Nobody realized it then, but from the moment Time magazine ripped Fred Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was thenceforth treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. corporate media.
By 1984 things were even worse, and speaking of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence was reserved for paranoid conspiracy theorists — fringe nuts, like this writer, who were shunned by polite society. The establishment had long circled its wagons around this sacred cow, and still has no intention of admitting a truth that would destroy the grand, well-crafted legacy of Democrat icon Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Until recently I believed that Fred Goerner’s fine 1984 retrospective, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” had appeared in a British publication called Orbis magazine, and stated so in Truth at Last. But now I find there was no Orbis magazine in 1984. Orbis Publishing Ltd. was a United Kingdom-based publisher of books and partworks (a new term for me). The company was founded in 1970 and changed its name to De Agostini UK Ltd. in 1999.
It was apparently for Orbis that Goerner penned this piece, but I can’t determine where it actually appeared in Britain — or if it appeared at all. I’ve searched online in vain for any British or American magazine, newspaper or periodical and found nothing that remotely resembles this relatively unknown 9,300-word summary of the most important evidence supporting the Marshalls-Saipan truth at the time. I found it in the Goerner Collection files at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, several years ago, and for true Fred Goerner fans and Earhart aficionados, this is a special treat, unavailable to the public anywhere until now.
Following is the first of three parts, virtually unedited from the original, of “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” by Fred Goerner for ORBIS Publishing, England. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“IN SEARCH OF AMELIA EARHART”
by Fred Goerner
Amelia Earhart carefully taxied her Lockheed Electra 10-E twin-engine airliner to the takeoff stand at the Lae, New Guinea 3,000 feet runway. Behind the cockpit in the main cabin was Captain Frederick Noonan. He had secured all loose items and cinched tight the safety belts attached to his navigator’s chair.
It was July 2, 1937. Amelia and Fred had often acknowledged that this would be the most difficult and dangerous part of their well-publicized around-the-world flight.
Their course would take them over an expanse of Pacific Ocean never flown before: 2,556 miles, mostly over open water, bound for tiny Howland Island, a three-quarter by one-half-mile fleck of land just north of the equator where the U.S. Navy, Army Air Corps and Interior Departments had recently scratched out a rudimentary airfield.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard had each provided a plane guard vessel. The Navy’s USS Ontario (AT-13) would be stationed in the open sea at the flight’s midpoint and the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca would anchor near Howland Island. Each would try to assist with communications and both could serve as rescue ships should Earhart and Noonan have to attempt an emergency landing on the ocean.
Perhaps the most dangerous and difficult aspect of the endeavor would be the takeoff. The plane was grossly overloaded with 1050 gallons of 86 octane fuel together with 50 gallons of 100 octane gas to provide extra power to the twin 550 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines for initial lift.
Amelia had practiced such takeoffs at the Lockheed field in Burbank, California, but this was the first time during the world flight she would have to test what she had learned. She remembered all too clearly the nearly disastrous crash they had experienced on the attempted takeoff from Honolulu three months earlier. Carrying only 900 gallons of fuel, the Electra had begun to swerve on the takeoff run. The plane lurched to the left, then the nose began to come right. Amelia had overcorrected by pulling back on the left engine throttle, and “The Flying Laboratory” as she called her plane, careened into a vicious ground-loop, collapsing the landing gear. The Electra had come to a stop in a shower of sparks. Good fortune still followed her and those who flew with her.
Despite the gasoline sprayed along the runway, there was no fire and no one had been injured; however, Captain Harry Manning, one of the two navigators, decided he had risked his life enough in the interests of Amelia Earhart and returned to his sea command, leaving only Fred Noonan to help Amelia find her way around the world.
It was exactly 10 a.m. New Guinea time as the Electra spun into takeoff position. The bright controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard props whirled by the powerful Wasp engines chewed great holes in the air as Amelia checked the rpm’s and magnetos, sending a hurricane blasting back against the vibrating 55-foot wingspan. Satisfied with the performance of both engines, Amelia throttled back. The Guinea Airways mechanics had done a thorough job in making “The Flying Laboratory” as airworthy as possible. A brief test flight with light fuel load the day before had established the quality of their work.
Amelia stared down the runway for a moment. Had they figured everything? She thought so. The air temperature and humidity matched the wind direction and velocity to provide the necessary lift given the weight of the aircraft and the length of runway. She and Fred had unloaded every ounce of personal baggage that could be spared. Even a few pounds could be crucial.
