Monthly Archives: August, 2022

Rafford Jr. on amateur radio in the AE “Mystery”

Readers of this blog are familiar with Paul Rafford Jr.’s fascinating work.  His public introduction came in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, in which he discussed his current ideas about the Electra’s radio capabilities and Amelia’s bizarre actions during the final flight.  Though Rafford’s 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, wasn’t a commercial success, it presented invaluable information and insights previously unseen. 

I’ve presented three articles that focused on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change : Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities”; and Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?

Rafford, among the last surviving members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 at 97.  I often thought of him as “The Elder Statesman of Earhart Research.  Recently I came upon a gem from Rafford that he sent me in 2008, and which has been unpublished until now.  This is the first of two parts.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, was among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

“Amateur radio’s part in the Amelia Earhart Mystery”
By Paul Rafford Jr.

“AMELIA EARHART MISSING!” screamed the newspaper headlines and radio newscasters. The world’s most famous woman flyer and her navigator, Fred Noonan had vanished in mid-Pacific while trying to reach tiny Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea.  After she failed to make radio contact with the Coast Guard cutter Itasca waiting at Howland, the crew heard her declare that she was on the line of position 157 – 337 and was switching from 3105 kHz to 6210 kHz.  When Itasca failed to hear her on 6210 kHz they assumed she was down and hurriedly steamed north northwest.  Thus, on the morning of July 2, 1937 Itasca began one of America’s greatest air sea searches.  Along with a fleet of smaller vessels it would be joined by the Navy’s aircraft carrier Lexington  and cruiser Colorado..

I remember tuning my National 100 ham receiver to Earhart’s frequencies.  I realized that the chances of hearing signals from an airplane down in the mid Pacific at my New Jersey QTH were astronomically small.  But I could at least boast that I had listened for her.

In order to maintain control over several uninhabited islands in the Central Pacific claimed by the United States, in the mid 1930’s our government decided to colonize them.  But it was in the middle of the Great Depression and government money was scarce.  Our military might have been tasked to set up weather and radio stations but with war clouds gathering it was decided to occupy them with civilian volunteers.

The project was turned over to the Department of Interior who built the runways.  The communications problem was solved by amateur radio.  Each island would have a ham station with the operators using their own call signs.  They would send weather reports and any other government business messages to a designated ham in Hawaii.

In late 1981, Bob Lieson and I were seat partners aboard an Air Force airliner on our way to Ascension Island from Cape Canaveral.  Our job would be trouble shooting a 50 kilowatt transmitter that had developed somebugs.  I confided to Bob that I would also be measuring static levels on 3105 kHz.  Ascension, in the middle of the South Atlantic should have the same static levels as Howland.  I needed the values for my Amelia Earhart radio analysis.

Bob immediately perked up. “I was on Howland for eight months!  Didn’t you read my article in CQ?”  I admitted that I probably had but 1941 was forty years ago and I was busy flying the oceans for Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer.

During his stay on Howland, Bob had contacted hundreds of stations from KF6SJJ, some of them many times.  But what Bob didn’t know was that after the outbreak of war in Europe, the FCC ordered that American hams could no longer work foreign stations. 

When Bob returned to Honolulu there were hundreds of QSL cards waiting — and an FCC Inspector!  But Bob got off the hook by explaining that he was out of touch with the world: No one told me not to work foreigners!

The crumbling “Earhart Lighthouse” was built in 1937 but was doomed to a short life.  The island’s short history as a settled colony ended with strafing from Japanese aircraft during WWII.  The station has been inactive since 1942 — the structure is now considered a “day beacon” — and the island is now a national wildlife refuge.

[Editor’s note, from Wikipedia: A QSL card is a written confirmation of either a two-way radio communication between two amateur radio or citizens band stations; a one-way reception of a signal from an AM radio, FM radio, television or shortwave broadcasting station; or the reception of a two-way radio communication by a third-party listener.  A typical QSL card is the same size and made from the same material as a typical postcard, and most are sent through the mail as such.

QSL card derived its name from the Q code QSL.  A Q code message can stand for a statement or a question (when the code is followed by a question mark). In this case, QSL? (note the question mark) means Do you confirm receipt of my transmission?while “QSL (without a question mark) meansI confirm receipt of your transmission.]

