Tag Archives: Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters
We begin 2019 with a closer look at one of the more controversial characters in the history of the Earhart saga. Art Kennedy was an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, and first met Amelia in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race. Later, he directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the March 20, 1937 accident at Luke Field, Hawaii, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death.
Much speculation surrounded the cause of the Electra’s so-called “ground loop,” and Amelia herself said that “possibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course.” Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst,” but Harry Manning, who was in the co-pilot’s seat that day, said Amelia “lost it” on takeoff.
“The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected,” Fred Goerner wrote in a 1992 letter to Ron Reuther. “He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all. It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel. He added it was a miracle there was no fire.”
In his 1992 autobiography co-written by JoAnn Ridley, High Times — Keeping ‘Em Flying, Kennedy offered a far more sinister explanation for the crash. After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane. When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote.
Kennedy, who passed away in September 1998 at 85, said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident. “Damn! I forgot about the gear,” Kennedy claimed she said. “Art, you and I are good friends. You didn’t see a thing. We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural. Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?” Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.
Most recently we heard from Kennedy when his account was featured in “Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?” on Nov. 2, 2018. The following interview, titled “A Visit With Art Kennedy in Portugal,” by Bill Prymak, appeared in the February 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. Prymak described Kennedy, who then lived in Cellerrico De Beria, Portugal, as a “walking encyclopedia on every aspect of airplanes in the Golden Years of Aviation and at the age of 81 [in 1993] his mind is incredibly sharp. . . . It is with a feeling of deep veneration that we sit and break bread with a man who knew Amelia Earhart so intimately, a man who worked with her, laughed and joked with her, took her home at nights when she didn’t have the car, dined with her. There is virtually no one alive today who knew her as well as Arthur Kennedy.”
As an added feature in this interview, still relevant after 25 years, Kennedy lent his considerable expertise to the early TIGHAR claims that made so much international noise in its early days, and sadly, continues to do so, though only those without critical thinking ability pay any attention these days. We begin:
AES: Art, you spent quite a bit of time with Amelia, both professionally and personally. What was she like?
KENNEDY: Bill, this gal was a true lady . . . lots of class, but no snob, friendly with all the shop guys, very inquisitive about the work being done on her airplane. Always looking over the shoulder, but never interfering with the mechanics. She and I developed a special relationship as I was the only one, once she got to know my work, who she would allow to work on her engines. Polly (Art’s high-school sweetheart and wife of 45 years, who died in 1978), Amelia and I would go out for supper many times when we were working late. On one occasion she lamented how she was tiring of all the notoriety, sick of all the false fancy friends, fed up with George’s constant pressures, and simply yearned once more to be a simple American gal who could enjoy her privacy like the rest of us could. Polly and Amelia got along great, went shopping together, had girl-to-girl private times, and really developed a close friendship.
AES: If they went shopping together, did they ever shop for shoes, and if so, do you recall if Amelia’s shoe size ever came up?
KENNEDY: If you’re alluding to Mr. Gillespie and his size 9 theory, with all the hoopla I’ve recently read about this “great discovery,” let me put it to rest once and for all. Polly wore a size 7 and COULD NOT fit into Amelia’s shoes . . . not by a longshot. That TIGHAR theory is pure baloney. (ED. NOTE: Art was more inelegant in his choice of words, and we simply had to clean it up.) Where did they find this guy?
AES: What about Paul Mantz?
KENNEDY: Paul was one of the finest pilots I had ever met, but everybody used to call him the HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR BOY, and I did quite a bit of work for him before I moved over to PAC, and it was Paul who first introduced me to AE. He gave her countless hours of dual (instruction) in the Electra and Paul was pretty satisfied that she could tackle the world flight. He could never figure out the groundloop [sic] at Hawaii . . . that puzzled him to his dying day. But Paul in his business dealings was a bulldozer, and quite a wheeler and dealer.
AES: Did you ever meet her husband George?
KENNEDY: No, but I saw him several times looking for AE in the shop, and, on one occasion, when she saw him beckoning with this finger, AE pleadingly caught my eye, and her facial expression seemed to say: Gad, why did he have to show up at this time, when I was really enjoying these guys around me and my airplane! Polly and I never went out with the Putnams as a foursome. George was too big to socialize with a ramp rat. Amelia was different that way.
AES: You indicate in your book that Amelia told you that she was told, immediately before takeoff at Hawaii bound for Howland Island, to somehow abort the flight. This is potent stuff, Art, and not many are buying this. Can you expand on this?