She once again checked the power and fuel mixture settings that had been given her by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed Aircraft. “You must use every foot of the runway you can,” he had said. “Hold it down to the last second. With that load, you must have the airspeed or it’s all over!”
After the Honolulu crackup, Johnson had repeatedly tutored Amelia in heavy-load takeoffs at the Burbank field, using an Electra similar to hers. At one point the look-alike Electra had wandered off the runway and into a ditch. The weight in that aircraft, however, had been iron bars, not gasoline.
With a smooth, positive motion, Amelia pushed both throttles forward to full open, slipped the brakes, and the Electra began to lumber forward. The roar of the engines claimed the attention of a small band of spectators at the Guinea Airways’ hangars. The group included J.A. Collopy, District Superintendent of Civil Aviation for the Territory Of New Guinea; Harry Balfour, senior radio operator at the Lae Aerodrome; and technicians and pilots of Guinea Airways.
Collopy would later write in his official report to the Civil aviation Board:
“The takeoff was hair-raising as after taking every yard of the 1,000 yard runway from the northwest end of the aerodrome towards the sea, the aircraft had not left the ground 50 yards from the end of the runway. When it did leave it sank away but was by this time over the sea. It continued to sink to about five or six feet above the water and had not climbed to more than 100 feet before it disappeared from sight. It was obvious the aircraft was well handled and pilots of Guinea airways were loud in their praise of the takeoff with such an overload.”
Collopy detailed the amount of gas aboard the Electra, the repairs accomplished at Lae and concluded the report with his own feeling that the weak link in the flight was the lack of expert knowledge of radio on the part of Earhart and Noonan. He deplored the fact that their Morse code sending was very slow and that they both preferred to use voice telephone. “Mr. Noonan told me that he was not a bit anxious about the flight to Howland Island and was quite confident that he would have little difficulty in locating it. I do think that had an expert radio operator been included in the crew the conclusion might have been different.”
A few minutes after the Electra disappeared from the sight of Lae, radio operator Harry Balfour received a long awaited weather forecast for the Earhart flight from the U.S. Navy Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor. The message had been routed through American Samoa and Suva, Fiji. As Amelia and Fred would be flying dead reckoning most of the day and night, it was vitally important that they know the wind directions so navigational corrections could be made for drift.
At 10:22 a.m., 11:22 a.m. and 12:22 p.m., Balfour transmitted the information by radiophone on Earhart’s daytime frequency, 6210 kilocycles:
“PARTLY CLOUDY SKIES WITH DANGEROUS RAIN SQUALLS ABOUT 300 MILES EAST OF LAE. SCATTERED HEAVY SHOWERS REST OF ROUTE. WINDS EAST SOUTHEAST ABOUT 25 KNOTS TO ONTARIO. THEN EAST TO NORTHEAST ABOUT 20 KNOTS TO HOWLAND.”
Balfour heard no acknowledgment from Earhart, but assumed she had gotten the message and had simply been too busy to reply. At approximately 3 p.m. Lae time, Amelia’s voice came through Balfour’s receiver, clear and unhurried. The plane was flying at 10,000 feet, but she was going to reduce altitude because of thick banks of cumulus clouds ahead.
Then at 5:20 p.m., she broke through again on 6210 kilocycles to announce they were currently at 7,000 feet and making 150 knots speed. The position reported was latitude 4 degrees 33 minutes South, longitude 159 degrees 06 minutes East, a point about 785 miles out from Lae and almost directly on course. The true ground speed was only about 111 knots, indicating the Electra was indeed bucking the headwinds mentioned in the U.S. Navy weather forecast. Earhart closed the broadcast by stating her next report would be on 3105 kilocycles, her nighttime frequency.
Balfour radioed back that her signal was coming through strong and she should continue to use 6210. Amelia again did not acknowledge, and Balfour heard nothing more.
To 34-year-old U.S. Navy Lt. Horace Blakeslee, the assignment as commanding officer and navigator of USS Ontario (AT-13) was both fascination and frustration. Ontario, a single screw seagoing tug launched in 1912, was the U.S. Navy’s only remaining coal-burning vessel, and serving as a plane guard ship for the Earhart flight stretched her capabilities to the maximum. In fact, Ontario was no longer considered fit for patrol duty and had been delegated the official yacht of the U.S. Navy Governor of American Samoa.
To make the more than 1,200-mile voyage to the mid-point of the projected Earhart flight, remain on plane guard station for as much as two weeks and then return to the U.S. Navy Station at Tutuila, Samoa, Blakeslee fully loaded Ontario’s coal bunkers and piled a reserve supply on her decks.
