Tag Archives: Earhart Electra 10E

Letter from 1937 Lockheed factory expert to Prymak: No unorthodox repairs were made to AE’s plane

Anyone who’s read extensively about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart has seen various claims that, while in the Lockheed repair facility in Burbank, Calif., following the March 16, 1937 Hawaii crash on takeoff, the Electra underwent special modifications that would allow the plane to accommodate aerial reconnaissance cameras in order to best prepare it for a covert spy mission.  Special cameras were allegedly installed, and new, more powerful power plants replaced the standard  Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600 hp engines.  While it’s not the purpose of this post to present the various claims that have been made in this regard, I’ve not seen any substantive evidence to support these assertions.  

An even more outrageous asseveration came in Joe Klaas’ 1970 bombshell, Amelia Earhart Lives, wherein his friend Joe Gervais said there was no record of what became of the Lockheed XC-35 Electra, the first successful enclosed-cabin, pressurized airplane, capable of altitudes up to 40,000 feet, and suggested it could have been used by Earhart during her last flight.  Klaas then theorized that Earhart could have “switched” from her own Electra to the XC-35 to fly a photographic spy mission, and that Lockheed could have built two XC-35s, one of which Earhart and Noonan flew on their special mission.  In fact, the only Lockheed XC-35 ever built, with commercial serial number 3105 and military serial number 36-353, was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1948, and has remained there until this day.  For more on Klaas, Gervais and the XC-35, please click here. 

The XC-35, in flight near Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in August 1937, was an Electra 10A similar to Amelia Earhart’s but reconfigured by Lockheed engineers working with a team from the Army Air Corps.  According to Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas in Amelia Earhart Lives, another XC-35 was produced and exchanged for Earhart’s Electra 10E at an airfield north of Lae, New Guinea, shortly after takeoff July 2, 1937, as part of a spy mission.

The following letter appeared in the July 1998 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, from former Lockheed specialist David Kenyon to Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak, and will not silence the fading echoes of the Earhart Electra conspiracy theorists.  But Kenyon’s letter does buttress other credible evidence arguing against the spy cameras, souped-up engines and other alleged special adjustments Earhart’s Electra supposedly underwent in order to operate at a higher level on a covert mission, one that nonetheless wasn’t good enough to prevent her landing at Mili Atoll, where she was soon grabbed up by the Japanese military and taken to Saipan.  (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)

Bill Prymak’s note: David Kenyon is our “person on scene” in the Lockheed factory in 1937 during the repairs to AE’s “ship,” as they called it then.  We asked poignant question re: his tenure, rumors of a 2nd Earhart Electra 10E and a 2nd XC-35 (see note below letter), the skunks works and his role in the repair of Amelia’s crashed ship in Hawaii.

David H. Kenyon
2165 Greenview Street
Eugene, Oregon 97401-2393

July 13, 1998

Dear Bill,

Thanks for your letter of the 6th that I will now respond to in the order of your questions:

1.  On January 4, 1937 I began my 40 year career with Lockheed Aircraft, retiring in 1977 as a Marketing Director.

My role as an observer of the Amelia Earhart Hawaiian accident repairs was very limited.  At the time I was employed as an assembler apprentice in the Wing and Tail Department assembling the Model 10 wing spars and the Model 12 stabilizers.

I was not qualified to repair the AE empennage when it came to our department.  I simply observed a lead man cutting and removing damaged Alclad skin for reconstruction of the frame in the jigs.  I managed to secure a piece of the upper stabilizer’s skin which I still have.  I don’t recall whether I saw the plane in the final assembly department later.

2.  I recall being able to walk thru the various departments of the factory to visit friends and see what was going on during a lunch break as in those prewar days there really weren’t many secrets in the 1,000 employee work force.  In 1937 the Model 10 hit a high of 44 planes built tapering off before the Model 12 and 14 planes were produced.

Amelia with brand-new Electra, July 1936.  Note “dark signature” in rear half of the left vertical rudder.  The dark signature stayed with the plane throughout its repairs and during its world flight attempt. 

I really doubt that a covert Model 10E was built since the employees would have known about [it] given the above circumstances.  No section of that small plant was hidden from casual view.  If a second XC-35 were produced it certainly would have had to go thru most of the Model 10 assembly jigs. *

I remember being able to walk through the separate enclosed area where the XC-35 finishing work proceeded.  The L.A. Times referred to it as a SECRET plane when they photographed it upon quiet roll out on our open ramp.  To obtain a covert additional plane it would have been easier and less expensive to have bought a used plane from some other operator.  However, after all these years it seems logical that some trace of the first plane would have surfaced.

3.  The Lockheed Skunk Works probably did not come into existence until the XP-38 was constructed in 1939 in a closed area of the factory.

4.  The XC-35 was the product of a one plane contract, see enclosed excerpts from Lockheed reports nos. 1650 and 9374 and Master Schedule chart delineating the single XC-35 dated 1963.

5.  No unorthodox repairs could have been made to A.E’s plane since they would have to reflect conformance to existing blueprints and repair manualsThe enclosed copy of a Lockheed 3-3-37 blueprint clearly shows the 6 fuselage tank fillers.  The enclosed photo depicts these openings as well.  The photo on page 28 of your March 1989 Newsletter clearly shows a rectangular tank under the A.E. plane.  So all the evidence seems to rule out a singular circular tank.  (Editor’s note: I don’t have the March 1989 Newsletter, as it’s not among those in the Assemblage of AES Newsletters, which covers issues from Fall 1990 to June 2002, nor was the referenced Lockheed 3-3-37 blueprintincluded with Kenyon’s letter.)

