Monthly Archives: February, 2019

Did Earhart switch planes during world flight?

Most observers of the Amelia Earhart saga are well aware of the longstanding speculation that a plane change gone wrong during one of Amelia’s many stops along the route of her 1937 world-flight attempt might have contributed to the fliers’ doom, or in some way unlocks some key aspect of the so-called “Earhart Mystery.”  If only we could locate at least one of these planes, the thinking goes, the rest of the puzzle might just fall into place.

The scenarios range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I won’t include examples of the latter that can be found in a few of the books that exemplify Fred Goerner’s “lunatic fringe” in this post.  Among the serious, well-researched theories, we have Paul Rafford Jr.’s The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change,” posted here on Nov. 14, 2014, and Dec. 5, 2016, and I’ve continued to wonder about the possibilities inherent in David Billings’ still viable New Britain theory.

Please understand that I’m not taking a pro or con position relative to whether Amelia might have changed planes at some point during her world flight.  I simply don’t know, and so I present the ideas of researchers with definite, more finely honed and better-educated opinions.  We’ve already seen the ideas of Paul Rafford Jr., who strongly believed a plane change happened in Miami.

Next, we’ll examine the evidence presented by Bill Prymak, who strongly disagreed with Rafford.  One of them was wrong, of course.  The following is the first of two provocative pieces that appeared in Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, this in the November 1998 edition.

DID AMELIA REALLY CHANGE AIRPLANES?
By Bill Prymak

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.”

Undated, rare photo of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E with painted cowlings. Note also “R” registration, meaning “Restricted,” without the “N” which denotes country of origin, in this case, the United States.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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.

Amelia with brand-new Electra, July 1936. Note “dark signature” in rear half of the left vertical rudder.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Lockheed Aircraft Company photo taken July 28, 1936.  Prymak’s comment: “P.R. photo before second flight.  Note bar in window, no DF (direction finder) loops, light colored logo and Prymak signature.  Further note solid cabin door.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Caripito, Venezuela, June 3, 1937.  Amelia wrote, “Rain clouds hung thick about Caripito as we left on the morning of June third.  We flew over jungles to the coast, and then played hide-and-seek with showers until I decided I had better forgo the scenery, such as it was, and climb up through the clouds into fair weather.  An altitude of 5,000 feet topped all but the highest woolly pinnacles. . . . Soon we saw the river Surinam, a silver streak meandering to the coast, a wide tidal stream full of floating green islands of small trees and water plants, and bordered with vast stretches of mud. Twelve miles from its mouth is Paramaribo, capital of Dutch Guiana, and twenty-five miles further inland the airport. . . . No makeshift airport this, but one of the best natural landing areas I have ever seen.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

In the March 2000 edition of the AES Newsletters, we find a more extensive photo essay by Bill Prymak, with plenty of information that was lacking in his first piece.  Thus, a few photos are repeated to avoid confusion.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT AIRPLANES DID SHE REALLY FLY?

The feeding frenzy continues to this day . . . rumors, stories, swear-accounts, and positive documentation that Earhart flew more than one airplane on her final flight. Some of the “documentation” pointing to multiple airplanes is pretty darned good, suggesting government involvement with cloak-and-dagger overtones, spy missions, a second Electra 10 being shipped to Australia, all making great reading for the conspiracy-hungry American public, but sadly, the true-grit hard copy proof still remains elusive.

This analysis is presented after searching through Lockheed Documents, Purdue Library SPECIAL COLLECTIONS papers, and CAA documents, which together give an accurate and objective perspective of the events of May 1936 thru July 2nd 1937 re: the acquisition and registration of her airplane, plus an in-depth study of the timing and implantation of the various modifications, alterations and additions done to her ship during the above period.  The author bears no pre-conceived opinion re: the multi-plane theory.  Let the chips (and the facts), fall as they may.

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May 16, 1936: George Putnam telegraphs Bob Gross, President of the LOCKHEED CORPORATION, directing him to proceed with the construction of Amelia’s LOCKHEED ELECTRA 10E, but, for confidentiality reasons, GP orders Gross to temporarily name CLARA LIVINGSTON as purchaser until the aircraft is delivered to Earhart on July 24 with the assigned registration number of 16020.  It’s appropriate at this time to discuss the Lockheed Electra 12A discovered on Mount Tierfort, Bicycle Lake Calif., in 1961 by Joe Gervais, bearing the same registration number, N16020.  With the serial number 1243, and delivered 12 May 1937, this airplane acquired a strange twist of fate when it was later purchased by PAUL MANTZ, technical advisor to Earhart on her final flight.  In June of 1957 Mantz requested and obtained a change from the aircraft’s existing registration N 60775 to N 16020 (the number on Amelia’s lost aircraft, but lacking the “R”), and the 12A still had that number when it crashed in 1961.

