Tag Archives: Paul Rafford Jr.

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

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

PHASE II – THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AES – You say information was passed to Nauru?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AES – What was the purpose of these calls?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A – Because the Navy classified the logs and records.

AES – Why were they classified?

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

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

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

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

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

AES – Why do you say this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 bookAmelia 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?

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, was among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

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
RADIO DECEPTION”

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
airplane.

Paul Rafford Jr.
December 7, 1991

 

Bill Prymak, a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960, interviewed Paul Rafford Jr. for this article.  Prymak and Rafford were among the most significant contributors to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, but Rafford’s “Howland Island Fly-By,” while still retaining the Marshall Island-Saipan truth, is perhaps the most unique of all the alternative scenarios proposed by researchers.

 

“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 look at the teeming wildlife on Howland Island, so overpopulated with “10,000 frigates, 8,000 boobies (albatrosses), and 14,000 terns,” according to Army Lt. Daniel A. Cooper, writing in July 1937, that many doubted that Amelia Earhart really intended to land there when she disappeared on July 2, 1937.

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.

This was the official flight plan, 2,556 statute miles from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island.  The 337-157 line of position, or sun line, passed through the Phoenix Islands, near Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, and the popular theory, though completely false, is in part attributable to this phenomena.

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.”

Did Earhart tell Walker about her “real mission”?

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.)

Caption from Charles N. Hill’s Fix on the Rising Sun: “Mark Anderson (“Tex”) Walker, 1938. Snapshot by Ralph Harvey; photo courtesy of The Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas, from front page story, ‘Last goodbye,’ by senior staff writer Lois Lueke, published April 16, 1992.”

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 ClippersHe 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 foolhardypublicity 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 theHawaii 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.”

This graphic appeared in the September 1966 issue of True magazine’s condensation of Fred Goerner’s recently published The Search for Amelia Earhart, with this cutline: “Double line shows Earhart’s announced course to Howland Island.  Author believes she flew first to Truk instead to study secret Japanese base, then got lost and landed in Mili Atoll.  Captured by the Japanese, she was taken along dotted line to other bases. Ship below Howland is U.S. Coast Guard’s Itasca, Earhart’s assigned contact.

What Earhart told Walker regarding this spy flight, while clearly serving toput him in his placefor 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 directreply, 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?”

 

Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?

Much has been made by a few of the more conspiracy-minded researchers of Amelia Earhart’s disastrous crash at Luke Field, Hawaii, on March 20, 1937, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death, as well as those of Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, who were also with her in the Electra that day.  Some believed Amelia crashed on purpose.

First, some background might be helpful.  The original world-flight plan called for an Oakland-to-Oakland flight via Honolulu, then on to Howland Island; Lae, New Guinea; and Port Darwin, Australia.  Part two, a lengthier stretch over fabulous lands,as Earhart described it, extended from Australia to the west coast of Africa by way of Arabia.

Part three would take the Electra over the South Atlantic to Brazil and from there northward to the United States.  Noonan would go as far as Howland and return to Hawaii by ship.  Captain Harry Manning, a pilot, navigator and master mariner of the United States Line, had agreed to serve as Earhart’s navigator and radio operator during the difficult early stages of the flight.  Manning would stay until they reached Australia, and Earhart would fly the rest of the way alone.

The flight from Oakland to Honolulu went well, as Earhart, Noonan, Manning and technical advisor Paul Mantz took off from Oakland Airport on March 17 at 4:37 p.m. Pacific time.  They landed at Wheeler Field, Oahu, at 8:25 a.m. Pacific time, March 18, covering the 2,400 miles in a record 15 hours, 43 minutes.  Once there, Mantz test flew the Electra, made repairs on the right propeller blades that became temporarily inoperative about six hours from Hawaii, and delivered the plane to the Navy’s Luke Field, on Ford Island near Pearl Harbor.  With its 3,000-foot paved runway, Luke was considered more practical for the Electra’s 900-gallon fuel load.  

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

But on the March 20 takeoff for the 1,900-mile flight to Howland Island, the Electra had covered about a thousand feet of runway when its right wing dropped, the right wheel and the undercarriage were torn away, and the plane slid along the runway, showering sparks before coming to rest.  Miraculously, despite fuel leaking through the drain well of the belly, no fire erupted and no one was injured.

Witnesses said the tire blew,Earhart explained.  However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident.  Possibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course.  But, alas, the load was so heavy, once it started an arc there was nothing to do but let the plane ground loop as easily as possible.”  A wire report said Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst.”

Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, offered a more sinister explanation for the crash in his 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ‘em Flying.  Kennedy first met Earhart in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race, and directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the accident at Luke Field.

After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane.  When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote. 

Kennedy said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident.  Damn! I forgot about the gear,Kennedy claimed she said.  Art, you and I are good friends.  You didn’t see a thing.  We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural.  Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?”  Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.

Undated photo of Art Kennedy., circa late 1930s.  According to Bill Prymak, who knew him well, Kennedy fabricated stories about what Amelia Earhart told him after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937.  These tales from Kennedy have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission.

Kennedy said Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the takeoff “and did it the only way she knew how.”  According to Kennedy, she said, “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world.  She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’”  Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue. Who knows for sure?

Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who joined Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claims.  Goerner laid out his reasons in a cordial 1992 letter to Ronald T. Ron Reuther (1929-2007), himself a remarkable and highly accomplished individual.  

Reuther, a close friend of Goerner, founded the Western Aerospace Museum and was a revered, original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society.  Reuther was unique among the elite of the aviation establishment in his support for the Marshalls Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart disappearance, but these are mere footnotes in an impressive list of memorable achievements in a life well lived. 

He was also a great naturalist who curated and directed the Micke Grove Zoo (Lodi, Calif.), the Cleveland Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo.  As director of the San Francisco Zoo, Reuther was instrumental in the creation of an amazingly successful project to teach sign language to the world-famous and recently deceased gorilla Koko.

August 7, 1992

Mr. Ron Reuther
1014 Delaware Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

Dear Ron:

Again you have proven to be a good friend!

Many thanks for your comments regarding my health, and extra thanks for sending along the chapter from Arthur Kennedy’s book, HIGH TIME [sic] — KEEPING ‘EM FLYING.

I’m more than a little happy to report that my recovery proceeds apace, although I have some distance to go in regaining strength.

The surgeons at the Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., saved my life in a fifteen-hour operation, and I have just concluded the last of three week-long chemo sessions at Mount Zion Hospital here in San Francisco.  The latest CT-scan is clean, so it appears that I have at least a few more years to plague family and friends.

Undated photo of Ron Reuther in front of the Western Aerospace Museum in Oakland, California, where Amelia Earhart’s plane was kept prior to her 1937 flight.  Reuther was a founding member of the Amelia Earhart Society, and was a committed naturalist who directed the San Francisco and Philadelphia zoos, among others. (Photo by Lea Suzuki, San Francisco Chronicle.)

With respect to the Kennedy comments about Earhart, the proverbial grain of salt applies.

Kennedy appears to have been influenced by the film FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM in which Earhart is asked by the U.S. Navy purposefully to crash her plane in Hawaii so she can later undertake a secret mission.  Kennedy alleges Earhart did just that and that Earhart even told him something about it.  [Ed. note:  Tony Carter is the character in Flight for Freedom that Goerner identified as Earhart, but the parallel was obvious.]

This reckons without the testimony of Harry Manning who was flying the right-hand seat alongside Earhart at the time of the Honolulu crack-up.

Harry became a good friend in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.  As you will recall, Harry was the initial navigator for the around-the-world flight, and he later shared the duties with Fred Noonan.

Harry told me Earhart simply “lost it” on the takeoff, and there was no mystery about it whatsoever.

He said, One second I was looking at the hangars and the next second the water.  I thought we were going to die.

The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected.  He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all.  It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel.  He added it was a miracle there was no fire.

As far as the rumor that Earhart ground looped the plane on purpose to delay the flight, he said it was a concoction of a script-writer.  There was no truth to it whatsoever.

To accept such a conclusion, he added, one would have to accept that Earhart did not tell either himself (Manning) or Noonan what she planned to do.  He said neither he nor Noonan would have been foolish enough to go along with such a plan which might end in death for all of them.

Harry also said if there was a need to delay the flight because of some secret mission, the easiest way to delay the flight was for Earhart to feign an illness which required her to return to California.  Then they could have flown the Electra back to California instead of having the wrecked plane returned by ship.

