"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N276, June 8, 2014
Amelia Earhart Flies Again: Radio Broadcasting from Remote Howland Island
According to recent news announcements, Amelia Earhart is scheduled to leave Oakland in California sometime around the middle of this month of June on the first stage in her flight around the world. Amelia will pilot a Swiss made Pilatus PC-12NG valued at $4-1/2 million and it is estimated that the total flight time on this 24,000 mile journey will occupy 98 hours spread out over 17 or 18 days.
Of course, this Amelia Earhart is not the famous 40 year old flier of 1937 who got lost somewhere in the central Pacific in 1937, but rather a 31 year old TV news and weather girl at KUSA TV9 in Denver (CO) who has the same name. This modern Amelia Rose Earhart was named in honor of the famous Amelia Mary Earhart who captured world attention and admiration in the earlier days of aviation development with her daring flights over the land and over the oceans.
Mary Rose Earhart was born in Downey, California in 1983, and even though there is no known ancestral connection with the more famous Amelia Mary Earhart, yet she was named in honor of the famous woman aviatrix who lived in the era before World War 2. Because of the name connection, the modern Earhart girl developed an intense interest in aviation, and beginning quite soon she is scheduled to begin her round the world flight, following as much as possible the same flight path as her more famous forbear. In fact, ten of her fourteen stopovers will be at the same locations as the first Earhart.
This 2014 copycat flight is by no means the first attempt on the part of subsequent fliers to emulate the flight path of the first Amelia Earhart. Over the years, many others have done so, and in 1964 for example, two female fliers left on their endeavors to fly around the world, just two days apart. These two aviatrix emulators were Geraldine (Fredritz) Mock of Ohio and Joan Merriam Smith of California.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the original Earhart flight, Ann Dearing Holtgren Pellegreno of Chicago (IL) flew around the world; that was in 1967. Then thirty years later as a 60th anniversary gesture, Linda Finch of San Antonio (TX) flew the same pathway in 1997. Each flier dropped a wreath on Howland Island in honor of the famous Amelia Mary Earhart.
Howland Island is located in the mid Pacific, half way between Hawaii and Australia. The island is just 1-1/4 miles long and 1/3 mile wide. Some geographers state that this tropical island is shaped like a banana, though perhaps more accurately and less romantically we could say that it is shaped like the human kidney. The island covers just 450 acres with a total coastline of four miles, and the highest elevation is a minimal 20 feet.
The island was first sited by Captain George Worth on board the ship One in 1822, and he named it Worth Island in his own honor. Then, six years later, Daniel Mackenzie on board the "Minerva Smith" named the island Howland in honor of the ship's owners.
In 1856, the United States took over Howland Island, and during the following year American commercial interests began the mining and export of guano, though this project ended 21 years later. In 1886, the British laid claim to Howland and they imported a few residents from the Cook and Niue Islands to establish this claim. However, five years later the British occupation ended.
The Americans began an attempt at colonization in 1935 and they transferred several students from a school in Hawaii for this purpose, together with a large supply of foodstuffs and other provisions, including cigarettes, which were incorrectly considered during that era to be a health benefit. Included also was a set of radio communication equipment.
The Hawaiian schoolboys constructed a small settlement which they named Itascatown in honor of the ship that conveyed them to the island. They also cleared and surfaced a runway which was intended for use as a refueling stop for planes flying between the United States and Australia.
In 1937, two additional runways were prepared in advance for the arrival of Amelia Mary Earhart on her round the world flight. And during that same year, a tribe of feral cats was introduced onto the island to destroy a plague of black rats that had been introduced more than 80 years earlier. The cats that had since become a menace to the native bird population were eliminated in 1985.
On December 8, 1941, just one day after Pearl Harbor, a flight of fourteen Japanese Mitsubishi bombers bombed the island, destroying the small Itascatown, killing two of the remaining schoolboys, and damaging the lightless lighthouse that had been erected a few years earlier in honor of Amelia Earhart. Then two years later, the US Marines occupied the island for around 3/4 year beginning in May 1943 and during that time they operated a LORAN navigation station.
These days, personnel from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service visit the island every 2nd year, and sometimes a group of radio amateurs accompanies the expedition and they set up a temporary amateur radio station. For a period of a few days, the visiting amateur radio operators on Howland are able make several thousand QSO contacts with other amateur radio operators all around the world under a highly desired KH1 or AH1 callsign.
At MN00 UTC, that is 10:00 am local time, on Friday July 2, 1937, the original Amelia Earhart, together with navigator Fred Noonan, flew off from Lae, New Guinea on what turned out to be the end of their epic flight around the world. They estimated that they would reach tiny Howland Island, 2556 miles distant, after flying 18 hours; and the plane carried an additional four hours of fuel, in case of emergency.
