New Britain Island during the Second World War housed up to 100,000 Japanese. They invaded New Britain at Rabaul on 23rd January 1942. They built Rabaul into a fortress. When the nacelled engine and airframe was found the Japanese had been on New Britain for 3 years and 3 months. Aerial activity against Rabaul started in 1942 with sporadic raids by four-engined Flying Fortress B-17's operating from Australia and re-fuelling at Port Moresby . Major aerial hostility did not start until late 1942 when the U.S. 5th Air Force achieved a worthy strength and bases were opened up on New Guinea Territory . This wreckage find in 1945 was a bare aluminium nacelle and a bare aluminium airframe, wartime allied aircraft were camouflage painted. I have been into U.S.A.A.C. wreck sites (B-24's) in Papua New Guinea and have seen wrecks of Japanese aircraft at their resting places. The museum in Port Moresby has aircraft out in the open. None exhibit the amount of corrosion as described by the Warrant Officer, “holed and filigreed”. It would be impossible for a wartime aircraft on New Britain to have corroded so badly after a maximum of three years. To be Amelia's Electra, it would have been there eight years. That bare aluminium cowling must have had a layer of impinged salt upon it to have been eaten away so badly. Three years is not really enough but eight years is plenty for the salt to eat through the cowl ring. AE was low over the sea after take-off from LAE until out of sight and she was also at 1000 feet whilst looking for Howland Island . Even today, WWII aircraft cowlings out in the open at Kokopo, near Rabaul, in the Museum there, close to the sea, do not exhibit that kind of corrosion.
Fuel and Weather
Fuel and weather, of course, are critical to this project. It is generally accepted that the aircraft left LAE with 1100 U.S. Gallons of fuel at 0000GMT on 2nd July 1937. Lockheed say that the aircraft would be held at 8,000 feet for ten hours when we know that Amelia used to climb straight through to 10,000 feet where she would burn less fuel than the Lockheed figures. Amelia's weather forecast was for an Easterly wind of 12-15MPH when we can deduce from the position report at the Nukumanu Islands before nightfall, that the wind must have been Easterly at 24MPH minimum at 7,000 feet at that point, double the low-end forecast. Amelia did indeed report a 25mph wind at Nukumanu but did not state the direction.
It can be demonstrated that Amelia's practical use of the aircraft on a flight from Oakland to Honolulu on the first World Flight attempt used far less fuel than Lockheed say should have been used. Lockheed say that for the first 14 hours of this flight in the Climb/Cruise phase, the Electra should have used 714 USG. My research and figures show that the Electra used around 577 USG in these 14 hours which is a 19% saving in fuel. This saving will obviously increase the range of the aircraft. This percentage or a savings percentage figure such as this will only increase as the aircraft burns off fuel and becomes lighter and this can be expressed as less power required for a given airspeed at the lighter weight. There is no reason to believe that Amelia's fuel management of the Electra on the Lae-Howland flight was any different to the Oakland-Honolulu flight. The all-up weights on the two flights were within 500 pounds of each other, the only other difference being the heights at which the aircraft was flown. It is therefore, reasonable to assume that the fuel consumed after fourteen hours on the Lae-Howland flight would have been approximately the same with the near same saving.
After her reporting point at Nukumanu, she climbed a further 3,000 feet or 5,000 feet to either 10,000 feet or to 12,000 feet depending on which reports one believes. At higher altitude, the wind strength would have been a new figure, different to the 25 mph wind stated at Nukumanu. It can be shown that at whichever altitude the Electra cruised, the wind was a minimum of 35MPH on the nose when she reached a USCG cutter named the “ Ontario ”. AE was now night flying and very unlikely to attempt a change in altitude. Because of the timing of the transmission made at 1030GMT, which said “ship (or lights) in sight”, the wind could have been even greater in strength. This 1030GMT radio call can be said to be the only “actual” position report that Earhart made as it was off her normal schedule and must have been an actual sighting made at the time given. The PR's shown previously made at 0518GMT and 0718GMT cannot definitely be said to have been where the Electra was at the times transmitted. This is one of the frustrating things about those PR's. The 1030GMT call was an actual sighting of “lights (or ship) in sight ahead”. This being the case it means that her average groundspeed over the first 1278 statute miles was around 120 Statute miles per hour, given that it may have taken the Electra 5 minutes to be overhead the lights themselves.