6.  During Dick Merrill’s EAL [Eastern Air Lines] Electra flight from London to New York with the coronation films in 1936, he may have utilized extra tanks.

7.  I have no knowledge of the numbers painted on Electras delivered to Australia and New Zealand. Suggest writing to Pat Donovan, Lockheed Aircraft Owners Club, as he has some lists of current A/C.

Bill, I look forward to your visit this summer and given some advance notice can arrange to be on hand to extend full hospitality.

With best regards,

David

The aft pressure bulkhead of the XC-35. The XC-35 was fitted with two Pratt & Whitney XR-1340-43 engines of 550 hp (410 kW) each compared to the two Pratt & Whitney R-985-13 of 450 hp (336 kW) fitted to the base Model 10 Electra.  The engines featured a turbo supercharger to permit the engines to operate in thin air at high altitudes.  This system was able to maintain a cabin altitude of 12,000 feet while flying at 30,000 feet.

* From Wikipedia:

The Lockheed XC-35 is a twin-engine, experimental pressurized airplane.  It was the second American aircraft to feature cabin pressurization.  It was initially described as a supercharged cabin by the Army.  The distinction of the world’s first pressurized aircraft goes to a heavily modified Engineering Division USD-9A which flew in the United States in 1921.  The XC-35 was a development of the Lockheed Model 10 Electra that was designed to meet a 1935 request by the United States Army Air Corps for an aircraft with a pressurized cabin.

The XC-35 was delivered to Wright Field, Ohio in May 1937, made its first performance flight on August 5, and was involved in an extensive flight testing program for which the Army Air Corps was awarded the Collier Trophy.  The lessons learned from the XC-35 played a key role in the development of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and the B-29 Superfortress which was to be the first mass-produced pressurized aircraft.

The Air Corps brass were so confident in the new technology that they allowed the XC-35 to be used as an executive transport for Louis Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of War and future Secretary of Defense.  The XC-35 was donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in 1948 and remains there in long-term storage.

Paul Rafford’s “Howland Island Fly-By”: Phase II

We continue with Phase II, the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s response to questions about his unique theory, in this case a true “conspiracy theory in the Earhart disappearance, the “Howland Island Fly-By.”  Rafford’s thesis appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Bill Prymak, AES founder and president is designated as “AES” throughout; Rafford’s answers are seen simply as “A.”  (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)

PHASE II – THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS

AES – You believe that the mysterious voice transmissions heard for three days after Earhart’s disappearance were also pre-recorded?

A – Yes.  These were interspersed with some very poorly transmitted radio code to simulate what listeners might expect Earhart’s sending to sound like.

AES – But, today we know that she had left her radio key back in Miami, right?

A – Yes.  It was located in a locker at Pan Am weeks later.

Paul Rafford Jr. at 95, the elder statesman of Earhart researchers, who passed away in December 2016 at 97As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford was uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities, and his Earhart disappearance theories are perhaps the most unique and compelling in the entire Earhart pantheon.

AES – What would have been the purpose of these radio calls?

A – They would have lent credence to the theory that Earhart had survived and was calling for help.  This in turn would justify the Navy’s vast search.  I remember the public clamor to find her.

AES – Where was the transmitter that sent out the calls?

A – Our best evidence indicates that it was on Gardner Island in the Phoenix group.  It is now called Nikumaroro.  When plotted, bearings taken on the station by the Pan Am direction finding stations bracket the island.  I illustrate the details on my chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS.  A search plane sent to investigate reported signs of recent habitation but saw no one on the island.  However, this information was not released to the public at the time.

AES – Do you believe the same type transmitter was used for both the PBY and Gardner transmissions?

A – No.  Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, who handled the direction finder on Howland, reported the plane’s transmissions to be stable and on frequency.  In contrast, the Gardner transmitter was slightly off frequency and very unstable.  Also, to cover the Pacific as it did, higher power was required.  My computer analysis puts the power at 100 watts or more.

AES – What sort of transmitter do you believe was set up on Gardner?

A – When Karl Pierson recently described what the signal sounded like, I was immediately reminded of the transmitter we flew to Liberia right after Pearl Harbor to support South Atlantic aeronautical communication.  It was a 100 watt model that Pan Am used at outlying stations in the 1930s.  We powered it with a one-cylinder gasoline generator that the operator had to kick start before going on the air.

Its stability was on a par with what Karl describes but it did not operate on radiotelephone.  However, a simple modification could have been made that would allow it to be modulated enough to produce the speech quality reported by the various listeners, that is, “highly distorted.”

Karl also reported that when the transmitter was sending voice he could hear what appeared to be a gasoline engine running in the background, — but not an airplane engine.

AES – Why do you believe  that recordings of Earhart’s voice were used instead of announcements by another woman, either live or recorded?

A – Because three different individuals who knew Earhart’s voice identified it when they heard the transmissions.  Two were reported aboard the Itasca when she supposedly flew by Howland.  The third was radio engineer Karl Pierson in Los Angeles who listened to the voice during the nights following her disappearance.  He and his colleagues had monitored her transmissions during her flight from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1935.

