Frederick J. Hooven, famed for his engineering inventions, was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory. After graduating from MIT in 1927, Hooven was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935. His Hooven Radio Compass, which he later sold to the Bendix Company, is now known as the Automatic Direction Finder or ADF, was installed in Amelia Earhart’s Electra in 1936, but was later replaced by an earlier, lighter unit.
When he died in 1985, Hooven held a total of 38 American patents, as well as many foreign patents in fields such as avionics, bomb sights, automotive ignition and suspension systems, photographic typesetting and medical technology. His inventions include 17 radio and aviation navigation and landing instrument systems, bomb-release systems, six automotive ignition systems, three medical instruments, six photographic type compositions and seven other automotive inventions (axles, brakes, springs, suspensions, plus a complete engine, the 1966 Olds Toronado).
In his 1966 letter of introduction to Goerner, below, the first of many from Hooven to his soon-to-be friend and Earhart research associate, he discusses his radio compass, his meeting with Amelia and what he believed was the fatal decision to remove his invention from the Electra. Many more would follow through the years. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)
December 5, 1966
Mr. Frederick Goerner
277 Park Avenue
New York City, N.Y. 10017
Dear Mr. Goerner:
I just finished reading your book on Amelia Earhart. I started the book with a good deal of skepticism, but now that I have finished it I find that I share your conviction that this whole matter must be clarified and honor rendered to those to whom it is due. I can add a small and perhaps interesting sidelight to the Amelia Earhart story. My contribution does nothing either to strengthen or weaken your conclusions, but I believe if my story had been different, Miss Earhart would not have been lost .
I installed on Miss Earhart’s Lockheed one of the first prototypes of the modern aircraft radio direction-finder. Before she embarked on her flight, however, this was removed, and installed in its place was the old-fashioned null-type direction-finder that she carried with her. The modern instrument would have given her a heading on the transmitter of the cutter Itasca at Howland Island even under poor reception conditions and it would have shown her without ambiguity that her destination was still ahead.
The modern direction finder that I invented in 1935 had some important points of superiority over the old simple null-type that had been used ever since before 1920. We called it a radio compass then. It is always called the ADF today. It uses a conventional antenna in addition to the directional loop, the result being that it is possible to listen to the station at the same time a bearing is being taken. It is so much more sensitive that it is possible to use a much smaller loop, contained in the familiar streamlined cigar-shaped housing that is still to be seen on all but the very latest models of commercial and military aircraft.
Most importantly, by using the signal from the non-directional antenna as a point of reference, the modern instrument is able to indicate the true direction of the transmitter from the receiver whereas the null-type indicator could do no more than tell that the transmitting station was somewhere along a line that passed through the center of the loop-antenna. Obviously, to obtain a useable null with the old system the signal must be several times louder than the background noise. With the radio compass, a useable bearing may be taken on a station that is not readable through the noise. All of these things combine to convince me that Miss Earhart would have reached Howland Island if the radio compass had still been installed in her airplane.
We built six of these prototypes. I was at that time vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation, which was one of the small companies later combined into Bendix Radio. Vincent Bendix had retained Harry Bruno as his personal public relations counsel and he distributed these prototypes where he thought they were most likely to get his name into the papers. One of them went to Dick Merrill and Harry Richman, and we installed it on the Northrup Alpha they flew across the Atlantic and landed in Ireland. They both told me they owed their lives to the radio compass.
Harry had broadcast to his public over their 50 watt transmitter until the airplane ‘s battery was flat, so when they reached England they were able to use only their receiving equipment. It was foggy and they flew around for 24 hours before they found a hole they could get down through. They said they surely would have been back over the ocean if they had not had the radio compass on board. Just to bear out your contention about the transmitting range of the 50 watt transmitter I listened to Harry on my receiver in Dayton, Ohio on 3100 kilocycles until he was about halfway across the Atlantic.
Another prototype was turned over to the United States Army Air Corps at Wright Field. We installed it in a B-10 and connected the output to the directional control of the automatic pilot. I rode in this airplane on a nonstop flight from Dayton to Dallas, Texas and back. During the entire flight the pilot never touched the controls of the airplane. It was guided over the entire distance by the radio compass, which was tuned in to local broadcast stations and radio beacons along the way.
The pilot of that airplane was a very close friend of mine, George Holloman, who lost his life in the South Pacific during the war and who gave his name to Holloman Field . Later on, the same radio compass was installed in an ancient Fokker C-151 which made the first completely automatic takeoff and landing at Wright Field in 1937. Later the same year at Muroc Air Force Base, that airplane made the first completely automatic unmanned takeoff and landing. Another of these prototypes went to the Department of Commerce and one I personally installed for American Airlines on the first DC-3 to go into commercial passenger service.
Miss Earhart brought her airplane to Wright Field in Dayton where I made the installation of our equipment. I spent most of the day with her and I concur with your description of her. She was attractive, charming, gracious — a real lady. She had with her a pretty young girl straight from the sticks, named Jacqueline Cochrane. We had lunch together in the cafeteria at the Field. So far as I know Miss Cochrane is still living and should be able to verify this part of the story.
