We continue today with Part II “What Radios Did She Really Have?” our retrospective look at the Amelia Earhart Electra’s radio capabilities via interviews of radio expert Joseph Gurr by Fred Goerner as compiled by researcher Cam Warren.
In answer to Fred’s query as to how Amelia got this “Navy gear.” Gurr replied: “I asked no questions.” Fred showed him several photos of the plane “passed by Navy censors.” They clearly showed the topside antenna mast and the loop, “and some of the gear below.” Gurr confirmed that this showed the configuration after the rebuild.
Fred: “Right after the disappearance, newspaper accounts ’mentioned a Joseph Gurr, Burbank engineer, who installed the sending apparatus.’ Then [the story] quoted you as having said: ’9.3, 15.5 and 21.7 mc.’ What does that mean to you?”
Gurr: “She could receive [those] frequencies on the Bendix gear, but not transmit on [them].”
Fred: “To get a heading from the Bendix Direction Finder? She would receive on those frequencies?”
Gurr agreed, saying: “This was high frequency. It also had the [2-400 kc band]. [I’m afraid I didn’t stress to Earhart] the value and usefulness and that gear. Oh, it was wonderful!”
Fred asked if Gurr thought Fred and Amelia knew how to operate it property. The reply was only a grunt.
[There following a discussion of the gasoline load, then the subject returns to radio].
Fred: “Why was it do you suppose that Amelia never broadcast on 500 kc? All during the flight on which she disappeared, she never once broadcast on 500 kc. The Itasca had a 500 direction finder. The Navy had sent a 3105 direction finder down from Pearl Harbor and installed it at Howland Island. She kept broadcasting on 3105 and asked the Itasca to take a direction on her on 3105. The Itasca kept asking her to broadcast on 500 and she never did on 500. Why not?”
Gurr: “There might be a number of reasons for that. At 500, I never was able to work anybody on 500 when I was working on the equipment. That was only here locally. 500 kc is a very, very low frequency and you have to have power to get out at all. [She had] her little 50-watt transmitter and a reduced size antenna. On 500 kc you want to have a proper antenna. On sea-going ships, they have these great big antennas between the masts that are separated by quite a distance and they have a lot of wire out there. That is what you have to have. On an airplane where she did not have much of an antenna, her range on 500 kc was very short. If she was, let’s say in sight of a ship, she could talk. As I recall, we talked about that very thing. If she was in an overcast and she raised a ship, she could be sure the ship was not very far away. In reading your book, I think you explained it very well. She did not stay on the air long enough for the Itasca to take a beating on her. In those days we didn’t have the automatic features. We had to do all of this manually. The radio operator on the Itasca would tune the signal in, then he had to rotate his beam to get a null and I don’t think she ever talked long enough for him to do that. They kept asking her to send ’A’s. All they needed was that carrier.”
Fred: “She asked the Itasca to send ’A’s on 7500.”
Gurr: “That means she was using that Bendix machinery. On 7500 she could have heard that if the Itasca had any power at all, even 2 or 300 watts. They could transmit a good signal for several hundred miles.”
Fred: “At one point, she said, ’we are receiving your signals but cannot get a minimum.’ What did that mean?“
Gurr: “That means she was turning the loop and could not get a null.”
Fred: “Because of what? The signal was too weak?”
Gurr: “There are many reasons she could not get a null. As an example, unless you have a considerable number, a quite strong signal, nulls are not easy to find. If the signal is weak, you can go through a null. You have to have a solid signal. Then too, in those days the equipment wasn’t developed like it is these days. State of the Art is quite different.
“In those days, a little static — maybe she was excited, flying the airplane and trying to tune the set to get the best signal. She might have had the loop turned more or less at the null. She should have had it straight forward, if she was headed toward Howland. Had the loop fore and aft to get the maximum signal. She had a sensing antenna which was that V-antenna and the idea was to first tune in the signal on that antenna and then switch it over to the loop and get a bearing.”
Fred: “This takes time.”
Gurr: “And it takes a certain amount of cool-headedness about that time.”
Fred: “The trailing antenna had been removed at that time?”
Gurr: “It was still on board. She did not use it on 500 kc. That was the object of the antenna on top. We put on all the wire we could, as much wire up there as possible, and to get it off the fuselage so that the fuselage would not have an absorbing or a reflecting effect. We were very successful. Actually she had as much wire as possible on that airplane. This was for transmitting. For receiving, you didn’t have to have that much. She had that V-antenna down there which was fine.”
