The loons are a few weeks late this year

Is there absolutely no public or media memory of previous ridiculous Amelia Earhart theories and corresponding failed searches tied to the flimsiest of evidence? I mean, most of it emanates from the same guy at the same organization seeking to perpetuate itself year-on-year. Last time it was the History Channel that got hoodwinked by some new guys, now the National Geographic Channel has laid down a wad of cash and gotten Titanic guy Robert Ballard involved, all on the “strength” of the picture below touted by the usual suspect. An Electra landing gear? Come now. This photograph has been hawked as showing a landing gear and proving Earhart crashed at this island for many years. I don’t care what “classified technology” has been used this time – it’s an 80-year-old old photo, fercripesake. Could’ve been a squashed bug on the original negative for all we know. Sorry, but I’m not buying it this time either.

You might think that the New York Times is only writing about this new search because of Ballard’s involvement, but they, like everyone else, most often file breathless copy every time some guy – usually the same guy – excitedly says stuff like, “This lip balm case cannot have come from anyone but Amelia Earhart. You see? Case almost closed!” And the Times foregone-conclusion headline this time – like every other time – is maddening: “Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue.” It’s not startling at all. The photo’s been shopped around since at least 1992, maybe earlier, with a new analysis we’re assured is of the highest tech done on it every few years. (“Hey, let’s try Image → Adjustments → Shadows/Highlights!”)

So once again, the media reword the press release en masse and ad infinitum and we’re off on another news cycle of steaming horse potatoes. It’s like Mars One, except that one at least died the undignified death it deserved. People don’t seem to realize that this Amelia Earhart malarkey is on a perpetual repeat cycle, with several different decades-old theories presented in an annual rotation. Another old theory they hope everyone’s forgotten about will be trotted out next year when they need more contributions. (“Whattaya think, maybe do the kinda sorta matching rivet pattern thing again this year even though it doesn’t really match and it’s the wrong aluminum manufacturer?” “No! Too soon.”)

Click this image and tell me that’s definitely for sure no doubt an Electra 10-E landing gear sticking out of the water at the left – which, I should add, no one noticed or investigated the day the photo was taken. I triple dog dare you.

In case you’re interested, here’s an IRS Form 990 for the non-profit that promotes this hooey, generally most visible around July of each year. There are just two salaried employees (line 15), the founder and his wife, and they’re paid handsomely. This group was founded in 1985 and is ostensibly devoted to historic aircraft recovery. They’ve collected millions of dollars in contributions, paid themselves quite a large chunk of that money (“Thanks, me!”), and have yet to recover any aircraft. This strikes me as being almost indistinguishable from a comfortable retirement plan.

The founder: “Amelia’s fame is like a faucet I can turn on and off with a press release.” And yes, he knew he was saying that out loud and in public.

Hallway update

I added a new 12×36″ enlargement to my refreshed hallway gallery today, a 1:3 aspect ratio crop of a high-resolution scan of the photo of the first flight of the Wright Flyer on 17 December 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Click for a larger version

Orville is piloting and that’s Wilbur at the wingtip. John Daniels, one of the five witnesses to the flight, took the photograph with Orville’s pre-positioned camera – so awed by what he saw that he almost forgot to squeeze the bulb to capture this image on the 5×7″ glass plate negative.

From the Flyer to the Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion above it was a span of just sixty-eight years and four months.

The full-size first flight image from the Library of Congress can be found here – be aware that it’s 27MB.

Edited to add: The comments here include a discussion in some detail of the soon-to-be-released film “First Man” and HBO’s 12-part 1998 series “From the Earth to the Moon”.

This one’s getting a case

After watching eBay for a couple of years, I finally found a Buy It Now listing with a decent price for this long-discontinued Corgi Sikorsky Sea King model – specifically, the chopper from the USS Hornet that picked up the Apollo 11 crewmen, and those from Apollo 8, 10, 12, and 13 as well. I happened to be at my computer at o’dark thirty when the new listing notification email came in from eBay, so I snapped it up within a few minutes of the listing being posted, thus avoiding any bidding starting, which for this model often results in a price inflated by 75% over the maximum that I was willing to pay. The Buy It Now price in this case happened to be exactly my maximum.