I don’t remember when I learned that the radio compass had been removed from Miss Earhart ‘s plane before she took off on her world flight. The Radio Research Company of Washington, D.C. was another Bendix division. Its vice president was Laurence A. Hyland, who is now, or was until very recently, vice president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft. Hyland had been a Navy man and his company manufactured the standard Navy aircraft direction finder. As I understood it, Hyland convinced Miss Earhart that she should not trust such a new fangled device as my radio compass and that she would be much safer with the good old reliable instead. From what you say about the Navy’s involvement in the affair, it could well have been that the Navy persuaded her to take out this piece of equipment that had been developed in connection with the Army Air Corps.
You can see why I read your book with more than casual interest and would like to see such a grand lady take her proper place in history.
Frederick J. Hooven
Hooven’s contention that if Amelia had used his radio compass she “would have reached Howland Island” was, of course, based on the assumption that she was actually trying to locate and land at Howland, and was not embarked on a far different and possibly covert flight plan. Many factors that have been presented and discussed in earlier posts argue for that, but we simply don’t know for sure.
After years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged radio receptions, Hooven presented his paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, which became known as The Hooven Report, at the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in June 1982. Citing the bearings on the signals reported by the three Pan Am radio stations and the Howland Island high-frequency direction finder supplied by the Navy, Hooven asserted it was “undeniable” that the transmissions had originated from the downed fliers.
“Five bearings were taken on the weak, wavering signal reported on the frequency used by the Earhart plane,” Hooven wrote, “and four of them, plus the 157-337 position line of the last message all intersected in the general area of the Phoenix Group. This constitutes positive evidence of the presence of a transmitter in that area which could only have been that of the downed plane. No hypothesis purporting to explain the events of the last flight can be credited that does not offer a plausible explanation of these signals, and why they originated along the plane’s announced position line at the only location, except for Baker and Howland, where there was land.”
According to several knowledgeable researchers, Hooven later abandoned the Gardner Island idea after Goerner convinced him that regardless of the location of the source of questionable radio signals that inspired it, too many people had lived on Gardner for too many years without any trace of the Earhart Electra ever seen on the island. I’ve tried without success to locate any documents that reflect Hooven’s alleged reversal, which I believe actually occurred.
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight established Hooven as the creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, not the executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), Ric Gillespie, who has yet to credit Hooven publicly, at least to this writer’s knowledge. If he has finally done so, I expect to be corrected quite loudly and quickly, and will report it here. Lacking any other plausible alternative to the Marshalls-Saipan reality, our establishment media continues to deny the truth and force feeds this rubbish, this long-debunked “Nikumaroro hypothesis,” to an incurious, gullible public, and to mislead all who remain willfully ignorant.
Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between San Francisco radio newsman Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, the chief radioman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, who retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in 1946. My Feb. 6 post, “Revisiting roots of the real search for Amelia,” began with Bellarts’ November 1961 letter to Goerner, in which the nearly incredulous Bellarts asked, “why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan”?
Bellarts’ certainly that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan rested “peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland,” was based entirely on the increase in Earhart’s signal strength in her last transmission. “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” Bellarts told Elgen Long in a 1973 interview.
In his reply, Goerner brought Bellarts up to date on his findings during to Saipan visits, including “three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance [that] has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war.” The KCBS newsman also posed several new questions for Bellarts, many about the Electra’s radio transmission capabilities, as well as those of Itasca and the high-frequency direction finder supposedly set up on Howland Island. Bellarts’ response follows.
1920 State Street
15 December 1961
Mr. Frederick A. Goerner
San Francisco 5, California
Dear Mr. Goerner:
Your letter of November 30th arrived December 13th, and I wish to thank you for your reply to my letter. I also wish to thank you for the additional papers you forwarded with your letter. They were very interesting.
First, I will attempt to answer your questions. I have kept a scrapbook on the Earhart case and it contains much information. Therefore, I will not have to rely on a memory of twenty-odd years. Your letter and enclosures will be an interesting addition to my scrapbook.
In answer to your first question regarding people stating that the Earhart radio could not be heard more than 50 to 100 miles. In my opinion this is someone talking about something they know nothing about. This is completely false. I agree with the statement contained in “Facts About the Final Flight” that a 50-watt transmitter airborne will certainly transmit dependably to 500 miles under normal conditions. During nighttime hours, this distance could be multiplied several times under favorable skip conditions. I did not notice any skip conditions during her flight and believe that her signals were copied “ground wave” as they continually built up to the time of her final transmission when she was very loud and could be easily copied on the ship’s loudspeaker. THIS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN TRUE UNDER SKIP CONDITIONS. (Caps Bellarts’ throughout.)
At this point I wish to state that we were using a CGR-32-1 type receiver on Earhart’s frequency and by present day standards is a poor receiver. I am sure that if present day receivers were then available, we could have read her signals very much better and at an earlier hour.