KENNEDY: I never did ask her who ordered her to abort at Hawaii and it really was none of my business, and she probably would not have told me even if I did ask her, but indeed she did state that she was ordered to abort. I can think of only two reasons for this; something was not ready downstream, or, somebody figured she needed bigger generators as the existing generator blew fuses or burned out on the way to Hawaii.
AES: But Art, if somebody wanted to abort an airplane, I could think of a dozen safer ways to do it — run the wing into a telephone pole, hit a pickup truck, slide into a ditch, fake a brake failure and run into a brick wall . . .
KENNEDY: Yea, I know, but she was probably planning on a very slow, deliberate ground loop at very slow speed, where she figured there’d be no risk with all that has on board. But in a situation like that, if you start the takeoff roll and hesitate for just a fraction of a second, bam . . . you’re already past the “safe zone” and you find yourself doing things that are absolutely crazy! One spark in the wrong place and they all would have been fried.
AES: Was she really a good pilot?
KENNEDY: Bill, I flew with a bunch of the old timers, even got a pilot’s license myself. A lot of the final checkouts, such as rigging and engine performance, had to be done in flight . . . and yes, Earhart was a good solid, pilot. I flew with her many times, even once watched her bring in the Electra down to the runway with a 25 mph crosswind straight as a die. When the Bendix rep who was halfway down the runway during the ill-fated Hawaii takeoff told me that her tailwheel was already high when the groundloop began, I could not believe it! Even a dumb student pilot does not groundloop on takeoff at 50 mph. Something very fishy here.
AES: You’re still convinced she was on a spy mission?
KENNEDY: Absolutely! I’m 81 years old and have no need for storytelling or ego trips at my age. I have only one trip left, and that’s to meet my Maker. I can’t tell you everything she told me about the mission because other people were involved who might still be alive, but I will tell you this: She mentioned the mission taking her over Truk, the big engines received brand new from Pratt & Whitney in May 1937, were modified by me personally to accommodate the bigger generators, and even though her regular engines were being overhauled, these two new super engines were charged to NR 16020 — her airplane! Many strange things and many strange people were involved in her last flight.
AES: How do you address the claim by TIGHAR [The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has never recovered a single historic aircraft, to my knowledge] that the piece of aluminum they found came from the belly of NR 16020?
KENNEDY: This simply cannot be! When the damaged aircraft came back from Hawaii, Amelia Earhart and I personally and meticulously went over the entire fuselage. We had to raise the fuselage high enough to get a low-boy tractor underneath for transport to the Lockheed factory on the other side of the field. In lifting the fuselage, Amelia and I got a good look at the belly, and there was absolutely no damage, not even dirt, from the groundloop accident. There was however, cable sling damage from hoisting the airplane onto the boat from Hawaii, and in unloading same stateside. Cable sling damage was observed at Station 239, where two stringers were buckled in, and it was here that Lockheed removed and replaced stringers and full skin sections, NOT patches, as TIGHAR claims.
AES: But Gillespie claims that Lockheed people like Ed Werner and Harvey Christen are wrong when they state that the rivet and stringer spacing could not vary from the original specification, as found on TIGHAR’s piece of aluminum.
KENNEDY: I don’t remember Ed, but if Harvey Christen says after studying the TIGHAR piece that it could not have come from the Electra, well you can bet the farm, the wife, and your bottom dollar that it did NOT come from an Electra. Let me tell you something about Harvey . . . there was a guy, who in the early days of Lockheed, started as a wrench rat and who, through his some forty years with the firm, rose to be Vice-President of Quality Control Engineering. He was revered, respected, and loved by everybody, and nobody knew his job better than Harvey. There is no greater authority on this argument than this man. For Gillespie to say that Lockheed “could have changed” original design integrity is ludicrous, stupid and pretty damn arrogant of him. He must have a lot of money riding on this piece of aluminum.
AES: But TIGHAR claims that the piece has an ink-stained stencil reading 24S-T3, in red ink, and that because it was “hand-stamped” at the factory, it had to be pre-World War II.
KENNEDY: All aircraft companies bought their aluminum from ALCOA starting in 1932. 24S-Condition 3 was used on all aircraft prior to World War II. 24S-T3 was produced right through the beginning of WWII and was used on tens of thousands of American aircraft, including the PBY, DC-4, P-38, P-51, P-47, and the 247D. Lockheed and other airplane manufacturers were stacked to the rafters with 24S-T3 on the onset of WWII, and as far as identifying the date of manufacture of a piece of stamped aluminum, hell, I saw the stamps put on in blue, red, green, black . . . they used every color under the sun, and sometimes they stamped with the grain, sometimes against the grain, diagonally, every which way. Nobody today, shown a piece of 24S-T3, can pinpoint the date of manufacture just by the color of the ALCLAD stamp or by the shape of the letters.