Fred: “Apparently that was working very well because she checked back in with Lae, New Guinea 800 miles out on 6210 in the daytime.”
Fred: “There were messages that amateur radio operators said they had received after the time of the disappearance of the plane. They were received along the Pacific Coast. I have talked to a number of the operators and I believe they actually did receive messages. Would it have been possible to broadcast if they had been down in the water?”
Gurr: “Yes. The antenna was dear. If that airplane was floating, the antenna was up on top of the fuselage and she could transmit until that antenna was submerged.”
Fred: “Did she have batteries in the cockpit or something that would enable her to power her gear.”
Gurr: “Storage batteries, yeah. There was a storage battery generator. In flight, the generator was charging the batteries. In those days, airplanes carried decent flight batteries. I don’t remember how many she had, but I know she had at least one. Flying along as she was, that battery was probably well charged. Then, supposing she was down in the water, and got on the air to transmit, she had the power. The transmitter itself did not take an awful lot of juice. It was a low powered transmitter. She could probably transmit for 30 minutes if the battery was fully charged. Intermittent, maybe longer than that.”
Fred: “Could 3105 be received on the Pacific Coast and not be received in the general area of where she went down?”
Gurr: “Oh yes. Especially at night. 3105 at night. It was daytime between here and Howland Island. It is very unlikely, but at night, yes. These frequencies are subject to a certain amount of skip and the higher frequency you go, the more that skip.”
Fred: “And not be received by a vessel in the general area?”
Gurr: “That’s right.”
Fred: “This Navy direction finder, the 3105 that the Navy Dept. sent down on board Itasca to use in conjunction with the flight evidently was a rather hush-hush model at that time. They were experimenting with high frequencies, through a department and the Navy known as OP-G20, which was Naval Intelligence Communications. You know anything about development of high frequency direction finders at that time?”
Gurr: “Only things that were published. I had no connection with the Navy or any military organization so far as any of the classified developments. We knew in the airline business and especially being interested in radio as I was then, I knew pretty well what developments were upcoming. We knew the limitations of the low frequencies. We knew that we had to have something better. Obviously the experimentation had to go to the high frequencies. At that time there was a feeling that the high frequencies had a tendency to bend, the waves would bend and would get a false radio direction finding. Maybe that was true in certain locations, certain altitudes and so on. This was all subject to experimentation. That was brand new stuff in those days. Now, as you know and we know, the military is always researching, developing and working on projects. Now-a-days, they call it classified, or secret. You never stop.
“Obviously the Navy had classified gear then. And they have it now. The 3105 [kc] radio
direction finder was considered a pretty high frequency to get a reliable direction, at that time. Today, we know its limitations. We know what it is doing. The airlines now have fully automatic units that lock on to the beam and take it right down the line. In those days, we thought 3105 was getting into rather high frequency.”
(End of Part II.)
Thanks again Mike, keep up the good work ! Be well !
Warmly, Stuart !
I think Gurr’s reply of a grunt in answer to Fred’s question about Amelia’s radio capabilities tells you everything you need to know..it does seem as if the radio transmission problems seem to be at the heart of clearing up why things went wrong..but, again, did she really have no interest in learning of radio capabilities, or did she know there was no reason to as this was all part of a plan to “get lost” and be rescued. The only thing that bothers me about this scenario is..would she have forsaken her chance at destiny to help out of government/ As I have read, Fred Noonan was hoping to open a flying school after this adventure-would he have been on board as well?
As I mentioned in part one of the Joe Gurr story, his memory is clouded. Gurr confuses Amelia’s second try at a world flight with her first failed attempt. Most certainly, Amelia had the 250-foot trailing wire on the first attempt because Harry Manning asked that a 500 kHz crystal be installed in her transmitter that February. (I have a confirming letter) Gurr actually tried to persuade Amelia not to remove the trailing wire following the Luke Field crack-up. He realized its importance. Only after Amelia insisted did he reluctantly remove it and replace it with the jury rigged extended dorsal V antenna.
Cam Warren might have been a radio operator, but his knowledge of antenna propagation is lacking; otherwise, he would have commented on Gurr’s convoluted explanation. At the same time, I guess it’s important to keep in mind, these interviews happened when Gurr was quite old. Memories do fade and sometimes replaced with conjecture.