Of course, the Navy could have substituted a sound alike woman and trained her to simulate Earhart’s manner of speaking.  But, the fewer people involved in a top-secret venture, the better.  Having Earhart do the recordings herself before the flight would have been the best way to ensure secrecy.

A view of Howland Island that Amelia Earhart never enjoyed.  The island, a property of the United States, remains uninhabited, but remains quite popular among the various wildlife that nest and forage there.

AES – You say Earhart’s last two-way conversation was when she signed off with Harry Balfour seven hours into the flight.  How can we be sure that all subsequent transmissions were not recordings?

A – We can’t be sure.  Every one of her transmissions from that time on is suspectHer contact with Balfour on 6210 khz advising that she was signing off with him and switching to 3105 may have been the last time Earhart was ever heard on a “live” radio.

AES – Why were certain transmissions clear while others were highly distorted?

A – It depended upon what the mission script called for at that particular time.  In those cases where the plane passed specific information to Lae, Nauru and Howland, they were clear.  Otherwise, they were weak or distorted.  I believe this was deliberately intended to confuse the listeners.

AES – You say information was passed to Nauru?

A – Yes.  T.H. Cude, Director of Police on Nauru, claimed that he heard Earhart say on 3105 that she had the lights of the island in sight.  However, in the search report this is recorded as “lights in sight ahead.”  Later, various investigators read the report and then made their own interpretations.  Some concluded that the lights were those of the USS Ontario, on station midway between Lae and Howland waiting for her to over-fly.  Others concluded they were the SS Myrtlebank, southwest of Nauru and due to arrive the following morning.

AES – Do you believe Earhart sent her Nauru sighting messages liveor were they recordings transmitted by Naval Intelligence?

A – From the evidence we have I would hesitate to support either theory.

AES – But, you are suggesting that Earhart may never have come near Nauru?

A – Yes.  She may well have been following another route to an unknown destination after she signed off with Harry Balfour at Lae.

AES – Then what would have been the purpose of these messages?

A – They would establish for the record that Earhart was apparently passing Nauru on schedule even though she may not have been anywhere in the area.

AES – You mean that if the Japanese were intercepting her radio transmissions this bit of disinformation — if it was disinformation — would lead them to believe that Earhart was actually following the flight plan that she had announced to the news media?

A – That’s as good a way of putting it as any.  Incidentally, with the exception of Cude’s intercept, listeners on Nauru reported that even though the plane’s signals became increasingly strong as it apparently approached the island, they were never able to understand the words.

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

AES – On your chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS, you show that twelve hours after the Itasca last heard the plane, listeners on Nauru heard a woman’s voice on 6210.  But, again they could not understand what she said.  What is your comment about this?

A – They also reported that although the voice sounded the same as the night before, this time they could hear “no hum of engines in the background.”  I believe this transmission was the first in a series of covert signals that lasted three nights.  However, Nauru was the only station to hear this transmission.  This leads me to believe that other covert transmitters besides Gardner were involved in the operation after Earhart disappeared They may have been located on planes, submarines or even uninhabited islands like Gardner.

AES – What was the purpose of these calls?

A – They were designed to convince listeners that Earhart was safely down somewhere.  But, because they could not understand her words, the search team would not know where to look.  As a result, they had no choice but to search the whole Central Pacific — exactly what the mission planners had intended to happen.

AES – Who in government do you believe knew about the secret nature of Earhart’s flight?

A – No doubt the President knew the details because she was a frequent guest at the White House.  I suspect the plan originated with him.

Others who knew would be the Naval Intelligence team assigned to carry out the mission plans plus top people in the Department of the Interior that administered our Pacific Islands.  I doubt that anyone in the Coast Guard knew.

AES – Why do you believe that the President had anything to do with the Earhart mission?

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.  Bellarts told researchers that Earhart’s radio signal “was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” 

A – Because of her remark to Mark Walker, Pan Am pilot and Naval Reserve officer.  Mark had been assigned to work with Earhart and Noonan on the Pacific phase of their flight.  When he warned her of the dangers she replied that she had not proposed it.  Someone high in government had personally asked her to undertake the mission.

AES – You mention that [Itasca Radioman 3rd Class] Bill Galten had his doubts about what was going on after his many calls to the plane were ignored.  Why were he and others involved in the search not more outspoken about their doubts?

A – Because the Navy classified the logs and records.

AES – Why were they classified?

A – There were several reasons.  Classifying them would not only keep the public from reviewing them and asking sensitive questions, but it would prevent those in the services who might have answers from revealing what they knew.  World War II was imminent and we needed all the information about the Pacific islands that we could gather.  But, of course, we could not reveal our information gathering activities to a potential enemy. 

Next, where Earhart was concerned it was imperative for political reasons not to allow the public to suspect that their heroine might have lost her life while serving on a top secret government mission.  Not only might this have cost Roosevelt the next election but it could have provided powerful anti-war factions in the United States with enough ammunition to seriously delay our preparations for the world wide conflict that was about to break out.

As incredible as it now seems in the light of history, over 50 percent of those polled in a national survey just before Pearl Harbor refused to believe America was in any danger of an attack from Japan!