A PHOTO ESSAY ON AE’S AIRPLANE CHANGES,
ALTERATIONS AND MODIFICATIONS

Earhart’s airplane, delivered to her on July 24, 1936, had a single window at each side, but by the end of the year it had been extensively modified with six cabin fuel tanks, four filler ports instead of the original two, and two windows added: one in the entrance door and another opposite in the fuselage for a total of four.  These two added windows were larger than normal and were optically flat, for accurate celestial navigational purposes. Later, just before her second attempt, the starboard large window was removed and the fuselage skinned over.  This appears as a bright shiny patch easily seen on photographs taken at Miami, circa June 1, 1937.

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AMELIA WITH HER NEW AIRPLANE IN JULY 1936

TheR designation, plus the Hooven faired DF housing on top of the fuselage, plus the solid door, plus the shiny new metal all-around, dates this photograph pre-November, 1936.  Also note the “light-colored” logo on the right rudder.  Further note the horizontal bar in the side window, the purpose of which still baffles researchers.

P.S. Note the dark “Prymak” signature, the vertical left bottom rudder rear section that seems to ubiquitously find its way right up to Lae New Guinea.

After July 1936, Amelia’s aircraft adorned the registration number of X 16020 as seen in the photo below (Xdesignated factory test work).

R 16020 was seen on the aircraft when she entered the BENDIX AIR RACE in September 1936, at which time the engine cowlings were painted in a New Zealand motif.  The R designation was requested Aug. 6 and approved the next day.  On Sept. 21, 1936 the Bureau of Air Commerce finally approved NR 16020, but the aircraft continued to display R 16020 well into the end of 1936.

Prymak’s comment: “Note the protruding top of the wing navigation) light, and the horizontal bar in the window, plus the dark logo.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

R 16020 was seen on the aircraft when she entered the BENDIX AIR RACE in September 1936, at which time the engine cowlings were painted in a New Zealand motif.  The R designation was requested Aug. 6 and approved the next day.  On Sept. 21, 1936 the Bureau of Air Commerce finally approved NR 16020, but the aircraft continued to display R 16020 well into the end of 1936.

This photo of AE on same day as previous photo.  Note two-filler-hole
fuel fill system, but this seven-tank fuel system was removed shortly thereafter and only six tanks went back in, and the two-fill tube manifold system was dropped in favor of each tank having its own filler neck.  This resulted in the four (plus one blank ) filler-hole system, as seen on all photos taken thereafter right up to Lae, NG.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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The photo below taken late October 1936 shows the FRED HOOVEN DF dome, solid door, dark-colored logo, bar in window, and bottom protruding wing navigation light.  Trailing antenna fairlead is also clearly shown at rear of airplane.

The photo below shows the post-crash mess at Luke Field, Hawaii.  Note the door has built-in window.

Photo below, arriving back in the states, shows ADF loop, larger rear starboard window, and large dark fuselage panel, just above right wing.  This dark panel can also serve as asignature for photos in other locations.

Photo below shows well-documented Miami June 1 takeoff.  Note the shiny new patch over rear window, our side fuselage dark panel over the wing, the dark long skinny panel over the two windows, visible in both photos, and it becomes apparent that both photos show the same airplane.

The Electra taxis for take-off on Amelia’s all-fated round-the-world flight Miami, Florida, June 1, 1937.

The Lockheed drawing below shows the configuration of the aircraft just before her May 20 departure on the second attempt.  As noted on the drawing, the flush navigation lights appear, probably because the new right wing installed after the crash had the flush design already incorporated into the wing, necessitating the left wing to be similarly configured. Note 4+1 filler ports, window in door, and dark logo.

 

Prymak’s comment: “Quite a crowd at Assab, Eritrea, Africa, June 15.  Note window in door, dark logo and dark right rudder.”

Karachi, Pakistan, June 17. “Again, window in door, dark logo and the ‘Prymak’ dark lower fin,” Prymak wrote.  In her book, Last Flight, Amelia wrote, “In Karachi I was told that a non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India had not previously been made.  Certainly with or without stops it is no hackneyed route.  For me, who had never flown outside of North America (excepting a couple of oceans) this bit of far-away air adventuring was a deeply interesting experience.” 

And finally, conspiracy buffs get all cranked up over a photo like this, claiming all kinds of sinister things like” positive proof-another airplane,” but this most likely was just another PR stunt (for which AE was famous) with the letter E painted or taped on the right side. E for what? EXLAX?