AES: You have seen a sketch of the TIGHAR artifact. Comments?
KENNEDY: Absolutely no way would Lockheed permit a change of rivet spacing on the replacement of a skin panel . . . it would never pass inspection. Nobody in their right mind . . . in any repair situation, would ever change the pattern of the rivet holes and make different holes thru stringers, circumferentials [sic], keels, and other attaching structures and put more holes in these structures and thusly compromise the structural integrity of the original design. This TIGHAR piece of aluminum might have come from the nose gear door of a Catalina Flying Boat because they got easily damaged and were always in constant repair. You might also check the bottom of the floats as they have a rivet pattern similar to what you showed me. Lockheed did skin replacements, not patches.
AES: TIGHAR claims that they have evidence that Amelia and Fred removed a fuel cell from the cabin and with an engine cover jury-rigged a water-catchment device on Gardner Island, using only a screwdriver. Your comments?
KENNEDY: Bill and Joe, you guys can’t be serious that somebody would try to bamboozle the American public into thinking that AE and Fred would even attempt such an impossible job on a deserted island. First, you’d have to remove the radio blocking your way to the fuel tank to be removed. Then you have to tear apart the floor boards of the entire rear of the airplane . . . then you need special wrenches to get at the nuts tying down the tank; then you need BIGGER 1.5-inch wrenches to release the B-nuts tying the vent lines to the other tanks. And when this is all said and done what have you got? I’ll tell you what you’ve got! Ever try drinking water out of an aluminum can that’s been full of aviation gas for two months? It’ll kill ya, and Fred certainly knew better. Didn’t I read someplace that somebody suggested that if they really were down on a deserted island they simply would have deployed their life raft for water-catching purposes?
AES: Yeah, we suggested that in a previous AES Newsletter.
KENNEDY: And another point . . . the engine covers were never taken on the final flight. I remember walking into Firman Grey’s office at Lockheed several weeks after she went down and seeing engine covers in the corner stenciled NR 16020. Firman said Amelia thought they were too bulky and heavy to be trucking around the world.
AES: But AE’s book Last Flight states that they used engine and prop covers at Timor.
KENNEDY: That’s baloney. Putnam wrote that book and filled in all that fancy prose. Amelia was too busy and dog tired at every stop to write notes for George. GP got a few scraps of information from phone calls to AE and from the press, but there was no press or telephone at Timor, so George filled in some empty space with his own creations.
AES: Art, you’ve been a superb host, and a fabulous source of “firsthand” information on the greatest Lady of Aviation. In closing, what do you feel really happened?
KENNEDY: I am convinced she went down in the Marshall Islands, as so many researchers besides you two guys have theorized. Something BIG has always bugged me: I kept immaculate fuel low records from the tests cells on her engines, and so help me, from her last message to Itasca at 20 hours and 14 minutes into the flight, she had AT LEAST five hours of fuel left. Think about it: if you’re really lost, then when your fuel runs out, you’re about to die, and you know it. Talking to somebody there on the radio is your only lifeline, and it costs you nothing to talk and yell for help, as the average pilot would have done in this situation. The silence with an operational radio and five hours of fuel left really bugs me. That was not the Amelia I knew. She had somewhere else to go to. It was planned. (End of Kennedy interview.)
In High Times, Kennedy wrote that Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the Luke Field takeoff “and did it the only way she knew how.” According to Kennedy, she said “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world. She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’” Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue. Who knows for sure?
Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who agreed with Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claim about the Luke Field accident. On the other hand, Prymak wrote that “Joe Gervais (who accompanied Prymak to Portugal) and I were left with some lasting impressions of Art Kennedy, not the least being his total love and admiration for Amelia, his uncanny knowledge of the Lockheed Electra, and his unquestioned honesty and resolve not to embellish when we quizzed him on matters that happened 55 years ago that since became fuzzy. We appreciated that kind of candor.” So what are we to think?
It’s hard to buy Kennedy’s claim about the ground loop, as it’s difficult to imagine that Amelia would purposely endanger Harry Manning and Fred Noonan, who were both aboard. It’s more likely that she honestly blew the takeoff at Luke Field, but what of Kennedy’s assertion about Amelia’s “mission taking her over Truk,” and that the Electra received “big engines” in May 1937 that he personally “modified” for the flight’s extra miles? We have no credible evidence that supports the idea that a new pair of “big engines” was put on NR 16020, but could it have happened?
The total distance from Lae to Truk to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 statute miles when flying direct from Lae, well within the Electra’s normal range of 4,000 miles, even without modified engines. Can we so easily dismiss these separate and altogether plausible — at least in this observer’s opinion — claims from Kennedy? Most probably the fliers reached Mili in a different way, but a definitive answer continues to elude us.
Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, passed away on Dec. 10 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97. Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side. “We lost a great man on that day,” Betteridge said in an email.
Earhart fans will recall Paul’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight. In 2006, Paul’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a treasure trove of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Paul’s fascinating and inventive work. In the past few years, I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus 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?
Paul was a regular contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most imaginative and compelling 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. He even wrote two pieces with the nearly the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle Earhart researchers.
Paul began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006. “Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems. We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.”
With Paul Rafford’s passing, we can now mark the end of the “Greatest Generation” of Earhart researchers, an exclusive club whose members include Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak, Thomas E. Devine, Almon Gray, Joe Gervais, Joe Klaas, Rollin Reineck, Don Kothera and of course, Paul himself. If there were an Earhart Research Hall of Fame, Paul Rafford Jr. would have been inducted long ago on the first ballot. He was a fine and decent man, admired and respected by his peers, and loved by many. He made many significant contributions to the Earhart saga, and he will be missed. May he Rest in Peace.
We’ve seen the account of Ted Burris, a federal employee on Kwajalein in 1965, who was told by an old Marshallese man of the nearly certain presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan near Ebeye Island in 1937. In today’s post we return to the vaults of the Amelia Earhart Society to examine more evidence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Marshall Islands landfall.
Reverend Joseph C. Wright, a Presbyterian minister from Gulfport, Mississippi, was an Air Force major on temporary duty at Guam in the spring of 1967. Writing to Fred Goerner in July 1967, Wright recalled that while visiting his brother-in-law on Majuro Atoll, he and a Majuro-based missionary made a “field trip” to Mili Atoll, 80 miles away.
The inset paragraphs, edited slightly for clarity, are taken from Wright’s letter to Goerner, and appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.
I am a member of the Air Force, S.A.C., in a B-52 Unit that just recently returned from a six months TDY [temporary duty] in Guam. While there I had the great fortune to wrangle myself a 10 day leave to visit Majuro in the Marshalls. My brother-in-law is principal of the High Schools there, and in addition I knew an Assembly of God Missionary, Sam Sasser, who, with his family have been living there for over five years. It was an act of God (or Providence) that allowed me to make the contacts that we were able to, which was part of a Grecian Odyssey in itself.
Our Trust Territory aircraft arrived in Majuro on a Wednesday morning, 26 April 1967, a few hours after the klunker [sic] vessel, the Mieco Queen, had departed for a supposedly five-day field trip to Mili Atoll. Sasser, a native sailor, and myself elected to take a 14 ft, 40 hp motor boat across 15 miles of stormy ocean late in the afternoon to try to catch the “Queen” at Arno Atoll that evening. After 3 tries at “jumping the reef,” we successfully got into the rolling ocean swells and after four tough hours (no life vests) caught the vessel at 8:00 P.M. that night.
With rough weather and a breakdown aboard the ship, we extended to almost three weeks. The trip to Mili was tremendous, and the discoveries were even more exciting. They hadn’t seen half a dozen white people in over 25 years! The missionary effort was tremendous, and on Mili Island itself, which had been completely bombed out in WWII, we explored war wreckage that had been completely untouched since the War.
All kinds of Betty bombers, fighters, and the most exciting – a wrecked American P-38. I identified it, and recovered his little brass radio call sign dash panel plate — the guy turned out to be quite a hero, which is another story, and which I intend to follow through and identify.
During the voyage, Wright met Captain Leonard deBrum, “master of the vessel, Mieco Queen,” who told him of three people on a Mili island who might have information about the Earhart mystery. Wright’s letter to Goerner continues:
But the most thrilling discovery was to locate the specific island that Amelia Earhart crashed on. Yes, it is circumstantial evidence, but here is the story: I became good friends with Capt. Leonard de Brum, the master of the vessel, Mieco Queen, and himself [sic] is quite an exciting legend in the Marshalls. We discussed the Earhart mystery, and I let him read the concluding chapters of your book. Yes, he had heard rumors of the lady American flyer, but didn’t pay much attention, or put much stock in them. It had been so many years ago. So he referred Sasser and myself to three aged people on a particular island in the Mili Atoll.
On Enajet Island, Wright asked an old man if he remembered an American airplane landing in the area many years ago.
Thru the interpreter I asked him if “many years ago do you remember an American airplane being in this part of the world.” Keep in mind that this old guy hasn’t even seen white people in many years. He puzzled and remembered by “so and so dying, somebody else getting married, having babies, etc. – then went on, “yes, it was thirty years ago, and I remember very well now, because the person from the airplane was not a man, but a lady with man’s clothes and man’s haircut.