By the time Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, Blakeslee and his crew had already been steaming up and down a small portion of Earhart’s announced flight path for 10 days. Consumption of coal and water was reaching a critical point.
Blakeslee had no illusions that two-way communication between Earhart and Ontario could be established. The Electra had no low-frequency broadcast capability and the Ontario no high-frequency equipment. The Ontario was to broadcast the letter ‘N’ on 400 kilocycles with the ship’s call letters repeated at the end of each minute. With a low-frequency receiver, Earhart presumably could estimate her distance from Ontario by strength of signal. Her direction finder, restricted to high frequency signals, would be of no use to home on Ontario.
With Earhart’s 5:20 p.m. reported position, the Electra was due over Ontario at approximately 10 p.m. Ontario time. Blakeslee recalls (and is substantiated by Ontario‘s official log) that at 10 p.m. the weather consisted of scattered cumulus clouds moving from the east-northeast and occasional showers. One of the watch officers believed he heard the sound of an approaching aircraft a few minutes after 10 p.m. and the Ontario searchlight swept the sky.
By 1 a.m. the overcast had become complete and heavy rain squalls were buffeting Ontario. Blakeslee radioed for and received permission to return to base. The old ship barely made it, “scraping the bottoms of the coal bunkers.”
At the same time as the men of Ontario believed the Earhart plane to be passing overhead, the radio operator of the Nauru Island station to the north copied Amelia saying, “A ship in sight ahead.”
The 250-foot Coast Guard Cutter USS [sic] Itasca steamed slowly by Howland Island, barely keeping way. The radio room was fully manned, and a satellite station ashore on Howland housing a new and highly secret high-frequency radio direction finder was ready for action as well.
The Itasca ‘s Captain, [Cmdr.] Warner Thompson, was not a happy man, however. He and the Coast Guard had the responsibility for assisting the Earhart plane to a safe landing at Howland, but he was now convinced that Itasca was being denied important information where the flight was concerned. Try as he would Thompson could not find out exactly what frequencies Earhart was going to use or even the range of her direction finding equipment.
Thompson was also not pleased with a number of persons he felt were looking over his shoulder aboard ship. There was Richard Blackburn Black, the Department of Interior representative who had arranged with the Navy and Army for construction of the Howland airfield and who was billed as Earhart’s personal representative. It was Black who had brought the hush-hush high-frequency direction finder aboard Itasca, and who had wanted to bring along a U.S. Navy radio expert to operate the apparatus. Thompson had flatly refused to use a Navy man on a Coast Guard ship, but under pressure had finally permitted a Navy radioman second class named Frank Cipriani to be trained in Hawaii in the use of the equipment.
Also aboard were several U.S. army and U.S. Army Air Corps representatives along with the reporters from Associated Press and United Press. They all had their own interests and needs, none of which, Thompson felt, aided in the task of guiding the Earhart plane to a safe landfall.
The Itasca radio room was crowded by midnight. The wire service correspondents jockeyed for position with the Army men. Coast Guard radiomen William Galten and Thomas O’Hare along with Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts hovered over the transmitters and receivers.
It was a long wait. Earhart’s voice did not break through the static on 3105 kilocycles until 0245, and then all that could be clearly understood was “CLOUDY WEATHER . . . CLOUDY” an hour later at 0345, her voice was heard again saying “ITASCA FROM EARHART. ITASCA BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR — REPEAT-BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR. . . . OVERCAST.”
The Itasca operators transmitted on 3105 asking Earhart to send on 500 kilocycles so the ship’s low frequency direction finder could get a fix on her. Obviously no one on Itasca knew that Earhart did not have the equipment to broadcast on 500 kilocycles.
Another long wait, and then at 0453 Amelia’s voice was recognized again but the signals were unreadable. The first real sense of worry began to permeate the radio room. At 0512, Earhart’s voice again. This time much clearer: “WANT BEARINGS ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR. WILL WHISTLE IN MICROPHONE.”
The only high-frequency direction finder available that could take a bearing on 3105 kilocycles was the Navy set ashore on Howland, and there the Coast Guard operator Cipriani was in a sweat. Earhart wasn’t staying on the air long enough for him to get a fix. The whistling into the mike helped, but it was too short as well. Another important factor was also disturbing Cipriani. The wet-cell batteries that powered the direction finder were beginning to run down. He could only pray that they would last long enough to give Earhart a proper heading.
