The Definitive Amelia Earhart Book?


I have to admit, ever since I have been in high school, lessee – that is at least 20 years ago – – no – over 40 – I have had a fascination with the fate of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.

I can remember reading a book where the author claimed that she was secretly living in New Jersey after her disappearance.

Others claim that she was on a secret mission for FDR and was executed by the Japanese on Saipan.

I can see why it became a nearly 80 year mystery.

I’ve read a book that, at least to me, has the most logical explanation as to what happened to them. The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, sent to Howland Island, her destination from Lae, New Guinea, was to beam a radio beacon to help guide her in the last few hundred miles. Her voice quality kept getting stronger and stronger and one of the last transmissions she said “I must be right near here” (or words to that effect and then….nothing. But she apparently could not hear the Itasca.

The extensive search, not only by the Itasca but the battleship Colorado and the carrier Lexington, of course, revealed nothing.

It has been a 78 year old mystery.

I read a book, written by a 40,000 hour pilot for Flying Tiger (then FedEx) and his wife, gives the most plausible explanation as to what happened.

Elgen M Long and his wife Marie K Long did extensive research not only in the planes preparation, but the previous attempt when Erhart tried her around the world flight going westward (with the crash of the Lockheed Electra at Honolulu).

There are 50 pages of notes and acknowledgements detailing the research that the authors did. Every leg of the trip – from the Oakland origin, is documented with the meteorological conditions, and where they stayed at each leg.

I learned a few things in this book too.  I had heard that Earhart was at best a mediocre pilot and her navigator, Fred Noonan, was a “washed up” navigator due to his alcoholism.

Not true on both accounts. While Noonan had trouble with alcohol he was still highly regarded within Pan Am for his abilities. This is before aids such as GPS and Loran made navigation so simple. Try putting your plane across 2500 miles of open sea to land at a dot of an island.

Noonan relied on the stars and winds aloft as they all did in those days.

Another surprise – Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed superstar who started the Skunk Works, helped prepare the Electra. Paul Mantz, who later with his partner Frank Tallman, went on as premier stunt pilots for the movie industry, was also instrumental in the plane’s preparation.

I had also thought that her husband, George Putnam, financed her trips but it was a group centered around Purdue University who financed her round-the-world attempt.

It is a book worth reading if you have any curiosity at all about this ill-fated trip.

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