The diecast metal Sea King is well done, and more impressive in person than in photos I’ve seen. The only detail I see missing is the two capsule silhouettes behind the knight shield at the nose that represent its previous recoveries of Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 (see the Apollo 12 photo below, where it has silhouettes representing 8, 10, and 11), so I may paint those myself. This will most likely go in my office, so I’ve ordered a 15x12x9″ acrylic case for it. I’ve read in multiple places that the base has a tendency to warp over time due to the weight of the helicopter, so on advice of the customer support folks at Hornby/Corgi, who had a chat in their office about that problem yesterday and sent me a few possible solutions, I’m going to superglue the entire base to the floor of the display case.

Apollo 12’s recovery was also by the USS Hornet and the same helicopter

Jiminy Cricket on a velocipede

Back on the 4th of July, I referenced the worst air crash in history in my post on Clipper Young America. As you may have read, just three days later an Air Canada A320 nearly landed on a taxiway at San Francisco International Airport, a taxiway on which there were four aircraft. Had it not aborted in literally the last few seconds, 7 July 2017 would likely have become the new date of the world’s worst aviation accident.

You may have also read that the aircraft was lower than 100 feet when it aborted, but just reading that probably didn’t give you the heebie-jeebies like this animation I just put together from the images in today’s NTSB update on the incident:

Yeah, that’s ACA 759’s landing lights illuminating UAL 1 and PAL 115 in the third frame.

In post-incident interviews, both incident pilots stated that, during their first approach, they believed the lighted runway on their left was 28L and that they were lined up for 28R. They also stated that they did not recall seeing aircraft on taxiway C but that something did not look right to them.

Pardon me, I’m just going for a little lie-down.

Shocked, I tell you

Amelia Earhart ‘Lost Photograph’ Discredited

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” [Kota Yamano] said in an interview with The Guardian. “I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

Allow me to postulate: Could it be that they did little research because finding the original source of the photograph carried a high probability of ending their project right quick-like? Maybe better to leave it as a mystery, eh? Or, since this fellow found it in under half an hour, maybe they did find it and, perhaps not being completely familiar with how the internet works, hoped no one else ever would, but this is a horribly cynical view that, in court, I’ll deny I ever had.

Also discredited: The overwhelming majority of media that’s always willing to unquestioningly present every new Earhart theory as near-gospel – National Geographic included. Even now, after the source was found to have been published a full two years before Earhart’s ’round-the-world attempt, NBC News…well, gee, they still aren’t sure: “Questions Raised Over Unearthed ‘Amelia Earhart’ Photo”. Yes, questions such as “How is it that anyone bought into this hogwash in the first place?” and “So you’re saying NBC News was once a respected institution?”

The thing I’ve never fully understood is why the most likely scenario by far, of Earhart and Noonan running out of fuel and ditching in the ocean, seems so unacceptable to those who prefer castaway and prisoner stories. Is it just too bleak, too sad? Look, sometimes real life is – why not accept that?

History Channel’s PR department is desperately trying to figure out how to spin their bozo behaviour into something positive, but will probably instead try to misdirect by quickly announcing a new series on the mysterious connections between ancient astronauts, sharks, and Hitler, waving their arms as they yell, “No, look over here! Historical sharks!”

Nice view

In the course of decluttering, I came across lots of photos I took during flights on “Bomber” Bob Richardson’s B-17F “Kathleen” and the National Warplane Museum’s B-17G “Fuddy Duddy” many years ago. I never had a large scan of one of the nicer panoramic shots – only the small one in that linked article – so I just scanned one of the 3½x5″ prints at high DPI.

I took this photo from the bombardier’s seat in the nose of the B-17F as we were departing Buffalo Niagara Airport and turning away from Lake Erie on our way back to the museum at Geneseo, New York, 60 miles east. Click on it for a 1920-wide version – then F11 will give you the full effect in most browsers.

It’s July and the loons are back

A man whose face you can’t see very clearly has a sharply receding hairline? A woman sitting on the dock with her back to the camera is definitely wearing trousers? Well, of course it must be Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. And one presumes their captors must have hidden their uniforms and weapons to avoid appearing ‘too gauche’ in the photo.

Has to be, right? Well, could be. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Oh, good grief.

“It’s my feeling that this is very convincing evidence that this is probably Noonan.”

Having a feeling of very convincing evidence that something’s probably true seems like it might be just a skosh shy of an oxymoron, especially when that evidence is just a receding hairline and a prominent nose. Why, that could be Richard “Ski Jump” Nixon for all I know, but I can’t quite tell if the man has the requisite sheen of cold sweat.