Gurr: (referring to the trailing wire: “It was still on board. She did not use it on 500 kc. That was the object of the antenna on top. We put on all the wire we could, as much wire up there as possible, and to get it off the fuselage…”
Silly statement and counterproductive to Gur’s intentions. Why on earth would he have kept the trailing wire intact if he was also jury rigging a long extension of the dorsal fin to transmit on 500kHz? Which by the way would degrade 6210 and 3105 kilocycles. That’s counterproductive, adds extra weight, and makes zero sense – especially when he knew the trailing wire would optimize the distance 500 kHz could transmit from maybe 50 miles to possibly 500 miles or more.
I also agree with Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, especially considering C.B. Allen’s comments in Miami, that either Gurr in Burbank, or the Pan Am Techs in Miami pulled the Bendix receiver from the Electra prior to Amelia leaving Miami.
Greetings to All:
Have I missed something somewhere? In all that I’ve ever read about AE and FN’s R-T-W flight, I don’t recall anything about them having any “radio problems” or difficulties contacting any radio facility/operator along the way, or airport at which they intended to land to obtain local weather, wind direction/velocity, preferred landing runway, as well as other information important to the safety of their flight and arrival.
That said, doesn’t it seem strange that, in an aerial journey of approximately 24,285 miles, divided into 31 legs, over a period of 44 days (20 May to 2 July) from Oakland, California to the vicinity of Howland Island, the only navigational difficulty of any note was the landing at St. Louis, French Senegal instead of Dakar, and that was simply because AE did not listen to FN’s direction? There didn’t seem to be any radio difficulties either, that is until approaching Howland Island. AE had comms with Harry Balfour until 6:00pm local time at Lae. And then, after not establishing two-way communications with USCGC Itasca, and not landing on Howland, AE and FN managed to find their way to Mili Atoll, roughly 800 miles and 4 1/2 hours flying time distant in the Japanese Mandate Marshall Islands seemingly without a problem. If they couldn’t find Howland it begs the question, why not fly to the closer and friendly British-controlled Gilberts? It was AE’s stated back-up plan. The Gilberts would have been difficult to miss. It doesn’t make sense.
My question then is, what are we supposed to make of all of this? As the flight was sponsored and secretly underwritten by the USG for the accomplishment of a specific, still classified, and hopefully good and worthwhile purpose, we can only conclude that the alleged “radio difficulties” and “navigation failure” were purposeful elements supporting the undisclosed mission.
At 0742 Hrs., AE sent, “KHAQQ CALLING ITASCA WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE YOU BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO WE ARE FLYING AT 1000 FEET.”
You can see a distance of 32.41 miles from an altitude of 1000 feet.
William, there are several instances Amelia and Fred reported issues with the radio no, the first occurred soon after leaving Miami.
The only leg of their flight when Fred didn’t have visual reference was their last.
Balfour reported hearing Earhart but neve said she responded to his messages.
Many thanks for addressing my comment. It’s very much appreciated. However, would you please expand a bit on the several instances you mentioned in which AE and FN reported issues with the radio, the first of which occurred soon after leaving Miami? I’m asking because I’m truly curious as these radio issues are not mentioned in “Last Flight.” Nor are they mentioned in Safford’s “Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday,” or Horner’s “The Earhart Enigma.” Paul Rafford states in “Amelia Earhart’s Radio,” “There is no indication in the records that Earhart used either radiotelephone communication or direction finding anywhere along her route between Natal and Lae.” (Page 42.) Rafford further writes, “Although there is no mention of it in her book, after arriving at Darwin the local authorities asked Earhart why she had not communicated with them by radio. Supposedly, it was because of a burned out fuse in her receiver. Even so, this explanation overlooks the fact that she could only operate on radiotelephone, while Darwin could operate only on radiotelegraph. Communication and navigation facilities were available, in her case they were of no help.” (Page 61.)
Thanks in advance. I look forward to your reply as I always learn something new.
William, you know, I have the material and you’re going to have to wait for the book. Speaking annoyed: why would Last Flight spun and mostly fabricated by George Putnam speak of radio issues? Rafford didn’t conduct research but offered radio opinions. Amelia never returned, so she out. Noonan did speak of radio issues. As to Safford – he didn’t know squat! All he unsuccessfully attempted without success, was try to prove Amelia and Fred crashed and sank.
Thank you for your reply. No doubt in my mind that you have the material. I look forward to the publication of your book.