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What can we deduce from the previous photos?

1.  The cabin door was certainly windowed around January 1937.  I have found no work orders to confirm actual date of installation.

2.  The bar in the window vanishes before the first round-the-world-attempt March 15 — clothes rack for Fred?

3.  Right side second large window [was] skinned over and shown as “new, shiny aluminum” before AE left for Miami.  But why would they cover an oversized window fitted with optically perfect glass for Fred’s navigational work?

4.  The mystery of the 4+1 fuel ports pretty well explained on previous pages.

5.  The navigation lights were installed when the new right wing was installed during the factory repair days, March 30 to May 20, 1937.

6.  The airplane sports the Hooven domed DF antenna housing in the fall of 1936, then it falls out of favor to the loop antenna, which remains on the airplane until the very end, Lae, New Guinea.  However, we still cannot explain Paul Rafford’s close friend Bob Thibert stating that at Miami he was instructed to install an open DF loop on NR 16020, where he found only VIRGIN SKIN ABOVE THE CABIN.  Should we invoke the faded memory clause at this time as one possible answer? (End of “HOW MANY DIFFERENT AIRPLANES DID SHE REALLY FLY?”)

Your comments are of course welcomed.

 

Fred Hooven: “Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart”

Cameron A. “Cam” Warren, former longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, may be still with us at 95 in Fountain Hills, Ariz., but my current information on him is limited.  Warren was among the better known of the “crashed-and-sankers” in the AES, along with former ONI agent Ron Bright and Gary LaPook. 

Warren and Robert R. Payne, former editor of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association newsmagazine, CRYPTOLOG, who passed away in 2015, at some point joined to complete Capt. Laurence F. Safford’s unfinished manuscript of Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday.  Safford was among the most important of the founding fathers of U.S. Navy cryptology, and was closely involved with the Navy’s code-breaking efforts more or less constantly until shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

His 2003 book is an analysis of the final flight as seen from a strong crashed-and-sank bias, which is revealed without pretense in a brief chapter toward its conclusion, “Survival Theories.”  Here Warren and Payne incredibly write that Safford’s criticism caused Goerner to “reverse his opinion about the survival theory, and joined Safford in his belief of a crash-landing into the sea.”  This is an outrageously false contention and defies credulity, given the large volume of Goerner’s work, in which he never denounced his conviction in the fliers’ Saipan demise, though he did inexplicably reverse his ideas about the landing at Mili Atoll.  This writer even devoted a chapter in  Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent” to a discussion of Goerner’s bizarre and still unexplained change.

The foregoing has little direct connection to the following brief tribute by Warren to the great inventor and Earhart researcher Frederick J. Hooven, which appeared in the November 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.  We’ll hear more from Hooven in the future, and from Safford as well.

        Cam Warren, circa 2003.

“The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart”
by Cam Warren

Over the years, there have been many people on the trail of Earhart and Noonan, ranging from the idly curious to the truly brilliant.  Theories as to the fate of the famous couple have similarly varied from the ridiculous to the sublime, but all have at least a kernel of truth as their root source.  So the speculation continues and so does the intense analysis and re-examination of the ideas, clues and factual data.  One man stands out among the serious researchers, uniquely equipped to dispassionately consider the mountain of information, and who — had he lived longer — might have solved the mystery with all the storied ability of Sherlock Holmes himself.

Frederick J. Hooven, inventor, engineer and Dartmouth professor first met Amelia when she arrived at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio in 1936.  She was there to have a direction finder installed in her Electra, and the device was an advanced model designed by Hooven himself.  Here was a man who, at the age of 15, had met Wilbur Wright, and sought his advice on an aircraft that young Fred and his pals would attempt to build, unsuccessfully, as it turned out.  Later, in 1978, Hooven completed a computer analysis of the Wright Brother’s plane and determined the plane was inherently unstable.  “The only reason the flight worked was because the Wrights were such good pilots,” he once told the Boston Globe.

Hooven’s DF (direction finder), which operated on the conventional low frequency bands, featured a small loop in a low-drag streamlined housing, and though the original design circuits were deemed unreliable by operators at the time, the system would eventually be made automatic in its operation, and as the “ADF” (automatic direction finder), would become the de-facto standard for commercial aviation for many years.  Unfortunately, perhaps, the Hooven system was removed from the Electra soon after installation and replaced by another prototype which Bendix people were hoping to sell to the U.S. Navy.  It purported to utilize high frequency (3-10 megacycle) radio waves, especially 7.5 megacycles, corresponding to the amateur’s cherished 40-meter band.  Apparently Earhart and her husband, promoter George Putnam, were led to believe it was a magic device.  It wasn’t, and Lawrence Hyland, who was a Bendix vice president at the time, later denied it was aboard when the Electra disappeared.