If there aren’t already, there ought to be scientific and legal principles that say your evidence is actually not very convincing if you find yourself repeatedly pointing out to others that it’s all very convincing while sounding like you’re just continuing your own efforts to talk yourself into it.

This puts me in mind of pop archaeologists fond of coming up with mighty extrapolations such as “This small hole in the stone wall, which some might deem insignificant, is very convincing evidence that this is probably an ancient astronomical observatory and almost certainly the site of harvest rituals, possibly attended only by tribal elders while lesser members cowered in their huts, perhaps forbidden even to look upon the secret and mysterious ceremonies.”

Here, let me try one:

Men landed on the moon and didn’t sink completely beneath the surface dust as a handful feared they might*, so that is very convincing evidence that the moon is probably made mostly of supportive cheese.


“But again, for me, those things are all somewhat suspect until you have that photograph, which corroborates that she was there.”

Does not.

“To me, that’s just proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Is not.

Can you think of anything easier to refute? It’s like they’re not even trying very hard.

Anyway, it’s my feeling that there’s no hard – or even semi-soft – evidence suggesting either one of the figures is anyone in particular. I also feel strongly that increasingly sillier Earhart “evidence” will be brought forth approximately annually until approximately the end of time, or such time as the “science” and “history” channels’ hawkumentary money runs out.

Edited to add, a day later: Shock, surprise! The photo’s been discredited. Who’d’a thunk it?

*Astronomer Thomas Gold’s paper “The Implications of the Ranger Moon Pictures” is here.

Clipper Young America

Two weeks after I turned eleven, I had my first commercial flight, which was from JFK to Heathrow on one of Pan Am’s first 747s, the Clipper Young America, just eight months after Pan Am started flying the first jumbos off the Boeing line. I remember the thrill of seeing that name on the huge aircraft through the boarding area window.

The Pathé short below is from the time of Pan Am’s first 747 flights in January 1970 and so likely includes both Clipper Young America and Clipper Victor, the first two delivered by Boeing. Pan Am swapped the names of the two aircraft at the inaugural flight to London because the original Young America – the name they wanted for that flight – had mechanical problems on the day.

The name comes from this clipper ship launched in 1853 that plied the California trade, primarily sailing from San Francisco.

Clipper Young America pushback at Frankfurt Airport

Sadly, Clipper Young America (renamed back to Clipper Victor at the time) and many lives were lost at Tenerife seven years later when, in heavy fog, a KLM 747 attempted to take off without clearance while the Pan Am jet was still taxiing down the active runway. 583 people died in the worst aviation accident in history.

Clipper Young America featured in a two-page Pan Am advert

Flying to a specific South Sea isle

I became curious last night about George Lawler’s sources for his 1938 “Fly to South Sea Isles” painting for Pan American Airways, so I did some digging. The auction listing I quoted in my earlier post spoke of a fantasy setting that he likely merged from multiple sources, but it seems to me that there’s just one primary source: It’s clearly a view of Mont Rotui from either ‘Ōpūnohu Bay or Cook’s Bay in Mo’orea, Tahiti. If it’s from Cook’s Bay, the Clipper’s direction of travel in the painting might not be right as it probably would have inconveniently scraped one or two other mountains from that direction, but even so, the pleasing juxtaposition and opposing symmetry of the aircraft and the woman are reason enough for a little artistic licence, don’t you think?

You can click on most of the images below for larger versions.

The 50th anniversary print, from the National Air & Space Museum archive:

Mont Rotui circa 1940:

Mont Rotui circa 1960:

In the course of my search, I remembered that my print was issued by Hansa Editions to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Clipper service, and then was a bit amazed to find, on Google Books, the Islands magazine advert from which I ordered in the 1980s. This print, probably the finest of the various reproductions made over the years – some are appallingly amateurish in quality – goes for considerably more than US$25 these days.

I also found a photograph in the Smithsonian archive that gives a better sense of scale of the behemoth that was the B-314 – click the 1970 x 1343 image to see more clearly the two men on the right wing. This is the same California Clipper, NC-18602, at Pearl Harbor circa 1939-1940 with the view over the wing from the #1 engine. I see no weathering at all, even around the engines, so I favor mid-1939, possibly right after its maiden voyage to Hawaii. That open hatch is the navigator’s windowed observation hatch.