Bob had already left when Howland was strafed at the time of Pearl Harbor, killing two colonists.  After the survivors were evacuated, the island was never again occupied.  Today it is a wildlife sanctuary.  Visitors are prohibited from going ashore unless accompanied by government officials.  But for a DX-pedition, and there have been several, what could be better that a tiny Pacific island, the closest land to the intersection of the international date line and the equator?

[From Wikipedia: A DX-pedition is an expedition to what is considered an exotic place by amateur radio operators and DX listeners, perhaps because of its remoteness, access restrictions or simply because there are very few radio amateurs active from that place. This could be an island, a country, or even a particular spot on a geographical grid. DX is a telegraphic shorthand fordistance or distant (see DXing).]

Yau Fai Lum, K6GNW is undoubtedly the most famous ham to have operated  from Howland.  He was the resident radio operator at the time Amelia Earhart was supposed to land and refuel.  During the 1990’s my friend John Riley, N2ERJ happened to locate Lum in the Call Book while looking up another ham.  Soon, both John and I were corresponding with him.  Lum had retired from the Honolulu Police Department as head of the communications section with a rank equivalent to police captain.  Now very old and sickly, he had given up ham radio.  But his mind was alert and his memory very clear.  Unfortunately, he died shortly after we started corresponding.  But he had been an active ham right up until his illness took him down.

Yau Fai Lum, undated. Courtesy of Paul Rafford Jr.

In 1981, I visited the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the Naval Archives in our nation’s capitol.  Up until then, I had accepted the commonly held belief that Earhart and Noonan had simply been unable to find Howland, ran out of gas and crashed at sea. But I found it hard to believe that a Pan American Airways’ navigator could get lost!  In all my years of flying we never got lost.  Maybe we got a bit confused now and then but lost — never!

As I read Itasca’s radio logs and the Navy’s report on its search, I became more and more skeptical!  I knew that things couldn’t have happened the way the public had been led to believe.  For example, there were three radio navigation systems that could have led Earhart to Howland.  They were radio bearings taken on Itasca with her own direction finder, radio bearings taken on her by Itasca and radio bearings taken on her by a portable direction finder set up on Howland.  So what went wrong?

Regarding radio bearings taken by Itasca, the ship’s direction finder covered only frequencies below the AM broadcast band.  The crew had expected Earhart to transmit on 500 kHz. while approaching Howland.  But unlike most planes flying the oceans back then, Earhart did not carry a trailing antenna.  Without it she could not transmit on 500 kHz.

So why didn’t the flyers try to take bearings on Itasca’s 500 kHz. transmissions with their own direction finder?  It had been calibrated in the 500 kHz. range in Miami and checked at Lae.  But instead, Earhart requested that Itasca transmit on 7500 kHz., a frequency far too high for airborne loop direction finders.  After announcing that she was unable to get a bearing on 7500 kHz., Earhart made no further attempt to take bearings, despite the fact that Itasca was also transmitting on 500 kHz.

There was still one other direction finder that could have brought the flyers to Howland. [Navy 2nd Class] Radioman Frank Cipriani was set up on the island with a loop direction finder tuned to 3105 kHz.  But Earhart never gave him a chance to get a bearing.  The Navy’s report claims she never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time.  With those old loop d/f’s it took at least 30 seconds between when a station came on the air and when the operator finished getting a bearing.  But even if she had stayed on longer, her signal was so weak that her range for bearings was little more than fifty miles.  However, even if Cipriani had been able to get a bearing, without two-way communication he couldn’t have passed it up to her.  Noonan was well versed in radio navigation.  So where was he while Earhart was allegedly struggling to find Howland?

(End of Part I.)


“Requiem for Amelia Earhart” published in Poland

The truth about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart has finally come to Poland.  Requiem for Amelia Earhart now available to the Polish audience, and anyone else who can read the language.    Readers will immediately recognize the similarity of the title with Paul Briand Jr.’s 1966 essay Requiem for Amelia,” his last published piece, a summary of his work in the years since Daughter of the Sky was published in 1960. 

Slawek, 59, who lives in a small town a short distance southwest of Warsaw with his wife, teenage son and daughter (another daughter, 28, lives in Warsaw with his mother) contacted me a few years ago about his Earhart project.  We’ve spoken via Skype — his English is excellent, my Polish nonexistent — and his knowledge, experience and sincerity are most impressive. 