This low average speed over the distance indicates higher than forecast headwinds.
Because of her groundspeed at Nukumanu of 128MPH, the light seen at 1030GMT could not have been the SS Myrtlebank or the Nauru Island light as the groundspeed rate of increase required would have been impossible to attain with the headwind. The distance of 520 statute miles from Nukumanu to a possible glimpse of the Nauru light at a distance of 40 statute miles would have required a groundspeed at the Nauru light of some 200 MPH after the 3 hours and 10 minutes between Nukumanu and the 1030GMT radio call. Similarly, it was impossible, for the lights to have been the SS Myrtlebank. The lights seen must have been the USCG Ontario positioned 1278 miles from Lae at half distance to Howland. The Electra was late at the Ontario .
Note: Further to the wind speed as shown above, an Air Niugini pilot ferrying an aircraft from the U.S. to P.N.G. told me he received a quartering tailwind of 40 Knots in this same area on the delivery flight in mid-year. He was flying from Tarawa to Port Moresby at 14,000 feet. Another pilot flying a light twin from the Solomon Islands to Nauru , recently told me that in August 1992, he had a headwind of 30-35 knots from the NE at 10,000 feet and had to descend to 1500 feet where the wind was less at 15 Knots. Those large value headwinds really are there, in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).
Radio and Navigation
It is obvious from the radio calls that were made by Amelia and the ground stations that her radio receiver was not working as there was no direct interchange of messages between the two except when Amelia asked for a series of letter “A's” in morse from the USCG Itasca but then she was using (had switched to) the DF loop antenna mounted above the cockpit. Only then would she know definitely that her transmitter was working and she would assume that her receiver was also working. It has been postulated that her lower receiving aerial had been broken off during taxying for take-off at Lae and this may be correct. There had been problems with the receiver also, as at Darwin she had the receiver fuse replaced, so that during the flight Amelia or Fred may have changed the fuse again to get it to work and the fuse kept blowing. The lack of a regimented series of radio calls and the brevity of the ones that were made, could point to Amelia thinking that no-one could hear her anyway, so why bother.
The Chater Report, unearthed in the files of the Placer Company, contains position reports (PR) made at 0518GMT and 0718GMT after leaving Lae.
The first PR, which contains a Longitude of 150.7 degrees East, puts the Electra at only 250 statute miles from Lae after 5 hours and 18 minutes. This cannot be correct, as the average groundspeed is only 49 statute miles per hour (SMPH). However if the Longitude is really 157.0 degrees East then the Electra is way to the South of the direct track to Howland Island and over Mount Maetambe (3,380 feet) on Choiseul Island in the Solomon Group. The average groundspeed is then 129SMPH, more in keeping with the aircraft.
The second PR puts the Electra over open sea 12 statute miles from the nearest tiny island in the Nukumanu Atoll ring and 24 SM from the main island of Nukumanu which is a long thin strip of an island set at right angles to their track. It is a perfect reporting point. Yet, the Lat/Long broadcast by Amelia is over open sea. I tend to think that their chart was incorrect as Nukumanu was a former German possession and had not been surveyed in the 20 th Century. If they were over Nukumanu Island and the PR given was taken off the chart then this would make Noonan's calculations of groundspeed and windspeed slightly inaccurate.
Earhart and Noonan had to see Nukumanu Island before nightfall for an accurate fix of their position. If their chart was incorrect and they accepted the position on the chart as the actual Lat/Long of the island this only adds complications to the navigation.
