OP-ED: 75 Years After Her Last Flight State Dept. Joins Effort to Find Amelia Earhart's Plane

By David M. Kinchen
Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart

Seventy-five years ago today -- March 20, 1937 -- Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan began her round-the-world flight in Hawaii, after departing March 17 from Oakland, CA. The plane was damaged on landing in Honolulu and was shipped back to the Lockheed plant in Burbank, CA for repairs. The flight continued two months later and, on July 2, 1937 Earhart's specially modified twin-engine Lockheed Electra vanished as Earhart and Noonan left New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea) on their way to Howland Island in the South Pacific as part of an attempt to circle the Earth.

 

The State Department plans to join a new effort to find her plane. (Link to news story: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/19/10764785-us-reportedly-to-search-again-for-amelia-earharts-plane). From the story: "A search team will concentrate on the deep waters near Nikumaroro, which was the site of a 2010 search that focused on coral reefs and nearby shallow waters, these people said. The search will be spearheaded again by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has championed the theory that the renowned female aviator and Fred Noonan, the other crew member on the July 1937 flight, ended up on or near the west coast of the island, formerly called Gardner Island."

 

Many theories abound about the fate of Earhart and Noonan, as anyone who Googles "Amelia Earhart" will quickly discover.

 

OP-ED: 75 Years After Her Last Flight State Dept. Joins Effort to Find Amelia Earhart's Plane

I have no opinion on the matter, but I have a connection with the famed aviator, however tenuous. I own a Kodak Duo Six-20 folding camera that many photo collectors say is just like the one Earhart used. There are photographs of the famed aviator holding the camera in an article by an Australian camera collector that I've discovered (Link: http://kodak.3106.net/index.php?p=302&cam=913). Accompanying this column are two photos of my Kodak Duo Six-20. It was made by Kodak's German subsidiary, is in fine vintage condition and still takes great photos -- if you can find 620 film for it. 620 film was a Kodak exclusive, the same size as 120 film, still available, but with smaller spool diameters. I've found sources for respooled 620 film.

 

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Quoting from the Australian article, courtesy of Peter Naylor from from Perth, Western Australia:


Here in Australia, Amelia is known in the same sort of light as other early fliers like Amy Johnson, but in the USA "Lady Lindy" was one hell of a celebrity. I won't bother going into her previous flights. We'll just concentrate on her two attempts in 1937 to circumnavigate the globe via the Equator in a twin-engined Lockheed Elektra and of course, on her Duo Six-20. Strangely, in spite of her many other endorsements of items such as clothing, suitcases and even cigarettes (although she was a non-smoker), there don't appear to be any adverts of her from Eastman Kodak in regard to the Duo-Six 20.

OP-ED: 75 Years After Her Last Flight State Dept. Joins Effort to Find Amelia Earhart's Plane


Her first flight attempt started on 17th March 1937 from Oakland, California, heading for Hawaii. She landed successfully, but after refuelling the plane hit problems on taking off on 20th March, with a heavy fuel load for the long flight to the tiny spot in the mid-Pacific of Howland Island. The US Navy had just completed an emergency landing strip there for her. The Elektra never got off the runway at Honolulu, suffering a collapse of one wheel and damage to a wing. Fuel poured out but luckily there was no fire or injury. The US Army Air Corps got the damaged plane back to the Lockheed factory in Burbank California where it was repaired over the following 8 weeks.

This is how the specifics regarding Amelia's Duo Six-20 became apparent. In typical efficient military fashion, a complete inventory of everything onboard, including the components of the plane itself, had been made by the USAAC. Their inventory shows that her camera had a lens s/no of 865715, which identifies it as an early 1936 f3.5 Schneider Xenar or the rebadged Kodak Anastigmat version thereof, since both used standard Schneider chronological numbering. On the balance of probability, it's more likely to have been the US-market KA model. Unfortunately none of the photos of her holding it are from front on, which would enable us to identify the lens more precisely. So we can only surmise here on likelihoods rather than facts. We do know that it can't have been an
f4.5 version, because they don't have any lens serial number displayed. Moreover, the f4.5 version doesn't seem to have been sold in the USA, only Britain.


By 20th May the plane was repaired and ready for another round-the-world record attempt. However she'd now decided to go the East - West route because of changed weather patterns. So off she headed, stopping at various US airfields before landing on 2nd June at Caripito in Venezuela. Of all the many pics available of the flight, the one in this article of her at Caripito (with enlarged section alongside) is the best and clearest one of her holding the Duo Six-20. Strangely the Purdue University Archive who hold the rights to many of these pictures, only have it described as: "Amelia Earhart At Caripito On 2nd June 1937, Carrying Something". Yet on the back of the pic is Amelia's handwriting reading "Me Giving The Photographers At Caripito A Dose Of Their Own Medicine". Clearly investigation and reasonable conclusions are not a prerequisite in the strange world of Archivists.


I emailed the Head Archivist at Purdue Uni, attaching the two pics below plus several of a similar art-deco Series 1 camera taken from different angles. I got a very nice response to the effect that while it did indeed look like a Duo Six-20 that Amelia was carrying, it wasn't positive enough evidence. Subsequently when the USAAC inventory factor materialised, I emailed Purdue Uni again, attaching the relevant page detailing the camera. I got another nice answer, this time conceding that it did indeed appear likely that it was a Duo Six-20 Amelia had been carrying at Carapito. Therefore it would have most likely to have been used by her for the rest of the flight. However, they still haven't changed their archival description of that photo .. Anyway, here they are -- so make up your own minds up, folks!

After refuelling they took off from Caripito on 3rd of June, making several more stops including Darwin, before finally reaching Lae in New Guinea on 1st of July. After refuelling they took off the following day on the longest single stretch of the flight, for the tiny speck of Howland Island hidden amongst all that expanse of ocean. It was 2556 miles from Lae to Howland Island and unfavourable winds meant they were running short on fuel by the time they were in radio contact with the US Navy guys waiting on the Island. However, they never reached their destination. No trace of Amelia, Fred, the Lockheed Electra (or the Duo Six-20) has ever been found since.

Daft Theories about what actually happened include abduction by aliens in UFOs, capture by the Japanese and crashlanding on an uninhabited island they mistook for Howland in the fading light. The obvious truth is just that they ran out of fuel and ditched into the Pacific relatively close to the Island. The ocean shelves very deeply and there is every likelihood that the plane wreckage lies at around 15,000 feet still undiscovered after almost 70 years, with the bodies of Amelia and Fred still onboard -- along with a Kodak Duo Six-20 camera.

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My Duo Six 20 has a Kodak Anastigmat F3.5, 75 mm lens, so it's an American market camera. According to Camerapedia, it is a 4.5×6 horizontal folder made by Kodak AG [the company's German subsidiary] from 1934 to 1940. I wouldn't be surprised if Kodak had presented it to Earhart as a gift, or maybe her husband, publisher George Putnam, gave it to her. It was a relatively expensive camera for the time at a $54.50 list price -- at a time when you could buy a new Ford, Plymouth or Chevrolet for $700 or so.

 

 
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