AES – The Itasca’s logs and the Navy’s records were not declassified until twenty-five years later, right?

A – Yes, but the classification was only at the CONFIDENTIAL level.  We have never been able to determine if there were any with a higher classification.  But if there were I doubt that they exist today.

AES – Why do you say this?

A – Because, as a friend of mine with former Naval Intelligence connections puts it, “Poor Ollie North, his downfall came about because he had to keep records!”

AES – So, where do you believe Earhart finally landed?

A – I can only refer you to the host of theories that have been advanced through the years.  They vary all the way from Earhart and Noonan simply getting lost and running out of gas near Howland to landing on a Japanese held island where they were taken prisoner.

But, one thing seems certain.  Wherever they finally ended up it was not where the mission planners intended.

I doubt we will ever know for sure! (End of Rafford interview.)

Rafford’s comparison of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s ill-advised record-keeping during the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal of the late 1980s, to the Earhart case is pure speculation and not a reliable assessment about the existence or non-existence of top-secret files on the Earhart disappearance. 

We have strong evidence that suggests top-secret Earhart files still existed in the early 1960s, when the Kennedy administration actually allowed Fred Goerner and Ross Game to view them clandestinely.  See my Dec. 20, 2019 post,Game letter suggests possible Earhart burial sitefor a discussion, or Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Edition), pages 271, 272.

In ’85 letter, eyewitness describes Earhart’s takeoff, Insists Noonan “had no drink” before last flight

Bob Iredale, Socony-Vacuum Corp. manager at Lae, New Guinea, spent two days with Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan before the last leg of their world flight attempt in early July 1937.  In this 1985 missive, he offers Fred Goerner a firsthand account of their last takeoff, plus his opinion about what happened later.  The following letter appeared in the November 1998 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society NewslettersBoldface emphasis mine throughout.

793 Esplanade
Mornington
Victoria Aust. 3931
July 28, 1985

Dear Mr. Goerner,

Through good work by Australia Post, I received your letter 15 days after your post date of July 11.  I am glad to be able to assist your research about Amelia Earhart, as I have read many views by writers, example, spying for the U.S. against Japanese in the Marianas, beheaded by the Japs, still alive in the U.S., etc., etc., all of which to me is a lot of sensationalist garbage.

C.K. Gamble was president of the Vacuum Oil Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Standard Vacuum, when he was a young man.  Fred Haig, our Aviation officer, and I knew him quite well, then and later.  Up until a year ago I chatted to him about Amelia many times and he recorded the views I’ll relate to you.  Fred left the Planet over 12 months ago, hence no response to your letters.  He was in his 80s.

KCBS newsman and bestselling author Fred Goerner, right, with the talk show host Art Linkletter, circa 1966, shortly before the establishment media, beginning with Time magazine, turned on Goerner and panned his great book, The Search for Amelia Earhart, telling readers, in essence, “Move along, Sheeple, nothing to see here.”

Yes, I fueled the Lockheed and did it personally.  Fred had arranged 20 x 44 gallon drums of Avgas 80 octane shipped out to us from California many months before.  I can assure you all tanks were absolutely full — the wing tanks and those inside the fuselage.  After she had done a test flight, I topped them up again before her final take-off.  I think she took somewhere around 800 gallons all up.  Fred Noonan was with me at the fueling and checked it out.  He was also with me when we changed the engine oil, as was Amelia.  I enclose a much faded photo, me in white, Fred in brown, and Amelia leaning on the trailing edge of the wing.  [Photo not available.]

You are aware that because of an unfavorable weather forecast from Darwin (some 700 miles SW of Lae), of at least 2 days, Amelia decided on a two-day layover at Lae.  She stayed with Eric Chater, General Manager of Guinea Airways, and Fred with Frank Howard and myself at Voco House.  Frank and I shared quite a large bungalow as the two representatives of Vacuum Oil in N.G.  He died, unfortunately, in 1962.  As was our custom, we had a drink in the evening — 90 degrees F, and 95 percent humidity made it that way. 

We asked Fred if he would join us the first night, and his comment was, “I’ve been 3 parts around the world without a drink and now we are here for a couple of days, I’ll have one.  Have you a Vat 69?”  I did happen to have one so the three of us knocked it off.  He confessed to Amelia next morning he had a bit of a head, and her comment was, “Naughty boy, Freddie.”  That was the only drink session we had, and to suggest he was inebriated before they took off is mischievous nonsense.  I can assure you or anyone he had no drink for at least 24 hours before take-off.

We talked a lot about his experience as a Captain on the China Clippers flying from the West Coast to China, and he told us of his expertise in Astro-navigation, amongst other things.  We all talked about ourselves, and he showed great interest in our life at Lae.  He came around our little depot, where we stored drums of petrol, oil, and kerosene in the jungle to keep the sun off, etc.  He told us how keen Amelia was to write a book about the flight, and the different people. 

In the two days at Lae, she tried to learn pidgin English and talk to the [natives], and about her ability wherever they landed to take the cowls off the engines and do a Daily Inspection.  A remarkable woman, and he has great admiration for her ability.  He spent a lot of time with me in Guinea Airways hanger, and around the airfield, looking at the JU31’s, the tri-motored metal Junkers planes that flew our produce and the dredge up to Bulolo, how they were loaded with cranes and all that.