As to the time and content of all messages changed in the July 5th messages from the contents of the July 2nd messages bewilders me. This point I was completely unaware of. It appears that there was a bit of the “Press Reports” incorporated somewhere along the line. You may check the authentic receptions from the plane and draw your own conclusions.
In regard to the “30 minutes of gas remaining,” this will be answered in the listing of messages from the plane in the summation of her last messages.
The people stating that the Earhart radio was not functioning properly make such statements on pure guess work. Amelia never stated that our signals were too weak for a minimum, BUT “We received your signals but unable to get a minimum; please take bearing on us,” etc. No mention was made of weak signals or the reason she could not obtain a bearing: Too great a signal, too weak a signal, fading, night effect (which there were none), and other causes. As far as we knew on the ITASCA, Earhart encountered no equipment failure — at least she reported none. Actually, in this case, I believe that our signals were too strong.
Earhart was not alerted to the fact a special D/F had been set up aboard the ITASCA because there was none! No D/F was aboard during her flight that would cover her frequency of 3105 or 6210 KCS. The only D/F was a standard low frequency finder capable of taking bearings of broadcast stations and frequencies below 500 KCS.
There was, however, a high frequency D/F installed on Howland Island for the express purpose of taking bearings on Earhart. This equipment was set up and in operation during her flight, completely aligned and in position. This equipment was NOT ship’s property but was borrowed in Honolulu through the efforts of the C.G. District Radio Electrician, Mr. Anthony. I believe this D/F was actually Navy property.
Lt. Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Force was aboard the ITASCA for two reasons that I know of. Mr. Cooper was assigned the duty of surveying the airfield and placing the required markers, flags, etc. He was also available for any technical assistance that Earhart might require after landing on Howland. Memory tells me he had two enlisted assistants.
Actually, the USS SWAN and USS ONTARIO were assigned as weather ships. The ITASCA never worked either ship and I must rely on my memory for that information because, as you say, there is nothing in the log regarding the ONTARIO. As for the reason the ONTARIO didn’t hear Earhart, it was very simple. The receivers aboard that ship could not receive on her frequency. The ONTARIO and the SWAN were small tugs and were one radioman ships, maintaining only schedules for weather through Navy radio Samoa or Honolulu. I was not familiar with their schedules. The equipment aboard the ONTARIO was low frequency rigs and could not operate on anything above 500 KCS for transmitting and could not receive above 3000 KCS. The SWAN was somewhat out of the picture, being stationed between Howland and Honolulu.
“Strength of Signal” certainly strengthened my conviction, and that of others who heard her last transmission, that she was very close to Howland Island. I started my radio career in the USCG in 1924, and believe that I can distinguish when a 50-watt transmitter is close aboard or not. Honestly, we in the radio room could actually hear her voice so near the breaking point that at any moment I expected her to go into an hysterical scream. Giving her plenty of leeway, she must have been within 200 miles when she crashed. Actually, I believe it was much less.
The 157-337 message regarding a position of the Earhart plane was taken as a sunline position, of course not complete. Actually, I believe that she became so upset that she failed to send the entire message which would have given the ITASCA something to go on in the search. As a result, we could only assume that she crashed somewhere before arriving at Howland. She certainly did not pass overhead at 1000 feet without seeing the large smokescreen the ITASCA was laying. I have a photo of that which also shows cloud formations.
I have no idea as to the assumptions of the LEXINGTON as to what Earhart’s speed was. As to the laying out of a search plan, I am sure that this was done as well as could be expected with the scarcity of information at hand.
Yes, I know Bill Galten but I’m afraid there is a misunderstanding as to his rate at the time of the Earhart search. Galten was a very good and reliable radioman THIRD CLASS. Galten actually relieved me for breakfast that fateful morning. He also maintained the radio log from 0718 to 1035 when I assumed radio log and actual watch. From the first time we heard Earhart, to the last time at 0843, I don’t believe that I was out of the radio room more than 15 minutes, having heard all of her transmissions. I don’t believe that I have seen Galten for over 20 years. However, I believe that he is now a Retired Chief Radioman.
Now, if I may, I would like to make a few comments on portions of your letter and also the enclosure which I appreciate receiving.
On the main matter for conjecture, as you say, “How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan?” To me, there is only one answer, if there is an answer. They may have reached Saipan but certainly NOT on the Electra she flew from Lae. The only possibility as far as I’m concerned is that they crashed very close to Howland Island and were fortunate (?) enough to land near a Japanese fishing boat or other Jap vessel which was in that vicinity.
To all known information, no Japanese vessels were anywhere near Howland during that time. Considering the strength of her signals, she was certainly not near enough to any island (except Baker) that she could have possibly landed on. It must have been a sea crash. The Marshalls, Gilberts or Phoenix groups are definitely ruled out in my book. (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, neither Bellarts, Goerner or any other American researcher knew about Bilimon Amaron’s eyewitness account, nor those of any of the other Marshall Island witnesses to the crash-landing of the Electra off Barre Island, Mili Atoll.)