The late Fred Hooven, noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, later commandeered by TIGHAR and advanced with great fanfare and international acclaim without attribution to Hooven, was adamant that some of the so-called post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E.  He soon completely denounced the idea the lost fliers landed on Gardner after close study with his friend Fred Goerner.

Hooven, who died in 1985, was the holder of 38 U.S. patents, including a short-range radar set for World War I bombers, and landing systems for other aircraft.  His interest was not confined to aviation electronics, for among his many other accomplishments were such developments as front-wheel drive for GM cars, computers, photo-typesetters and the first successful heart-lung machine.  He was a 1927 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, and worked in GM Research for 25 years, before leaving to pursue other interests. Employed for a time by Vince Bendix, they later had a falling out when Hooven became dismayed with Bendix’ over-zealous business activities.

Professor Hooven’s interest returned to Earhart on the publication of Fred Goerner’s book in 1966.  He began a lively and very extensive correspondence with Goerner, whose research into the Earhart puzzle never ceased in his lifetime.  They became close friends, and Hooven devoted more and more time to combing through Goerner’s writings and spoken observations, seeking the solution to the mystery.  His (incomplete) conclusions are of more than passing interest, considering his scientific background and research experience.

Despite the “final” conclusions of the U.S. Navy, Hooven was substantially convinced that the “post-splash” radio messages intercepted by Pan Am DF stations in the Central Pacific (and several serious “hams”) were authentic.  That of course meant Earhart had somehow landed on an island or atoll and used her radio to call for help.  Hooven, in an article he wrote in 1982, did not address the issue of the “plane in the water,” but apparently assumed a wheels-down landing on firm ground, in order that one of the Electra’s motors could be operated briefly for battery charging.  At one point in his correspondence with Goerner, he suggested that at least one “of the intercepted calls from the plane gave aural evidence of radio operation with a recharging battery.”

Given the possibility of such a landing, and the Pan Am coordinates, he favored McKean or perhaps Gardner Island (Nikumaroro), and calculated her gasoline supply would have allowed her to fly that far.  It seemed highly likely to Hooven that the crew and perhaps the Electra were recovered by the Japanese prior to the arrival of COLORADO’s search planes several days later.  This would tend to confirm the Marshall Island scenario, with AE and Noonan later taken to Saipan, and explain why no trace of plane or crew were ever found on either island.  Of course, Richard Gillespie of TIGHAR seized the idea of Nikumaroro, without credit to Hooven, incidentally, but continues to deny any possibility Noonan and Earhart didn’t linger there despite much evidence (or lack thereof) to the contrary.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven’s Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia’s failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan.

Why did the Navy discount this whole scenario? Hooven raises the question of intercepted code.  If our military was aware, via partial code-breaking, of what the Japanese had done, they faced a serious dilemma. Confronting the Japanese would tip that nation off that their secret codes had been compromised, and if this was the case, the value of our eavesdropping in the immediate pre-war climate would have to outweigh the rescue of Earhart and Noonan. This theory fits the puzzle so neatly it boggles the imagination; suffice to say that at this point in time no hint of such intercept capability in 1937 has surfaced.  Neither Captain Safford nor Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton (Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s intelligence officer, and a likely source for Nimitz’s broad hints to Goerner on the subject) have ever so much as dropped a hint, despite the sensitive revelations both made in their post-war comments on the Pearl Harbor debacle.

(Editor’s note:  Based on several credible researchers’ findings, the above statement by Warren, that in 1937 the U.S. Navy did not have the capability to intercept Japanese naval radio messages, is false.  See pages 261-264 Truth at Last for more.) 

Hooven was not infallible, of course, but any misstatements were traceable to inaccurate information, such as the viability ofreefs reported south of Howland as emergency landing places.  It was several years after Professor Hooven died before that idea was conclusively proved false, which caused some serious corrections on both U.S. and British naval documents.  Despite a minor flaw or two, Hooven’s contribution to Earhart research is substantial, and given his scientific background, extremely valuable.  Had he lived longer, he truly might have “found” Earhart.  (End of “The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart.”)

Hooven was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory.  After graduating  from MIT in 1927, he was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935.  He died in 1985.

In my May 15, 2017 post, Hooven’s 1966 letter to Fred Goerner quite clear: Removal of his radio compass doomed Earhartwe saw the first of many letters between Hooven and Fred Goerner.  We’ll see more of the fascinating exchanges between these two giants of Earhart research in future posts.

 

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