“I’m a little worried that I didn’t write it as well as I could have,” Slawek told me in a late July email.  “It is difficult to write something completely new after such notable predecessor authors.  You have written so much about the case that it is difficult to create something novel, but in Poland this will be the first book about Amelia, and I treat it as an encouragement to my compatriots to buy your books and explore the details that are already there. . . . Once again, thank you very much for everything.”

Slawek has established a new website for his book, Requiem for Amelia Earhart: Repository, and from all I’ve seen, Slawek needn’t worry that Requiem isn’t a quality product.  Everything I know about this book, and the rest of his work, tells me this is a first-rate tome from the pen of a true professional.  Though Requiem for Amelia Earhart isn’t available in English, I’m nearly certain the big picture he presents to his readers is based on the same series of well-established events and facts we know well, events that culminated in the wretched, lonely deaths of the fliers on Saipan, abandoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his own political expediency.  If FDR ever regretted his betrayal of Amelia Earhart, he never told anyone who leaked it. 

On Aug. 4, Slawek’s 36-minute video presentation, “Requiem for Amelia Earhart,” made its debut on PL1.TV, an independent Polish video platform where Slawek’s work has been prominently featured for years.  It’s an excellent recap of the history of true Earhart research, a high-quality production delivered with authority, complete with English subtitles and featuring photos and graphics that compare favorably with anything ever done in this country on the Earhart disappearance. 

Please take the time to watch Slawek’s presentation; it has English subtitles and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. 

UPDATE:  On Sept. 26, Slawek sent a new video presentation of 31 minutes titled SHE WAS KILLED BY PASSION AND POLITICSthat adds more perspective to his previous presentation, also with English subtitles.  Both are highly recommended viewing.

The publication of Requiem is an encouraging development, since any hint of the truth is lacking in nearly all mainstream media in America.  I’m pleased that any serious author — foreign or not — has closely studied the mountain of facts uncovered since Briand Jr. and Fred Goerner so dramatically broke the ice in 1960 and presents them along with the obvious conclusions that follow without equivocation or ambiguity.  Finding the truth anywhere besides this blog is a rare phenomenon.

In an Aug. 13, 2021 email, Slawek sent me the prologue to Requiem, noting that he was far from finished working on it, because I keep seeing how much more I should write. . . . It is a pity, that my book will in Polish only and I will not be able to repay you in equal measure for your book on Amelia and your blog.”  I assured him no repayment was necessary, and his efforts on behalf of the truth were all the compensation I could ask.  Following is an excerpt from the prologue of Requiem for Amelia Earhart:

On the back side of the cover is a quotation from Art of War (Sun Tzu): “It always happens, that you have to bear some losses.  A small loss will result in a great profit.”


When the Germans were dropping tons of bombs on Poland in September 1939 and most of the world’s governments had not yet noticed, Salote Tupou III, the monarch of the Kingdom of Tonga, indignantly declared war on Hitler.  This country in the Polynesian archipelago of the South Pacific, 16,500 kilometers from us, consists of 170 islands with a total population of just over 106,000 people, about the size of the population of Tarnów.  The more beautiful seems to be the astonishing gesture of unknown islanders, which was a spontaneous collection of money for the purchase of two Spitfire fighters for Polish pilots.  True friends are said to be made only in poverty.

. . . It is not for this reason, however, that we are driven to the other side of the world, because it is just a longing historical-political insertion, which allowed us to move to the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, where the end of her earthly journey, after a life spent largely in the air, found a completely different woman, the heroine of our story, Amelia Earhart. . . . In doing so, we will also travel back in time to the 1930s, as this is the most appropriate period to tell our story. 

I invite you to take a trip.

Slawomir (“Slawek”) M. Kozak

On Slawek’s Oficyna Aurora page, he offers readers a brief glimpse of Requiem for Amelia Earhart, which follows with minimal editing.  Boldface emphasis mine:

In mid-April 1937, Amelia Earhart was met twice by Special Counsel to President Roosevelt Bernard Baruch (!) and General Oscar Westover, Head of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The meeting was held at army headquarters in Riverside, California, in strict secrecy.  Not even Amelia’s husband was allowed.  Interestingly, at the first attempt to fly around the world, the crew intended to get it by flying west, through the Pacific, and after mysterious meetings with the above-mentioned gentlemen, the decision was made to completely change plans and fly east, across the Atlantic.  Such a 180-degree volte-face even today would be a real challenge for the pilot and navigator of such an aircraft, because it would have to assume completely different weather conditions, but above all it would be necessary to carefully set a new route and subsequent landing sites, taking into account the ranges and refueling.  This required new logistics solutions.  Let us recall, however, that three ships of the U.S. Navy were deployed to support the navigation of this expedition.  Coast Guard Cutter Itasca moored off the coast of Howland Island, the tug USS Ontario was halfway between Howland and New Guinea, and the small aircraft carrier USS Swan was stationed between Howland and Hawaii.  What influences would even the most famous traveler have to use to organize all this for her?