In quoting Time magazine of July 19, 1937, I would like to quote from an article regarding Earhart. “Several facts made it clear that much more than simple bad luck was involved. Before the hop off, when capable Navigator [sic] Noonan inspected what he supposed was an ultra-modem “flying laboratory,” he was dismayed to discover that there was nothing with which to take celestial bearings except an ordinary ship sextant. He remedied that by borrowing a modem bubble octant designed especially for airplane navigation. For estimating wind drift over the sea, he obtained two dozen aluminum powder bombs. For some reason, these bombs were left behind in a storehouse.
The Coast Guard Cutter ITASCA, which had-been dispatched from San Diego to Howland Island solely as a help to the flyers, would have been able to take directional bearings on the Earhart plane if the latter could have tuned its signals to a 500 KC frequency. The plane’s transmitter would have been able to send such signals if it had a trailing antenna. Miss Earhart considered all this too much bother; no trailing antenna was taken along.” The ITASCA was entirely unaware of this and, as a result, did not know that she was unable to transmit on 500 KCS.
As to why the LEXINGTON was called into the search, I will quote from the above-mentioned magazine again. “When word that the Earhart plane was lost reached the U.S., husband Putnam wired an appeal for a Navy search to President Roosevelt. But even before the message reached Washington, Secretary of the Navy [Claude A.] Swanson had ordered the Navy to start hunting.”
To add a little sidelight to the search, were you aware that the U.S. Battleship COLORADO served as an oil barge for the USCG cutter ITASCA?
Under a New York dateline, Dec. 4, 1961, there appeared a story about a “Mrs. Clara [Trenckman] Studer, Rome, Italy, who has spent months here studying records of Miss Earhart’s last flight” etc. This same article contains the following: “Mrs. Studer, a writer who collaborated on a book with Miss Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, and helped form the woman pilots’ organization the “Ninety-Nines,” said Miss Earhart’s name and fate “must be cleared” before 1965 when she is eligible for election in the Hall of Fame. Mrs. Studer and other friends of the flier also fear chances of an Amelia Earhart stamp being published next year have been hurt by the story that she was spying on Saipan.”
(Editor’s note: An online search shows no evidence of any book that Clara Studer and George Putnam wrote together. Studer did author a 1937 book, Sky Storming Yankee: The Life Story of Glenn Curtiss, and in 1933, Studer was the New York-based editor of The Ninety- Niner newsletter. To see the Jan. 15, 1933 edition, please click here.)
Now that I have answered your questions to the best of my ability, may I ask just what connection has Mrs. with CBS, and also the connection, if there be one, between CBS and Mr. Putnam? If Miss Earhart’s name was to be cleared of the spy charge, wouldn’t it be a logical conclusion that an intense investigation be made just how Earhart and Noonan arrived at Saipan (if they did)? My conclusion remains the same; that is, the Electra and its passengers are on the bottom of the sea west of Howland Island, yet very near the island.
In closing, I would like to add that you are quite the “Quiz Master.” However, if there is any doubt in your mind, I see no reason why you should be otherwise. In addition, the enclosure “Facts about the Final Flight” contains several remarks that I would disagree with, but I have never doubted that she crashed very close to Howland Island.
I hope that I have cleared up some points regarding this case. If I can be of any further assistance, don’t hesitate to “start quizzing.” THE INFORMATION THAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU IS FOR YOUR INFORMATION ONLY AND I DO NOT WISH ANY PUBLICITY ON MY PART.
Leo G. Bellarts
In a March 2, 2015 post titled “Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga,” I introduced the late Jim Golden, a close friend of Fred Goerner and, in the day, a near-legendary figure in Earhart research circles. Golden, whose unique career included eight years as a Secret Service agent in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, two years as Howard Hughes’ chief of security in Las Vegas, and a stint in the U.S. Justice Department, from where he tried to help Goerner search for the elusive top-secret Earhart files that President John F. Kennedy had allowed Goerner and California newspaperman Ross Game to see briefly in 1963, just before JFK’s assassination in Dallas.
Among the secrets Golden shared with Goerner was the revelation that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were brought to the islands of Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll by air from Jaluit Atoll by the Japanese in 1937, a fact he learned from Marine Intelligence officers during the American invasion of Kwajalein in January 1944.
During several telephone conversations I had with Golden in the summer of 2008, he recalled his experiences as a 19-year-old enlisted Marine photographer in the intelligence section of the 4th Marine Division during the Kwajalein campaign.
“The Marines wrote up a detailed report capturing the info that related that in 1937 two white persons, a male and female were brought by plane to Roi,” Golden told me, “the man with a white bandage on his head and the woman with short-cut hair wearing men’s pants, who were taken across a causeway to the Namur Admin building. Three days later taken out to a small ship in the lagoon, which then departed. I read the report myself. This report would routinely be forwarded to 4th Div. Intel, then on to the U.S. Navy. This report must have been the first sighting [sic] of her capture by the Japanese by U.S. forces at that time.”