Below is NC-18602 at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay on christening day, Tuesday 25 April 1939, with the Bay Bridge in the background. The platform it’s on is moveable and could be winched up the ramp while the aircraft remained level; the aircraft was then towed ashore for maintenance using the wheeled beaching cradle it sits on.

Aerial view of man-made Treasure Island with the maintenance ramp at the lower right leading to the Pan American Airways hangar doors:

This hangar and the one to the right of frame are both intact on Treasure Island, two of just a handful of original 1930s structures still there. Section 7 of this article on Treasure Island then and now shows the buildings today. [Edited to add: I found the link broken December 2021 and fixed it to use the Internet Archive 2017 snapshot of the original.]

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

Edited to add: After I included this auction description, I did some research because the mountains in the poster seemed awfully familiar to me, and I now think Lawler had a specific place in mind when he designed that poster. The details here:

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):


“Monitor altitude and distance? Surely you jest.”

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released its final report on the Air Canada, um, pre-runway excursion in Halifax two years ago. The fifteen findings are not surprising. They start with the three below and get only a bit more depressing from there. It’s disconcerting to read phrases such as “the flight crew did not monitor the aircraft’s altitude and distance…”, but only because that’s a flight crew’s actual job.

3.0 Findings
3.1 Findings as to causes and contributing factors

1. Air Canada’s standard operating procedure (SOP) and practice when flying in flight path angle guidance mode was that, once the aircraft was past the final approach fix, the flight crews were not required to monitor the aircraft’s altitude and distance from the threshold or to make any adjustments to the flight path angle. This practice was not in accordance with the flight crew operating manuals of Air Canada or Airbus.
2. As per Air Canada’s practice, once the flight path angle was selected and the aircraft began to descend, the flight crew did not monitor the altitude and distance from the threshold, nor did they make any adjustments to the flight path angle.
3. The flight crew did not notice that the aircraft had drifted below and diverged from the planned vertical descent angle flight profile, nor were they aware that the aircraft had crossed the minimum descent altitude further back from the threshold.

It is at least good to see “Collision with terrain” right there on the cover of the report and the “Damage to aircraft” section’s perfectly succinct “The aircraft was destroyed.” Honesty is the best policy…even if it is only at the investigating agency.

Did not buff out

TransAsia Taipei crash update

Following up on my February post on the TransAsia crash in Taipei, this is from part 4 of the interim report just released. I’ve highlighted the key phrase here. I had thought something like this would likely be revealed by the CVR, but I still said, “Oh, no” on reading it.

TransAsia CVR extract

Click for a larger version

This interim report did not specify the cause, but powering down the only good engine at a few hundred feet with an airspeed of 105 knots cannot end well. Had they not made that mistake, there’s every chance it would not have been an accident, but an incident resulting in a return to the airport.

The final report is expected next April with a draft of that due in November.

Tonight on “It’s the Mind”…

deja vu…we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we’ve lived through something before, that what is happening now has already happened.

Parislights pointed out this new underrun accident in Hiroshima – once again Asiana, where one might get the idea there is an ongoing epidemic of some depth perception-sapping visual syndrome if one hadn’t already read – with eyes wide as saucers – how it’s “very stressful, very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane, always”, according to the 19-year, 10,000-hour veteran pilot flying the San Francisco accident aircraft. Baffling is too mild a word for such an attitude.

This seems vaguely familiar somehow. Shouldn’t there be snow or something? I dunno.


Looks like this one bounced two or three times at least. They did seem to do a tad bit better than the Air Canada flight in Halifax, though: beat ’em by 18 feet, touching down only 1,082 feet short instead of 1,100.

Still going with underrun

Regarding the Air Canada “hard landing” (ahem!) at Halifax, here are some pictures that sum things up well, the first two from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police drone and the third from Google Maps. Click any of these for a larger version.

Air Canada overview

This is not what is meant by intercepting the localiser


The A320 is at the upper middle. The two black bits in the snow are its main landing gear.

Region Capture

This view from the right side shows the elevation of the berm where the localiser sits…well, sat. The power lines at left were the ones it clipped.

The people on that aircraft were damned lucky that Halifax has had a huge amount of snow this year. The deep drifts at that berm softened the initial impact considerably.


“Um, you got a little schmutz on your, uh, runway there.”