Unlike this blog’s editor, Slawek is a true aviation expert, and his 33 years of experience as an air traffic controller only begins to describe his bona fides.  What immediately jumped out when I saw Slawek’s bio page, which reads like a “Who’s Who” of Polish aviation, is that he’s a member of the Pilots For 9/11 Truth Organization and has written and spoken extensively about 9/11, which has become even more of a protected sacred cow in American and world culture than the Earhart travesty.  A number of his 9/11 and other video presentations can be found on the Aurora in the Media page; we’ll look at some of his many books soon. 

Here’s a sample from his bio: 

In the years 1991 to ’95 he was the Chairman of the Association of Polish Air Traffic Controllers (POLATCA), the originator and organizer of the First Meeting of Air Traffic Controllers of Eastern European Countries in Warsaw, in 1993.  In 1994, he organized in Warsaw the first ever European Conference of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations (IFATCA) in the country of the former Eastern Bloc, which was attended by representatives of 30 countries.  During this term of office, POLATCA joined the Federation IFATCA.  From 1994 to 1996 he was a member of the Employee Council of the State EnterprisePolish Airports.”  In 1997 he prepared the first and so far the only Worldwide Rally of Polish Air Traffic Controllers, for controllers in Poland and those living outside their homeland.

. . . Since 2021, he has been a member of the editorial board of the weekly Warsaw Gazette, a columnist for the monthly Forbidden History and hosts the author’s program “Straight” on the Internet PL1 TV, where he periodically invites some interesting guests.

There’s much more of Slawek’s huge résumé on his bio page, linked above.

“This image will be on a special website, Requiem for Amelia Earhart: Repository, that will be dedicated to my book,” Slawek wrote in an early August email.  “The link to it will be on a bookmark that will be included in the book, Slawek said.  “The website will include some photographs and videos that I could not include in the book.  There will also be a table of contents with all the references, so that readers of the paper version of the book will be able to read the contents of each footnote with a click.”  (Art courtesy of Artur Szolc.)

To this observer, it’s Slawek’s prodigious literary output that stands out above all, and marks him as a singular talent.  He’s written so much about the 9/11 travesty that he easily qualifies as Poland’s David Ray Griffin, authoring and publishing no less than seven books on “the greatest lie of the 21st Century” on successive anniversaries: Operation Two Towers, Eye of the Cyclops, Demons of the Doom, Project Phoenix, Black September, Intercepted and Operation TerrorThe books, written in Polish, come with videos produced by Pilots for Truth.

In 2020 Slawek turned his lights on another massive lie, the so-called Covid “pandemic,” which some believe may prove to be the greatest crime against humanity ever perpetrated, and wrote Covid Hedgehogs.

Two years later, he wrote and published Terramar: Elite Utopia:

It shows the state of today’s global “elite,” their moral decay, often downright perversions, but also their interests and business ideas, which show that people outside their circle are treated objectively, only in the context of potential profits and satisfaction of daily needs.  Of course, it is impossible to describe even some of them, so I focus on those whose names are well-known and directly associated with other greats of this world.  These include Jeffrey Epstein, Robert Maxwell, his daughter Ghislaine, Lex Wexner, Harvey Weinstein, and Hunter Biden.  I am also revealing the plans of the so-called globalists, which are not mentioned in the media, but which, for at least a decade, have already been implemented with great commitment.  They do not augur a future for us that is not only prosperous or peaceful, but even simply bearable.  Nonetheless, I hope they remain just a utopia.

He also created the “Polish Wings” series, telling the stories of outstanding Polish pilots and designers, publishing and co-authoring From Sky to Heaven, Tethered Angel, Requiem for the Eagles and Effendi.

Now Slawek is bringing the Earhart Truth to Poland; I salute him and sincerely thank him for everything he’s doing to enlighten his countrymen.  Though most of us can’t read Polish, we can wish this remarkable international truth seeker all the success he richly deserves in any language we like.