Guinea Airways employee Alan Board is credited with this photo of the Electra just before leaving the ground on its takeoff from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937.  This is the last known photo of the Earhart Electra.

Their final take-off was something to see. We had a grass strip some 900/1000 yards long, one end the jungle, the other the sea.  Amelia tucked the tail of the plane almost into the jungle, brakes on, engines full bore, and let go.  They were still on the ground at the end of the strip.  It took off, lowered toward the water some 30 feet below, and the props made ripples on the water.  Gradually they gained height, and some 15 miles out, I guess they may have been at 200 feet.  The radio operator at Guinea Airways kept contact by Morse for about 1,000 miles where they were on course at 10,000 feet, and got out of range.

In 1940, I joined the Australian Air Force as a pilot, trained in Canada, and operated in England with the RAF before being promoted to a Wing Commander, commanding an Australian Mosquito Squadron attached to the 2nd Tactical Air Force.  I did 70 missions in all sorts of weather, awarded Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, French Croix de Guerre with Palm for blowing up a prison in France, and other operations for the French.  I mention this only as that experience confirmed what I believe happened to Amelia.  It is just another view.

The possibility is that they ran into bad weather, 10/10th cloud up to 30,000 feet at the equator, which negated Fred’s ability of Astro-navigation; he would have relied on DR navigation where wind can put you 50 miles off course, cloud base too low to get below it because the altimeter is all to hell if you do not know the barometric pressure, and to see a searchlight provided by a U.S. Cruiser under those circumstances would be impossible.  My guess is they got to where Howland Island should have been in the dark, spent an hour looking for it, before having to ditch somewhere within a 50 mile radius of Howland.  I find it hard to accept anything else.

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

I hope I have not bored you.  If I can provide anything at all beyond these comments, do write.  As long as I am above ground, I’ll reply.

Sincerely,

Bob Iredale

P.S. Can I get your first book in Australia?

Doubtless Iredale could have obtained The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner’s only book, in Australia, though the shipping and handling charges might have been a bit stiff.  He certainly needed to read it closely, considering his closing statement, “My guess is they got to where Howland Island should have been in the dark, spent an hour looking for it, before having to ditch somewhere within a 50 mile radius of Howland.  I find it hard to accept anything else.”

Perhaps Iredale’s most important contribution in this letter is his up-close-and-personal account of drinking Vat 69 with Fred Noonan two nights before the doomed fliers took off, and his assurance to Goerner, that “he had no drink for at least 24 hours before take-off.”

For an extensive examination of the always-controversial issue of Noonan’s drinking, please see my Jan. 6, 2015 post, Fred Noonan’s drinking: In search of the true story.”

I don’t believe I have Goerner’s reply to Iredale, but if anyone out there does, please let me know and I’ll be glad to post it.

E.H. Dimity’s “Grounds for Earhart Search,” Part II

Today we conclude the two-part analysis of E.H. ElmerDimity, of Round The World Flightcover fame, who had an opinion on just about everything related to Amelia’s last flight, including the enigmatic post-flight messages,as you will soon see.  Thanks again to the late, great researcher Bill Prymak for preserving this historical treasure from the ever-receding days of 1939.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

“Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart” (Part II of Two)
by E.H. Dimity, August 1939

At 3:15 in the morning after her takeoff Miss Earhart broadcast “cloudy weather,” and again, an hour later, she told the Itasca that it was “overcast,” and asked the cutter to signal her on the hour and half hour.

More than an hour later, at 4:42 a.m., the Earhart plane indicated for the first time that it might be off course, and made its first futile plea for aid in learning its position.  The plane asked, Want bearings on 3105 KC on the hour.  Will whistle into the microphone.

Half an hour passed, and Miss Earhart again said, Please take a bearing on us and report in half will make noise into the microphone.  About 100 miles out. Miss Earhart apparently thought she was 100 miles from Howland Island.

The Itasca could not give her any bearing, because its direction finder could not work on her wavelength.

An hour later, at 7:42 a.m., Miss Earhart said, We must be on you but cannot see you.  Gas is running low.  Have been unable to reach you by radio.  We are flying at 1,000 feet.

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca  during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.

This was a little more than 15 hours after the takeoff.  The ship carried 1,150 gallons of gas, enough for about 17 hours in the air under normal conditions.* Perhaps the plane had encountered heavier weather earlier, or in just bucking the headwinds had used more gas than anticipated.  At any rate, Miss Earhart must have flown about 1,300 miles from the point of her first known position, when she first said her gas was running low.

* AES calculates 24-25 hours.

This distance, with perfect navigation, should have taken her to Howland Island, and that without doubt is the reason she said, “We must be on you.”  If the plane had hit its mark, why could she not see the island or the Itasca, with a clear sky and unlimited visibility?  Even a smoke screen laid down by the cutter to help guide her evidently escaped her view.  It is impossible that she was where she thought she was . . . near Howland.

Although Miss Earhart reported at 11:13 a.m. that she had fuel left for another half hour in the air, the contact was poor and no land fall position was heard.

Fifteen minutes later she said, We are circling, but cannot see island. Cannot hear you, and asked for aid in getting her bearings.  This plea she repeated five minutes later.

