Aviation Tales

Aviation Tales are a collection of true stories from the past, some had a happy ending some did not.  But they should pique the interest of any aviation enthusiast and draw attention to any non-aviation enthusiasts.

The One-Degree Error

Many years ago at the beginning of the jet age, a jetliner was scheduled to fly from Australia to Honolulu. The technology of the day required a Navigator in the crew to plot the course as they flew.

As with many crew positions, a student Navigator was being trained by a veteran but the veteran Navigator got a little complacent like Captain Smith of the Titanic. The veteran crew member let the student do most of the work, periodically checking him. Unbeknownst to the veteran, the student had made a 1-degree error shortly after take-off.

After several hours it became apparent that the flight might be off course a little. They were off-course big-time with just a 1-degree error, so they ended having to land at Guam over 3,000 miles West of Honolulu.

While a 1-degree error did not seem like a big deal it sent the jet so far off-course that they had to land at an airport thousands of miles away from their destination.


The Hawaii Clipper

In 1938 Pan-American Airways was flying Martin M-130 flying boats (commonly called the Clipper) between San Francisco-Manila with overnight stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam.

On 28 July 1938 at 1139 the Hawaii Clipper took-off from Guam bound for Manila with 9 crewmembers and 6 passengers.  Nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes later the Clipper radioed that they were flying through layers of clouds and experiencing moderate turbulence, the navigator reported they were 565 miles from the Philippine coast.  That was the last radio communication with the aircraft.

The U.S. Army (USA) transport ship USA Meigs reported an oil slick about 500 miles from Manila and took samples of the oil which proved to be not of the Hawaii Clipper.  (Note:  Many times ships at sea clean out their bunkers by dumping oil overboard from time to time.)

Search for the Clipper was called off on05 August 1938.  This was the first long-range flying boat to be lost.  Two others, The Philippine Clipper in 1943 and the China Clipper in 1945 were also lost.

F-4 Phantom

Do F-4 Phantoms Collect Flies?

It was in mid-1985, and I was watching a squadron of United Staes Marine Corp (USMC) take off from Wake Island bound for Iwakuni Japan.  This was a routine movement of fighters from a base in the mainland to Japan with an overnight stop at Wake Island.

I was on a service road that paralleled the runway at Wake.  By most airport standards today this road would violate safety rules as it would be considered too close to the runway.  But because of the geography of Wake Island, it could not be helped.

My vantage point was on a slight incline, I had an excellent view of the take-off of the F-4s.    The squadron leader took off in a routine manner, the number two aircraft started his take-off roll and then suddenly it looked like a huge swarm of “flies” engulfed the aircraft.

Although the F-4 was in after-burner (routine for most jet fighters), a big fireball come out of the left engine.   The pilot continued his take-off roll as he was past V-1 (the max abort speed) and was airborne without any further incident.

However, I saw much to my surprise a tread from a tire rolling down the middle of the runway.  These events happen so fast, the mind has trouble tracking what is really happening.

What did happen was the left main tire blew up at about V-1, some of the rubber was ingested in the left engine and the tread and all parts of the tire come off the rim from the left landing gear.  The pilot continued his take-off with the landing gear left in the down position, of course.

A ground crew hurried out to clear the runway of debris so the remaining F-4s on the ground could taxi back to parking and the squadron leader could land as the Transpac ” would not be going anywhere that day.

Meanwhile, the concern was of the pilot whose aircraft had a blown tire.  He could not land the Phantom until it had burned off enough fuel for max landing weight.

Wake had an arresting gear mid-point of the length of the runway.  This was like a Hollywood produced drama as the F-4 flew around Wake Island burning off fuel, this took about 45 minutes.  One could imagine that the pilot’s anxiety was growing.  But this was pure speculation as Marines are trained well and don’t panic in emergency situations.

Finally, the drama came to a climax as the F-4 crew (2 crewmembers) lined up their aircraft with the runway, the arresting hook was down hoping to grab that life-saving cable strung across the runway.  I watched the aircraft making its approach and it looked so strange to see no rubber at all on the left landing gear, only a rim.

The pilot did a marvelous job of keeping the aircraft on the right main gear until it slowed down by then the arresting hook had grabbed the cable and the mighty F-4 came to halt about a thousand feet down slightly over on the left side of the runway.

Although this incident was certainly not an everyday happening, the training and caliber of character (remaining calm in a troubled situation) were outstanding.  I will always have the highest respect for the USMC aviation for the way they handled themselves that day.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart Last Flight

Amelia Mary Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  She received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross for this accomplishment  She helped found the Ninety-Nines an organization for female pilots.

She also was a “visiting” faculty member at Purdue University as an advisor to Aeronautical Engineering and a career counselor to females students.

Before she took her final flight, let’s take a little look at her background.  She was born on 24 July 1897 in Atchison, Kansas to a fairly affluent family   Amelia had a sister two years her junior, Grace Muriel Earhart.

The two lived a very unconventional life for those days.  For example, the Earhart girls wore “bloomers” which were looked down upon by society and their maternal grandmother.  The two girls were definitely what you would call”tomboys” as they played in the woods searching for caterpillars, and other field creatures.

Edwin Earhart, their father, found employment with the Rock Island Railroad in Des Monies Iowa.  A year late Amelia saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair.  She was totally unimpressed with it calling “it a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting”.

Amelia and her sister, (she now went by her middle name)Muriel) moved back to Atchison Kansas because her parents were moving into smaller quarters.

