20 March 1937: After completing repairs and preparation for the second leg of her around-the-world flight—Hawaii to Howland Island—Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, was moved from Wheeler Field to Luke Field on Ford Island on 19 March to take advantage of the longer, fully paved runway.
Paul Mantz had warmed the engines at 5:00 a.m., 20 March, then shut them down. He would not be aboard for this flight. Amelia Earhart, Captain Manning and Captain Noonan boarded the Electra at 5:30 a.m. and Earhart restarted the engines. At 5:40 a.m., she began to taxi to the northeast corner of the runway. Weather was good, with a ceiling of 3,000 feet, visibility 3,500 feet in pre-dawn darkness, and wind from the south at 2 miles per hour.
At 5:53 a.m., Amelia Earhart accelerated for takeoff. A United States Army Board of Investigation report describes what happened next:
On reaching the end Miss Earhart turned and after a brief delay opened both throttles. As the airplane gathered speed it swung slightly to the right. Miss Earhart corrected this tendency by throttling the left hand motor. The airplane then began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground loop. It tilted outward, right wing low and for 50 or 60 feet was supported by the right wheel only. The right-hand landing-gear suddenly collapsed under this excessive load followed by the left. The airplane spun sharply to the left on its belly amid a shower of sparks from the mat and came to rest headed about 200 degrees from its initial course. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt. The visible damage to the airplane was as follows:- Right wing and engine nacelle severely damaged, left engine nacelle damaged on under side, right hand rudder and end of stabilizer bent. The engines were undamaged. The oil tanks were ruptured. . . .
FINDINGS: . . . after a run of 1200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to collapse of the landing gear as a result of an uncontrolled ground loop; the lack of factual evidence makes it impossible to establish the reason for the ground loop; that as a result of the crash the airplane was damaged to an extent requiring major overhaul. . . .
—excerpts from PROCEEDINGS OF A BOARD OF OFFICERS CONVENED TO INVESTIGATE THE CRASH OF MISS AMELIA EARHART AT LUKE FIELD, 20 MARCH 1937
The Electra was extensively damaged. There were no injuries, but the Electra was sent back to Lockheed at Burbank, California, aboard the passenger liner, SS Lurline, for repair.
At the time of the accident, NR16020 had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes, total time since new (TTSN).
19 March 1937: After her 15 hour, 47 minute, overnight flight from Oakland, California, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020 was placed in a hangar at Wheeler Army Airfield, Honolulu, for maintenance and repair. During the flight, a propeller pitch change mechanism had failed. Inspection revealed that both propeller hubs were badly galled “due to improper or insufficient lubrication.” They were overhauled by the Army Air Corps’ Hawaiian Air Depot at Luke Field, then re-installed on the Electra.
At 11:15 a.m. on the 19th, Paul Mantz and two friends took the Electra for a test flight, then repositioned to Luke Field on Ford Island, with its longer, hard-surfaced runway, for an early morning takeoff on the second leg of the around-the-world flight.
18 March 1937, 5:40 a.m.: Amelia Earhart and her crew sighted Diamond Head on the island of Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. The Electra landed at Wheeler Army Airfield, Honolulu, after an overnight flight from Oakland, California, completing the first leg of a planned around-the-world flight in 15 hours, 47 minutes.
The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, registration NR16020. Also aboard were Paul Mantz, Amelia’s friend and adviser, as co-pilot, navigator Captain Frederick Joseph Noonan, formerly of Pan American Airways, and Captain Harry Manning of United States Lines, also a close friend of Amelia’s, acting as radio operator and navigator.
About an hour after takeoff from Oakland, California, the Electra overtook the Pan American Airways Hawaii Clipper, which had departed San Francisco Bay an hour-and-a-half before Earhart. She took photographs of the Martin M-130 flying boat.
In her log, Amelia Earhart described the sunset over the Pacific Ocean:
“. . . golden edged clouds ahead, then the golden nothingness of sunset beyond. . . The aft cabin is lighted with a weird green blue light, Our instruments show pink. The sky rose yellow. . . Night has come. The sea is lovely. Venus is setting ahead to the right. The moon is a life-saver. It gives us a horizon to fly by. . . .”
— Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer, by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Washington and London, 1997, Chapter 18 at Page 171.
On arrival at Hawaii, Earhart, saying that she was very tired, asked Paul Mantz to make the landing at Wheeler Field.
17 March 1937, 4:37 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (23:37, UTC): Amelia Mary Earhart departed Oakland Municipal Airport, located on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, beginning the first leg of her around-the-world flight. Also aboard were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020.
Flying a Great Circle course, the distance from Oakland to Wheeler Field on the Island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, was 2,093 nautical miles (2,408 statute miles/3,876 kilometers).
Captain Frederick J. Noonan was formerly the Chief Navigator of Pan American Airways, and had extensive experience in transoceanic flight. Captain Harry Manning was a Master Mariner, commanding ocean liners for United States Lines. (He would later serve as captain of SS United States, the flagship of America’s Merchant Marine, and as the Commodore of United States Lines.)
Amelia Earhart’s 1936 Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, was the fifth of fifteen built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport, BUR). Designed to carry as many as ten passengers, NR16020 had been modified to carry fuel for 20 hours of flight. Amelia first flew the Electra with a Lockheed test pilot, Elmer C. McLeod, 21 July 1936, and took delivery on her 39th birthday, 24 July. The airplane cost $80,000.
The Lockheed Electra 10 was designed by Hall Hibbard, and was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s first assignment when he went to work at Lockheed. It was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 0 inches (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters).
While the basic Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms), Amelia Earhart’s modified Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3,295.4 kilograms), partly as a result of the additional fuel tanks which had been installed. Fully fueled, NR16020 carried 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) of gasoline.
NR19020 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage supercharger. The S3H1 had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m for Takeoff, using 80/87 aviation gasoline. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 9 feet, 7/8-inch (2.675 meters). The Wasp S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.092 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
11 January 1935: At 4:40 p.m., local time, Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for Oakland Municipal Airport at Oakland, California, in her Lockheed Vega 5C Special, NR965Y. She arrived 18 hours, 15 minutes later. Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the Mainland.
(This Vega was not the same aircraft which she used to fly the Atlantic, Vega 5B NR7952, and which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.)
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of spiral strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and held together with glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.
The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars or other astronomical objects.
Lockheed Model 5C Vega serial number 171 was completed in March 1931, painted red with silver trim, and registered NX965Y. The airplane had been ordered by John Henry Mears. Mears did not take delivery of the new airplane and it was then sold to Elinor Smith. It was resold twice before being purchased by Amelia Earhart in December 1934.
The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).
Earhart’s Vega 5C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 2849, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).
“Before parting with her ‘little red bus’ (as she affectionately called it), Amelia removed the upgraded Wasp engine and substituted an obsolete model; she wanted her well-tried engine for the new airplane, also a Lockheed Vega. It was a later model, in which Elinor Smith had been preparing to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, a plan abandoned after Amelia successfully took that record. It was originally built to exacting specifications for Henry Mears of New York, who had a round-the-world flight in mind. Called the Vega, Hi-speed Special, it carried the registration 965Y and was equipped with special fuel tanks, radio, and streamlined landing gear and cowling. These latter appointments, together with a Hamilton Standard Controllable-Pitch Propeller, gave the plane a speed of 200 mph and Amelia had her eye on further records as well as her constant journeys across the continent.”
— The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 17 at Page 206.
“. . . At Oakland Airport a good ten thousand had been waiting for several hours, yet when she came in she surprised them. They had been craning their necks looking for a lone aircraft flying high and obviously seeking a place to land. But Amelia did not even circle the field; she brought the Vega in straight as an arrow at a scant two hundred feet, landing at 1:31 p.m. Pacific time. The crowd set up a roar, broke through the police lines, and could be halted only when dangerously near the still-whirling propeller. From the road circling the airport, a chorus of automobile horns honked happily.”
— Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Washington and London, 1997, Chapter 13 at Page 132.
Amelia Earhart sold the Vega in 1936. It appeared in “Wings in the Dark,” (Paramount Pictures, 1935), and “Border Flight,” (Paramount Pictures, 1936) which starred Frances Farmer, John Howard and Robert Cummings. It changed hands twice more before being destroyed in a hangar fire 26 August 1943.