It will be recalled that at 11:12 Miss Earhart said she had only a half-hour’s fuel left, but an hour later, at 12:13 she called the Itasca to report, “We are in line of position 157 dash 337.  Will repeat this message on 6210 KC.  We are running north and south.”

Unfortunately, the position she gave had no meaning for those on the cutter or elsewhere, because it failed to give the all-important reference point for computing her bearing.  What the figures meant, and why they were incomplete, can only be guessed.

An important point that should be noted is that the plane direction finder evidently was not working as well as it should for she could not cut in on the agreed frequencies.  Another fact that is perhaps of significance is that when Miss Earhart reported half-hour fuel — the Itasca estimated that she should have about four hours fuel supply.  It is probable that she barely had gas enough to reach Howland, although she thought she was there at 11:20 a.m. when she circled trying to pick up land.

The 12:13 message was the last heard from the plane in the air.  It was next heard shortly before 11 p.m. of the same day, in Los Angeles, long after the plane must have been down.

The reader will note that nearly 11 hours elapsed between the time the plane, still in the air, was last heard by the Itasca, and its signals were again heard in Los Angeles.  There are factors involved which probably explain this lapse.

First is the fact that radio short waves go up, at an angle, until they reach what is called the heavyside layer of ionized air, in the stratosphere, then bounce back to earth, many miles from the point where they originated.  There may be a dead spot in between, where the signals may not be heard.  This is called “skip distance,” in radio circles, and it accounts for the fact that a close-in receiver may not hear signals which are received clearly a thousand miles or more away.

Nellie Donohoe, Oakland Postmaster, with Amelia Earhart and E. H. Dimity with the special postal envelopes stamped for Earhart’s world flight, ca. March 1937.  (George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.)

Broadcasting from land, the Earhart plane might not have been received by the Itasca, in the vicinity, while the messages were picked up thousands of miles away.  This effect ofskip distancedid occur, as will be shown later, and the Itasca had to rely on distant receivers to get any messages from the plane when it was down.

Another factor is that it is useless in Los Angeles to try to tune in during the daytime on signals west or southwest of the Hawaiian Islands.  Signals from this part of the world can only be heard at certain times.

When they learned that the Earhart plane was overdue, Lockheed Aircraft telephoned Walter McMenamy, her radio contact man who had picked up her signals before when others could not get them, and asked that he listen.  That night, McMenamy and Karl Pierson, radio manufacturer and nationally known radio wave expert, began a vigil which lasted nearly a week, and which was rewarded by reception of signals which McMenamy positively identified as being from Earhart’s plane.

Shortly before 11 p.m. on July 5, McMenamy and Pierson picked up a weak signal on Miss Earhart’s frequency, 6210 kc, but it was not strong enough to be understood.  On another set in the room, tuned to 3105 kc, the listeners shortly thereafter heard two distinctly different signals, one from the Itasca and the other from the plane.  Evidently the Itasca could not hear the plane, but two different stations definitely were transmitting on that wave length at that time.

Two hours later, at 1 a.m., McMenamy and Pierson heard the code signals “SOS-SOS-SOS KHAQQ” (the Earhart plane’s call letters), on one of her frequencies, and McMenamy positively states that he could identify the signals as from the plane, although they were poorly sent.

Radio short-wave listeners learn to detect from the sound of a transmitter the approximate location of its source.  This characteristic sound is called the carrier.  The swell and fade of the carrier is as familiar as a voice to the operator.

Being well acquainted with the characteristic noise of Miss Earhart’s transmitter, which he helped install, McMenamy can state with authority that the signals heard on her wavelength came from her plane.

The first SOS was repeated over and over again for five minutes, followed by steady transmission which was unreadable because of fading bursts of static, and poor sending.  Three radio operators were present when these signals were heard, and they were able to distinguish the following cryptic numbers: 173 . . . 1 . . . 8,which were of no assistance to the searchers.

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was anchored off Howland Island on July 2, 1937 to help Amelia Earhart find the island and land safely at the airstrip that had been prepared there for her Lockheed Electra 10E.

Again at 6 a.m. on July 3, 17 hours after her disappearance, a steady carrier was picked up on one of Miss Earhart’s wavelengths, and was heard intermittently for 20 minutes, but the signals were too weak to be understood.  Within ten minutes another carrier was heard, much stronger and with a woman’s voice which McMenamy did identify as that of Miss Earhart, saying, “KHAQQ CALLING SOS.”  During the three minutes in which this continued, McMenamy heard the words “SOUTHWEST HOWLAND,” and the operators reported also hearing the definite sound of an airplane motor running, through the speech.  It is possible that the right motor of the plane was turning in order that the batteries would not run down completely.

These calls were sufficiently loud to be heard on the loudspeaker, and by coincidence at this time Mr. Pete Pringle, managing news editor of station KNX, called McMenamy by telephone to check on reports.  Mr. Pringle heard, over the telephone, the woman’s voice through the loudspeaker, and when he went on the air over his station half an hour later he told his audience that he could confirm the reports that Miss Earhart’s voice was heard requesting help.  He had heard it himself.

At 8:43 a.m. the carrier heard on her other frequency, 3105 kc, became strong enough to distinguish a man’s voice and the letters KHAQQ, only once.

