We continue with the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s “Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” This analysis appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.
“Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” (Part II of two.)
by Paul Rafford Jr.
June 22, 1993
Why was the Howland direction finder never able to get bearings on Earhart?
The reasons here are several fold. Primarily, it was because Earhart never stayed on the air long enough for an operator to take a bearing. But, even if she had stayed on longer, the combination of her low transmitting power with the inadequacy of the jerry-rigged aircraft DF on Howland, would have limited its range to less than 50 miles. In other words, on a clear day she could have seen the island before the island she could have taken a bearing on her.
The questions that arise out of this fiasco are:
1) Why did whoever organized the project of setting up the direction finder on Howland not know of its extreme limitation?
2) Why did Earhart, supposedly a consultant to the government on airborne direction finders, never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds?
Why did Earhart ask for 7500 kHz [kilohertz] in order to take bearings on the Itasca, considering it could not be used with her direction finder?
Supposedly, “7500” came about through Earhart’s ignorance of the two different designations for radio channels. It has been theorized that she confused 750.0 meters with 7500 kHz. Of course, 750.0 meters is 400 kHz, a bona fide beacon frequency, while 7500 kHz is 40 meters.
It would appear that not only did she get meters and kilocycles mixed up but she overlooked the decimal point.
Bob Lieson, a former co-worker of mine had done a stint on Howland Island as radio operator shortly after Earhart’s disappearance. I asked him if the Itasca might have used 7500 kHz for any other purpose than to send dashes for Earhart. “Oh yes,” he replied, “We used 40 meters for contact with the Coast Guard cutters when they were standing off shore.”
This brings up two questions:
1) Could it have been that Earhart was not confusing meters and kilocycles but knew ahead of time that 7500 kHz was the Itasca’s link with Howland so would be available on call?
2) Why would Noonan, both a navigator and radio operator, let Earhart make the potentially fatal mistake of trying to take bearings on 7500?
Why did Earhart not seize on the one occasion where she heard the Itasca and knew it was hearing her, to try and establish communication with the crew?
This is the most incredible part of the Earhart saga. At 1928 GMT she announced, “Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles.” Then, at 1933 GMT she announced, “We received your signal but unable to get a minimum.” Supposedly, she is hopelessly lost and about to run out of gas. Now, after searching for Howland for over an hour, for the first time she is hearing the Itasca and knows the ship is hearing her. Does she breathe a giant sigh of relief because she has finally made contact with the crew? Of course they are using code but Noonan is a radio operator and can copy code while replying to the ship by voice on 3105 kHz.
No! Instead of desperately trying to keep in contact, Earhart is not heard from for over forty minutes. When she returns to the air it is only to make one brief, last transmission. She declares she is flying north and south on a line of position 157-337 and will switch to 6210. The Itasca never hears her again.
The Mysterious Post-Flight Radio Transmissions
What was the source or sources of the mysterious signals heard on Earhart’s frequencies that began just hours after her disappearance and lasted for several days?
During the hours and days immediately following Earhart’s disappearance, various listeners around the Pacific heard mysterious signals on her frequencies.
Ten hours after the Itasca last heard her, the crew of the HMS Achilles intercepted an exchange of signals between a radiotelephone station and a radiotelegraph station on 3105 khz. The telephone station requested, “Give us a few dashes if you get us.” The telegraph station replied with several long dashes. The telephone station then announced, “KHAQQ, KHAQQ.” (Earhart’s call letters).
Believing they were hearing the plane safely down somewhere, the Achilles sent the U.S. Navy a message to that effect. However, in its reply, the Navy denied this possibility.
Two hours later, Nauru Island heard the highly distorted voice of a woman calling on 6210 khz. They reported that, although they could not understand the words, the voice sounded similar to Earhart’s when she had passed by the island the night before. However, this time there was “– no hum of engines in the background.”
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Karl Pierson and a group of his radio engineering colleagues set up a listening watch on Earhart’s frequencies. During the early morning hours of July 3rd, they heard SOS calls on 6210 kHz both voice and telegraph. Of particular interest was the fact that the voice was a woman’s. However, neither call included enough information to identify the plane’s position or status.
