Almon A. Gray was a pioneer in aeronautical communications, a Navy Reserve captain, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario.
Upon expiration of his Navy enlistment he signed on with Pan American Airways, in 1935 Gray 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.
The following letter, to confirmed crashed-and-sank researcher Cameron A. Warren, appeared in the February 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. It was written on Sept. 1, 1994, just over three weeks before Gray’s death at 84 on Sept. 26, 1994 at his home in Blue Hill, Maine. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
[Editor’s comment] From a man who flew with Fred Noonan and who was considered to be one of the top radio men in his day.
HC 64 Box 270-207
Blue Hill, ME 04514
Sept. 1, 1994
Cameron A. Warren
P.O. Box 10588
Reno, NV 59510
Dear Mr. Warren,
I greatly appreciate your letter of Aug. 20th and certainly agree that in naming Keats Reef as the theoretical point of Earhart’s touch down I made a poor selection. As I mentioned in the article, I was unable to obtain any significant information about the reef. I believe however that the basic theory is sound. Briefly, I envisage that Earhart was homing with the DF in a general westerly direction on the signals from the broadcast radio station at Jaluit. Her gas tanks were virtually empty. She sighted land close to her track and made an emergency landing on it. Beyond reasonable doubt the land was in the Marshall Islands.
The landing was made about mid-afternoon of July 2, 1937, Howland date. The Radio equipment in the aircraft was started up later in the afternoon and was used intermittently for at least three days without molestation. Many radio listeners at numerous sites reported hearing distress signals from the plane but were not taken seriously. (In retrospect I believe that most of them were genuine.) The quality of the transmissions was very poor and virtually no useful information was passed in all that time. However the peculiar characteristics which made the transmitted voice signals unintelligible, were unique and served to identify the signals as coming from the Earhart plane whenever they were heard.
With what I have here plus what I consider as very good bearings from the PAA Adcock RDFs at Wake and Midway, I feel quite comfortable in believing that Earhart landed in the Marshalls. The homing track to the Jaluit Radio Station makes me believe that the most likely locale would be the very northern part of Mili Atoll.
I had hoped that during my lifetime we would know precisely what happened to the Earhart flight and where. I now would be delighted to merely get general acceptance of the notion that Amelia and Fred were alive and reasonably well in the Marshalls as late as a week after they disappeared.
Again, thanks for your letter!
Almon A. Gray
copy: Bill Prymak
For a comprehensive review of all that’s been presented on this blog about Almon Gray, please click here.
This unique black-and-white drawing appeared in the February 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and raises more questions than it answers. First of all, I find no reference to the idea that Earhart ever flew her Electra down Fifth Avenue at such an absurd, dangerously low altitude, or any other altitude, for that matter.
Next, AES founder, president and newsletters editor Bill Prymak gives us no hint where he found this drawing, or who the artist was. It appeared at some date after Feb. 11, 1937, when Amelia announced her intention to complete a world flight at New York City, Barclay Hotel, and before her near-disastrous March 20, 1937 aborted takeoff at the Navy’s Luke Field on Hawaii’s Ford Island, based on the inset paragraph, which is small and very hard to read. Its author, one Mrs. Gladys Boulanger, is also something of a mystery, Here’s what she wrote:
That publicity hound bastard George Putnam. the husband, put Amelia up to buzzing around Fifth Avenue at the noon hour as promotion for her upcoming round-the-world flight. Amelia was no natural flier, you know. Did it all on willpower and guts. Anyhow, she plowed down Fifth Avenue one day in early fall, just after we put the ermine stoles on the new mannequins with the marcelled hair. Flew that big Lockheed like a matron aiming a Packard through a garage door. Just south of 42nd Street, she dropped a wing. Damn near decapitated Fortitude, one of the lions at the New York Public Library!
— Gladys Boulanger (Mrs.)
Better Turbans, Saks on Fifth
Mrs. Boulanger, who clearly doesn’t like George P. Putnam, seems to provide a hint about her occupation when she follows her name with “Better Turbans, Saks on Fifth,” apparently a reference to the famed department store and a specialty section therein, which even now sells a wide array of turbans and where she may have worked Other than this, the provenance of this artwork is a mystery to me, as is Mrs. Boulanger.