An interesting interview between Goerner and Gurr. The discussion, however can be misunderstood or a bit confusing when they switch between radio transmit/receive and direction finding capabilities.
Gurr mentions things which were very true of radio state of the art (1937) but it seems that Amelia either did not actually have all of those capabilities or may have lacked the knowledge of how to properly make use of them.
For instance, Gurr’s comment that all she had to do was “send A’s” for Itasca to get a bearing on her – and that she knew what that meant because she asked Itasca to do just that when she was trying to get a bearing is theoretically true, but in fact not literally possible.
“Sending A’s” means to transmit the letter “A” over and over using a telegraph key (.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-). The continuous dot dash pattern simply keeps the carrier wave going and gives the direction finder operator at the receiving station something to tune on. Amelia knew this and was therefore trying to get the Itasca to SEND such a signal for her to get a reading on using her aircraft’s loop antenna direction finder. She, on the other hand could NOT “send A’s” because she had no Morse key set on board. She could, however, have accomplished a similar thing by giving a verbal “long count” for the Itasca radiomen.
Gurr provides some interesting insight into the possibility of Amelia continuing to send HF radio messages post flight. As he mentions, use of the aircraft battery would have powered her radio, assuming it had not been damaged or submerged on landing or ditching.
Alleged post flight radio transmissions were reported as received by various stations and radio operators almost immediately in press reports about Amelia being missing. Some serious study has been done regarding exactly what frequency, when and where these signals were reported as having been received. Although there were a number which were very likely hoaxes, others seem authentic and quite possible. The main point would be that IF radio signals were received from Amelia after a certain point in time when she could not have been airborne, it would tend to support the belief that she did land/ditch her plane on or very close to land.
She could have sent an ‘A” by clicking the mike. She also could have held down the mike button and gotten the same results with a carrier wave.
Otherwise, your points are well taken.
What actual evidence is there that she sent any post loss messages? A few people (less than a dozen?) claimed they heard a faint message (not readable) and even though it might have been a Navy operator there was no practical way to record them. Since this was most likely a government operation, the Navy would say whatever they were told to say. I go back to Brad Washburn, himself an expert, you could say, about airplane radios in those days, who told Amelia and George they needed a strong beacon on Howland I. as the only safe plan. I think he meant a strong low frequency station she could use her loop antenna with. He obviously didn’t think their plan that they wound up using was safe and effective. George replied, according to Brad, that they didn’t have time to do that, a facetious answer. I don’t know if Brad ever said “I told you so.”
The answer George gave was consistent with a plan where Amelia would not need her radio for anything important. He certainly knew she was not headed for Howland Island, a dicey proposition at best. According to Itasca log, she never responded directly to them and never gave any indication she was lost or about to crash or was going somewhere else like the Gilberts. That’s what Itasca said, but wouldn’t you think there was someone else listening to her radio somewhere? Not many, of course, but maybe Pierson and McMenamy, and weren’t they supposedly warned to keep quiet? Or, as I have speculated she was headed to Saipan and simply kept radio silence? If her flight was “on the level” she certainly would have given a distress call or an indication to what alternate location she was heading. Yet no one who speculates on her actions publicly seems to find this odd. Well, maybe Prymak did.
This notion that she could send “A”s or key the mike, while certainly true, doesn’t sound to me like anything Amelia would have the slightest inkling of. But even if she did know, she certainly wasn’t going to do anything to help the Itasca learn her location. I would say if only from the conversation with Brad Washburn, they knew there was a secret plan for Amelia not to go to Howland and moreover it was not a last minute plan of hers. So then it follows they were never lost, probably were never anywhere near Howland so they obviously would have no need to fly to the Gilberts. Probably anything she ever said to Vidal about that if she even did was simply disinformation.
P.S. Another thought occurred to me after I wrote that piece, which is this: Did Amelia tell Harry Manning about the secret flight plan she was about to attempt and he said “No way, Jose.” or similar? Then there was a search for someone qualified who would go along. Enter Fred Noonan, former Navy sailor or some employment by the Navy who was a little down on his luck and needed a break? Yes, perfect. Of course he had to be a part of the planning and he knew what he was getting into. Too bad it didn’t turn out as well as he hoped.
@Les Kinney: When will Your book be published? I am very interested in it. The question that I have at the moment is, why didn’t they send the information that they would seek another landing place? Wouldn’t that be some piece of information they would have contributed to make the task of possible search teams easier?