The Pan Am stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu managed to pick up a number of weak, unstable radio signals on Earhart’s frequencies and take a few bearings. But, the stations never identified themselves or transmitted any useful information.
Despite his failure to get bearings earlier, the Howland operator got a bearing on a fairly strong station shortly after midnight on July 5th. It indicated the transmitter was either north northwest or south southeast of Howland. But, again there was no identification or useful information from the station.
The question that arises here is, were the distress calls heard by Karl Pierson and his group authentic? If they were, why did the calls not include more information? If they were not, who would have sent them and why?
Readers of this blog are familiar with Paul Rafford Jr.’s fascinating and imaginative contributions to Earhart research. Rafford passed away in December 2016 at 97, but some of his ideas about Amelia Earhart’s final days and hours are still alive and well. He was a valued contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most creative possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m., Howland Island Time.
We’ve seen three lengthy pieces on this blog already, basically re-presentations of Rafford’s work as found in Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga”; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities”; and “Rafford’s ” ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?”
The following analysis by Rafford Jr. appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters, and is the first of two parts. Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.
“Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding” (Part I of two.)
by Paul Rafford Jr.,
June 22, 1993
“The Miami Layover”
Why did Earhart refuse Pan Am’s offer of direction finding help on her second attempt to circle the globe?
During her layover in Miami; Pan Am radio engineer, Charlie Winter, conferred with Amelia about her forthcoming trip. She would no longer have 500 khz. in her transmitter, so why not carry a Pan Am frequency in its place., to be used with the airline’s Pacific direction finding network?
To his surprise, she immediately dismissed the suggestion with a contemptuous comment, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.”
Why did Pan Am install a new loop on the Electra at Miami when all earlier pictures of the plane show that it already had one?
On the morning before Earhart’s departure from Miami, Pan Am radio technician Bob Thiebert was given a radio loop by his boss and told to install it on the plane immediately. Bob mounted it and connected it to the receiver that had already been installed. He then had the plane swung through 360° while he took bearings on a nearby broadcast station and prepared a calibration curve.
Page 215 of the book, Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987), shows a news photo of Earhart, Noonan and two friends standing in front of the Electra. The caption advises that it was taken on May 31, 1937. An accompanying newspaper clipping comments:
“Mechanics today completed the adjustment of navigation instruments to guide Amelia Earhart down a well-worn aerial lane to South America on her eastward flight around the world. The aviatrix expected to take off at dawn tomorrow for San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1033 miles away.”
The new loop appears on top of the plane while a mechanic appears in the background below, crouched over his tool box. — Bob Thiebert?
After Bob told me his story, several questions came to mind. The Electra already had a loop and the pictures of the Honolulu crackup show no damage to it or the surrounding area. Then, a newsreel picture purporting to show Earhart arriving in Miami clearly shows a loop on the plane. Why install a new one?
I asked Bob if he had seen any evidence of where and how any previous loops had been mounted. We know that there were at least two other loops installed on the Electra at one time or another after Earhart took delivery.
Bob was quite surprised to hear this and replied that he found no evidence that any other loop had ever been installed. If there had been he would have seen where their mounting holes had been. But, he declared, he had seen nothing to indicate this possibility.
Why, just before Earhart’s departure on her round-the-world flight did Pan Am mechanics in Miami make the same changes to her fixed antenna that had already been made by Joe Gurr in California just few weeks before?
Two days before Earhart’s departure, Pan Am radio technician Lynn Michaelfelder was sent out to the Electra, “. . . to fix a problem with the transmitter.” Apparently there was some concern about the limited transmitting range of the fixed antenna.
He lengthened the antenna wires by moving the mast forward and by bringing the feed line down through the lower right side of the fuselage instead of through the roof. Imagine my surprise when I came across Joe Gurr’s letter of May 3, 1982, to Fred Goerner. In it he describes making these same changes in California, just a few weeks earlier.
