Gray’s thoughts nearing death: AE on a mission?

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Almon Gray and his extensive analysis of the radio problems Amelia Earhart encountered on her last flight.

A pioneer in aeronautical communications, Gray enlisted in the Navy in 1930, where he was a radioman and gunner aboard cruiser-based aircraft.  He went on to attain the rank of captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, flew with Fred Noonan and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario as an original member of the Amelia Earhart Society.

After his initial Navy enlistment he signed on with Pan American Airways, and in 1935 helped build the bases to support the first trans-Pacific air service, and was first officer-in-charge of the PAA radio station on Wake Island.  After the San Francisco-Hong Kong air route was opened in late 1935, he was a radio officer in the China Clipper and her sister flying boats.  Later he was assistant superintendent of communications for PAA’s Pacific Division.  

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

The following brief entry appeared in the July 1995 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and was written on May 5, 1994, less than five months before his death.  Titled “EXCERPTS From the pen of Al Gray,” we can be fairly certain that, unlike another notable Earhart researcher who changed his mind about a key piece of the Earhart saga long before he contracted his fatal illness, these were Gray’s final, well-considered opinions on a major question that has yet to be conclusively answered.

In his opening, I think Gray was more than kind to J.A. Donohue, author of the 1987 atrocity, The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection, among the most incoherent Earhart books ever, in my opinion.  (Boldface mine throughout.)

I like his questions about items in Donahue’s book.  I have a copy of the book that was sent to me in appreciation of some information I had provided.  It has a wealth of good basic data that I often refer to, but some of the interpretations made of the data seem very far out to me. 

The photo finish aerial photography, with the supporting radio range carrying submarine seems particularly improbable.  As a matter of fact, the more I learn the flight the less do I think that AE was engaged in military type espionage.  The following paragraph [broken for easier reading] from a reply I made a while back to one of the early Earhart writers who now is working on a sequel, reflects my current thinking:

“As to AE’s mission, I’m probably naive but I do not believe she had any military type espionage mission, although she undoubtedly was keeping her eyes open for possible commercial air routes, and her landing at Howland probably was intended to support the politics of acquiring title to Howland, Baker and some other islands we were arguing about with Great Britain.  I suspect that the President’s interest in the flight may have stemmed from AE’s personal relationship with Mrs. Roosevelt.

Amelia met Eleanor Roosevelt at a White House state dinner in April 1933, and they were said to have “hit it off.”  Near the end of the night, Amelia offered to take Eleanor on a private flight that night. Eleanor agreed, and the two women snuck away from the White House (still in evening clothes), commandeered an aircraft and flew from Washington to Baltimore.  After their nighttime flight, Eleanor got her student permit, and Amelia promised to give her lessons.  It never happened.

I can easily visualize Mrs. Roosevelt having lunch with the President after one of AE’s White House visits and saying, Franklin she is a dear girl!  Isn’t there something you can do to help her with her flight?’  The President picks up the phone and calls the Secretary of the Navy and says in effect I have a personal interest in a flight Amelia Earhart plans to make.  I want you to help her in any way you can.

“And so it went down the line, following the old maxim that ‘The expressed wish of a superior officer is an implied command.’  There were other and much better methods of getting military intelligence than using a civilian aircraft and an inexperienced intelligence officer.”

Gray died at 84 on Sept. 26, 1994 at Blue Hill, Maine.  For a comprehensive review of all that’s been presented on this blog about Almon Gray, please click here.



4 responses

  1. Sounds plausible to me..FDR responding to a request from Eleanor..but what about those reports that speak of government officials meeting with Amelia pre-flight and requiring anyone else to leave the room, including Amelia’s mother..just to do some nosing around on the flight?/ hmmmm


    1. William H. Trail | Reply


      It has never seemed logical to me for Purdue University to expend $80,000.00 to purchase a Lockheed Electra 10E Special for Amelia Earhart while the country was still firmly in the grip of the Great Depression. On the face of it, it’s just plain frivolous and extravagant. It does not seem a wise, prudent fiscal move. One has to ask why. Then there’s the mishap at Luke Field (Ford Island) on 20 March 1937, and the incredible job of repairing the Electra back at Lockheed. Did AE and GP really “mortgage their future” to pay for it? I think not. There had to be more to it than that.

      After an adult lifetime of service to the nation, I can tell you one thing with absolute confidence: Nobody, but nobody has deeper pockets or a fatter wallet or can pony up more cash to pay for something when necessary than good ol’ Uncle Sam! And, he always wants something in return — always. Nothing comes for free, ever.

      All best,



  2. I know this is not helpful, but I have seen somewhere a more elaborate discussion of the Purdue “gift.” Of course the Navy bought her plane, but that wouldn’t look good to the public or presumably the Japanese either. It would have appeared that something was afoot and FDR would have been criticized for spending money on a publicity seeking pilot dame. I have read that Putnam couldn’t really afford to fix up the wreck, either. Of course as Safford says at the last minute they switched her to the “DAily Express” plane, which was better equipped and had larger fuel tanks. So when we hear from witnesses who say they never installed cameras on her plane and she had relatively primitive radios, etc. it didn’t mean anything, because she got a completely different better plane at Miami. Whatever she was doing, it was a large well funded operation, in my opinion. Her original plane somehow wound up in the jungles of New Britain
    Sincerely, David


  3. I think it’s safe to say that much of the WWII time period and also the 1930s was a time where media in the US was not open and the truth suffered because of this. The govt even had their own blackout organization that would threaten newspapers that wrote things they did not like. The official narrative on news was what we had. So what FDR and his wife did was largely unknown to the general public. Not surprise that AE and her story was affected by this.


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