The following story, “FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate,’” by one Leon Freilich, appeared in the Jan. 3, 1978 issue of the Midnight Globe tabloid newspaper, which at some later date changed its name to the familiar Globe that adorns check-out racks in supermarkets and other retail stores nationwide, along with its better-known rival, the National Enquirer. It first appeared in the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter’s June 1992 issue.
“FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate’”
The late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt covered up the truth behind aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance and created his own Watergate — nearly 40 years before Richard Nixon.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She tried in 1937 to fly around the world and disappeared into the Pacific. Now a top-level Justice Department official, James Golden, charges that FDR withheld the facts of her disappearance for his own ends.
“Amelia Earhart was killed in the line of duty, and President Roosevelt refused to let it get out,” Golden, director of enforcement for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in Washington, D.C., told MIDNIGHT GLOBE.
“She was a spy for the Navy. She didn’t just ‘disappear,’ as Roosevelt led the press and public to believe. Amelia Earhart was taking reconnaissance shots of Japanese naval facilities when her plane was forced down. She died at the hands of the Japanese.”
Similar accusations of a cover-up have been leveled in the past, and a book [The Search for Amelia Earhart] detailed some of the charges several years ago. However, this is the first attack on Roosevelt’s credibility by a top figure in the federal government.
Why did FDR stonewall the facts? “Amelia Earhart was a glamorous aviatrix and America’s favorite woman adventurer,” Golden said. “For some reason, she’d agreed to use her round-the-world flight as a mask for a spying operation. In those days spying was considered the lowest of the low in this country. So when she lost her life, Roosevelt was afraid he would lose millions of votes in the next election. Consequently, he stifled the truth.”
How does the high-level government prober know this? “There’s a top-secret file with all this information in the White House,” he revealed to MIDNIGHT GLOBE. “It can’t be released, except by the President. “But two of my friends in the intelligence community have seen it. I consider them wholly reliable. They told me the file includes a four-page summary of Japan’s secret report on the Amelia Earhart case.
“This summary relates that she and her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, were captured by Japanese forces on July 2, 1937, near Saipan, the Central Pacific headquarters for Japanese ships. The Japanese took the two there and kept them under heavy interrogation for a year and a half. Then they beheaded Noonan. Amelia Earhart died the very next day. The records said the cause of death was dysentery, but even if that’s true, the blame belongs on her captors, who kept her penned up in primitive conditions.”
The file confirmed what Golden had learned first-hand during World War II. “I was a Marine intelligence officer [actually a private first class] and landed on Saipan [actually Kwajalein] in January 1944,” he said. “Some of the elders described to me in minute detail how a white woman and man had been seized from a fallen giant bird.
“That would be their plane. And the pair were kept on the island as prisoners until the Japanese chopped off the man’s head. The woman — Amelia Earhart, of course — was never seen again.
“The natives’ testimony plus the secret file fit together too neatly to spell anything but the full story. I’m telling you this not to embarrass the U.S. government. My motive is simply this: Amelia Earhart gave her life for her country, and it ought to have the good grace to thank her for it.” (End of Midnight Globe article.)
In an October 1977 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Tribune story on Golden, “Prober says Amelia Earhart death covered up,” Golden, then with the U.S. Justice Department, told reporter Richard Williams that President Franklin “Roosevelt hid the truth about Miss Earhart and Noonan, fearing public reaction to the death of a heroine and voter reaction at the polls. . . . What really bothers me about the whole thing is that if Miss Earhart was . . . a prisoner of the Japanese, as she seems to have been, why won’t the government acknowledge the facts and give her the hero’s treatment she deserves?” Golden asked.
Sadly, Golden passed away unexpectedly at his home on March 7, 2011 at age 85. As I wrote in closing “Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga,“ in 2015, “We’ll never see the likes of Jim Golden again, and I hope someday we’ll meet in a much better place.”
More on Jim Golden’s amazing life and contributions to the Earhart saga can be found in the pages of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
During the course of his early Earhart investigations, Fred Goerner, author of the classic 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, wrote several letters to Leo Bellarts, the chief radioman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, who retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in 1946. Most of Goerner’s letter of Nov. 30, 1961, below, was initially published in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, as was Bellarts’ reply of Dec. 15, 1961.
Many of the Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned Search as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on Saipan. Goerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66.
28 November 1961
1920 State St.
Mr. Fred Goerner,
San Francisco, Calif.
Dear Mr. Goerner,
I have just received a letter and an article from a San Diego paper relative to your attempt to establish identity of some bones and teeth you found on Saipan. Having a long time interest in the Earhart story I am curious just to know why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan.
Last year I believe that you attempted to identify an airplane generator as belonging to the Earhart plane. I’m sure that if a search was made around Saipan that many planes could be found and parts by the thousands cold be located, but none from the Earhart plane.
My curiosity stems from the fact that I believe I was one of the very few people that heard the last message from the Earhart plane. I was the Chief Radioman on the USCG Itasca at Howland Island during her ill-fated trip. Having heard practically every transmission she made from about 0200 till her crash when she was very loud and clear, I can assure you that she crashed very near Howland Island. The only island near Howland that it would have been possible for her to land would have been Baker Island and she didn’t land there.
