Thursday, August 23, 2012

Amelia Earhart - Case Closed

Fred Noonan & Amelia Earhart
I have just finished "Amelia Earhart - Case Closed" by Mike and Marjie Markowski, the revised edition of the original work of Walter Roessler and Leo Gomez.

"Case Closed" investigates the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan off Howland Island in July 1937.  However, unlike many other tomes that focus on Amelia's many aviation achievements, this book seeks to focus on the events that led up and contributed to that fateful day.

When we think of Amelia Earhart we tend to visualise a young daring girl setting off on a grand adventure, and who vanished off the face of the earth.  However, the truth is rarely as fanciful; and "Case Closed" seeks to dispel some of the myths surrounding this extraordinary woman and her exploits.

"Case Closed" leads us through the life and aviation achievements of Amelia - and touches briefly upon those of her predecessors.  We also learn of the personalities of Amelia and those surrounding her - and how these may have impacted upon decisions later made concerning her final flight. And we also learn that a series of events - each on its own probably not significant - together resulted in tragic consequences.

The authors look at a number of important issues that ultimately impacted on the final flight.  We learn of:

  • Amelia's choice of plane in the Lockheed Electra - most of her other ventures were in the single-engine Vega;
  • Amelia's crash on 20th March 1937 on her first attempt - an incident which resulted in damage to her Lockheed Electra and constant mechanical problems;
  • the non-participation of half her original crew in the second attempt - both Paul Mantz and Harry Manning decided not to accompany Amelia and Fred;
  • the decision to travel west-east rather than the usual east-west route;
  • adverse weather conditions affecting the Electra, navigation and pilot;
  • the decision not to take all necessary forms of communication on the final leg, whilst communication between both navigator and pilot was most basic;
  • "jet lag" and fatigue affecting both Fred and Amelia which resulted in both experiencing navigational errors and poor decision-making
What "Case Closed" confirms is that Amelia and Fred did not survive the attempt and vanished, somewhere near Howland Island, on the final leg of their journey. What I appreciated in this work was the efforts of the authors to offer a critical assessment of events leading up to that fateful day and to offer constructive analysis rather than look at events through rose-coloured glasses.

But let there be no mistake - in no way do the authors disparage the character and achievements of Amelia and Fred; rather they seek to show that both were human with all the frailties of humanity.  Their disappearance was a tragedy and loss to the world of aviation.  

Recent news articles on Amelia Earhart that have been featured on Women of History:



2 comments:

Douglas Westfall said...

"Important issues that ultimately impacted on the final flight."

Dear Melisende, I disagree. Amelia Earhart was an American heroine, a record-breaking aviatrix, and a celebrity world wide.

1) 'Amelia's choice of plane in the Lockheed Electra - most of her other ventures were in the single-engine Vega.'

Aircraft selection was not Earhart's - the Regents of Perdue University voted to gift AE with an $80k aircraft ($1.2m today). The Lockheed Electra was a different kind of aircraft: it had a single wing, two engines, and an all-aluminum, semi-monocoque, non-trussed body structure. The reason was two-fold:

In 1931 a TWA tri-motor wooden-strut Fokker disintegrated in air, killing the famous Notre Dame coach Knute Kenneth Rockne, along with seven other people. The second was a series of similar accidents in which single-engine commercial aircraft crashed, essentially because the single engine failed.

The death of such a respected and well-known celebrity caused the Civil Aeronautics Board to require passenger planes to not use wood struts nor wooden wings. The US Air Commerce Department – the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration – then required twin-engine aircraft for commercial use. (source AEH)


2) 'Amelia's crash on 20th March 1937 on her first attempt - an incident which resulted in damage to her Lockheed Electra and constant mechanical problems.'

