It’s beginning to look a lot like Amelia

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 in which she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in July 1937.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

It started quietly,  but the mainstream media have picked it up now.  TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro thesis on the fate of Amelia Earhart received a significant boost with the publication of a 16-page paper in the March 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Forensic Anthropology (not Forensic Pathology as stated in some sites), published by the University of Florida Press. See the article itself at this link:

The author of the article is Richard L. Jantz, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, and Director Emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Jantz’ research focuses primarily on forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, dermatoglyphics, anthropometry, anthropological genetics, and human variation, as well as the development of databases to aid anthropological research. Jantz is a prolific author,  and his research has helped lead and shape the field of physical and forensic anthropology for many years.   In the paper in question, he concludes that the bone fragments found, analyzed and subsequently lost in the 1940s are most probably those of Amelia Earhart.

The paper is a significant work, drawing on Jantz’ own expertise and a re-evaluation of the data recorded in Fiji in 1941, the last (and probably only) time that the bones were subjected to scientific analysis. Jantz says that additionally, information concerning Amelia Earhart’s body dimensions came to light in 2017 through a new study of Earhart’s clothing,  held in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University.

The article challenges two assertions. Firstly that the bones were those of a stockily built male about 5’5″ in height.  Secondly,  notwithstanding speculation at the time, the skeletal remains were not considered to be those of Amelia Earhart because she was always thought to be tall, slender, and gracile (a word I have never used or read until now). The re-evaluation of the bone data, and measurements taken from her clothing, suggest that despite being 5’7″ tall and presenting a fairly elfin figure, Earhart was apparently a little more stocky in build, and around 20 pounds heavier,  than contemporary accounts and the evolving legend (courtesy no doubt of George Palmer Putnam)  would have us believe.

Jantz states in his conclusion: “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers”

UTK (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) wrote a news release on the article here:

It’s comforting to this part-time academic that the article itself was received by the journal in August 2017, was revised in October, and accepted for publication in November 2017, finally appearing in Vol.1, No. 2 in March 2018. The academic publishing process is as tortuous as ever.

I await with some interest the response of the supporters of the other theories.


On The Trail

I should know better than to read some news articles.  At least I don’t read the public comments since my blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.  Today I read an article that said some of the Chemtrail believers are getting more vocal.   The bit that really got me was one of the prime movers who said “20 to 30 years ago we didn’t have these.”  What?

I’m a Brit so one of the first images that came to mind was this one:

British and German aircraft after a dogfight

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails (contrails) left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight. (Public Domain – Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time I looked, 1940 was a bit more than 30 years ago.   Of course I can remember a time when 1940 *was* 30 years ago, but that was 1970.

A little later, aviation historians will remember pictures like this of B-17s and B-24s on bombing missions in the Second World War.

B-17s from the 340BS, 97BG

A formation of B-17Gs from the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group wing their way towards Linz, Austria, while their P-38 Lightning escorts contrail above them. (Public Domain – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons)

Contrails do date to a time before The Second World War. The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine quotes an observer who saw “the condensation of a cumulus stripe from the exhaust gases of an aircraft” over the Austrian Alps in 1915. (Full article at

Another early contrail was observed in France in 1918 , according to a 2007 article in Air Power History.  “Wakes of war: contrails and the rise of air power, 1918-1945 Part I – early sightings and preliminary explanations, 1918-1938”  (The URL has been hijacked and leads to some weird page about investments in French – this is why there’s no link). 

I shall have to do a little more image research to see if there are any more early pictures of contrails out on the web.  I remember seeing a picture of a very high flying JU86 observed over Sussex on 18th  August, 1940 leaving a high thin contrail which must have displeased the reconnaissance crew no end. There must be something earlier.

I learn something new today in my searches. Contrails have an opposite.  The dissipation trail, or distrail. Warm exhaust air causes particles of moisture to evaporate and produces the effect of a line being drawn through a cloud with an eraser.  These are much more fleeting than a contrail and have their own strange beauty. I think I may have seen these over the years, although my eyesight is not of the finest. I’d be interested to know if any of the readership have any personal experiences with distrails.

Distrail over Hong Kong, 2012

November 22, 2012. Wikipedia user ‘Earth100’ captured this rare shot of a dissipation trail (distrail), just 10 seconds old, formed by an airplane over Hong Kong. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Thorny Questions of Restoration

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk ET574, which was discovered untouched in 2012 following a crash in the North African desert in 1942, has shown up at the El Alamein Museum in Egypt,  wearing some very dubious camouflage and markings after a fairly crude restoration job, as some pictures from Classic Warbirds on Facebook show.