“Also she had a man with her with white cloth around his head,” he continued. . . . . “But we could not be curious. It was in Japan times and they were very hard people. One woman would not cooperate and they cut off her head . . . but the story was that these people had papers and hid them in a hollow hole of a May tree. In a couple of days the Japs came and took the two people away, and also the wreckage.”
Several months later, Wright sent Goerner two photos of the old man, and with the help of Dirk Ballendorf, a Peace Corps official on Saipan, the native was identified as Lammorro, then living on Mili Island. No further contact with Lammorro was ever reported. Wright’s story was published in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald on July 3, 1992.
Joseph Wright’s report enhances the likelihood that the American fliers were taken to Kwajalein Atoll soon after their July 2 disappearance. In their 2001 essay, “Next Stop Kwajalein,” published only on the AES Website, Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais speculated that some Marshall Islands reports of a plane landing on the water were not, as most assumed, sightings of Earhart’s Electra, but of a Japanese seaplane with the American fliers aboard. The authors’ analysis focused on Burris’ account, and “Next Stop Kwajalein” will be the subject of a future post.
Today we return to the halcyon days of the summer of 1966, when Fred Goerner’s classic, The Search for Amelia Earhart, was brand new and just a week away from publication by Doubleday & Co., and the story of the KCBS newsman’s six-year Earhart investigation was about to become the only New York Times bestseller ever penned about the Earhart disappearance. Although Goerner didn’t find Amelia Earhart on Saipan, he interviewed enough witnesses who either saw or knew of her presence there to convince any jury of that fact — with the exception of one composed of members of the American political establishment.
It’s not clear where the following promotional essay first appeared, but I found it in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. It’s presented today to remind readers, young and old, exactly when the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart began, and that there was once a time when it appeared that the “solution” to the so-called Earhart mystery might be imminent. Who knows when that time might come again?
THE EARHART MYSTERY
by Fred Goerner
“Go ahead with the book. Fred, it should bring them the justice they deserve.”
The advice came from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He was referring to Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan and my six-year investigation into their mysterious disappearance during a flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
The search had included four expeditions to the Mariana and Marshall Islands, the questioning of hundreds of witnesses and unfriendly confrontations with several high-ranking members of the U.S. military and government in Washington, D.C.
The search had also brought me the friendship of the legendary Admiral. It was late 1965 and we had been waiting for months for answers to pertinent questions regarding disposition of certain classified material in Washington. The conclusion long ago had been reached that Earhart and Noonan were keys to an incredible series of events which involved with the United States and Japan and the tense years preceding the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
“It’s possible you won’t be too popular in some quarters in Washington,” Nimitz continued. “’But you will gain respect for your research. It’s obvious no one wants to accept responsibility for what was done.”
It appears the Admiral will be proven correct. When “The Search for Amelia Earhart” is published by Doubleday on Sept. 2 (1966), I will probably achieve a high rank on the displeasure charts of the CIA, Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
Japan will evidence her unhappiness, too. She will not savor being forced to admit the illegal use of the mandated islands of the Pacific prior to World War II, a violation of international law.
The U.S. Marine Corps will be embarrassed as it tried to explain what happened to the human remains recovered from an unmarked grave on Saipan Island in July, 1944, or what happened to the personal effects of Earhart and Noonan recovered by Marines the same year.
The U.S. Navy may attempt to maintain silence when asked why $4 million were spent on an apparently bogus search for Earhart and Noonan in 1937 and why highly secret equipment was made available for their flight. There may also be several coughing fits when questions are posed regarding classified files, especially one labeled “Amelia Earhart, Location of Grave Of.”
The U.S. State Department will also have difficulty explaining why it has maintained a classified file on the matter for more than 29 years while denying to the public the existence of such a file.
The U.S. Department of Commerce won’t like explaining the activities of a man named William Miller, who was responsible in 1937 for “Aeronautical Survey of the South Pacific Ocean.” Miller spent much time with Amelia Earhart and also served Naval Intelligence.
The Central Intelligence Agency will try to avoid comments regarding its activities on Saipan Island from 1952 to ’62 and how one of this nation’s best kept post-World War II intelligence secrets blended with the Earhart investigation.
Is the pen mightier than government’s desire to cloak embarrassments of the past?
It is my contention, supported by those who have assisted in “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” that Earhart and Noonan were the first casualties of World War II. Their story pales fiction.
The most important fact I learned during six years of research is that American newsmen are still free to pursue answers to questions which involve major departments of government and even the presidency. As long as that remains true, our basic freedoms are relatively secure. (End of Goerner’s preview.)