Lae radio operator recalls Earhart flight in ’61 letter

More has been written about Amelia Earhart’s final flight and the hours immediately preceding and following it than any other aspect of her disappearance.  With the 85th anniversary of Amelia’s last flight now in our rear-views, we hear from Harry Balfour, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, officially the last person to carry on a two-way conversation with the doomed flier. 

The following letter appeared in the July 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  I don’t have Joe Gervais’ letter that elicited this response from Balfour.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout. 

“A Letter to Joe Gervais from Harry Balfour, Radio Operator at Lae, New Guinea July 1937″

Cairns, Australia
March 4, 1961

Dear Captain Gervais,

I received your letter and the log copy of the Itaska [sic] upon my arrival at Cairns.  Both are very interesting, BUT THE LOG IS CONFLICTING.  I feel I must give you a picture of the radio setup at Lae and what took place before and after AE arrived at Lae.

The radio equipment [on Lae] was composed of two transmitters, one of 300 watts phone fed into a dipole antenna cut to 3 megacycles [3000 kilocycles or kcs].  This transmitter was remotely controlled from an operating position in the cargo store on the airstrip and was normally operated by the cargo superintendent (Mr. Farnham) for the purpose of getting cargo information from Salamoa, Wau, and Bulolo on phone usually on 6540 kcs; a separate receiving antenna was swung between the hangar and the cargo store.

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

The second radio transmitter was in the cargo store for the purpose of receiving early morning weather reports from inland, and for communication with Rabaul and Salamoa coast stations which sent and received all our commercial traffic.  All AE’s weather reports were received over this circuit from stations on her route, and weather forecast and past weather from Howland.  This transmitter was both phone and key, power one kilowatt. The company had one Lockheed and one 5AT Ford fitted with radio.  The three Junkers G31 and the Junkers W34 were open cockpit machines, and therefore were not fitted with radio although plans were, I understand, that these machines were to be fitted by the previous manager.  But when Eric Chater took over the management he was not so progressive.  Although he was a pilot, he had never, to my knowledge, flew a radio equipped aircraft, nor had any other of the pilots in the company.

I had two jobs at Lae: Radio Operator in Charge, and Electrician in charge.  Our power supply was a diesel electric generator 3 phase 50 cycle AC 150 kw.  This power was more than adequate for the day and night load at Lae.  I was also Flight Engineer at weekends occasionally.

We received messages of AE progress from Java onwards to Lae.  A message was finally received from Darwin, giving information that she had finally taken off for Lae and giving her estimated ETA.  I called the aircraft on 6540, but received no reply at any time, but that was explained later; she had no knowledge that we were equipped for aeronautical communication.  On arrival, she was met by all the necessary big shots and plans were made to give them both a great social round-up.  She acknowledged the welcome, and was very nice to everybody, and was photographed quite a lot by an amateur photographer, T. O’Dea, who was a part-time manager of Stephens Aircraft Co., a pilot, and a publicity seeker also.  But at that time he was not in the employ of Guinea Airways.  AE eventually snubbed him; she disliked him.

AE and Fred eventually settled into the hotel at Lae and would not see anyone, but sent a message that she particularly wanted to see me.  I went down to the hotel and she wanted all the weather, plus her private messages that had stacked up for her.  I went over all these with her in detail, and she asked me if I could come to the hotel every day and bring the weather reports, and any other traffic for her.  Fred trotted around quite a bit, I cannot remember everywhere he went, but AE was so enthusiastic over the flight that she did not want to go anywhere or be entertained by the local ladies (much to the anger of the local ladies)!  She never even dressed like a woman while she was in Lae. 

She had her hair cut short like a man, and wore trousers and checked shirt, and from a short distance looked like a slim, freckled-faced youth.  But to talk to, she was very charming and seemed to take in all that was said to her.  She was an excellent pilot, and won the respect of our pilots for the way she handled the Lockheed.

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

 I made arrangements to keep the station open for long periods in the evening in case any extra traffic came in via Rabaul.  She was very grateful for the extra service, but the management did not like it.  However, it was on my own time, and I felt that anything I could do was my business, and that the radio communication was going to be an important factor in the flight.  I was anxious to prove to AE that my transmit could (under normal conditions) hold communication with her to the end of her flight (modulation was always very clear on phone).  She seemed to be very happy and relieved to know this. The only thing was that it took 15 to 20 minutes to change frequency to 3 megacycles.  It meant that I would have to walk to the station, change coils, tune, and walk back to the control room.  This I explained, and if she wanted to go to the night frequency she was to allow me that time before coming on again.  I was not happy about it because I had never ever used 3 mcs — only for testing with our own Lockheed.