The British press was up in arms over the affair in 2015, after it was discovered that the RAF Museum had handed over Spitfire F.22 PK664 to Kennett Aviation as payment for Kennet’s services in recovering the Kittyhawk and returning it to the UK.  The recovery part of the deal was undertaken and completed, but the Egyptian government decided they wanted to keep the aircraft and display it at the museum.  The Kittyhawk’s 2017 discovery or revelation at El Alamein has spurred the popular press anew, and a few historical websites lament the rather amateurish restoration carried out by the local museum. The aircraft is wrongly identified as a P-40B and there appears to be little or no acknowledgement that this is ET574.

ET574 At the El Alamein Museum, 2017

It is indeed unfortunate that the Kittyhawk could not have been recovered to the UK and restored or conserved sympathetically. The RAF Museum spokesperson said that almost as soon as the wreck was discovered, it was being stripped for scrap metal by the local population, so there was a necessity to remove it. This is how apparently it ended up in a shipping container at El Alamein. The uncertainty of the Arab Spring and the unsettled nature of middle eastern politics did the rest.

I personally don’t have a problem with ownership of PK664 having passed from the RAF to Kennet Aviation. There is a reasonable chance that Kennet may actually take some care of it and it’ll go into the restoration queue, although I understand that PK664 was not a complete airframe.

There are concerns concern about some remains found about 5 kilometers from the wreck of ET574. The RAF Museum and the British government say they are not those of  the pilot, Fight Sergeant Dennis Copping, and that his body has never been found. I have also read reports of conflicting stories about DNA tests, (even whether DNA testing has been carried out at all, and what the results were) which can only add to the anguish of Flight Sergeant Copping’s remaining relatives, which is regrettable to say the least.

The slightly thorny issue for trainspotters like me is the nature of the restoration of ET574. Certainly  the opportunity to conserve the wreck as a time capsule has been lost.  Yes, the paint job and markings are pretty amateurish, including the awful national markings and the 112 squadron “sharkmouth” which ET574 never wore during her service life with 260 Squadron. It’s an amateurish job, but cries that the machine has been “ruined” smacks of people in glass houses throwing stones.

Let’s look, for example, at the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The NMUSAF has in its collection Bristol Beaufighter Mk 1c A19-43 which was flown in combat in the south-west Pacific by 31 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.  It was something of a basket case when recovered from Australia, although it had a known RAAF identity.  A19-43 is however painted as USAAF T5049 of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

Bristol Beaufighter Ic

Bristol Beaufighter Ic originally A19-43 in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863

Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force,  Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Also at Dayton is Spitfire Vc Trop MA863.  This aircraft also served with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was acquired in a swap with the Imperial War Museum in March 2000 which resulted in a B-24 going to the UK.   MA863 is painted as a machine of the 308th Fighter Squadron,  31st Fighter Group,  USAAF in the Mediterranean theatre, where many “reverse lend-lease” Spitfires served.  However as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) A58-246, the Spitfire served with 54 Squadron (RAF) in early 1944 as the personal mount of Squadron Leader E M Gibbs (wearing the codes DL-A) and later served with 452 Squadron (RAAF) coded QY-F. When I saw the machine in 2002 it was wearing the markings of 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF  and was situated in a Battle of Britain diorama looking very odd indeed with its tropical filter sticking out. My companions at the time were wondering what I was gibbering about.

I suppose here I could mention B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” (that’s her behind MA863 in the picture above) resplendent in an Olive Green and Neutral gray paint scheme she never wore during her service with the 91st Bomb Group. The reason given was that so much remedial sheet metal work was carried out on the Fortress during its restoration that they felt obliged to paint her to hide it.

Also very close by is Spitfire PR XI PA908 which was handed over by 681 Squadron RAF to the Royal Indian Air Force in 1947 and which eventually found its way to the NMUSAF where it now wears the scheme of a USAAF PR XI with the serial MB950.

The restoration “proposal” which horrified me a few years back was the Brewster F2A-1 BW-372, a combat veteran of the Finnish Air Force. Flown by Lt. Lauri Pekuri it was damaged by a Soviet Hawker Hurricane and crashed in 1942 on Lake Big Kolejärvi, about 30 miles from Segezha, Russia. BW-372 was rediscovered in 1998.