Lae to Howland
Why did Earhart refuse the offer of Harry Balfour, the Lae radio operator, to stay in communication with her until she made contact with the Itasca?
It was standard operating procedure in those days for an aircraft on a long ocean crossing to stay in contact with the station behind it until reaching the mid-point of the flight. There, the plane would turn its “radio guard” over to the station ahead. Although Balfour was not obligated to offer this service to Earhart, he did so anyway.
But, to his chagrin, when Earhart was approximately one third of the way toward Howland, against his advice because he was still receiving her very well, she signed off with him at sunset and switched from 6210 khz. to 3105 khz. She explained that she had to try and make contact with the Itasca. He never heard her again and she never again engaged any station in two-way conversation.
There was no technical reason for Earhart to have to sign off with Lae before attempting to contact the Itasca. She could have returned to 6210 at periodic intervals to confirm to Balfour that her flight was proceeding normally, or advise him if it wasn’t. Then, after establishing contact with the Itasca she could have said goodbye to him.
Why did Earhart never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time when she was in the vicinity of Howland Island?
While Earhart followed standard airline type operating procedures during her contacts with Balfour, when in the vicinity of Howland her procedures were anything but standard. She never called the ship directly or answered any of its many calls. Instead, she would suddenly come on the air without a call-up, deliver her message, and then go off until she had another message. The Navy’s report states that communication between Earhart and the Itasca was “never really established.”
The Navy’s report also states that she never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time. This includes the transmissions she was supposedly making so the Howland direction finder could take bearings. Even under the best of conditions, back then a DF operator required at least 30 seconds to go through all the procedures required in taking a bearing after a station might suddenly come on the air without warning. Later, Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, operating the Howland DF, complained that she never stayed on the air long enough for him to get a bearing.
Bill Galten, the Itasca radio operator on duty at the Earhart radio watch told me during World War II of his efforts to contact Earhart and of her peculiar operating procedures. On one occasion she suddenly came on the air, announcing, “Give me the weather! I’ve got to have the weather.” But, she failed to advise what frequency she would be listening to or if she wanted the weather to be sent on voice or telegraph. In desperation, Bill sent it on both of his voice frequencies and then his telegraph frequencies. He never received an acknowledgment. Later, based on his futile attempt to get in radio contact with Earhart, Bill gave me his personal opinion: “That woman never intended to land on Howland!” (End of Part I.)
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.
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.
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 suspect. Her 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 “live” or 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.
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?
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 site” for a discussion, or Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Edition), pages 271, 272.
We return to the work of the late Paul Rafford Jr., the last survivor of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 at 97. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Readers of this blog are familiar with Rafford’s fascinating work. His public introduction came in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, in which he discussed his current ideas about the Electra’s radio capabilities and Amelia’s bizarre actions during the final flight. Rafford’s 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, wasn’t a commercial success, but presents invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change : Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga”; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities”; and “Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?”
Prymak’s interview of Rafford about his “Howland Island Fly-By” theory appeared in the March 1992 issue of the AES Newsletters, and was presented in two parts, Phase I and Phase II. Following is Phase I, presented nearly exactly as it appeared in the original, with photos added by this editor. Prymak is designated as “AES” throughout, Rafford’s answers are designated simply as “A.”
Phase I of the question-and-answer interview was preceded by the following biographical information.
Paul Rafford Jr.: THE MAN
In 1940, Paul Rafford Jr. joined Pan Am as a Flight Radio Officer on the flying boat Clippers. As a result, he is well acquainted with the radio equipment and operating procedures of the Earhart era. After joining the company he met Pan Am people and others who either knew Earhart and Noonan or had a part in their flight preparations.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, under Pan Am’s contract with the Air Force, he worked as a Communications Manager on the Astronaut Recovery Team. His specialty was the analysis and forecasting of radio communication with the ships and planes supporting the astronaut landings.
It was while at his console in Mission Control that he became impressed with the parallels between the Navy’s astronaut search and recovery operations in the mid-Pacific and its vast search for Amelia Earhart in the same area thirty years before. As a result, he decided to apply space-age, computer aided investigative techniques to the problem of tracking down Earhart’s whereabouts when last heard from.