19-1/2 hours later, Amelia radioed to the ship "Itasca" anchored off Howland Island, that they must be somewhere near their intermediate Pacific destination. At 2014 UTC on that same tragic day, 6:14 am Howland time, Amelia spoke what is recognized as her last reliable radio message. She stated that the plane was flying on the line, 157/337 degrees, though she did not state in which direction.
Many theories exist as to what happened next, though subsequent research would indicate that it is possible that the shiny Lockheed Electra crash landed in shallow waters just off Gardner Island, some 300 miles south east from Howland Island.
It is known that navigator Fred Noonan had the plane veer slightly south soon after takeoff from Lae in New Guinea in order to go around a thunderstorm. It is possible that when the plane returned to the intended flight course they were still headed a little south of their projected flight path. Thus, when they arrived near Howland Island, they could have turned south with the hope of flying over the island, but instead they would have been flying away from it.
The Lockheed Electra ran at a speed of 200 miles per hour. Gardner Island is 300 miles south from Howland, and if they were headed in that direction then it would take 1-1/2 hours flying time. Maybe then, in this alternative theory, the plane crash landed in the ocean south of Howland before they arrived at Gardner when the fuel was exhausted. It seems that this possibility has not been given thorough research.
Government and private search parties utilizing a dozen ships, more than 100 planes, and more than 3,000 men, hunted all over the neighboring areas around Howland but mainly to the north for nearly a month, with no positive indication of what had happened to the downed fliers.
On board this shiny new Lockheed Electra there was a 50 watt Western Electric communication transmitter that was modified for communication onthree fixed frequencies; 3105 kHz by night, 6210 kHz by day (the 1st harmonic of the 3 MHz channel) and 500 kHz when close to the ship "Itasca." The Earhart plane was licensed with the American callsign KHAQQ and the transmitting schedule was the hour plus 15 & 45 minutes.
The receiver aboard the plane was a hand tuned four band Western Electric 20B communication receiver operating from 12 volt battery power. The four bands were the standard longwave, mediumwave, tropical shortwave and international short wave bands.
There was also the recently developed Bendix radio direction finder, a receiving loop that was attached on top of the cabin. This receiving attachment was tuned by the airplane's regular receiver.
The antenna systems were the V type doublet which was attached to the wing tips and the fuselage; normally a trailing long wire which apparently was accidentally or deliberately removed before the plane left Lae; and of course the above mentioned rotatable Bendix loop.
During the extended journey from Lae to Howland, Amelia made several aviation communications with other radio stations, on board ships and upon small islands. News about her progress across the Pacific was made known to the world news media, though no actual broadcasts from the plane were relayed by any of the mediumwave and shortwave radio broadcasting stations.
The American Coast Guard ship USCGS "Itasca" was anchored offshore at Howland Island during the Earhart events. This ship carried four transmitters for voice and Morse communication, and two operating positions with receivers. During the Earhart saga, one operator handled the regular maritime communications, and the other operator handled all communications regarding the Earhart events.
The "Itasca", with the callsign NRUI, passed on progressive information and media news to communication stations located in Hawaii, and this information was then relayed onwards for widespread dissemination in the continental United States and beyond via stations in California. The corresponding stations in Hawaii that cooperated in the Earhart search were:
Mediumwave stations KGMB & KGU in Honolulu broadcast special messages to Amelia Earhart, and they also updated local listeners with progressive news reports.
On Howland Island itself during the Earhart events, there were two radio transmitters; schoolboy settler Yat Fai Lum with his amateur station K6GNW, and a portable transmitter from the ship "Itasca" under the callsign NRUI2. These two transmitters carried communication traffic with nearby areas and fed their information into NRUI aboard the "Itasca."
Thus it was that all news and information about the Earhart saga from the Howland area was provided to Hawaii and then the United States from the ship "Itasca" anchored nearby. These progressive reports were in the form of voice messages and news information that was copied and reported throughout the world.
Interestingly, there was an amateur radio operator on Howland Island for a short while in June of the following year under the callsign K6BAZ. Perhaps this occasion was part of a follow up search endeavor.
However, in subsequent events, the New Zealand DX Times in March 2000 provided an interesting item of additional radio information. Some years ago, there was supposedly a Republic of Howland & Baker out there in mid Pacific. Upon Howland island, it is stated, there was a mediumwave broadcasting station that was on the air as a part of the supposed Republic of Howland & Baker. This fictional micro-nation even operated its own bogus website!