Now comes a very interesting part.  During one of our conferences between AE, Fred and myself at the hotel, I was explaining to them how they could make use of shipping along the route, and that I could arrange that she could communicate with ships in range.  Also that Rabaul and Nauru could warn ships and keep a lookout for them on 500 kcs or give them weather en route.  It was then they both admitted that THEY COULD NOT READ MORSE * and were only able to pick out an individual letter! 


And the night before the flight, they were seriously thinking of making an offer to take me with them.  She asked me if I would go along if they decided they could manage with the extra weight.  I said that I would consult my wife about it, and let her know later in the evening.  However, my wife thought it would be all right.  I told AE, and she decided later that I would be of more use to the flight by looking after her interests at this end at the radio station.  Furthermore, they would have to sacrifice gas load.  I still maintained that a radio operator would have been more use than the extra gas, and that handling a fully loaded machine in any weather is a full-time job unless there are adequate radio facilities along the route.  Before she had arrived at this decision she informed me that they were going to arrive in the US [sic] on the 4th of July, if all went well, and that it would be the National Holiday, and that if I had to lose my job by coming with them, she would see that I got a job with PAA.

Apart from the test flight which I mentioned in my letter to you, I checked her DF on the ground.  But only two points were checked 000 degrees and 090 degrees, with Salamoa radio station on 500 kcs.  The plane at that time was not loaded.  Fred was quite happy about it.  AE was around the aircraft quite a lot during the day, watching our mechanics going over her engines, and asking quite a lot of questions.  I do not recollect what was done to her machine mechanically.  That part of the job was in charge of a chap by the name of Herman Hotz, who was an excellent mechanic and a thorough tradesman in every way.  The mechanic in charge, or Chief Engineer, was Ted Finn, also a very capable man.  Mr. Chater did not like her about the workshop, but he never got around to telling her.  He did not appear to go out of his way to help, but only to do the necessary things and no more — or the things HE considered ought to be done.  Mr. Chater seemed to consider that the flight was a bit of a nuisance, and that they were upsetting the routine of the company, and that is where I tangled with him.

View of group posed in front of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10-E Electra (NR 16020) at Lae, New Guinea, July 1937. From left to right are Eric Chater (Manager, Guinea Airways), Mrs. Chater, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

My own personal opinion about the flight was that it was not particularly hazardous, because she had a good machine, good radio, a navigator who was an ex PAA man, with radio assistance at both ends, plenty of fuel, and up-to-date weather reports with an excellent forecast before take-off.  I have since flown with Quantas many trips 3,600 miles non-stop, carrying mail and passengers on twin engine Catalinas through Japanese occupied territory from Perth to Ceylon — 29 to 30 hours from take-off to landing.  I would consider our conditions almost similar to hers — just a flying gas tank.  But we had to put up with radio silence.  I did remark to AE one day, looking inside the fuselage, that even if she had to ditch, that enormous cylindrical gas tank that she carried inside would keep them afloat.  I doubt it would ever sink — that is if it did not break up on landing.

Now with regard to the airmail covers, I have no reason to doubt that they were on the inside.  I did notice a couple of bags or sacks in the tail end.  They were not very big, but I don’t know what they contained.

The items she left with me were: radio facilities, books, personal telegrams, pistol and ammunition, a spare jacket, and clip board.  These items are all scattered; I don’t remember what happened to the jacket, the radio facilities book with her notes, and telegrams.  As far as I know, they are still in Sydney.  I have not seen them for a long time.  I did not have time to try and get them in Sydney as our stay was too short, and also my wife and I have been separated now for some years.  She still has them — also photos.  With regard to the log, I have written Mr. [Jim] Collopy, who may be able to dig it up from the archives at civil aviation headquarters in Melbourne.  He was at that time Govt. Aircraft Inspector, living in Salamoa, but more about that when I see you.  My log and my report was handed over to Mr. Chater, and it was shortly after that I had a big disagreement with the management, resigned, and went to sea until I joined Quantas.  I did criticize the company in my report for not allowing me more time in which to carry out further checks on her radio equipment, and that I was told to close the station after 8 P.M. the day of her take-off.  We had no means of taking any radio bearings at Lae, but I felt that if I had stayed on all night, I may have been able to pick up something or QSO [contact] the Itasca.