In the following question and answer session he presents his theory that Earhart may never have come anywhere near Howland Island. Instead, what the Itasca’s crew really heard were recordings of her voice made weeks beforehand, transmitted by a Navy plane to simulate her supposed efforts to find it.
“THE AMELIA EARHART
The theory presented herein represents
a major digression from the commonly
held belief that Earhart was in the vicinity
of Howland Island when her voice
was last heard on the air.
It proposes that the radio calls intercepted
by the Itasca were actually recorded
by Earhart before she left the
United States, to be played back at the
appropriate time later on by another
Paul Rafford Jr.
December 7, 1991
“PHASE I — THE HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY”
AES – So, you now suggest that Earhart never flew anywhere near Howland Island and you doubt that she ever intended to land there?
A – Yes, and I quote my friend Bill Galten, radio operator aboard the Itasca standing off shore, “That woman never intended to land on Howland.”
AES – But, don’t the Itasca’s logs contradict this?
A – No. If you study the logs carefully you will note that Earhart never called the Itasca directly or replied to any of its many calls. Her method of operating as observed by the ship was to suddenly come on the air for seven or eight seconds with a brief message. Then, she would be silent for anywhere up to a half hour or more before breaking in with another message.
The Itasca’s report states that two-way contact was never established. All of the transmissions received by the ship could have been recorded weeks beforehand for playback by another plane. It could just as well have been a PBY flying out of Canton Island.
AES – How were the recordings played back to make them sound authentic?
A – By following a carefully planned script. On my chart, THE SIMULATED HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY, I show the flight track I propose the PBY would have followed. At 1415, 1515 and 1623 GMT, the plane could have transmitted the first three recordings while sitting on the lagoon at Canton. They would simulate Earhart approaching Howland before sunrise. Then, at dawn the PBY could have taken off and headed toward Howland, transmitting the remainder of the recordings as directed by the script.
AES – But, the year was 1937 and PBYs didn’t carry radiotelephone?
A – True, but small, low power radio telephone transmitters for short distance communication by aircraft were available. I particularly remember the ten watt model we carried on the Pan Am flying boat Clippers. It would have been ideal for the Earhart fly-by simulation. The operator would simply start the playback machine and hold the radio mike up to the earphone to transmit the recordings.
AES – But, weren’t recording and playback equipment very primitive and bulky back then?
A – By modern standards yes, but not too bulky or primitive to be operated aboard a PBY.
AES – What evidence do you have that Canton Island might have been used as the base for the PBY that transmitted the Howland Island fly-by messages?
A – We know that the Navy had hosted a scientific party to observe a solar eclipse on Canton a month before Earhart’s flight. Aviation fuel, a radio station and supplies could have been left behind for the PBY operation.
AES – Isn’t there an exception to your claim that Earhart never replied to any of the Itasca’s calls? What about her request for the ship to transmit on 7500 kilocycles followed five minutes later by her statement that she had received the signal but was unable to get a bearing?
A – This apparent exchange of communication between the plane and ship could have been planned well in advance by the mission script writers. Earhart would request 7500 khz from the Itasca. Then, five minutes later she would announce that she had tuned it in but was unable to get a bearing. This would later explain to investigators why she could not find Howland.
AES – But, suppose the Itasca had not been able to come up on 7500, what would the PBY crew have done then?
A – They could have substituted another recording in which Earhart would be heard saying that she was unable to pick up the ship. However, it didn’t matter either way because the end result would be the same. Earhart’s failure to find Howland would be blamed on radio navigation.
Incidentally, no aircraft direction finder can take a bearing on 7500 khz. The Itasca’s crew knew this but without two-way communication with Earhart could not point out her supposed mistake and suggest a frequency where she could get bearings.
Today, we have every reason to believe that Earhart must have known that she couldn’t get a bearing on 7500 khz. Previously, she had been an adviser to the government on aircraft direction finders. Then, just prior to her departure from Lae, Harry Balfour, the local radio operator, had reviewed the operation of her d/f with her, particularly with reference to taking bearings on ships.