Amelia and Muriel lived with their grandparents and were home-schooled during that time. In 1909 the family was reunited in Des Moines and Amelia enrolled in the seventh-grade this was the first time in public schools.

Her dad who was an alcoholic was asked to retire from the Rock Island Railroad.  He later found work in Minneapolis with the Great Northern Railroad and Amelia went to Central High School in Minneapolis for a brief period.

Her dad having more problems became unemployed again and her mother took the girls to Chicago to live with friends.  Amelia was given the choice of high schools but declined a high school near their house because of the science department (chemistry lab was like a kitchen sink).  She chose Hyde Park High School.  She had a miserable first year but did graduate in1916.

While a volunteer, after Red Cross Training, She helped soldiers returning from World War I.   During this time she contracted pneumonia and sinus conditions that would be a life-long struggle.  Later in life, she had a drain tube in her face.

Her first experience with an airplane was at the Canadian National Exhibition in Tronto.  A World War I flying ace gave an exhibition and the pilot saw Amelia and her friend in a clearing and buzzed them   He probably expected them to run but Amelia held her ground and the “ace” buzzed her but she didn’t flinch.

Her parents were reunited in Long Beach California.  She went to visit them and got her first airplane ride on 28 December 1920.  “By the time I got to two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly”.  This was the start of Amelia Earhart’s passion.

She started flying lessons with Anita Snook.  On 15 May 1923, she became the 16th female pilot in the United States to earn a pilot’s license.  The continuing records and achievements she accomplished in the next 15 years are legendary and recorded for posterity.

The Final Flight

In 1931 Amelia married George Putnam.  She openly said that it was a marriage “in name only” as George had much stronger feelings for her than she for him.  George was a promoter, so he helped to get Amerlia funding from Purdue University for the airplane and other expenses in the “Around -The- World ” trip.

Lockheed in Burbank built the Electra 10 according to Amelia’s specifications which included the latest communications gear and extra cabin fuel tanks.  There were two navigators that were going to accompany Amelia.  Captain Harry Manning who had a shipmaster license and was the skipper of the President Roosevelt which had brought Amelia back from Europe in 1928.

The other,  Fred Noonan who had worked for Pan-American as route builder for the China Clipper from San Francisco to Manila.  He also held a ships’ Master license.

The “Around-the-World” flight was actually two parts. The first attempt was westbound as close to the equator as possible.  So Earhart took off from Oakland, California with her two navigators on 17 March 1937 bound for Honolulu.  They landed at Luke Field on Ford Island, Hawaii.

The next day during the take-off run the aircraft ground looped (this was a “tail-dragger”) the main gear collapsed and the aircraft slid on its belly along the runway until it came to a stop.  The flight obviously was canceled with damaged landing gear, broken props, and other structural damage.  The Electra 10 was sent by Ship back to California where it was repaired by Lockheed in the Burbank plant where it was built.

Electra 10

Although Putnam and Earhart did not have the ideal marriage, they did work well together in securing additional funds for the second attempt.  The Electra was repaired (maybe rebuilt) and on 01 June 1938 Earhart took off this time only with Noonan and this time heading Eastbound.

They landed in Maimi unpublicized but Amelia announced her plans for “Around-The-World” flight which again,  the plan was to be as close to the equator as possible.  Then after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, they arrived at Lae, New Guinea

On 02 July 1937, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae Airfield with a very heavy Electra bound for Howland Island a distance of  2,556 miles from Lae Airfield.  Earhart reported they were at 10,000 feet at 1500 (Lae time) but were descending due to cloud cover.

Then around 1700, she reported they were at 7,000 feet and their airspeed was 150 knots.  This was the last known position report which was near Nukkuman Island about 800 miles into the flight.

However, the last known radio transmission from Earhart was at 0845 in the general vicinity of Howland Island, their destination.  However, all attempts to contact the Electra failed.

The USCGC Itasca

The Search Begins

The U.s Coast Guard Cutter Itasca (which had been giving Earhart directional steers (DF) which she did not receive very well  and the United States Navy along with two Japanese vessels begin an extensive search near  Howland Island, the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

Her husband George Putnam conducted a private search, generally in the same areas.  All efforts produced no results.  The search efforts by USN and USCG cost about 1 million USD and a very high amount in the 1930s.

There have been several hypothesis and theories through the early years about Earhart disappearance, such as the Gardner Island theory where the Electra turned south when they couldn’t find Howland Island and landed on Gardner Island 350 miles South-Southeast of their destination,  Howland Island.

Then there is the Japanese capture theory or shoot down of the Electra.  Even the History Channel and Unsolved Mysteries have come up with “proof” that Earhart and Noonan had landed on a Japanese held island in the Marshall Islands and were executed.

I might add that the Japanese were not at war (except in China) and were not as hostile to America as they would be in a few years.  All of these theories do not take into account that the Electra was low on fuel and it’s navigation and communication equipment was not working properly and it would be highly unlikely the flight would have wandered off into Japanese held islands which were too far away.

Remember that one of Earhart’s’ last communications stated they were “low on fuel” and that reported position put them within 200 miles of Howland Island.    The most probable explanation of what happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan they couldn’t find Howland Island and the aircraft ran out of fuel and ditched in the ocean at an undetermined distance from Howland Island and eventually sank in 17,000 feet of water.

Quoting  Tom D. Crouch Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum, “that the mystery (Amelia Earhart) is part of what keeps us interested.  In part, we remember her because she is our favorite missing person”.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *