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Historical Perspective

Perspective considered in the report.

The World Flight attempt commenced at 1630 on March 17, 1937 with a departure from Oakland, CA for Honolulu, HI. The flight departed with 947 gallons of fuel, at a gross weight of 14,000 lbs. Takeoff power was set at 1100 Brake Horsepower (engines were rated at 600 HP per engine with takeoff power time limited) and shortly after becoming airborne, AE reduced the power in keeping with her characteristic “kind” treatment of engines.3

It is relevant that AE frequently gave human qualities to her machinery, particularly to engines, and referred to them in humanistic terms. AE seemed to always endeavor to treat her equipment with kindness, not demand “too much” from faithful engines, or push the airframe “too hard” in speed, turbulence or during landings. She wrote, “Once aloft [from Oakland], I throttled down. Engines have human attributes - they usually respond to kindly treatment. With a long grind before them I wished to give mine the least possible punishment.”4

This behavior is reflected, and to some extent, governs, AE’s aircraft performance throughout her World Flight segments, which can be generally considered “consistently conservative.”

En route to Honolulu, high tailwinds pushed ground speed at one point to 180 mph, and AE slowed to 120 mph indicated airspeed at 10,000 feet so as not to arrive before sunrise, burning slightly less than 20 gallons per hour (GPH). It was not specified if this was 20 GPH total, or per engine, but it is likely a per engine consumption rate, for 40 gallons per hour total. This conforms to Pratt-Whitney engine data.

(This data point is useful for consideration of maximum endurance speed, and fuel consumption rate, during terminal area maneuvering in the vicinity of Howland Island. In this environment, fuel consumption rate for analysis was defined in this research as 40 GPH at 120 mph indicated airspeed. Indicated air speed is roughly equivalent to ground speed at low altitudes, and construction of the search grid used a 120 mph ground speed.)

FN instructed AE to begin a descent at 80 miles from Makapu. This was approximately in line with recommendations made by Lockheed and Kelly Johnson5, to commence descents at 100-150 statute miles at 200-300 feet per minute descent rate, using slightly less than cruise power, and approximately maintaining cruise speed.6

This guidance is also consistent with the Electra Operating manual from an airline company, for the Lockheed 10A Electra aircraft.

FN likely worked in nautical miles, and 80 nautical miles is 92 statute miles, within 9% of the recommended minimum descent distance.

The flight time of 15 hours 47 minutes, over the 2410 statute miles, resulted in an average ground speed of 152.7 mph. This was a higher speed than normally flown for long mission distances, a result of the higher-than-anticipated tail wind conditions.

On the subsequent flight segment from Hawaii, a takeoff mishap resulted in aircraft damage requiring repairs to the Electra, made at Lockheed in Burbank, CA. The aircraft was shipped to Lockheed via surface vessel. This accident resulted in canceling the first World Flight attempt, and delayed the second World Flight attempt while repairs were made to AE’s damaged aircraft. During these repairs at Lockheed, apparently, one of the original two starboard side fuselage windows was replaced with aircraft skin sheet metal, at approximately amidships. Comparative photographs reveal this alteration, not considered significant to either navigation or the mission. This alteration has not been addressed in previous research. Three aft windows remained, two on the left side at the entrance door and just forward of the door at the navigator station, and one on the right side of the fuselage, for FN navigation.

An aircraft and contents pre-shipping inventory, made by military personnel at Luke Field7, revealed two important items. One was a collection of 11 insect collection tubes, also described by AE as about 1 meter in length with the circumference of a broom handle. These were used to collect air samples, and specimens, en route at various places around the world, in conjunction with government and university research8. These may be identifiable in a debris field. Second, the inclusion of 6×30 binoculars was an indication that binoculars may have been used in the final terminal area search for Howland.

While life vests were noted, a life raft was not noted in this inventory.

Following repairs completed on May 19, 1937, NR16020 was flown to Oakland, CA on May 21, 1937, then to Tucson, AZ; El Paso, TX; New Orleans, LA; and to Miami, FL, arriving the afternoon of May 23, 1937 for a week of final World Flight preparations.

On June 1, 1937 at 0556 local time (1056 GMT) in Miami, NR16020 departed for Oakland, CA via an eastbound equatorial route around the world. Aboard were AE and FN.

Their first stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Amelia and Fred’s plan called for a flight time of 7 hours 40 minutes on this leg. AE indicates they arrived at approximately 1310 local time, at 1810 GMT, with an approximate actual flight time for 1153 statute miles of 7 hours 18 minutes, and an average ground speed of 157.9 mph.

References to aircraft and mission performance throughout the World Flight provide an audit trail of characteristic and historical data concerning speeds, engine power settings, fuel consumption, flight behaviors, human factors, fatigue management, navigation, and progress toward achieving World Flight mission objectives.

This data provides a statistical basis to compare with re-calculated navigation and aircraft performance, providing a quality assurance function that methodology is reasonable, reliable, and affords improved accuracy.

Additional flight segments are discussed in following sections.

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