AES – Wouldn’t Noonan have known that she couldn’t take bearings on 7500?
A – Definitely! We radio operators worked very closely with our navigators back then and they knew what could or could not be done using radio direction finders.
Playing a recording of Earhart asking for that frequency was just a ploy to make it appear to the Coast Guard that she was ignorant about the basics of radio navigation. What better way to explain why she got lost?
AES – But later, wouldn’t some of Earhart’s aviator friends have pointed out that she very well knew she couldn’t get bearings on 7500 khz?
A – Yes. And I believe that this is one of the reasons why the logs and search report had to be classified for 25 years.
AES – What about the Howland Island direction finder, it never got a bearing either. What went wrong there?
A – The Howland direction finder was still another ploy to make it appear that Earhart’s failure to find Howland was due to radio navigation. The unit was an aircraft model, specially modified to take bearings on 3105 khz while Earhart was supposedly approaching the island. Its range was very limited, particularly when taking bearings on airplanes using fixed antennas. However, to further ensure that Howland couldn’t get a bearing, transmission from the plane never lasted more than seven or eight seconds, far too short for an operator to get a bearing.
AES – Why was it important for Howland not to get bearings on the plane?
A – Because they would have shown it to be approaching from the southeast and not from the west. This would have been a dead giveaway that the plane was not Earhart’s.
AES – Why was it necessary for Earhart to appear to get lost?
A – To touch off one of the world’s greatest air/sea searches. It would give the Navy an opportunity to make a vast survey of the Central Pacific, an area where the latitudes and longitudes of some of the islands had not been corrected on its charts since the early explorers first stumbled across them.
The storm clouds of World War II were fast gathering and our government needed all the intelligence information it could get. The searches would also give the Navy an opportunity to exercise its forces in an urgent, war-like situation without upsetting powerful pacifist groups in the U.S.
AES – Where would she finally be found?
A – Probably on some secluded island but not before the Navy had completed its survey. (End of Phase I.)
As is evident in the foregoing, Paul Rafford developed a unique, full-blown “Earhart Deception” theory, that’s compelling in its concept, execution and audacity. In our next post, Bill Prymak’s interview with Rafford will continue with Phase II of the “Howland Island Fly-By.”
Today we further explore the strong possibility that Amelia Earhart was not trying to find and land on Howland Island on July 2, 1937, but instead was engaged in an entirely different mission.
The below letter appeared in the July 1995 and July 1998 issues of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, but was initially published in the Jan-Feb issue of Shipmate, the official alumni magazine of the U.S. Naval Academy, accessible only to members. I don’t have the November ’86 Shipmate article referenced by R.B. Greenwood, a 1943 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, naval aviator and cousin of Mark Walker, who was lost in the 1938 Hawaii Clipper disappearance and whose fascinating conversation with Amelia Earhart is the main subject of this post. Bold emphasis mine unless indicated otherwise. Following is the AES presentation:
Letter in Shipmate Jan-Feb 1987 magazine, by R.B. Greenwood ’43, referring to an article in Nov. ’86 Shipmate – “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” by Capt. William B. Short, Jr., USN (Ret). (Bold in original.)
This article presents a most interesting account of one aspect of the Earhart story, the search. It also brings to light a common situation where the participants in a naval operation may not be privy to intelligence information concerning their activities. Apparently Capt. Short and his shipmates were not aware of the true circumstances of Amelia Earhart’s daring flight and the more likely position of her disappearance.
In the referred article, Capt. Short’s 5 July 1937 letter vents emotion about this “publicity stunt” and its effect on public confidence.
In the summer of 1938 my first cousin, Mark Walker, was visiting the family in Texas. We had a long discussion about his life in the Navy — flying off [the carrier] Saratoga in the early thirties, his employments in aerial photography, experiences as a Pan Am pilot in Sikorsky flying boats in Central and S. America, his current life as a China Clipper first officer, and test flights in the new Boeing Yankee Clipper which he was to captain on the Atlantic route. He was home because the test seaplane had suffered sabotage, and the schedule of test flights had to be delayed.