Considering the increase in her signal strength from her first to her last transmission there leaves no doubt in my mind that she now rests peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland. If you could have heard the last transmission, the frantic note and near hysteria in her voice you also would be convinced of her fate but not on Saipan.
I firmly believe that she died a hero in the public eye and that is the way I believe that she would like it to be.
Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)
November 30, 1961
Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)
1920 State Street
Dear Mr. Bellarts:
Your letter of the 28th just arrived, and I was delighted to receive it. I believe you may be able to answer a number of questions that have arisen from a thorough scrutiny of the official logs of the ITASCA and the Navy carrier, LEXINGTON. (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)
But, first, to answer your question: Why does CBS believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan?
Two expeditions to Saipan and three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war. I might add that the Catholic Church authorities on Saipan and many of the Naval Officers at the Saipan facilities are also completely convinced. The Office of Naval Intelligence has admitted that their investigation of the testimony gathered from native Saipanese indicates that it cannot be discounted. Every attempt was made to puncture that testimony this last year, and in several cases it was impossible.
The main matter for conjecture is: How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan? Did they fly there in their Lockheed Electra, or were they taken to the Island by the Japanese after a landing in another area?
We have submitted the available information concerning the flight to a number of aviation experts familiar with that area of the Pacific, and all have said that it was physically possible for the plane to have flown to Saipan, but it certainly is not probable. The chances have been rated at one in a thousand to one in one hundred thousand.
The aircraft wreckage brought up from Tanapag Harbor during the expedition of June 1960 was almost an afterthought. Two native divers believed they knew where the wreckage of a twin-engine plane was in the harbor. We brought some of it to the surface with little hope it represented the Electra. The fact that a generator was a Japanese copy of the Bendix 50 amp which was carried on the Earhart craft gave hope for a brief time that it might be the proper one.
You are quite right in your assumption that the ocean floor surrounding Saipan is littered with wreckage, wreckage of every conceivable size and shape.
During my most recent trip to Saipan in September of this year, we further investigated the wreckage the generator was taken from, and definitely proved that the plane was Japanese and not Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E. A partially disintegrated name-plate on a direction finder had still legible Japanese markings.
The testimony about Earhart and Noonan being on the island, however, stood firm. The Navy had put two ONI men on the case, and their estimation was that the testimony from several reputable Saipanese in particular was irrefutable.
How then did Earhart and Noonan get to Saipan if they did not fly the Lockheed there. Commander Paul Bridwell, Commandant NavAd Saipan, came up with the answer. The pair had gone down in or near the Marshalls and had been brought to Saipan, then the military headquarters for the Mandates, by Japanese ship to Yap, and then a flight by Japanese Naval Seaplane. Bridwell said there was proof to this theory contained in the logs of four United States Logistic Vessels, THE GOLD STAR, THE BLACKHAWK, THE HENDERSON, and THE CHAUMOUNT, which had been plying the Pacific in 1938 and ’39 supplying the Far East Fleet. “Certain coded messages sent from Japanese vessels and shore installations,” said Bridwell, “were intercepted by these ships.”
The Japanese code was not broken until just before the war, so I gather these messages may not have been decoded until just recently. That’s the only reason I can imagine why these messages have not been brought to light before. (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, Goerner lacked important information about U.S. code-breaking abilities in 1937. See pages 263-264 of Truth at Last, Second Edition, for more on this complex issue.)
December 10, 1961
As you can see, there has been considerable delay in the completion of this letter. Dr. [Theodore] McCown’s findings regarding the remains has touched off a chain reaction that has kept me away from my office until today.
To say that McCown’s findings were a disappointment is an understatement; however, it in no way changes our basic hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan. As Dr. McCown put it,”It doesn’t mean you weren’t on the right track. You may have missed the actual grave site by six inches. That’s the way it is with archeology.”
(Editor’s note: Dr. Theodore McCown was the University of California anthropologist who examined bones excavated by Goerner from a Saipan gravesite in 1961. See pages 224-225 of Truth at Last for more.)
Along with this letter, I am sending you our most recent press release which details many of the things I have already discussed.
Now, if I may, I would like to ask you several questions. As you were present on the ITASCA the morning of July 2, 1937, perhaps you can clarify some points that seem most enigmatic to us.
Why do many people cling to the theory that the Earhart radio was incapable of transmitting more than 50 to 100 miles when the last check-in with Lae, New Guinea was 785 miles out at 5:20 in the afternoon?
Why was “30 minutes of gas remaining” changed to read “but are running low on gas”?
Why do many people say the Earhart radio receiver was not functioning when one of the messages received by the ITASCA states, “We are receiving your signals, but they are too weak for a minimum”?
Why wasn’t Earhart alerted to the fact that a special direction finder had been set up aboard the ITASCA?
Why was a Lt. [Daniel A.] Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Forces aboard the ITASCA the morning of the disappearance?