Amelia Earhart with Harry Manning (center) and Fred Noonan, in Hawaii just before the Luke Field crash that sent Manning back to England and left Noonan as the sole navigator for the world flight.

Harry said by the time he got out of the wrecked plane and onto the runway he had already made up his mind that he no longer wanted any part of the flight.  It has always been stated that Harry had to return to the command of his ship and that is why he left the flight, but the truth is he had had enough of both Earhart and Putnam.

Sometime when we have a chance for a face to face, I will tell you the whole Manning story.  Harry wanted me to do a book about him and his career, but he died before the project could begin.

By the way, Harry Manning was a pilot himself, and he knew whereof he spoke.

I trust that all is well with you, Ron, and with your family.

Merla joins me in sending all good wishes to you and yours, and thanks again for your thoughtfulness in sending the Kennedy material to me.

With respect and admiration.

Fred

P.S.  A chap named Bob Bessett of the Aviation Historical Society wanted me to appear tomorrow at Spenger’s to discuss Earhart along with Elgen Long and Richard Gillespie, who is flying in from Delaware.  Alas, my doctor won’t turn me loose.  I simply do not have the requisite strength yet.  Oh, how I would love to train my guns on Gillespie.  The man is a consummate rascal, and the Nikumaroro business is totally bankrupt.  If you happen to attend tomorrow’s confrontation, give me a blow by blow.  I’m sure Elgen and Gillespie will pea [sic] on each other’s shoes.  (End of Goerner letter.)

Goerner had two more years before the cancer took him on Sept. 13, 1994.

Publicly unfazed by the near disaster at Luke Field, Earhart nonetheless changed the flight’s direction to an easterly route, explaining in Last Flight that weather differences in various locations after the three-month delay for repairs dictated the reversal:

The upshot of those consultations was, that I decided to reverse the direction originally chosen for the flight.  Revising the Pacific program was a sizable task in itself.  The Coast Guard had arranged its routine cutter cruise to Howland Island so as to be on hand there at the time of my flight, other provisions had been made by the Navy.

The original course from Brazil though Panama, Central America and Mexico would be replaced by a cross-country flight to Miami, a practical shakedown flight, testing the rebuilt ship and its equipment . . . thereby saving the time of running such tests in California,Earhart wrote, adding that any necessary adjustments or repairs could be made in Miami.

Do Goerner’s letter and Prymak’s dismissal of Kennedy’s claims really mark the end of the story?  Can we really declare “case closed” with confidence, based on the word of these two experts, as well as what some of our own “better angels” might have us conclude?

The words of a few others might give some of the more suspicious among us reason to pause.  We still don’t know precisely how much Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart knew, for example, as I discussed in a Dec. 9, 2014 post, Amy Earhart’s stunning 1944 letter to Neta Snook.

And in Amelia Earhart’s Radio (2006), respected researcher Paul Rafford Jr. made an astonishing revelation:

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 [a] 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.”

Paul Rafford Jr., “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers, dies in Florida hospice at 97

Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, passed away on Dec. 10 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97.  Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side.  We lost a great man on that day, Betteridge wrote in an email.

Earhart fans will recall Rafford’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight.  In 2006, Rafford’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a treasure trove of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, is among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, was among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s. He wrote more than a dozen unique, scholarly articles for the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000.

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Rafford’s fascinating and inventive work.  In the past few years, I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart:The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga”; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities; and “Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?

He was a regular contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most imaginative and compelling possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time.  He even wrote two pieces with the nearly the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle Earhart researchers.

Rafford began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946.  He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E.  After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963.  During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.

Paul Rafford Jr., now 95, the elder statesman of Earhart researchers. As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford is uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

A recent photo of Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers.  As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford was uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006.  Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems.  We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.

With Paul Rafford’s passing, we can now mark the end of the “Greatest Generation” of Earhart researchers, an exclusive club whose members include Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak, Thomas E. Devine, Almon Gray, Joe Gervais, Joe Klaas, Rollin Reineck, Don Kothera and of course, Paul Rafford Jr. himself

If there were an Earhart Research Hall of Fame, Paul Rafford Jr. would have been inducted long ago on the first ballot.  He was a fine and decent man, admired and respected by his peers, and loved by many.  He made many significant contributions to the Earhart saga, and he will be missed.  May he Rest in Peace.

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