Walker was convinced that Japanese agents were responsible for the damage to his Boeing Clipper, and the subjects were raised about possible sabotage by Japan to one of the Martin China Clippers. He also talked about Earhart’s disappearance. He was convinced that she had been forced down by the Japanese. And, his opinion was much more than guesswork.
Early in 1937, Mark had been assigned to work with Amelia Earhart and her navigator Noonan on their Pacific area phase. He at once urged his friend Earhart not to risk the emphasis that Pan Am placed on flight safety by such a foolhardy “publicity stunt.” He told her that her equipment was barely adequate.
Her reply was direct. She had not proposed the flight. Someone high in the government had personally asked her to undertake the mission. Her navigator was an accomplished aerial photographer. The flight was to be laid out with two routes. One was to be publicized. The other was to be directed over intelligence objectives in the islands controlled by Japan. Positions on the published route could be translated to positions on the actual route. (Bold and underline emphasis in AES Newsletter presentations.)
As a side note, Mark Walker described how he and fellow Pan Am pilots had discussed how easy it would be for a saboteur to sneak aboard a China Clipper and with no more than a pistol, commandeer the flight and direct it to another destination. The clippers had all of the latest Navy instrumentation and communications equipment which he felt the Japanese wanted.
About a month after Iris visit home, Mark substituted for an ailing pilot as first officer in Philippine [sic] Clipper on a flight leg from Guam to Manila. The Clipper disappeared at the nearest point to a Japanese controlled island. Their position was known because their radio transmission stopped abruptly after reporting fair weather and their precise location. Contact could not be reestablished-although radio conditions were good. Walker’s prophetic conjecture had apparently come true. The cargo on that particular flight was Chinese gold bullion and a few high Chinese officials, including, I believe, the defense minister.
In the years that followed, several visits were made to Mark Walker’s father by Naval Intelligence officers. However, his father would never reveal the purpose of these visits because he had agreed to secrecy.
As regards the Earhart search, the Navy obviously knew more about the flight than was communicated to the search force participants. Perhaps the misguided search was a planned public diversion to reinforce the image of the United States as a peaceful, non-spying nation. This attitude apparently still covers other unpublicized intelligence probes into the Mandated Islands that were conducted in the pre-war period. (End of Greenwood letter.)
Paul Rafford Jr., the last of the plank owners of the Amelia Earhart Society to leave us, was impressed enough by Greenwood’s letter that he wrote about it in his 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio:
Yet Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard.
Mark Walker was Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: “This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
“Earhart’s crack-up in Honolulu is a classic example of how minor events can change world history,” Rafford wrote. “Had she not lost control and ground looped during takeoff, Earhart would have left navigator Fred Noonan at Howland and radio operator Captain Harry Manning in Australia. Then, she would have proceeded around the world alone.
“Fate decreed otherwise.”
For much more on Rafford and others’ theories about Earhart’s March 1937 Hawaii ground loop and subsequent reversal of her flight plan, please see my Nov. 2, 2018 post, “Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?”
Charles N. Hill, author of Fix on the Rising Sun (2000), an often speculative tome that focused on the 1938 Hawaii Clipper disappearance and Hill’s strident ideas about what happened, had more than most to say about Earhart’s alleged words to Mark Walker. Hill is best known for his conviction that the “Hawaii Clipper did not simply ‘disappear:’ ” as he writes in his book’s opening pages, “she was hi-jacked [sic] to Truk Atoll by radical officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Her fifteen crew and passengers were murdered and entombed within a slab of wet concrete on Dublon Island, at Truk Atoll, and quite inexplicably, the United States Government continues to keep this secret for the Japanese government — and from the American People [sic] — as it has, since 1938.” (Italics in original.)
Prior to his five-page discussion of Mark Walker, first officer on the lost Hawaii Clipper, Hill presents the same 1987 R.B. Greenwood letter to Shipmate that twice graced the pages of the AES Newsletters.