Well, in a sense she did. When Eugene Vidal was in California before her first attempt, she mentioned if she got lost, she would try to find a nice beach in the Gilbert Islands to set down. Putnam must have been aware of that as well, as he insisted the Nayy focus their search in the Gilberts. But you make a good point. In the several telegrams sent to the Navy and Coast Guard, she never discussed alternate scenarios in case of mechanical problems or talked about the point of no return. A week before the Lae take-off, she had to do just that several times.
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As Richard said earlier, this conversation with Gurr gets confusing between direction finding and receive/transmit capabilities. If we get confused, and we are all way above average in intellect, just think how confused Amelia and Fred were or would have been, and they were going to risk their lives on this confusion? I know I wouldn’t.
On a different note, I was thinking about Randall Brink’s contention that some of her African or Asian flight times were way faster than were possible with her original L10. Nobody I know has ever challenged these assertions except to disparage Brink which is not convincing. I would say that Amelia flew a brand new plane with more powerful engines and longer range on her second attempt. If the U.S. govt was going to spend millions on her preparations with men and ships, landing fields, etc. how could they possibly patch up her old plane to save maybe a couple tens of thousands? To me, that makes no sense.
If she flew direct from Lae to Saipan, averaging 150 mph (her old plane) it would put her in Saipan about 8:00 PM. If she could do 180 mph (easily, if Brink is correct), then she would arrive Saipan around 6 PM. Sunset on Saipan July 7 was 6:51 PM. This would mean they would need no landing lights on the runway if they even existed, so they wouldn’t have to request that.
As William said, there is no evidence her radio didn’t work well, until allegedly in Howland Island vicinity. My suspicion now turns to the Itasca radio log. This is the only record of what she said and did. It took them a long time to reveal the radio log of the Itasca. Plenty of time to concoct a plausible record based on what would have been known publicly about her flight at that time, what? a year later? It had only the Cipriani glitch on Howland, but don’t these concoctions always have some glitch? It seems like standard propaganda 101. Only Galten made the curious comment that she never intended to land on Howland, and if he was in the radio room, he would have known what was heard.
I would contend that probably nothing was heard from her on the radio. She was headed to Saipan, her equipment being capable of doing that, no problem She had the Saipan AM radio beacon to follow just as Washburn would have required if he were to make the flight. One might characterize my speculation as absurd, but compared to the Mili Atoll scenario which assumes Amelia had gone bonkers, mine is much less contrived, in fact it’s even sensible. WE have the testimony of Devine and others that locates her plane on Saipan. What’s the difference between the two? Both were Japanese pssessions at the time and she was quite willing to land on one of their mandates. On Mili, where Prymak and Gervais couldn’t find a suitable landing zone, we have a dust cover. In case anybody is interested. https://patents.google.com/patent/US3670996 We don’t even know if her plane had them and nobody has researched that conclusively that I know of although TIGHAR has expressed doubts.
I rest my case.
Greetings to All:
Here’s a newspaper article well worth reading from 2014 by Brian Burnes – Kansas City Star.
I have a problem getting to that link. It’s telling me I need to pay. I’m familiar with the story you cite from the K.C. Star, and wrote about it in November 2014. I’m sure it’s the same one. Readers can try the link you sent or the one in my story, good luck either way.
The link I included in my comment was to Burnes’ article “Scrap metal from Marshall Islands supports Amelia Earhart theory, group says” about Dick Spink’s find of the Goodyear Airwheel dust cover on Mili Atoll.
It must be the same article, and a search on your headline gives me a Nov. 23, 2014 dateline. It demands I subscribe to see more The link I sent is getting the same result. I suggest readers forget about the K.S. Star article and just to my blog post, https://earharttruth.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/lapook-destroys-gillespies-latest-false-earhart-claim/, which discusses the K.C. Star story.
Here’s a link to another article about Dick Spink’s find on Mili Atoll; this one from the Washington State University (WSU) Magazine. No payment or log-in required.
A little off-topic as the subject of your post was Fred Goerner’s interview with Joe Gurr? Maybe. But as the subject was raised and it is a significant find — a solid, hold-in-your-hand piece of tangible evidence that, when added to the eyewitness testimony of Jororo, Lijon, Bilimon Amaron, et. al. makes for a very persuasive, if not absolutely ironclad, case for AE and FN landing on Barre Island, Mili Atoll and not elsewhere as has been asserted.