Amelia broke in again three minutes later at 0515, this time only saying “ABOUT 200 MILES OUT.” Again she whistled briefly into her microphone. Another half-hour dragged by, and then again Earhart’s voice, this time with a note of pleading. “PLEASE TAKE A BEARING ON US AND REPORT IN HALF-HOUR. I WILL MAKE NOISE IN MICROPHONE. ABOUT 100 MILES OUT.” Still more whistling. On Howland, Cipriani made a note on his log: “Her carrier is completely modulated. I cannot get a bearing.”
Nothing further from Earhart until 0730. Her voice was becoming heavy with concern. “WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE YOU BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW. HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO. WE ARE FLYING AT 1,000 FEET.”
The atmosphere in the Itasca radio room was heavy with alarm. The operators redoubled their efforts, still pleading with Amelia to transmit on 500 kilocycles.
At 0757, still on 3105 kilocycles, Amelia’s voice filled the radio room at the clearest level yet. “WE ARE CIRCLING BUT CANNOT SEE ISLAND. CANNOT HEAR YOU. GO AHEAD ON 7500 KILOCYCLES ON LONG COUNT EITHER NOW OR ON SCHEDULE TIME OF HALF-HOUR”
The Itasca operators looked at each other in amazement. Now Earhart was trying to use her own direction finder, but none of them had any idea it ranged to 7500 kilocycles. Quickly the Itasca transmitter began to pour forth a stream of letter “A’s” on the suggested frequency.
Almost immediately, at 0803, Amelia replied, “WE RECEIVED YOUR SIGNALS BUT UNABLE TO GET MINIMUM. PLEASE TAKE BEARING ON US AND ANSWER ON 3105 KILOCYCLES.” This time she made long dashes by depressing the microphone button, but still the Howland direction finder could not get a bearing. Cipriani shook his head in desperation. The batteries were almost completely discharged.
Forty miserable minutes dragged by in the Itasca radio room. Frustration etched every face. as one of the operators would later say, “It was like not being able to reach a friend who was falling over a cliff.”
At 0843, an Earhart voice that some would later call frantic blurted, “WE ARE ON THE LINE OF POSITION 157 DASH 337. WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE ON 6210 KILOCYCLES. WE ARE NOW RUNNING NORTH AND SOUTH.”
Amelia was switching to her daytime frequency. Itasca‘s operators immediately monitored 6210 kilocycles but were greeted with nothing but static. An hour wore by. Still nothing. Some of the men went on deck and gazed up at the morning sky, hoping a miracle would bring Earhart and Noonan into sight. The horizon was empty save a weather front of cumulus clouds many miles to the northwest.
Warner Thompson, Itasca‘s captain, waited until 10:30 a.m., then radioed Honolulu that the Earhart plane was probably down at sea and he was going to begin a search operation.
Search, indeed. But where? What did “157-337” mean? It probably was a sun line that Noonan had been able to shoot just before Earhart’s last radio transmission. But a sun line was no good without a reference point. The plane could be anywhere along 2,000 miles of that sun line. On a compass reciprocal “157-337” could represent a southeast to northwest line through
Howland Island itself. Thompson reasoned that the weather front to the northwest might have prevented Earhart and Noonan from seeing Howland, so he would search that area first.
The disappearance took every headline in America along with most of the rest of the world. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband who was waiting in Oakland, Calif., was stunned, but he believed in his wife’s resourcefulness and he believed in her luck.
Noonan’s wife, Mary Bea (Martinelli), told the press she was confident her Fred and Amelia would be rescued. She had married Fred Noonan just three weeks before the around-the-world flight began.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had made the arrangements for U.S. Government cooperation with the flight, immediately ordered the American battleship USS Colorado which was on a summer reserve training cruise near the Hawaiian Islands to proceed at top speed to the Howland Island area to assist with the search. Colorado carried three catapult observation planes that could cover wide areas of ocean.
Amelia’s had been literally a flight into yesterday. Because of the International Date Line, she and Fred Noonan had taken off from Lae, New Guinea, at 10 a.m. July 2, and the had vanished sometime after 8:43 a.m., July 2, Howland Island time.
On the evening of July 3, 1937, President Roosevelt, after consultation with the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. William D. Leahy, ordered the Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington and three U.S. Navy destroyers to proceed from the west coast of the United States to the vicinity of Howland Island to augment the search. (End of Part I of Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”)
On this most important flight it would be expected that all transmission equipment was coordinated with all stations expecting to hear from Earhart. Obviously this was not the case. That she and Fred died on Saipan is supported by numerous witnesses. With the mass construction going on at Saipan now perhaps they will yet be found. However, the chances of that happening is very slim.