“An extensive discussion of the details of Walker’s reported encounter with Earhart, which follows, has been provided because it is especially unique,” Hill wrote. “Many researchers have either indicated, or attempted to prove, that the last flight of Amelia Earhart was, in fact, a covert intelligence operation undertaken in the interest of America’s national security. Walker’s story is one of the few, if not the only, account (albeit hearsay), in which she is alleged to have admitted to be preparing for an intelligence flight over the Japanese Mandates.”
Hill then reintroduces the entire money paragraph in Greenwood’s letter, the one underlined and bolded above, and then launches into a parenthetical discussion, the more salient portions of which follow. For consistency, let’s begin with the final short sentences that Greenwood wrote in this paragraph, followed by Hill’s discussion:
Greenwood: “The flight was to be laid out with two routes. One was to be publicized. The other was to be directed over intelligence objectives in the islands controlled by Japan. Positions on the published route could be translated to positions on the actual route.”
Hill: [This was not only technically possible, but also consistent with anomalies in Earhart’s flight from New Guinea. As to the technical possibilities, the published routes specified a ground speed of 150 mph, yet Earhart’s own notes, written during the March 17, 1937, flight to Hawaii (and available to researchers at Purdue University), indicated a speed of “180 mph Boy oh boy . . . ” but, as she later noted, they had “ . . . throttled down to 120 indicated airspeed so as not to arrive in darkness.” Moreover, the text of Last Flight, largely ghost-written by publisher George P. Putnam, her husband, noted that “actually, we were going about as slowly as possible. We throttled back the engines and most of the way our craft was ‘under wraps.’ ”
. . . Later, during Earhart’s second (and final) world flight attempt, the New York Times reported her speed, from San Juan, Puerto Rico down to Carripito, Venezuela, as being nearly 190 mph (true air speed, that is, for a ground speed, against headwinds well above 30 mph, of just over her desired 150 mph average). The NYT also cited a top air speed of 250 mph [italics in original], which makes it apparent that, whatever her ultimate plans may have been, Earhart could have appeared to make a flight from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island, at 150 mph ground speed, but while actually detouring to Truk, in the Japanese Mandates, in the same time — but at higher air- and ground-speeds, which, for the most part were, understandably, kept “under wraps.”
What Earhart told Walker regarding this spy flight, while clearly serving to “put him in his place” for his criticism, was, technically, quite feasible. And, if Walker’s comments were abrasive, as Captain Greenwood has indicated that they may have been, then her “direct” reply, while constituting a serious breach of security, can easily be seen as an understandable, if careless, rejoinder. The omission of a book credit for Walker would be consistent, as well, with several reports of Earhart’s unforgiving temperament.
Most important, there is a “ring of truth” to the detail regarding a translation, or tie-in, of reported positions, to actual positions, along a secret route. In 1985, the author found that Earhart had the speed and fuel to fly to Truk, en route to Howland, but could not include Mili Atoll and still reach Howland with the fuel and time available. The tactic served the hi-jackers [sic] of Hawaii Clipper far better than it served the Earhart spy-flight planners.] (Italics Hill’s.)
. . . Captain Greenwood’s letter and subsequent reflections on his conversation with Mark Walker, while providing valid speculation regarding Earhart’s last flight, also confirms, not only that PAA flight officers were aware of the possibility of a hi-jack attempt, but that at least one of them believed that a Clipper hijacking might well be successful.
We won’t get any further involved in the Hawaii Clipper disappearance now, but I thought some of Hill’s speculations might be interesting to many readers of this blog, especially the most imaginative, and so offer them for your consideration.
The foregoing and much more in this blog and Truth at Last leave me convinced that responsible researchers cannot disregard the real possibility that Amelia Earhart overflew Truk Atoll on the way to her Mili Atoll forced landing.
The total distance from Lae to Truk to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 statute miles when flying direct from Lae, well within the Electra’s normal range of 4,000 miles, even without modified engines. For further discussion of a possible Truk overflight, please see my Jan. 2, 2019 post, “Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?”