Brewster B-239 BW-372

Brewster B-239 BW-372 in the Aviation Museum of Central Finland. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft was transported to the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida in 2004.  In 2008 it was displayed at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland for the 90th anniversary of the Finnish Air Force. Fortunately,  apart from conservation work,  it doesn’t appear to have been touched.  A few years ago I read an article (which I sincerely hope was a piece of inaccurate reporting at the time), that the NNAM was proposing to restore and display the F2A-1 as a US Navy Buffalo, which generated shrieks of puritanical horror from me, at least.

I don’t want to imply that the restorations carried out by the NMUSAF or NNAF are not of a high standard. They do have resources far in excess of a small military museum in Egypt.  Even top-level museums are prepared to make exceptions  or reserve the right to display their collection in whatever way  they consider best according to their polices or other exigencies.  If the museum owns the exhibits, it can paint them any way they choose.  People like me can (and will) complain about the loss or originality,  but that’s just unfortunate.

One could go on. I do remember a quotation of Spencer Flack on the subject of his bright red Spitfire XIV NH904 / G-FIRE (now resident in Palm Springs and itself painted in a lurid approximation of a Korean War Spitfire 24). Flack said something on the lines of “If they give the the money they can have it any color they want” Most of his house fleet at the time was bright red, and having seen G-FIRE at displayed in the 1980s it didn’t look any the worse. What was more important was that it was there, it had been restored and in that particular case it was flying.

The RAF Museum spokesperson said that a quick recovery  of the Kittyhawk was necessary to stop it being destroyed.  We’ve seen pictures of the extent to which the ill-fated B-24 41-24301 Lady Be Good was systematically stripped between its discovery in 1958 and its removal from the Libyan desert in 1994. Bearing this in mind,  we can at least say that most of ET574 has been preserved even if the restoration fell well below the standards we expect in western museums.  Some people have pointed out that a lot of restoration expertise would have been available had the Egyptians asked, but that this doesn’t seem to be their process with regard to museum exhibits.

The social media comments on the various newspaper articles have ranged from the near sensible to the shockingly insensitive. I was going to make some comment on Facebook earlier when Susan shared the article about ET574 from Archaeology News but I thought I should probably just keep my thoughts in a quiet place on the deep web. Here they are, and here they will probably stay well hidden except from my dozen or so readers. Until of course I share this blog post on Facebook.

RIP Bruce McCandless

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in Orbit

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in orbit on Space Shuttle Mission STS-41B in 1984.
(Public Domain via NASA)

There are a number of iconic images in the brief history of manned spaceflight, and this is surely one of them.  Bruce McCandless flying un-tethered from Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984.  One could almost say Blue skies, Bruce, except in his case it’s the indigo and black of Earth Orbit.    Thank you for being there, and showing us.

Riding a Norseman into Posterity

Major Glenn Miller, USAAF

Major Glenn Miller, USAAF (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Last Friday, 15th December, was the anniversary of the 1944 disappearance of Major Glenn Miller, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Baessell, and pilot Flight Officer John Morgan, on board a UC-64A Norseman, AAF serial 44-70285. The aircraft departed from RAF Twinwood Farm near Bedford (England) en route for Paris (France – one article mentions a Ninth Air Force airfield at Vélizy-Villacoublay) but disappeared presumably while flying over the English Channel. No wreckage or bodies were ever found.

Conspiracy theories abounded through the years, many of them stretching the reader’s indulgence beyond endurance.

A 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune (actually reviewing an episode of the PBS  series “History Detectives”) reported that despite the many theories that had been proposed, Miller’s plane probably crashed because of icing in the carburettor. The Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp used a two-barrel Stromberg that was prone to icing, and carburettor heating sought to rectify this.

Glenn Miller Declassified - Book Cover

Dennis M Spragg “Glenn Miller Declassified” Potomac Books (September 1, 2017)

The key person in the Tribune article, the PBS show, and most of the other articles I’m going to cite is Dennis M. Spragg. Spragg is Senior Consultant at the Glenn Miller Archive in the American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He’s just published a book entitled “Glenn Miller Declassified” (Potomac Books, September 2017) which, according to the Amazon reviews is a tad dry, but which has a lot of documentary detail.

I must get hold of a copy of this book, since it piques my librarian, historian, airplane nut and Glenn Miller fan interests simultaneously – a rare enough event.

According to the various reports in news articles and interested websites, Spragg’s book answers a few questions and advances my personal favourite theory of history – that the most mundane explanation is probably the most likely to be true.

The conspiracy theorists will be left grinding their teeth. Glenn Miller was not on a secret mission under orders from Eisenhower. His body was not dumped outside a Paris brothel following his capture by German special forces. He was not blackmailed or repatriated to the USA under arrest and tried for black market activities, racketeering, or anything else. Miller’s Norseman was not struck by bombs jettisoned from a returning force of RAF Lancasters following a cancelled raid. The mundane explanation, an iced carburettor, and a crash in the English Channel, is Spragg’s proposed solution.

