much contradictory information.

        I was always ‘niggled’ by the last-minute installation of the Bendix if the plane was not swapped. Why would you bother? Because she needed it and a hole was waiting for it. Swapping of belly parts from one plane to the other which one presumes would have been simpler, cause a problem with why was it considered necessary to install a Bendix Unit on a plane that was not ultimately going to be used by her. Quite apart from one engine having to be changed out.

        No, the above postulation, or something very similar, ticks the boxes for me.

        How about you?



      4. I don’t think so, Phil, it’s all just too complex for me to buy off on. I think there has to be something more easily doable. Since we’re speculating, my favorite explanation would be that the wreck found at East New Britain did not have a CN/1055 construction number, but that some very knowledgeable prankster wrote it on a map with full knowledge of how much havoc it would play when the map was eventually found by Earhart researchers.


      5. Hi Mike,

        Thanks for the sanity check. I admit that although Lae looks the likeliest place for a swap, there is not a single shred of evidence to support any of what I have suggested. To do most of what I am suggesting would require a lot of ‘bodies’ on the ground, and that attracts attention …

        I admit that it is a bit of a ‘cop out’ to say that whoever arranged it all would have kept it hush hush and that’s why we can’t find any evidence to this day. It would be interesting to know the comings and goings of planes around that time, but 80 years on that information would be hard to come by, and if you were doing something clandestine, you would have paid the ‘right people’ at the time to ensure nothing incriminating was found.

        I’m not sure I agree or disagree with your thoughts on the map reference – after all, they are no more wacky than mine!

        If we can get our hands on the PNG crash, and see who or what was on board, we may get an inkling of what might have happened. I still believe it to be a loose end from the Government perspective which is why two servicemen were immediately dispatched to investigate.

        Nimitz’s words are insightful, but also suggestive that whatever traces were left have been well covered. We are all waiting for that chink of light to indicate how the ‘conjuring trick’ – if it was one – was pulled out.

        However, interesting to speculate as it is, it is, really, a footnote in the bigger picture of what really happened to Aemilia and her navigator.



  5. Hi Mike,

    Me again… I came across the following Youtube video by Douglas Westfall based on the above Paul Rafford thesis:

    (hope you can view it)

    I found it informative and possibly suggestive. Some of the points I picked up on were:

    1) The Daily Express was not the swap-out plane – I managed to find a Russian blog page with pictures of it re-registered and on skis. I saw no sign of a Bendix direction finder in evidence
    2) I now suspect they repaired the original Lady Lindy in Burbank and created a clone rigged up for spying – time was short and the spy version was not quite ready by the time of the switch in Miami (hence the need for the moving back of the aerial and installation of the Bendix).
    3) At the time of Miami, both planes would look identical as they had not many air miles on them so making the swap nice and easy
    4) They needed to test the original repaired Lady Lindy which is why they made the Burbank – Oakland round trip in a day. It was for later use. This alone should have sufficed to test its airworthiness. So why disappear for 6 hrs in Miami if not to pick up the swapsied spy plane?
    5) They set off in the spy plane (with camera installation in place but no cameras)
    6) The original repaired Lady Lindy receives a new identity – cosmetic changes whilst still retaining the telltale engine mount repair tag which was to cause a stir in the PNG crash discovery at the end of the war
    7) In Lae (they only have approx. 2 full days) – time enough to install some cameras on their mounts which, possibly the newly repaired/re-registered original Electra 10 has been used to ferry in along with the technicians – they get ready to set forth on the last leg
    8) As it has been a covert mission from the start, it is felt best to fly the original Lady Lindy out at night – with the tragic consequences which David Billings is diligently investigating

    If it went down anything like this, it would mean that the ‘mission’ was a tragic disaster from start to finish and not very edifying!



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