Terrific article & photos, Mike. The STORM in which Amelia was flying through, more than likely hindered the reception to this Loop antenna. What has always baffled me, is why they didn’t attach pontoons to the plane, for this length of the trip? Yes we know she was going for a trans Pacific flight here, but the great distance was too far reaching.
They could have d i v i d e d up this leg of the flight into three parts, instead of two. Taken more precautionary measures and put *SAFETY at the TOP of the LIST!
Speaking of pontoons, a thought just crossed my mind. I went to see “Sully” last week the movie about the 737 that crashed into the Hudson River. Gillespie cites the 1963 crash of an Electra into the ocean off Scituate, Mass which sank in 8 minutes so he says, to prove that AE’s plane would have sank immediately. Maybe the Scituate plane did sink in 8 minutes. When I asked whether the gas tanks were full or empty at the time of course I got no answer as Ric is not into facts when they don’t suit his agenda. So the 737 floated for a very long time. I don’t know if it eventually sank or what. But Prymak’s assertion that the wing fuel tanks would have flooded thereby bringing AEs plane down to sink just doesn’t hold water. I don’t believe the 737’s fuel tanks flooded at all, nobody seems to have ever checked the configuration of the vents on AE’s tanks, I believe they were designed to NOT allow water in or since the Lockheed engineers seemed to think the plane would float indefinitely maybe they made a special vent design which doesn’t seem like it would have been too hard to do. I think what I am saying is that there was no need for pontoons. Also, I don’t think they ever put pontoons on a low wing aircraft with engines on those wings. I could be wrong, but it probably wasn’t a practical idea. To say nothing of the heavy weight. My thinking now would be that she landed her plane in the lagoon in the water. It would seem to me it would be the best plan, attempting to land on the shore reef doesn’t seem like the best plan. I don’t know what difference it would have made, though.
Speaking of the war, (WW2) I read a synopsis of FDR’s war plans in the “official” history of the war. It said that USA was concerned with the Japanese incursions into China in the early 30s. Uhh, maybe, but methinks not concerned much for the Chinese people. Now the US plan was to cut off Japan’s petroleum. Which they did. Without oil, Japan would be effectively neutralized. Which did come about. Their NAvy was hampered by a lack of oil in many ways. The US knew they would win the war, there was no doubt of that. It is curious to learn as I did, that despite the atomic bombs, industrial Japan was little affected. After the war Japan rose to be an industrial power which was most likely the plan all along, even back in the 30s. Now clearly, as this latest post shows, AE was obviously trying not to be tracked, at all, ever. If she was really lost all she had to do was send a long voice message and the Navy (Cipriani?) could have easily given her a bearing and with a sextant shot she would have known exactly where she was.
I believe she knew where she was all along, anyway. That’s why she never sought help by acquiring a bearing from Howland. What exactly she was supposed to accomplish, I’m not sure. Maybe her role was to provoke an incident with Japan to strengthen the hand of the Japanese war faction, which was what FDR wanted anyway. She fell for it. Japan was never a threat to the USA at all. But it was a good excuse for WAR. I rest my case.
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What was Fred’s position on Amelia possibly spying or having her flight subsidized by FDR other than the airfield? What did he think of Pearl Harbor and WW2 in general? The general consensus is that FDR built the runway at Howland as a sneaky way to extend American power into the Pacific. What if that story was for the gullible American public to make FDR look wise and forward thinking when the real reason was to build an airfield that was useless for anybody and anything and never used so that the story could be put out that AE intended to land there when he knew very well that that was not going to happen. In other words cover for her spy flight? I wonder if Fred was perceptive enough to know that Pearl Harbor was “staged” as it were? I really should read the “official” history of WW2 to see how they cover that escapade.
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Mike, I felt as if I were there, real-time, with the guys in the communications room! Wonderful writing! I can’t wait for the rest of it! Thanks for sharing this unique piece!
The way Goerner described the inclusion of so many US Navy personnel on the Coast Guard vessel, it makes me wonder [again] about the possibility Amelia was charged with snooping about for Naval Intelligence: best to have direct Navy contacts in position to hear firsthand her utterings and be able to grab the mic, if needed.
I also was thinking what a great Twilight Zone episode this would make, with the connection to crossing the international date line and subsequently “disappearing” forever. So many endings are possible! Maybe some imaginative playwright today will pick up on your research and all of that of Goerner et al. and develop something to catapult the real story and facts smack into the public eye, front and center.