My last schedule with her was at either 7:15 or 7:45 PM Lae time, in which she reported everything O.K. and on course at 7,500 feet — and she would change to 3105 [kcs] for next schedule.  In the meantime, I rushed home and had something to eat and drove back to the strip as soon as possible.  Without my log I cannot remember whether it was 7:15 of 7:45 that I last contacted her on 6210/6540 [kcs], but she was loud and clear.  I particularly asked her not to change frequency because there was no need to do that.  Communication up to that time was excellent, and during the day people working in the cargo store could hear her over the loud speaker.

AES Newsletter caption: A rare photograph of Amelia and Fred with local mechanics checking out the ship. . . Lae, N.G.”

My opinion why she wanted to change frequency was to try and contact the Itasca, thinking that the night frequency was better.  I did hear her voice through the static, but unable to distinguish any sense from the signal.  In fact I could not even say if it was her. The signal I received may have been from the Itasca.  It was a night of fairly heavy static for phone operation, but a radio operator using Morse could have gotten through.

With regard to AE’s papers, I could obtain them, or you could, as they are of no use to anyone else but you.  If you do go to Australia, you certainly could get them.  I will fix that up.

Yours very sincerely,

H. Balfour


Regarding Bill Prymak’s note that readers should SEE PG. 6 FOR FRED NOONAN’S TRUE MORSE CODE CAPABILITY, he’s referencing a 1988 letter from Alan Vagg, a radio operator at Bulolo, New Guinea, 40 miles southwest of Lae, to Fred Goerner, in which he makes some confusing, even conflicting statements, the truth of which remains fuzzy.  In writing about this letter in Truth at Last, I made the mistake of omitting a key sentence, which I will include now.

On page 46 of Truth at Last (2nd Edition), I wrote: 

Although most researchers believe the Electra carried no telegraph key on its flight to Howland Island — a reasonable assumption based on Earhart’s own statements — we cannot be certain.  Noonan could have kept a telegraph key for emergency use without telling anyone.  Alan Vagg, the radio operator at Bulolo, forty miles southwest of Lae, claimed he had radiotelegraph communication with Noonan during the Electra’s flight from Darwin, Australia, to Lae.  In a 1988 letter to Fred Goerner, Vagg said he “was impressed with the quality of Noonan’s Morse.  Slow but very clear and easy to read.  This is based on the first contact made with the plane when I contacted it on its flight to Lae from Darwin.  This was done following an instruction from our Head Office in Sydney to endeavor to contact them.

The foregoing could easily influence the reader to believe that Noonan used Morse code to communicate with Alan Vagg during his approach to Lae, but I inadvertently omitted statements by Vagg in the same letter to Goerner that might contradict his assertion about Noonan’s Morse usage.

“Re the Amelia Earhart case,” Vagg wrote in the second paragraph, “I found the copies of correspondence that you sent of great interest, and realize that it is quite possible that I was wrong in stating that Morse was used.  I am surprised that Balfour did not mention that we both worked in it together, and took alternate turns to work the aircraft throughout the day.”

Much later in Vagg’s letter, he returned to the subject of Noonan’s alleged Morse usage:

As Harry and myself were communicating with each other frequently during the day in question and taking it in turns to work the aircraft, we could have been constantly changing from voice to aircraft and Morse between stations, which was normalThis and the time lapse could account for my mis-statement [sic] re the methods of communication.

Others were more familiar with Noonan’s radio capabilities, including Almon Gray, who, with the possible exception of Paul Rafford Jr., was qualified to discuss Amelia Earhart’s radio arrangements and behavior.  In Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio” his lengthy analysis that first appeared in the June 1993 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, he wrote in part: 

From personal observation the writer knows that as of late 1935 Noonan could send and receive plain language at slow speeds, around eight to 10 words per minute.  Recent research by Noonan biographer Michael A. Lang has revealed that circa 1931 Noonan held a Second Class Commercial Radio Operator license issued by the Radio Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Second Class licenses of that vintage certify that the holder has been examined and passed the following elements:

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

So much for Noonan’s alleged Morse code usage during the world flight attempt, for what it’s worth.  For many more discussions by experts on various aspects of the final flight, please click here.

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