Why is there a complete absence of any mention of the Coast Guard Vessel ONTARIO in the log of the ITASCA? The ONTARIO was a weather ship stationed at the half-way point of the flight. Didn’t the ONTARIO ever read the Earhart plane during the flight? If the ONTARIO didn’t read Earhart, why not? The flight plan would have taken the Electra fight over the ONTARIO.
Why wasn’t the emergency 3105 direction finder set up on Howland Island able to cut in the Earhart plane if the plane was as close to the island as everyone supposed?
Was there anything else beside “strength of signal” that lead those aboard the ITASCA to believe Earhart was within 50 to 100 miles of the vessel?
What was the first reaction of those aboard the ITASCA to “We are 157-337, running north and south”? Did they think it a radio bearing or a sun line? Certainly no one could have believed it a position that an experienced navigator such as Noonan would send if he knew where he was.
Why did the LEXINGTON base its search on the July 2 group of messages rather than the July 5 group? The July 5 group paint an entirely different picture, especially 0515: “200 miles” and 0545: “100 miles.” If the plane made 100 miles in 30 minutes, it’s quite obvious Earhart and Noonan figured their air speed at 200 miles per hour, which is far different than the 111 miles per hour the LEXINGTON assumed. The Electra was capable of 200 miles an hour top speed, but Earhart, conserving gas, would have been at cruise speed of 155. They must have picked up a tail wind, and the ITASCA log indicated the wind had shifted from the southeast.
I know these are a lot of questions, but there is so much that is inexplicable. Would you be so kind as to clarify some of these points for us? We will be most grateful.
Thank you so much for your time and interest.
Frederick A. Goerner
News Dept., KCBS Radio
San Francisco, California
In future posts, thanks to the generous contributions of Dave Bellarts, of Lakewood, Wash., son of Leo, we’ll continue this fascinating correspondence between history’s foremost Earhart investigator and arguably the most reliable eyewitness aboard Itasca when Amelia sent her final “official” message that fateful July morning.
Like the recent Earhart timeline, this is another piece that’s long overdue. David Billings, a retired Australian aviation engineer, has worked intensely for over two decades on a project that, if successful, will turn nearly everything we assume about Amelia Earhart’s final flight on its head. I’ve known Billings casually through countless emails since about 2004, a year or so before his membership in the Amelia Earhart Society online discussion forum was revoked on a technicality by a hostile forum moderator.
Despite our vastly different beliefs about the Earhart disappearance, we’ve maintained a cordial communication. To me, Billings exemplifies the best in what some might consider the old-school Australian male, in that he’s forthright, with a sharp, wry sense of humor, unafraid to speak his mind, and dependably honest – a trait becoming increasingly rare in this day and age. His work is admirable and worthy of our attention.
The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling. Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed “Earhart experts,” whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.
Rather than waste needless effort trying to describe Billings’ New Britain Theory in my own words, we will now turn to the home page of his comprehensive website, which provides a thorough introduction. The site, titled Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” presents a wealth of information in nine separate sections, is presented in a reader-friendly, professional style and is must reading for the serious Earhart student. We begin at the beginning; the following inset material is direct from the home page of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project:
Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.
The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.
On July 2, 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “. . . we are running on line north and south . . .” manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.
This project theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel.
The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crash into the jungle.
David Billings [sic], a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analyzed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.
The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”
The foregoing should give you a fairly good snapshot of Billings’ New Britain Theory. Much more can be found in the pages of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project.
In Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, the author recalled his first meeting with the famed Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, an interview arranged by Cmdr. John Pillsbury, public information officer for the 12th Naval District, in connection with Goerner’s work on a 1962 radio documentary The Silent Thunder.
The meeting was the beginning of a friendship Goerner treasured, but it wasn’t until about a year later that Nimitz shared some of his inside knowledge about the Earhart case with Goerner. At Pillsbury’s retirement party at the Fort Mason Officers Club in San Francisco, he passed an incredible message to the KCBS newsman. “I’m officially retired now,” Pillsbury told Goerner, “so I’m going to tell you a couple of things. You’re on the right track with your Amelia Earhart investigation. Admiral Nimitz wants you to continue, and he says you’re onto something that will stagger your imagination. I’ll tell you this, too. You have the respect of a lot of people for the way you’ve stuck at this thing. Keep plugging. You’ll get the answers.” (Italics mine.)
Nimitz’s statement to Goerner through Pillsbury was a stunner, and it immediately found a permanent place in my memory when I read it for the first time so many years ago. Just what could the great Navy warrior have meant when he said, “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination”? The answer has been elusive, but if Billings can locate the wreck, and it proves to be Earhart’s Electra, we’ll have a strong clue and a new place to start looking for that special something that Pillsbury hinted so strongly about.
In closing “Chapter II: The Final Flight” in Truth at Last, I cite some of the many questions that remain unanswered about those final hours: “What was Noonan, Pan Am’s best navigator, doing as their hopes of securing a safe landfall were evaporating before his eyes? Why the forty-minute void between Earhart’s 8:04 and 8:44 a.m. transmissions? Why couldn’t she hear Itasca on 3105 kc? Why did she ask for 7500 kc for bearings, when her direction finder could not home in on that frequency, instead of asking for 500 kc? Earhart never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time, preventing the Itasca radiomen from taking bearings. Why? If the Electra was running out of fuel or experiencing another emergency, why didn’t she send a Mayday message?