Editor’s note: Goerner’s final asseveration, that “our basic freedoms are relatively secure,” was written with great optimism 50 years ago, but much in our once great nation has changed for the worse since then. Even Goerner’s early access to the secret Earhart files, granted partially by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, had been ripped away by LBJ, and soon, following Time magazine’s scathing, game-changing review of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner’s findings would be relegated to the popular file marked “paranoid conspiracy theories,” and deemed unfit for conversation in polite circles. Since then, nothing substantial has changed in that regard.
We continue with noted Pan American Airlines radio officer Almon Gray’s analysis of the radio problems that Amelia Earhart encountered during her final flight. Before we proceed, a word from the late Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, who directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to the Lockheed facility following the “ground-loop” at Luke Field, might be instructive. In Kennedy’s 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ’em Flying, he was quite frank in his appraisal of Amelia’s radio skills, or lack of same.
Kennedy believed that Earhart’s cavalier attitude toward radios led to her undoing. “In her unique fashion Earhart was quite a lady, although it is well known that she punctuated her airport conversation with a spectacular lexicon of aviation vulgarities,” Kennedy wrote. “This was especially the case when she had trouble contacting the tower, because she was notoriously lazy about learning how to use the radio properly. She would get so frustrated that her language became unprintable and Burbank tower operators often found it necessary to reprimand her. That failure to learn radio procedures may be significant in light of the apparently frantic transmissions before she disappeared. I remember Paul Mantz telling her that she must be up to speed on frequencies for daylight and night transmissions, but she flippantly replied that if she couldn’t get what she wanted she’d just keep trying until she got a response.”
“AMELIA EARHART AND RADIO,” By Almon A. Gray
Part II of III
ANATOMY OF A GOOF
While we shall never have a positive and complete answer to the above questions, it is possible to deduce a great deal. Therefore there follows a hypothetical scenario which, it is believed, reflects quite accurately what actually transpired. It is emphasized that some parts are conjecture.
1. Earhart was at Bandung having maintenance done on the plane when the query came in from Itasca as to what radio frequencies she wished Itasca, Ontario and Swan to use in supporting her flight from Lae to Howland. Time was running out and she had to provide the answers right away. It had been pounded into her head time and time again that-she needed low frequency radio beacons for homing purposes. She knew that was what she wanted from the ships but she did not know what particular frequencies to specify. She therefore sought advise from the best local source available and arranged for herself and Noonan to meet with the top KLM airline communications man.
2. The KLM man did not speak English very well and was accustomed to talking in terms of wavelength and meters rather than frequency and kilocycles. From his service in the British Navy, Noonan was familiar with the wavelength/meters system so he and the KLM man did most of the talking. Earhart scribbled notes. Among them they developed the following plan:
(a) Ontario and Itasca would both use the same frequency but transmit at different times. This would allow Earhart to receive signals from both ships without the necessity of re-tuning her receiver. To avoid any uncertainty as to which ship’s signals were being received, Ontario would transmit the Morse code character for the letter “A” rather than the customary Morse “M O” as its homing signal. Itasca would transmit the Morse character for the letter “N” as its homing signal. These same characters (A and N) were used it identify the quadrants of the four-course radio ranges in the United States and Earhart could readily recognize them.
Apparently it was envisaged that there would be an overlap of signal coverage over a good part of the leg, and that Earhart would be able to take bearings alternately on the two stations and thus keep on course. The frequency chosen for Ontario and Itasca was 400 kilocycles, which is equivalent to a wavelength of 750 meters. It was a frequency assigned worldwide for aeronautical radionavigation and was an excellent choice. It probably was chosen over equally good frequencies in the same band because it was easy to remember and easy to find on the receiver tuning dial.
(b) Swan used the frequency of 333 kilocycles which is equivalent to a wavelength of 900 meters. Use it for voice communication with the plane if possible, but in any event be prepared to send homing signals on it. 333 kc was in the band allocated worldwide for aeronautical radio navigation and air-ground communications. It was widely used in Europe, the Commonwealth nations and other countries having close ties with Europe, as a calling frequency and for ground-air communications. Earhart had probably received on it during earlier legs of her flight but called it “nine hundred meters.” It was an excellent direction-finding frequency.
3. Noonan left the meeting satisfied that the radio navigational plans were adequate, or at least as good as could be developed.
4. Earhart went back to the hotel and drafted and dispatched her message of June 27 to Itasca (Black). She did not show the message to Noonan.
5. It had been difficult for Earhart to understand the adviser’s English, and she had experienced great difficulty in following the discussion as it shifted rapidly back and forth among “frequency,” “wavelength,” “megacycle,” “meter,” kilocycle,” etc. Perhaps too she was suffering from dysentery and was actually ill. Whatever the reason, the message she drafted suggested frequencies for the Swan and Itasca vastly different from those settled on in the meeting. Specifically:
(a) The frequency for Swan was changed from an intended 333 kilocycles (900 meters) to 900 kilocycles. One can readily deduce that the wavelength in meters was used but was labeled as frequency in kilocycles.
(b) The frequency for Itasca was changed from an intended 400 kilocycles (750 meters) to 7.50 megacycles. Again it appears that the figures for the wavelength in meters were used but labeled as a frequency.
Had normal air-ground communications existed between Itasca and the plane, the homing problem could almost certainly have been solved quickly. All that was needed was for Itasca to tell Earhart to home on 500 kHz, which frequency was already being transmitted (in addition to 7.50 MHz) by Itasca. She should have been able to get bearings on that frequency that would have taken her right in to the ship. Unfortunately she was unable to hear signals from Itasca on 3105 kHz, although the ship was hearing her well. It thus was impossible for Itasca and Earhart to coordinate their actions.
THE AIR/GROUND COMMUNICATION PROBLEM
Why could Earhart not hear Itasca‘s transmissions on 3105 kHz? Here again we probably shall never know for sure, but from the information which is available it is possible to hypothesize an answer which is reasonable and probably reflects quite accurately the actual situation. Following are some of the things that are known which are germane to the question:
1. There was but one radio receiver aboard the plane and it was used for both communication and radio direction finding purposes. There were two antennas aboard, a conventional fixed antenna and a rotatable shielded loop. Either of these, but not both simultaneously, could be connected to the input of the receiver by means of an antenna selector switch on the receiver. Radio signals could be received on either antenna but usually were stronger when using the fixed antenna, therefore it was the one generally used for communications. Direction finding could be done only when using the loop antenna.
2. The fixed antenna was used for both receiving and transmitting purposes. There was a so-called “send-receive” relay in the transmitter which switched the antenna back and forth between the units. Normally the antenna was connected to the receiver, but when the relay was energized by pushing the “push to talk” button on the microphone, the antenna was switched over to the to the transmitter and remained that way until the microphone button was released.
3. Energy from the loop antenna went directly to the antenna selector switch of the receiver. Energy from the fixed antenna passed through the “send-receive” relay mentioned above before reaching the antenna selector switch of the receiver.
4. The receiver had six frequency bands; however, the vacuum tubes, voltage determining resistors, bypass capacitors etc., were for the most part, common to all band, and it was rare that a single band would fail. It usually was none or all.
5. The radio equipment aboard the plane was checked at Lae by Harry Balfour, the Guinea Airways wireless operator, and was found satisfactory. The only unusual thing noted was a roughness of the transmitted signal on 6216 kHz, which made Earhart’s speech difficult to understand. Two-way communication was maintained during a 30-minute test hop at Lae.
6. After takeoff from Lae to Howland it appears that two-way communication with Lae was maintained until about 0720 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) (6 p.m. Lae time) July 2, at which time Earhart shifted to her “night” frequency (3105 kHz). Several times after that, throughout the night, she was heard by Nauru and Itasca broadcasting at the pre-arranged times, but little of what she said was intelligible. Nauru, and later Itasca, called her numerous times but there is no indication she heard any of the calls. At 1744 GMT (seven hours, 44 minutes into the flight), she asked Itasca for a bearing on 3105 kHz and made a signal upon which the bearing was to be taken. Itasca made a response but Earhart did not acknowledge receiving it. The same thing happened at 1815 GMT. At 1912 GMT (0742 Howland Island Time), Earhart said the following to Itasca:
“WE MUST BE ON YOU NOW BUT CANNOT SEE YOU. RUNNING OUT OF GAS. ONLY ONE-HALF HOUR LEFT (there is controversy about that phrase). BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO. WE ARE FLYING AT ONE THOUSAND FEET.”
At this time the signals from the plane were very strong. It is known that the Itasca was putting out strong signals and was on the correct frequency. (They were heard in San Francisco.) Therefore the statement “BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO” clearly indicated that a failure had occurred in her radio receiving system, and that it probably had occurred early in the flight. Inasmuch as she could still transmit it was obvious that the fixed antenna was intact; beyond that there was no clue as to the nature of the failure. That clue was given very shortly however. AT 1925 GCT Earhart asked Itasca to transmit signals “on 7500,” meaning 7.50 MHz. This indicated that she intended to take radio bearings on Itasca with the plane’s direction finder.