The cumulus cloud at 10,000 feet reported earlier in the flight, which was the reason for the descent to 7,000 feet in order to see Nukumanu, may still have been around and it makes sense to climb over these clouds while night flying. Earhart reported “overcast” and this makes the question of Astro Navigation ability a pertinent one. Was Noonan able to get Astro ? Noonan was a good navigator but would be blind without Astro. The next fix of position that was possible after Nukumanu was at 1030GMT when the “Lights (or ship) in sight” call was made. If they accepted the ship as the Ontario they would know where they were. There is no reason to believe that they knew of the SS Myrtlebank steaming towards Nauru and yet the First Mate of that ship says he heard them going overhead. If Noonan had obtained Astro through the night and just before dawn he could have used dead reckoning navigation to steer for Howland. He would know where they were to within five miles, he would know their groundspeed and he would know the wind strength and direction. I personally believe he did not get good Astro fixes, if at all.
The Contingency Plan
The combination of a headwind of greater strength on the way out, no Astro Navigation, failure to reach anywhere close to Howland after searching for one hour, says that Amelia would have invoked her contingency plan. The contingency plan, found in Gene Vidal's papers, was to turn back for the large spread of the Gilbert Islands and to put the Electra down on a cleared area, a beach or ditch close to shore. No wreckage was found or has been found on the Gilbert Islands . As to the position that Amelia and Fred thought that they were at, when the 1912GMT radio call, “We must be on you but cannot see you…” was made, it tells us that AE & FN thought they were at or lateral to, Howland Island. Due to the headwinds and no Astro Navigation, I believe they were short of Howland by as much as 120-150 SM.
In invoking their contingency plan to return to the Gilberts they would not start looking for the Gilbert Islands for two and a half hours, by which time they would have over-flown these islands. Trans-Pacific pilots tell me that the Gilberts are difficult to pick out anyway, due to cloud shadow.
In a turnback and with a lower than published fuel consumption, and the now tailwind at altitude of 20MPH or more the aircraft would have had a groundspeed of at least 200MPH. A return to New Britain is feasible. Rabaul on New Britain had the only two airstrips between Lae, the take-off point and Howland Island , the destination. These airfields were Lakunai and Vunakanau. There were no others at all. The Electra was a landplane, not a seaplane. Amelia would have known about these two airstrips as she had conversed with Guinea Airways staff at Lae and had also queried Governments on available landing grounds on the world track or close to it. Amelia would also consider that she had wrecked the aircraft once that year but that if she could make Rabaul, the aircraft and crew would be saved.
By climbing higher, by leaning off the fuel by use of the mixture control, by using full throttle and full coarse pitch she can economise further on fuel. By doing this, the cylinder head temperatures would rise and prolonged use of a weakened mixture would damage the engines in the long run but this is a small sacrifice to be paid for saving the aircraft. Cylinders and valves can be replaced, airframes are more costly.
The US Navy file records a radio call
There is one radio call, which seemingly to other researchers, has no bearing on the matter. This is a radio call made public by the author, Fred Goerner, who found the item tucked away in a US Navy file. The call was made at 0030GMT and dated as 2 nd July 1937. The call was, “Land in sight ahead….” and was only heard by the Nauru Radio operator who said that the voice sounded the same as the voice he had heard the night previous. The call time and date in the Eastern Hemisphere makes no sense as Earhart had departed Lae only one half hour before. The US Navy, however, would date the call in the Western Hemisphere and 2 nd July is 3 rd July in the Eastern Hemisphere . 0030GMT on the 3 rd July is around 11:00am local time on Nauru . On my plot at that time, the Electra is within fifty miles of Banaba (Ocean) Island , on the way back. If this was Earhart who made the radio call, why did she not put the aircraft down on the “land in sight ahead” ? It tells me that she had enough fuel to continue on.
The search area
My group, have had nine attempts at finding this wreckage in the jungle since 1994. In 1945, the wreckage was covered by vines. As the tree canopy rejuvenates and closes over after a period of years, the vines covering the wreckage theoretically should die back. We have been hoping to “bump” into the wreckage the same way that the Australian Soldiers did in 1945. In April/May of 1997, a Tropical Cyclone named “Justin” went through the area and has blown down dozens of trees and they are piled up on the target hillsides, the loggers have been in there also on the ridges and have made a terrible mess. Our last attempt was in June this year. The search area and the damaged areas are turning into Secondary jungle making a ground search virtually impossible. We need modern technology on the job and for that we need sponsorship for a Magnetometer Survey of the area. A Magnetometer employed in a helicopter will find the engines. A worldwide Geological Survey Group based in Perth , Western Australia , have told us that they would be able to find the engines down to a depth of eighty feet. I doubt that the engines would be buried that deep if they are buried. The search area is about 50 statute miles from Rabaul.