Bill Prymak likely wrote the interrogatory underneath the sketch, “Didn’t George Push Her Flying a Lil’ Bit??” We don’t know this for sure, but Bill was known to sometimes follow emphatic questions with two question marks, and of course he was the editor.
If anyone can shed further light on this most unusual and interesting artistic flashback, please let us know.
The below document is likely a U.S. Navy intercept of a July 5, 1937 message sent by someone in the Japanese government in Tokyo with the code name”OIMATSU,” possibly someone in the Imperial Japanese Navy, to the Japanese Naval Attache, Washington (Captain Kengo Nakamura Kobayashi, see comments for more) concerning the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. (Boldface and italic emphasis mine throughout.)
Researcher Tony Gochar, of Guam (see pages 263-264 Truth at Last), sent me this declassified dispatch in November 2020 after he received it from a source in Washington. Others may be aware of this message, but it was the first time I’ve seen it, and it appears to be significant, a document that Vincent V. Loomis, whose mid-’80s Tokyo research revealed Japan’s lies about its search for Earhart in the Marshall Islands, would have showcased in his 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story.
Note that the date is just three days after Earhart, Fred Noonan and Electra NR 16020 went missing. Our copy isn’t easy to read, so here’s the message:
We are in receipt of intelligence reports to the effect that the U.S. Navy is launching a large scale search for the lost Miss Earhart. Since it is believed that she went down in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands area, the Government of the South Sea Islands has ordered all ships (lookouts?) and communication facilities to cooperate in the discovering of her. We (several words crossed out) have communicated our desires to assist in this search, through our Ambassador in Washington, to the U.S. Government.
This offer was made not only as an expression of good will, but for the purpose of preventing the United States’ merchant and fighting vessels which are searching for Miss Earhart, from coming too close to the Marshall Islands. (End message.)
Hand printed below the above is “*Chief of Bureau of Military Affairs, Navy Department.” When this message was declassified is unknown, as is Tony Gochar’s source.
“The document begins by saying they (IJN) ‘are in receipt of intelligence reports,’ ” Gochar wrote in a Nov. 9, 2020 email. “My opinion is that these intelligence reports are from Japanese radio intelligence and DF (Direction Finding) stations in the Pacific area. The second sentence seems crystal clear: ‘Since it is believed that she went down in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands area.’ How did they know this on July 5, 1937? Their intelligence reports would have provided this detail.”
Naysayers who reject the truth will find it extremely difficult to find an interpretation for this message that keeps the fliers and the Electra out of the Marshall Islands and Japanese captivity. Based on 84 years of government-media lies and denial, we know that this virtual smoking gun will never be acknowledged by any mainstream media organization — or any other kind, for that matter.
Few will hear about this, but that doesn’t stop us from continuing to speak the truth to those willing to hear and accept it.
We continue with the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s “Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” This analysis appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.
“Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” (Part II of two.)
by Paul Rafford Jr.
June 22, 1993
Why was the Howland direction finder never able to get bearings on Earhart?
The reasons here are several fold. Primarily, it was because Earhart never stayed on the air long enough for an operator to take a bearing. But, even if she had stayed on longer, the combination of her low transmitting power with the inadequacy of the jerry-rigged aircraft DF on Howland, would have limited its range to less than 50 miles. In other words, on a clear day she could have seen the island before the island could have taken a bearing on her.
The questions that arise out of this fiasco are:
1) Why did whoever organized the project of setting up the direction finder on Howland not know of its extreme limitation?
2) Why did Earhart, supposedly a consultant to the government on airborne direction finders, never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds?
Why did Earhart ask for 7500 kHz [kilohertz] in order to take bearings on the Itasca, considering it could not be used with her direction finder?
Supposedly, “7500” came about through Earhart’s ignorance of the two different designations for radio channels. It has been theorized that she confused 750.0 meters with 7500 kHz. Of course, 750.0 meters is 400 kHz, a bona fide beacon frequency, while 7500 kHz is 40 meters.
It would appear that not only did she get meters and kilocycles mixed up but she overlooked the decimal point.
Bob Lieson, a former co-worker of mine had done a stint on Howland Island as radio operator shortly after Earhart’s disappearance. I asked him if the Itasca might have used 7500 kHz for any other purpose than to send dashes for Earhart. “Oh yes,” he replied, “We used 40 meters for contact with the Coast Guard cutters when they were standing off shore.”
