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Nesbit, Roy

Missing Believed Killed (Sutton Publishing LTD, 2002)

In this work detailing the accounts of famous missing persons, the author devotes 34 pages in a total 173 pages to AE’s life and final flight. The book is an account of 5 accidents involving famous people.

The author details the Electra aircraft from Lockheed documents, including interesting details concerning fuel tank arrangements and capacities, previous flight segments, aircraft weights and speeds, flight times and position.

The author depicts a flight path directly over Nauru Island, assuming this path from the AE report of seeing Nauru Island’s lights. This path discounts the involvement of USS Ontario, and SS Myrtlebank, but validates identifying lights on Nauru Island.

Most interesting and valuable are the author’s references to celestial navigation, and the effect on the Lae-Howland flight from various aspects of celestial navigation, including navigation errors. The author is an experienced aircraft navigator, with experience near the era of AE’s World Flight and with the USAAF in WWII.

The author “recreates” an assumed series of actions taken inside the Electra, by Fred Noonan and centered on celestial navigation, during the final portion of the flight.

This recreation begins with the AE In-flight position report of 200 miles out [units not specified] at 1745 GMT, and includes a proposed resolution of this position, with the next report at 1815 of 100 miles out [units not specified].

The author generally concludes that these reports are consistent with an increasing accuracy of navigation provided by the fixing of position based on sunrise. Further, the author discusses the Line of Position, how it is used, and how it may have been used by Noonan, if he used such a technique at all. No conclusions are provided.

The author details (p26) one source of navigation error in using a sun fix at sunrise. The error arises in defining the sunrise time, and angle to the sun itself, at the time of first sighting of the rising sun.

“On the sea, the angle is essentially zero, however, in an aircraft at altitude, the occupants view the sun rise at an earlier time than if viewed from the sea surface. This difference is accounted for by correction factors in sight reduction tables.” Failing to correct a sun shot for this angular value, according to the author [no mile units specified], results in a 31-mile error at 1000 feet, 44 miles at 2000 feet, 70 miles at 5000 feet.

This error produces an aircraft position that is closer to Howland than the actual aircraft position. Further, the author contends that the “200 miles out” report was more accurate than the “100 miles out” report, if this error were made.

The author concludes this error was made, and that AE was flying north and south along a Sun Line of Position, located at least 31 miles [units not specified] west of Howland Island.

In general, the author publishes interesting aircraft information, and covers the celestial navigation issues and error potential very well.

The work concludes that a sun shot error produced a final position at least 31 miles west of Howland Island, and that AE had flown north and south along a 337-157 line through this position.