The same morning, that of July 3, the British ship HMS Achilles reported the following message: At 11:33 a.m. we heard an unknown station make a report as follows: Please give us a few dashes if you get us. This was heard on 3105 kc (Miss Earhart’s frequency).  The station then repeated ‘KHAQQ’ twice, then disappeared.  Nothing more was heard from it.”  This was the Earhart frequency and her call letters  . . .  heard by a British ship in the Pacific many hours after she undoubtedly was down somewhere.

Nothing further was heard until the following day, July 4, two days after the plane disappeared.  Then station KGMB in Honolulu heard the message she was to send three long dashes if on land, and four long dashes if on water.  It was not known to the station that she could not broadcast from water.

In the response to the broadcast, long dashes and a strong carrier on the Earhart 3105 frequency was reported.  At about this same time, the government monitor,which is Uncle Sam’s listening post for air communication in San Francisco, reported heating a strong carrier on the other Earhart frequency, and this was heard on three receivers with directional beam antennas which indicated a position west of the Pacific Coast.

HMS Achilles was a Leander-class light cruiser which served with the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Second World War, the second of five in the class.  Originally constructed by the Royal Navy, she was loaned to New Zealand in 1936 before formally joining the new Royal New Zealand Navy in 1941.

The monitorstation reported shortly before midnight hearing the cutter Itasca calling the Earhart plane, asking the plane to answer.  Shortly after, a carrier was heard on the Earhart frequency, and this was repeated at approximately 15 to 20 minutes each hour until 8:05 the following morning.

During this time, and at 4:30 a.m. July 5, McMenamy, Pierson, and other operators they had called in, picked up the Earhart signals once more, the first they had received in two days.  They reported first hearing the Itasca ask the Earhart plane to send four long dashes and then give a bearing.  Almost immediately and on the plane frequency, the operators heard three long dashes.  Fifteen minutes later the Itasca repeated its request, and again the answer came back with THREE long dashes, ending with a decided sputtering or tippling.

It will be recalled that the Honolulu station KGMB had asked the plane to send THREE long dashes if on land, FOUR if on water.  It appears possible that Earhart and Noonan sent THREE dashes in answer to the Itasca call to prove they were on land, perhaps in desperation after nearly three days without sighting any searchers.

The sputtering or tippling, heard at the end of the Earhart message is interpreted by McMenamy as meaning that the batteries of the plane were nearly exhausted.  When, five minutes later, the Itasca again asked the plane to give four dashes, no answer was heard.

At 5:17 this same morning, July 5, the San Franciscomonitorstation heard the cutter calling KHAQQ, the Earhart call sign, requesting the dashes and shortly afterward a carrier and a man’s voice was heard on the Earhart frequency.  The voice was indistinguishable but for one word: ONE. This word was distinguished at the end of a transmission two minutes in length.  The Press Wireless also reported hearing signals, which could not be identified, on the Earhart frequency at 5:15 a.m.

Howland Island, likewise, reported hearing KHAQQ that morning, at 10:45 a.m., the portion of the message that was heard indicating a bearing of 281, with no reference point and therefore of no help.

Pan American Airways also, on this morning, reported hearing the plane signal, with a radio bearing at 144 degrees Wake Island.

The next reported radio reception was by Louis Messier, a cooperating operator in Los Angeles, the following morning, July 6, at 3:30 a.m. — a weak, unidentified code signal, sent very slowly on the Earhart plane frequency, and ending with a pronounced ripple.”  This message was logged as follows: 17  mo . . u . . 4 . . southwest . . 1 . . 53 . . rel . . 13 . . ja . . so . . not . . nx . . equen . . 170 . . sou . . sec . . will . . son . . most . . new . . sou . .

While no one understands this jargon, it is important because it might have been Miss Earhart trying to give her position, even though it was quite probable she did not know where she was.

The next morning, July 6, McMenamy and Pierson heard their last sounds from the Earhart frequency, a rippling carrier at 1:13 a.m.  This same effect was reported heard from 8:17 to 10:37 a.m. the same day, by amateur stations in Honolulu.

This was the official flight plan, 2,556 statute miles from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island.  The 337-157 line of position, or sun line, passed through the Phoenix Islands, near Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, and the popular theory, though completely false, is in part attributable to this phenomena.  (Taken from Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday: The Facts Without the Fiction.)

These details of the radio reports are given because they prove beyond a doubt that the Earhart plane broadcast during four or five days after it was down.  The signals were heard in various parts of the western hemisphere by several stations.  When saying that one operator might have imagined the signals, it could be possible, but it is too much to believe that all did, including government and ship operators.

The layman might ask if it is not possible that the signals were a cruel hoax by some criminally insane operator.  This possibility is ruled out definitely by the fact that there was no other transmitter in that part of the world which could have sent the signals.

Conclusive proof then exists that the Earhart plane landed safely, or at least that its occupants and its radio apparatus were unharmed, somewhere on land in the South Pacific.  If on an island, where and why were they not found?

It has been pointed out before that there are hundreds of islands in the area where the plane might have come down.  The two principal groups near Howland Island are the Gilbert and Phoenix groups.  The cutters Itasca and Swan spent not quite two days searching the Gilbert group, they reported.  But the group contains 16 islands, shown on the map, and perhaps others, strewn along a distance of more than 400 miles.  How could cutters, traveling at about 12 knots an hour, adequately search all the islands of this group, 800 miles up and down their length, in two days?  They could steam about the length of the islands and back, in that time, without stopping

An unproductive search by air was also made, under circumstances which rendered a complete investigation impossible, of the Phoenix group, 500 miles south and east of Howland, and about 300 miles long by 180 miles wide and containing 10 charted islands in its 65,000 square miles.