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Mike, as Wolfspecter said this was a thrilling account that put me right there on the ships with the men trying to reach AE and FN. I really look forward to the next installments. Kerp up your posts here and the great work.
David the airplane Amelia crossed the Atlantic Ocean on had pontoons.
The Japanese HATED the U.S. OIL EMBARGO and were going to make an example of Amelia & Fred’s suffering & deaths. Why do you think they relished their captivity and imprisonment on Saipan?
FDR didn’t intervene on their behalves and instead left them for dead. All he had to do was *apologize to the Japanese for this MiShAp; lifted the FUEL EMBARGO with the *[solemn promise] to withdraw from China, repay & repair the damages done and the lives lost. He shirked his responsibilities as a WORLD LEADER…
The Imperial Japanese Government hated us in 1937 (and earlier) because of our possessions in the Pacific and our expansion of our commercial interests there — the opening of the Pacific Clipper route the year before Amelia & Fred’s capture being a major cause of conflict. The Oil Embargo upset them a great deal more after it went into effect in 1941. The general embargo of 1941 was probably the proximate cause of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Amelia and Fred were probably our first casualties of WW II.
Here are a few things of note:
There is not a shred of evidence Earhart was bucking headwinds. The only winds known were the winds she experienced taking off from Lae.
In fact, there is a good chance she had favorable tailing winds from the southeast which pushed her further west.
All the air speeds reported by various sources including Goerner, Tighar, Radford, etc, are pure speculation and based upon Earhart giving her position a couple of times. These can’t be used. It appears Earhart did not timely report her position when she spoke over the radio. There were time lags from when she gave position reports and when Noonan actually plotted the position.
Elgin Long notes these discrepancies in his book.
There is no evidence Earhart ever had a two way conversation with anybody including Balfour.
Balfour’s story changed slightly over time.
The Ontario never reported hearing Earhart. Blakeslee had no idea he could not communicate with Earhart. He had no knowledge of her issues with the radio.
Noonan was not in the back of the plane during the Lae takeoff, he was in the copilot sest.
Hi Les –
I always thought, Fred was in the rear of the plane, during this part of the Pacific flight. You would think, weight distribution was necessary. Obvious the weight of fuel in the center, must have been enough balance; to justify Fred sitting up front with Amelia?
Wouldn’t you think, the weight of the engines in the front, Amelia & Fred sitting in the nose and all the fuel in the center; weight in the rear would be needed?
Well, for starters, we known Noonan sat up front during the Lae take off because he boards the plane through the forward cockpit hatch. That is clearly evident from the last flight video. Although the video is fragmented and spliced, it shows Earhart and Noonan boarding the plane through the forward cockpit hatch twice. The first scenes must have been Earhart’s test flight the day before. The last few frames show them boarding through the cockpit hatch and the plane taking off. From eyewitness descriptions, it’s evident this is the final take off.
If Noonan had no intention of sitting up front, he wouldn’t crawl over the top of the fuel tanks to get to his navigator’s table when all he would have needed to do was open the rear fuselage door. Noonan probably sat up front on most of Earhart’s take offs before retreating later to the back of the plane.
According to a retired United pilot friend of mine who owns a Lockheed 12 (very close to the Lockheed 10), he says the plane is more balanced with two in the cockpit at take off versus Noonan being in the back. He also explained with the fuel load she was carrying, Earhart would need all the help she could get with take off preparation. She would have been very busy just keeping the plane straight and handling the throttles – not an easy task with that much weight. Amelia didn’t want a repeat of the Hawaii take off. According to the expert, Noonan would have handled the landing gear retraction and the flaps if they were needed. (Although it doesn’t look like the Electra took off from Lae with flaps extended.) Anyway, according to my friend, those important duties would have been assigned to Noonan.
Hi Les –
That was very *interesting to learn about Fred being up front with Amelia. I didn’t know this. I assumed Fred was counter balance in the back due to so much weight up front.
I’m amazed, they even got off the ground in Lae, with all that fuel. Fred never seems to be given the CREDIT owned to him nor his *EXPERTISE in navigating. I wonder how much it was, her decision to aim for the Marshall’s, than it was for Fred’s? We learned of FDR’S anger of Amelia disobeying orders; but should that decision rest solely on Amelia?
When will the next section of the Orbis article be posted?
The conclusion of the three-part series was published Oct. 19, so that’s it! I normally try to post every two weeks, unless something pressing comes up. Thanks for your interest.