This brings up two questions:
1) Could it have been that Earhart was not confusing meters and kilocycles but knew ahead of time that 7500 kHz was the Itasca’s link with Howland so would be available on call?
2) Why would Noonan, both a navigator and radio operator, let Earhart make the potentially fatal mistake of trying to take bearings on 7500?
Why did Earhart not seize on the one occasion where she heard the Itasca and knew it was hearing her, to try and establish communication with the crew?
This is the most incredible part of the Earhart saga. At 1928 GMT she announced, “Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles.” Then, at 1933 GMT she announced, “We received your signal but unable to get a minimum.” Supposedly, she is hopelessly lost and about to run out of gas. Now, after searching for Howland for over an hour, for the first time she is hearing the Itasca and knows the ship is hearing her. Does she breathe a giant sigh of relief because she has finally made contact with the crew? Of course they are using code but Noonan is a radio operator and can copy code while replying to the ship by voice on 3105 kHz.
No! Instead of desperately trying to keep in contact, Earhart is not heard from for over forty minutes. When she returns to the air it is only to make one brief, last transmission. She declares she is flying north and south on a line of position 157-337 and will switch to 6210. The Itasca never hears her again.
The Mysterious Post-Flight Radio Transmissions
What was the source or sources of the mysterious signals heard on Earhart’s frequencies that began just hours after her disappearance and lasted for several days?
During the hours and days immediately following Earhart’s disappearance, various listeners around the Pacific heard mysterious signals on her frequencies.
Ten hours after the Itasca last heard her, the crew of the HMS Achilles intercepted an exchange of signals between a radiotelephone station and a radiotelegraph station on 3105 khz. The telephone station requested, “Give us a few dashes if you get us.” The telegraph station replied with several long dashes. The telephone station then announced, “KHAQQ, KHAQQ.” (Earhart’s call letters).
Believing they were hearing the plane safely down somewhere, the Achilles sent the U.S. Navy a message to that effect. However, in its reply, the Navy denied this possibility.
Two hours later, Nauru Island heard the highly distorted voice of a woman calling on 6210 khz. They reported that, although they could not understand the words, the voice sounded similar to Earhart’s when she had passed by the island the night before. However, this time there was “– no hum of engines in the background.”
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Karl Pierson and a group of his radio engineering colleagues set up a listening watch on Earhart’s frequencies. During the early morning hours of July 3rd, they heard SOS calls on 6210 kHz both voice and telegraph. Of particular interest was the fact that the voice was a woman’s. However, neither call included enough information to identify the plane’s position or status.
The Pan Am stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu managed to pick up a number of weak, unstable radio signals on Earhart’s frequencies and take a few bearings. But, the stations never identified themselves or transmitted any useful information.
Despite his failure to get bearings earlier, the Howland operator got a bearing on a fairly strong station shortly after midnight on July 5th. It indicated the transmitter was either north northwest or south southeast of Howland. But, again there was no identification or useful information from the station.
The question that arises here is, were the distress calls heard by Karl Pierson and his group authentic? If they were, why did the calls not include more information? If they were not, who would have sent them and why?
Readers of this blog are familiar with Paul Rafford Jr.’s fascinating and imaginative contributions to Earhart research. Rafford passed away in December 2016 at 97, but some of his ideas about Amelia Earhart’s final days and hours are still alive and well. He was a valued contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most creative possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m., Howland Island Time.
We’ve seen three lengthy pieces on this blog already, basically re-presentations of Rafford’s work as found in Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters: “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?”
The following analysis by Rafford Jr. appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters, and is the first of two parts. Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.
“Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” (Part I of two.)
by Paul Rafford Jr.,
June 22, 1993
“The Miami Layover”
Why did Earhart refuse Pan Am’s offer of direction finding help on her second attempt to circle the globe?
During her layover in Miami; Pan Am radio engineer, Charlie Winter, conferred with Amelia about her forthcoming trip. She would no longer have 500 khz. in her transmitter, so why not carry a Pan Am frequency in its place., to be used with the airline’s Pacific direction finding network?
To his surprise, she immediately dismissed the suggestion with a contemptuous comment, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.”
Why did Pan Am install a new loop on the Electra at Miami when all earlier pictures of the plane show that it already had one?
On the morning before Earhart’s departure from Miami, Pan Am radio technician Bob Thiebert was given a radio loop by his boss and told to install it on the plane immediately. Bob mounted it and connected it to the receiver that had already been installed. He then had the plane swung through 360° while he took bearings on a nearby broadcast station and prepared a calibration curve.