The Ellice Islands, about 600 miles southwest of Howland, were not searched at all nor were hundreds of other islands in the vicinity, and back over the course to Lae.  It was also reported that inhabitants were interviewed, on the two or three islands of the Gilbert group where humans live, and they reported no knowledge of the plane.  This, again, is no proof.  Who has seen or heard an airplane for more than 20 or 30 miles?  Many islands in the group are hundreds of miles from the nearest humans.

This story and the below map appeared in the now defunct Chicago Daily Tribune on July 3, 1937.

There are two schools of thought about the disappearance of the Earhart plane.  Each cannot be right.  One is that the plane was lost at sea.  The other is represented by this memorandum.  As to the first, is it not perfectly natural that even those closest and among the most dear to the missing flyers, with the evidence of the Navy search of the sea close to Howland Island, would prefer to think that the flight had come to an end — to avoid the life-long torture of a question in their minds?  The facts as related have been to intrude such a question.  No comfort, then, could come from the facts, and the mind would seek to shut them out, in favor of the peace that comes from resignation.

In an effort to reconstruct what might have happened, let us review the possibilities.  We know that the Earhart plane was lost.  The navigation had gone wrong.  It is likely, even, that it was hundreds of miles from the sea area near Howland which the Navy searched, and from the Gilbert group.

With little gas left and after circling the area beneath them. what would experienced fliers do?  No doubt they had passed many islands on the course behind them.  Any pilot, under the circumstances, probably would have gone back to one of them and landed, relying on their radio and on searching parties for rescue.

THAT RESCUE NEVER CAME BECAUSE NO ADEQUATE SEARCH HAS EVER BEEN MADE.

Compiled from notes and copied in August 1939.
Recopied from original February 2, 1948.  (End of “Grounds for Earhart Search.”)

The study of the alleged Earhart post-loss messages is one fraught with endless speculation and individual interpretation, even by the real radio experts who have written and pronounced publicly on the topic.  I have no expertise in this area, and so have no problem presenting others work as clearly and objectively as I can.  The statements and opinions are those of E.H. Dimity, are presented for your consideration, education and entertainment, and are not necessarily shared by the editor.  

For much more on the alleged Earhart post-loss messages, please see: Earhart’s “post-loss messages”: Real or fantasy?”; Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages“; Did Nina Paxton hear Amelia’s calls for help? “Absolutely,” says longtime researcher Les Kinney “; and Amelia Earhart’s alleged “Land in sight” message remains a curiosity, if not a mystery.”

Editor’s Note: June 29 UPDATE: Calvin Pitts has kindly informed me that he’s found several factual errors in Mr. Dimity’s treatise, errors in time and fact that got by Bill Prymak initially in 1997 and that I failed to pick up in my editing before presenting this piece to you.  I suggested to Calvin that he write a brief post, nothing too extensive or exhausting, to set the record straight.  Thanks for your patience as we seek to make straight what Mr. Dimity has oddly bent.

Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?

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 Earhart in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race.  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 thatpossibly 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 expertsexpressed 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.

The seriously damaged Electra 10E after Amelia’s Luke Field, Hawaii “ground loop” on March 20, 1937.  Amelia and Fred can be seen standing next to the pilot’s side of plane.  The Electra was sent back to the Lockheed plant in Burbank for months of costly repairs, including bigger engines, according to Art Kennedy, who worked on the Electra during that time.

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 said he complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.

Most recently we heard from Kennedy when his account was featured here 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 the early days, and sadly, continues to do so, though only those without critical thinking ability pay attention anymore.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)  We begin:

AES (Bill Prymak):  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.

Undated photo of Art Kennedy, back in his heyday.  According to Bill Prymak, who knew him well, Kennedy fabricated stories about what Amelia Earhart told him after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937.  These tales from Kennedy have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission.

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?

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais traveled to the Marshall Islands to visit with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.  A year later, Prymak and Gervais journeyed to Art Kennedy’s home in Portugal to interview the controversial expert who personally worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E.

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, pilotI 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 thisShe 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.

High Times — Keeping ‘Em Flying, Art Kennedy’s 1992 autobiography with Jo Ann Ridley, is “a lively account of growing up in early West Coast aviation, working on famous aircraft with famous flyers; of practical jokes and competitive dirty tricks; and of significant innovative contributions to aircraft safety. . . . Aviation has given this old ramp rat one hell of a great life!”

AES:  But TIGHAR claims that the piece has an ink-stained stencil reading 24S-T3, in red ink, and that because it was hand-stampedat 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.

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, 1991.

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 saida 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?

Was this Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated flight route on July 2, 1937?  This map appeared in the September 1966 issue of True magazine, along with a lengthy preview of Fred Goerner’s soon-to-be-published The Search for Amelia Earhart.  Art Kennedy may have thought so, and to this day the true path of Earhart’s last flight eludes us, and remains the biggest mystery of the Earhart saga.

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 enginesCan 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.

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