Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved

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9780684860053: Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved

A biography of the woman flier Amelia Earhart, whose disappearance on her round-the-world flight in July 1937 gave rise to numerous rumours that are finally laid to rest through the investigations of these two authors. Their conclusion - that she ran out of fuel - is well supported by new evidence.

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About the Author:

Elgen M. Long is a retired Boeing 747 captain with more than 40,000 hours of worldwide airline flying spanning 50 years as a radioman and navigator, including over 100 U.S. Navy combat missions during World War II, and patrols over Howland Island, where Amelia Earhart disappeared. He is the holder of 15 world records and/or firsts, most notably as the first person to fly around the world solo, touching down on seven continents and flying over both the North and South Poles, in 1971.  Mr. Long lives in Reno, Nevada.

Marie K. Long, a former public relations consultant with the Western Aerospace Museum (now the Oakland Aviation Museum) in Oakland, CA., and wife of Elgen Long, passed away in 2003.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Tragedy Near Howland Island

Friday morning, July 2, 1937, Lae, New Guinea. It was not yet ten o'clock, but the tropical sun already beat down unmercifully on the twin-engine Lockheed Electra. Inside the closed cockpit, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, could feel the heat build as they taxied away from the Guinea Airways hangar.

The heavily loaded plane lumbered slowly across the grassy airfield toward the far northwest corner. Soon they would take off southeastward toward the shoreline, to take advantage of a light breeze blowing off the water. When they reached the jungle growth at the end of the field, Earhart swung the plane around to line up with the runway for departure. Only 3,000 feet long, the grass runway ended abruptly where a bluff dropped off to meet the shark-infested waters of the Huon Gulf.

Earhart was preparing to take off with the heaviest load of fuel she had ever carried. She and Noonan had flown 20,000 miles in the previous six weeks. Now only 7,000 miles of Pacific Ocean separated them from their starting point in California. The Electra, nearly 50 percent overloaded, was weighted to capacity with 1,100 gallons of fuel for the 18-hour flight to the next stop, Howland Island. Less than a mile wide, two miles long, and twenty feet high, their destination was just a speck of land that lay nearly isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was truly a pioneering flight over a route never flown before, and they would be the first to land at the tiny island's new airfield. Two more firsts for the famous thirty-nine-year-old aviator, who upon reaching California would become the first woman pilot to have flown around the world.

Fred Noonan, at age forty-four, was famous in his own right. As chief navigator for Pan American Airways he had navigated the Pan American Clippers on all their survey flights across the Pacific. Now, both he and his pilot knew that the grossly overloaded takeoff would put their lives at great risk.

Fred watched closely as Amelia ran up each engine and checked it for proper operation. She gave the instruments a final scan, and they were ready to go. The moment of truth had arrived.

Amelia advanced the engine throttles full forward and released the brakes. The roaring, straining airplane slowly accelerated as it began its ponderous takeoff roll. Her feet were busy on the rudder pedals, moving them left, right, back, and forward to keep the plane going straight down the runway. They passed the smoke bomb that marked the halfway point to the shoreline. The tail wheel was already off the ground; they were going over 60 mph. There was no stopping the heavy plane now; it was fly or die, and the bluff at the end of the runway was coming up fast. Amelia applied back pressure on the control wheel to lift off the ground. The force required was lighter than she expected, and the plane over-rotated slightly as the wheels left the runway. She relaxed some of the pressure, allowing the nose-high attitude to decrease slightly.

They were off the ground, but their airspeed was too slow for optimum climb. When they were beyond the edge of the bluff, Amelia let the plane sink slowly until it was only five or six feet above the water. She signaled Fred to retract the landing gear, and the electric motor began cranking the wheels up into the nacelles to reduce drag. The seven seconds required to retract the landing gear seemed more like seven minutes as the engines struggled at full power to increase the airspeed.

After several seconds, Amelia could tell that she needed less back pressure on the control wheel to hold the craft level. This signaled that the battle between the engines and the drag of the airplane was slowly being won by the engines. The airspeed was increasing; they were going to make it. When the indicated airspeed increased to optimum climb speed, Amelia let the plane rise from its dangerous position just over the water. After they were safely a couple hundred feet in the air, she gently turned the plane to a compass heading of 073 degrees, direct for Howland Island. She reduced the engines to climb power and quickly scanned the engine gauges to check that everything was normal. They breathed easier as the plane slowly rose to the recommended initial cruising altitude of 4,000 feet.

Fred wrote down their takeoff time from Lae as 0000 Greenwich civil time (GCT), July 2, 1937. Having calculated that the flight to Howland Island would take 18 hours, they had to time their arrival to occur at daylight the following morning. Fred would need the stars to be visible for celestial navigation until just before they reached the island.

Amelia had arranged for a message to be sent from Lae to notify the Coast Guard cutter Itasca at Howland Island of her departure. The 250-foot Lake class cutter was waiting just off the island to provide communications, radio direction-finding, weather observations, and ground servicing for her flight. The captain of the Itasca was to notify all other stations, including the U.S. Navy auxiliary tug Ontario. The Ontario was positioned approximately halfway between Lae and Howland Island, in order to provide weather reports and transmit radio homing signals for Earhart.

Harry Balfour, the Guinea Airways radio operator at Lae, was receiving new wind forecasts for Earhart's flight just as she was taking off. The messages indicated that the headwinds to Howland Island would be much stronger than reported earlier, when they had expected only a 15 mph headwind. Fred had subtracted this headwind from the 157 mph optimum true airspeed to calculate a 142 mph ground speed. At 142 mph it would take them 18 hours to fly the 2,556 statute miles to Howland Island.

Earhart's radio schedule with Lae called for her to transmit her messages at 18 minutes past each hour, and to listen for Lae to transmit its messages at 20 minutes after the hour. Balfour attempted to report the stronger headwinds to Earhart by radio at 10:20, 11:20, and 12:20 local time, but she never acknowledged having heard him. In addition, for more than 4 hours after she departed from Lae, local interference prevented signals sent by the plane from being intelligible until 0418 GCT.

At 0418 GCT (2:18 p.m. local time), Balfour finally received a radio transmission from Earhart using the daytime frequency of 6210 kilocycles. She reported: "HEIGHT 7,000 FEET SPEED 140 KNOTS" and some remark concerning "LAE" then "EVERYTHING OKAY."

At four hours and eighteen minutes into the flight they were already experiencing stronger headwinds than anticipated. The increased winds had made them recalculate their optimum speed. Amelia reported the change to 140 knots (161 mph) in her message.

Maintaining the correct airspeed was important, but Earhart also had to fly at the correct altitude for optimum fuel efficiency. As the engines burned fuel, the plane's weight would decrease and the optimum altitude would increase. At any given aircraft weight there is a specific altitude for best fuel economy. The higher temperatures common in the tropics reduce the density of the air. Above the optimum altitude the temperature's effect on air density is equivalent to approximately a 2,000-foot increase in altitude and a corresponding increase in fuel consumption. The Electra would lose fuel efficiency below the optimum altitude but not nearly as rapidly as when flying above it. For maximum efficiency in the tropics, the Electra had to be flown approximately 2,000 feet below the recommended pressure altitude.

Balfour heard the next report from Earhart in Lae one hour and one minute later, at 0519 GCT. She reported: "HEIGHT 10,000 FEET -- POSITION 150.7 EAST, 7.3 SOUTH -- CUMULUS CLOUDS -- EVERYTHING OKAY."

Perhaps the cumulus clouds or the 9,000-foot mountains of Bougainville Island had forced them to the very

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