One of the conspiracy theory books I read years ago stated that Miller’s plane couldn’t possibly have left from Twinwood Farm because the airfield was closed for flying on 15th December.  Morgan was apparently denied permission to undertake the flight due to the appalling weather and low cloud. Miller had been delayed for two days already.  Spragg apparently says Baessell simply overruled Morgan on his own authority and ordered him to proceed, despite the fact that Morgan (who was not an experienced B-24 pilot with a completed tour of operations behind him, as one theory states) was not qualified for instrument flying.  Baessell seemed to have been able to authorize his own flights before and did it again, either disregarding or not being aware that his authorization was not valid in these circumstances.millermap

Spragg’s evidence includes the handwritten log of of a plane-spotter named Richard Anderton (now sadly deceased) who was living in or around Maidenhead at the time and who observed “1 Norseman going ESE” on the afternoon of 15th December 1944. Continuing to head ESE from Maidenhead would, in my estimation,  make the Norseman cross the coast somewhere around Folkestone or Dover and give the pilot the shortest possible channel crossing.  Obviously we have no way of knowing what course Morgan may have taken after overflying Maidenhead.

If Richard Anderton had spotted Miller’s Norseman flying ESE, and had it stayed on that course  – Anti-Aircraft defences notwithstanding,  it would tend to discount the theory that the Norseman was struck by a bomb or bombs jettisoned by RAF Lancasters of 149 Squadron returning from an aborted bombing raid on railway yards at Siegen, Germany.

The “Lancaster” theory says that Morgan would have flown south-south east or south from Maidenhead (avoiding London) to leave the English coast at Beachy Head in order to avoid the heavy Anti-Aircraft defences on the south coast of England. The attraction of this theory is that a straight line from Maidenhead to Paris passes over Beachy Head and into or close to what was known as the Southern Jettison Area.

The Southern Jettison Area used by 149 Squadron that day,  was located at 50º 15’N 0º 15′ E.  One of the 149 Squadron crewmen said in a 1985 interview that it was “near” Beachy Head,  but actually the zone is midway between Beachy Head and Le Havre).  The Air Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence record that the raid on Siegen took off at 12 noon.  Miller’s plane took off from Twinwood Farm at 1.55pm and was spotted by Richard Anderton before 3pm. The AHB said in the 1985 article that Miller’s Norseman and the Lancasters may have been “many miles apart.” It would be informative to know when 149 Squadron were recalled and what course they took to the Jettison Area.

It’s entirely possible that the returning Lancasters may have hit a low-flying aircraft when they jettisoned their bombs. There may be no record another light aircraft incident on December 15th, but there appears to be no official record of Baessell’s unauthorized flight with Morgan and Miller either. This, says Spragg, is part of the reason why the USAAF was so slow in announcing Miller’s death. They couldn’t believe they had simply lost someone like Glenn Miller. Until someone hauls up an identifiable piece of wreckage from the English Channel we will never know.

As you can imagine,  no photographs exist of 44-70285,  leading to some speculation as to how it might have looked on the day Miller, Baessell and Morgan took their fateful flight. Opinion is split on whether the Norseman was in an Olive Drab / Neutral Gray scheme or whether it was unpainted. Modellers have built their own versions of Miller’s Norseman both ways and differing interpretations of 44-70285 are visible on the Web. Needless to say some aircraft spotters and modellers will always associate the Norseman as being the aircraft on which Glenn Miller was lost.

Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman

Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman – Olive Drab with AEAF “Invasion Stripes” painted out in the upper fuselage and lower wings, indicating a photograph taken in late 1944 or early 1945 (Public Domain)


Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman.

Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman. Silver finish with AEAF “Invasion stripes” on all lower surfaces possibly indicating a photo taken in Summer or Autumn 1944. (Public Domain via 33 PRS)

It would be remiss of me not mention Miller’s musical legacy and to feature a YouTube clip of Miller and the AAF band performing, although many people have done it a lot more capably than me.  This number caught my attention when researching the story of Miller’s disappearance.  “Jeep Jockey Jump” was restored by Mike Zirpolo in his review of Spragg’s book.   See the Bibliography for a longer list of sources I consulted.

Amelia Earhart – Quotes, Pictures, and Silence.

I must have said something about 2017 being the anniversary year of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.  I lectured a couple of times about her (the first time was in 2011) and even gave a Pecha Kucha presentation a couple of years ago to a bemused audience at the First Christian Church in Pittsburg on the topic.