I have been trying to get the attention of prospective sponsors who would listen to this very intriguing story for some time now. We have the descriptive evidence of the patrol veterans and the documented evidence on the map. This is more than anyone else has .
Other research Groups who openly search for the Electra, do so on bare hypotheses. These groups have spent in the region of US$5 million already. These groups have not found any evidence which links the Electra to their efforts and research and their hypotheses. We need US$100,000.00 as a minimum to find the New Britain wreckage. More funding would be nice, as, if I cannot pinpoint it with that kind of money, people will say “It is not there”. The evidence says it is there.
We believe Amelia and Fred would have had little choice but to employ the Contingency Plan and turn onto their reciprocal course and hope to make landfall before the fuel ran out. The overcast may still have been around and when it cleared and on realising the tailwind and where they are in Longitude, after a series of sunshots, Fred figures that they might possibly make Rabaul and save the aircraft. In emergency, with low fuel, there are islands which come up before Rabaul where the aircraft could be put down. These are Nukumanu, The Mortlock Islands, Bougainville, New Ireland, Nissan Island and a few more. The round trip needed is around 4350 miles, they had already done about 2400 approaching Howland. The 10E had a still air stated range of 4000 miles with judicious fuel management. With an average 25 mph headwind for the last 12 hours of the outward sector the 10E should not have been closer than 120-150 miles to Howland. This puts the return sector at around 1950 to 2050 miles. With a possible climb to 12,000 feet or more and a leaned off mixture the aircraft return is feasible with a tailwind. Amelia did fly the aircraft at 12,000 feet in the United States , she would know what the fuel usage would be. I believe there would have been around 300 US Gallons on the aircraft after the search for Howland. At 12,000 feet and a fuel usage of 30USGPH the aircraft can fly for 10 hours and at 200MPH groundspeed. This gives a range of 2000SM. She could also have done what she did on the Oakland to Honolulu flight and pull back the power, to say, 150 MPH indicated and use around 25USGPH with a 20MPH tailwind the groundspeed would be 170SMPH and the range would be around 2040SM. A combination of power settings is possible to get her back. Pilots I have spoken to are adamant that they would continue on until low fuel made them ditch.
There have been long dissertations on the TIGHAR Forum as to the fuel capabilities of the Electra and my reading of those convinces me that the Electra could have got back to Rabaul. I have conversed privately with the gentleman who made the performance estimates of the aircraft based on the Lockheed charts. Amelia and Fred had not been to Rabaul and we do not know if their strip map included the Rabaul area. The arrival time at the Rabaul area would have been in the late afternoon and typically in mid-year the area gets “socked in” with a cloud layer at around 3,000 to 5,000 feet. The search area we go to has the clouds rolling over the hills at about 4:30pm making the valley dark by 5:00pm and by 6:00pm it is last light.
I have released most of what we have which is the visual sighting and the detail on the map. This is direct evidence that the Electra rests on New Britain Island and stands on its own merit. The details of significance of the evidence, the fuel saving by the practical use of the aircraft, the flight into a greater than known headwind and the return in a tailwind, are what I have worked out. Although the World Flight attempt failed due to the circumstances as described the fact remains that human beings will strive to save themselves and their means of survival when their plight is desperate. Amelia had a contingency plan, so that she knew that they might not find Howland Island all those years ago.
There will be those who will postulate that it was not possible that Earhart, Noonan and the Electra could have made it back to the vicinity of Rabaul. In the main those people will be those who have their own agendas. The fact remains that there is evidence of aircraft wreckage in that area from persons who saw this wreckage and there is documentary evidence which identifies that wreckage. This is the only evidence in the World of where the Electra rests. I have tried to show here, within this story, that there is merit in continuing to search for this aircraft wreckage in New Britain , which I firmly believe is the elusive Electra.