Earhart and Noonan had done a 'touch and go' at the Eastern Airlines when arriving at Miami, before flying to Miami municipal. Eastern Airlines pilots Merrill and Lambie flew the 'Daily Express' -- an exact replica of Earhart's Electra -- to Miami on May 24, 1937. Earhart, Noonan, and Putnam met them at an event that evening. Although never revealed publicly, Earhart switched airplanes after arriving in Miami. (source AER)


3) 'The non-participation of half her original crew in the second attempt - both Paul Mantz and Harry Manning decided not to accompany Amelia and Fred.'

Harry Manning was an ocean liner captain and Paul Mantz was a Hollywood stunt flyer. While both men were welcome additions, neither contributed to the requirements of the world flight. Each man then left the crew for scheduling conflicts -- these because of the delay in repairs due to the Hawaii ground loop. (source AER)


4) 'The decision to travel west-east rather than the usual east-west route.'

The east-west route is no more unusual than the west-east route -- Pan American had been flying from Oakland to Hong Kong -- and back since the mid-1930s The reversal to the east-west route for the world flight, while having many disadvantages (Jet lag, Headwinds, & Radio propagation), was not her decision. (LFC)

Earhart was trained by Mark Walker in Alameda CA. Walker was a Naval Reserve Officer. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Earhart stated: "This flight isn't my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it." (source AER)

Douglas Westfall said...


5) 'Adverse weather conditions affecting the Electra, navigation and pilot.'

The only adverse weather during the entire flight was after an overnight stop at Calcutta India, which brought them into monsoon country. The rains began before they left for Akyab. Akyab is in Burma, as is Rangoon. Earhart was there only to refuel, but after she left, they had to return because of a monsoon. Again, Noonan’s ability in navigation brought them safely back to Akyab after about two hours flight time. (source AER)


6) 'The decision not to take all necessary forms of communication on the final leg, whilst communication between both navigator and pilot was most basic.'

In Miami, John Ray removed Earhart's trailing antenna and the accompanying 500kc crystal. Although there was a radio DF loop on the Electra when it landed in Miami, Bob Thibert installed a radio loop and calibrated it on the Electra. Len Michaelfelder then modified the fixed antenna on the Electra -- reportedly lengthening the antenna wire to improve transmission -- yet photographs show he actually shortened the antenna wire and moved the mast back several feet. These actions greatly reduced the Electra's radio transmission capability. (source AER)


7) 'Jet lag and fatigue affecting both Fred and Amelia which resulted in both experiencing navigational errors and poor decision-making.'

Jet Lag is a physical phenomena — technically called a physiological alteration to the circadian rhythm. What really is the basis for Jet lag is more the shift from night to day than the actual distance we travel by air. Jet Lag is far worse flying east; a five hour flight from Los Angeles to New York can have a worse effect than a ten hour flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco. Jet lag for Earhart was caused by the decision to reverse the direction of the flight. (source EJL)

The only 'poor' decision shown within the entire flight by AE is Earhart's approach to Africa: she missed Dakar by 168 miles, landing at St. Louis. Yet her radio equipment was incompatible with that at Dakar, where St. Louis was the primary airport for French West Africa and did have the equipment necessary to bring AE in.


8) 'What "Case Closed" confirms is that Amelia and Fred did not survive the attempt and vanished, somewhere near Howland Island, on the final leg of their journey.'

The entire world knows that Amelia and Fred did not survive the attempt at a world flight, and vanished. The final leg of their journey would have been the flight from Hawaii to Oakland.
Whether it was near Howland Island or not remains to be proven.

There are three primary theories out there: Splash and sank, crash and land, or fly into the hands of the Japanese military. I'm a Splash and float kind of guy.

To tell WHERE she went after she disappeared, will take some time.

Sources:
AER - Amelia Earhart's Radio -- tells WHY she disappeared.
AEH - The Hunt for Amelia Earhart -- tells HOW she disappeared.
EJL - Ending Jet Lag -- tells how to end jet lag.
LFC - Legends of the Flying Clippers -- Pan Am in WWII.


Primarily taken from, The Hunt For Amelia Earhart & Amelia Earhart's Radio
Douglas Westfall, historic publisher, Specialbooks.com