“Did her transmitter break down after her last broadcast, as Prymak suggested?” I continued. “Was she really trying to reach Howland, or was her peculiar behavior simply part of a deception to make it appear she was lost?” But one question never occurred to me: “Why was Amelia Earhart in a different Electra than the one she flew from Oakland, Calif., when she set off on her second world flight attempt on June 2, 1937?”
What would it mean if Billings finds the original Earhart Electra, NR 16020? First of all, the discovery should be, at minimum, the biggest story of the week worldwide, with virtually all media organizations in the West giving it top billing (no pun intended). If past is prologue, however, any news that reflects the truth in this longstanding cover-up will be universally ignored, though a few exceptions might occur with a story of this magnitude. Billings needs to find the wreck and identify it in a way that’s forensically conclusive.
Remember, the metal tag recovered from the engine mount has vanished, likely joining the Earhart briefcase discovered by Robert E. Wallack in a Japanese safe on 1944 Saipan, the photos of the fliers in Japanese custody that several GIs claimed they found but lost on Saipan, and whatever else might be squirreled away in top-secret hidey-holes. Assuming Billings is finally able to locate the wreck, how will he determine beyond doubt whether this is the long-lost Electra, and not just another World War II casualty?
“I have always been good at ‘aircraft recognition,’ seeing an aircraft and immediately recognizing the type of aircraft it is, particularly WWII military types,” Billings told me in an email. “After being with the Electra 10E for 20 years and looking at the pictures and three-view drawings, it would be easy to recognize from certain aspects; for instances: the look of the six window panels surrounding the cockpit and the twin tails, the cabin door, the fuel filler panels, the step in the setting of the horizontal stabilizer are all recognition features. We are, however, speaking here of a damaged Electra, from the sighting in 1945, said to be with the cockpit smashed back to the heavy main spar, so the cockpit with the DF loop on top is effectively ‘not there’ and no description of the twin tails was given suggesting the empennage [tail assembly] is not there either.”
Billings says information he’s gleaned since 2011 indicates that the plane was purposely buried, though not too deeply, by someone using a bulldozer, so the use of metal detectors will be critical to a successful search. “When we get a strike with a metal detector then we follow the continuing strikes to map out the extent of what we have in the ground following the metal detector beeps,” Billings continued. “We mark a rough plan on the ground. From that, firstly I would then be looking away from the ground plan for a distance, for the left hand Engine Serial No. 6150, said to be 30 meters away from the airframe and it will be a lump on the ground, if the bulldozer driver missed seeing it. If we find that engine, then it will have a Pratt and Whitney Data Plate on the back of the blower housing with “6150” stamped on it. At the airframe, if we have a rough ground plan we can dig where the right hand engine is as it too will have a Data plate showing “6149.” One of these would be proof positive.”
Though I admire Billings’ work, we certainly don’t agree on everything. The idea that Earhart turned around and landed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea after nearly reaching Howland Island is unacceptable to me — and every other Earhart researcher I know. But the existence of the original Electra at East New Britain and the Marshalls-Saipan truth are not mutually exclusive, as would appear at first glance. Both can be true, and assuming Billings’ evidence isn’t some kind of bizarre hoax or misunderstanding, both must be true.
How can two scenarios that appear so radically different be part of a coherent series of events in the summer of 1937? One possible answer immediately suggests itself: Amelia Earhart changed planes somewhere along the line of her world flight route, and we already have some evidence to support the idea. Please see my earlier post, “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga for the entire confusing discussion. It’s not conclusive, of course, and it raises many more questions than it answers.
The successful location and identification of the original Earhart Electra in East New Britain would be earth-shaking news, but it would also create a new Earhart “mystery,” a real one in this case, not the fabricated myth the establishment wants us to buy. If it’s ever discovered, the truth that explains the Electra’s presence in East New Britain could indeed “stagger our imagination.” In any event, a plane change and eventual crash of the original Electra in the East New Britain jungle under other circumstances makes far more sense to this observer than the dramatic turn-around Billings proposes. The Mili Atoll and Saipan evidence are just too overwhelming to support the entirety of Billings’ theory, in my view.
Billings has made 16 trips to the Papua New Guinea jungle since 1994, and plans his final foray into East New Britain sometime in the spring of 2017, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. Funding is always a problem, but he says a recently completed road will allow vehicle access and eliminate the exorbitant helicopter costs previously incurred. Billings has always borne the heaviest part of the money burden, but if you’d like to help his cause, here’s a page with donation information.
In a recent email, I told Billings that I wanted to do a post about him and his work, writing, “We both want the truth, and if the original Electra is in the PNG jungle, so be it. IF and when you can prove it, we can then worry about how and why it got there!”
“Exactly!” he replied. “My same thoughts all along.”