Itasca complied immediately and sent the desired homing signals. The transmitter had no radiotelephone capability so it was impossible to also talk with the plane by voice on that frequency. Earhart responded immediately saying, “WE RECEIVED YOUR SIGNALS ON SEVENTY FIVE HUNDRED BUT UNABLE TO GET A MINIMUM. PLEASE TAKE BEARING ON US AND ANSWER THREE FIVE NAUGHT FIVE (3105 intended) WITH VOICE.” This was followed by a series of long dashed on 3105 kHz on which bearings were expected to be taken by Itasca/Howland. This was the first (and only) time Earhart acknowledged hearing signals from Itasca. From the fact that Earhart asked for the homing signals it is clear that she intended to take a bearing, which could be done only with the loop antenna. From her report of hearing the homing signal but being unable to get a minimum on it, it is obvious that she, in fact, shifted the receiver to the loop antenna, and that the homing signals were received on the loop antenna.
Why could she receive 7500 kHz signals on the loop but not 3105 kHz on the fixed antenna? At the distances and time of day involved, propagation would not account for it, so something must have changed in the receiving system. Actually two changes had been made: (a) The receiver had been shifted from band IV which included 3105 kHz to Band V or VI, both of which included 7500 kHz and (b) The receiver had been shifted from the fixed antenna to the loop antenna.
It is possible that some component peculiar to band IV had failed making reception on that band impossible, whereas reception on other bands would be normal. However, as mentioned previously, the probability of that happening was small, therefore it is unlikely that shifting bands, per se, made the difference between not receiving and receiving signals. Shifting antennas however was a horse of a very different color. With the antenna selector switch in the “DF” position incoming signals picked up by the loop antenna went directly to the input of the receiver. With the switch in that position Earhart heard signals from Itasca.
With the antenna selector switch in the “FA” (Fixed Antenna) position, signals picked up by the fixed antenna did not go directly to the input of the receiver; instead they passed through contacts on the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter. With the switch in the “FA” position Earhart did not hear signals from Itasca. This indicates very strongly that signals from the fixed antenna were not reaching the receiver and that the receiver, in effect, had no antenna.
The feed line from the fixed antenna was in two sections. One was between the antenna and the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter. This section was used both for receiving and for transmitting. Earhart’s transmissions were being heard, therefore this section, including the “send” part of the relay, was functioning. The other section was between the receiver input and the “send/receive” relay, including the “receive” part of the relay. There appears to have been an open circuit or a complete “ground” in this section, either of which would have prevented the receiver from picking up signals.
It is possible that the wire in that section of the feed line broke or came loose from a binding post; however, that possibility is very small. It is much more likely that the trouble was in the “send/receive” relay. Those devices were subject to damage from several sources. Lightening or heavy static discharge sometimes burned the contacts completely off or welded them together. Contacts on the “receive” part of the relay were particularly subject to this type of damage. Mistuning of the transmitter or antenna sometimes caused arcing and subsequent pitting and sticking of contacts. And sometimes contacts would stick, or not make good contact, for no apparent reason.
It should not be implied from this that the relays were inherently unreliable; they were not. Most went hundreds of hours between routine replacement with no trouble, but occasionally one would fail. This appears to have been one of those times. In this writer’s judgment the odds are about 95 to 5 that Earhart was unable to hear Itasca on 3105 kHz because she was switched to the fixed antenna and the “send/receive” relay was defective on the receive side.
Had she shifted to the loop antenna she no doubt would have heard Itasca very well on 3105 kHz or whatever frequency the ship might be using and she was tuned to. It probably never occurred to her to do that, however. Earhart knew very little about the technical aspects of radio and consequently operated the gear by rote. Obviously she had been taught to turn the antenna selector switch to “FA” if she wanted to talk, and to “DF” if she wanted to take a bearing — and that is precisely what she did. (End of Part II of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio.”)
For the pilots and other technically astute readers among you, Almon Gray’s analysis might be easily understood, even if you disagree with some or all of his ideas. But for the lay person, which includes this writer, it’s not so easy to follow Gray’s narrative with clear comprehension. Just when I thought Gray was attributing Earhart’s radio failures to a misunderstanding about the meters and wavelengths that the “KLM man” was advising Earhart and Noonan to use during their meeting at Bandung, he launched into completely different set of reasons to explain the communications nightmare that was the final flight. I must admit that I don’t fully grasp the totality of Gray’s narrative thus far, and may never. Still, I think it’s important to present the important and unique work of experts like Almon Gray, regardless of how much I fail to understand.
In the final segment of “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” Gray will examine some of the possible “post-flight signals” that have long been sources of controversy and contention among researchers, take a closer look at Fred Noonan’s role in the proceedings, and present his well-informed conclusions. Please stay tuned.