What brought Amelia back to my consciousness was the fact that one of my students this semester prepared a short presentation on Earhart for an extra credit project.   She apparently visits Atchison, KS quite regularly for the Earhart celebrations.  It was nice to see that Amelia isn’t forgotten by the younger generation.

Inspired by this,  I had a riffle around the TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) website to see what has developed recently.

An entry in TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie’s blog  caught my attention. The article “Crickets and Corrections” discusses a photo which I had forgotten about, despite only being revealed five or six months ago in June / July 2017.

Is this Amerlia's Airplane?

A Japanese ship  docking in the Marshall Islands, allegedly towing a barge upon which is the remains of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. Earhart and Fred Noonan are supposed to be shown among the people on the dockside. Earhart is said to be seated with her back to the camera,  and Noonan is the very tall man  on the left. (National Archives / History Channel)

You may have seen this photo which is preserved in the US National Archives. A program on the History Channel supposedly blew away much of the conspiracy theory and the detailed research of TIGHAR by stating that the picture shows conclusively that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s flight actually ended in the Marshall Islands,  and that they were taken prisoner by the Japanese.   This would have been especially aggravating to TIGHAR,  who have spent many years and a a considerable amount of money trying to prove their theory that Earhart and Noonan crashed and eventually died on Gardner Island in the Phoenix Islands, now known as Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati.

Ric Gillespie says that some other information has come to light about the picture.   Another copy has emerged in a Japanese book  published in 1935, and Gillespie / TIGHAR take much trouble to examine and translate the bibliographic information showing that the photo may have been taken two years before the  famous pair disappeared.   Gillespie says the History Channel have pulled the show from its schedules, and indeed the History Channel website mentions that new information has come to light and that they’re investigating.   Gillespie’s blog post is the equivalent of a crowd of British football supporters singing “It’s All Gone Quiet Over There”  to their previously raucous opponents’ stands when their team scores.

I have no doubt we’ll hear more about this.  TIGHAR’s investigation has been going on since 1989, according to their website, and will no doubt continue as funds permit.  They have amassed an absolute wealth of circumstantial evidence. All of it is very highly plausible, (Personally I think their explanation is the best one and the most likely) but as they admit,  there is nothing which can prove the hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt.

We will keep watching and waiting.


I haven’t blogged for a while – maybe it’s because of the start of the semester (which is now rapidly drawing to a close)  or for some other reason.   Actually one of those reasons was that we have been turning out the attic, sending clothes and other household items we haven’t used to charity.

A few items have seen the light of day briefly before being re-packaged, like those Roman mosaics in the England that are uncovered, examined in all their glory and then carefully covered in sand to preserve them for future generations.

What we have here isn’t quite as esoteric as a Roman mosaic, but it has a place in the fabric of history nonetheless.

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

We came across this tin toy, which Susan first assumed was mine because it was an airplane.   It isn’t, so it must have come from her side of the family.  Even without the helpful decals or lithography  you’d recognize that you had a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser  here.   It’s even more helpful that it has “BOEING STRATOCRUISER” written down the side.  I was interested in the US civil registration NX1022V on the starboard wing which is repeated in a slightly different form (N1022V) on the fuselage and tail

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

From this angle, the maker has clearly shown the B-29 / B-50 origins of the B377. I have seen a couple of photographs of the B-50 model from the same era and  it certainly appears that the same wing assembly has been used for both toys.  The distinctive shape of the B-50 extended fin is shown clearly here although the fin and rudder look more B-29 than anything – although this may just be a feature of the lithography / paint scheme.  The vestigial B-29/B-50 tail turret is not a feature of the B377.

There are other B377 models made by the Japanese company Tomiyama in the mid-50s, in different liveries and configurations.  Ebay, Pinterest and some collectors’ forums have pictures of them – or they ought to. You can find them in a Google image search, but  Photobucket made some changes recently which tend to prohibit 3rd party linking so please pardon me if I don’t show you any of them here.

The  “real” N1022V was, according to Bryan Swopes the re-registered prototype NX90700,  which first flew in 1947.   NX90700  was upgraded to full 377 standard and went to Pan American World Airways as N1022V Clipper Nightingale. Pan Am kept the aircraft until 1960 before selling it back to Boeing.  N1022V found its way to the Venezuelan airline RANSA. It was converted to a freighter and scrapped in 1969.    It is ironic that the toy has lasted longer than the aircraft on which it was modeled, although not unusual.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.