Page 215 of the book, Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987), shows a news photo of Earhart, Noonan and two friends standing in front of the Electra. The caption advises that it was taken on May 31, 1937. An accompanying newspaper clipping comments:
“Mechanics today completed the adjustment of navigation instruments to guide Amelia Earhart down a well-worn aerial lane to South America on her eastward flight around the world. The aviatrix expected to take off at dawn tomorrow for San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1033 miles away.”
The new loop appears on top of the plane while a mechanic appears in the background below, crouched over his tool box. — Bob Thiebert?
After Bob told me his story, several questions came to mind. The Electra already had a loop and the pictures of the Honolulu crackup show no damage to it or the surrounding area. Then, a newsreel picture purporting to show Earhart arriving in Miami clearly shows a loop on the plane. Why install a new one?
I asked Bob if he had seen any evidence of where and how any previous loops had been mounted. We know that there were at least two other loops installed on the Electra at one time or another after Earhart took delivery.
Bob was quite surprised to hear this and replied that he found no evidence that any other loop had ever been installed. If there had been he would have seen where their mounting holes had been. But, he declared, he had seen nothing to indicate this possibility.
Why, just before Earhart’s departure on her round-the-world flight did Pan Am mechanics in Miami make the same changes to her fixed antenna that had already been made by Joe Gurr in California just few weeks before?
Two days before Earhart’s departure, Pan Am radio technician Lynn Michaelfelder was sent out to the Electra, “. . . to fix a problem with the transmitter.” Apparently there was some concern about the limited transmitting range of the fixed antenna.
He lengthened the antenna wires by moving the mast forward and by bringing the feed line down through the lower right side of the fuselage instead of through the roof. Imagine my surprise when I came across Joe Gurr’s letter of May 3, 1982, to Fred Goerner. In it he describes making these same changes in California, just a few weeks earlier.
Lae to Howland
Why did Earhart refuse the offer of Harry Balfour, the Lae radio operator, to stay in communication with her until she made contact with the Itasca?
It was standard operating procedure in those days for an aircraft on a long ocean crossing to stay in contact with the station behind it until reaching the mid-point of the flight. There, the plane would turn its “radio guard” over to the station ahead. Although Balfour was not obligated to offer this service to Earhart, he did so anyway.
But, to his chagrin, when Earhart was approximately one third of the way toward Howland, against his advice because he was still receiving her very well, she signed off with him at sunset and switched from 6210 khz. to 3105 khz. She explained that she had to try and make contact with the Itasca. He never heard her again and she never again engaged any station in two-way conversation.
There was no technical reason for Earhart to have to sign off with Lae before attempting to contact the Itasca. She could have returned to 6210 at periodic intervals to confirm to Balfour that her flight was proceeding normally, or advise him if it wasn’t. Then, after establishing contact with the Itasca she could have said goodbye to him.
Why did Earhart never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time when she was in the vicinity of Howland Island?
While Earhart followed standard airline type operating procedures during her contacts with Balfour, when in the vicinity of Howland her procedures were anything but standard. She never called the ship directly or answered any of its many calls. Instead, she would suddenly come on the air without a call-up, deliver her message, and then go off until she had another message. The Navy’s report states that communication between Earhart and the Itasca was “never really established.”
The Navy’s report also states that she never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time. This includes the transmissions she was supposedly making so the Howland direction finder could take bearings. Even under the best of conditions, back then a DF operator required at least 30 seconds to go through all the procedures required in taking a bearing after a station might suddenly come on the air without warning. Later, Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, operating the Howland DF, complained that she never stayed on the air long enough for him to get a bearing.
Bill Galten, the Itasca radio operator on duty at the Earhart radio watch told me during World War II of his efforts to contact Earhart and of her peculiar operating procedures. On one occasion she suddenly came on the air, announcing, “Give me the weather! I’ve got to have the weather.” But, she failed to advise what frequency she would be listening to or if she wanted the weather to be sent on voice or telegraph. In desperation, Bill sent it on both of his voice frequencies and then his telegraph frequencies. He never received an acknowledgment. Later, based on his futile attempt to get in radio contact with Earhart, Bill gave me his personal opinion: “That woman never intended to land on Howland!” (End of Part I.)