18 June 1937: Leg 20. Amelia Earhart departed Calcutta, India enroute to Rangoon, Burma. After a fuel stop at Akyab, she and Fred Noonan continued on their way, but monsoon rains forced them to return to Akyab.
“When we reached the airport at dawn nocturnal rains had soaked it. The ground was thoroughly wet, precarious for a take-off. But meteorologists advised that more rain was coming and that likely we could dodge through the intermittent deluges of the day but that if we remained the field might become waterlogged beyond use. That take-off was precarious, perhaps as risky as any we had. The plane clung for what seemed like ages to the heavy sticky soil before the wheels finally lifted, and we cleared with nothing at all to spare the fringe of trees at the airdrome’s edge. For a time we flew through gray skies crowded with clouds that lowered at us as we passed over the many mouths of the Ganges and Brahmapurra rivers…Much of the way from Calcutta to Akyab we flew very low over endless paddies…Akyab is a picturesque place from the air. Two pagodas, covered with gold leaf, stand out…The airport is a port of call for most pilots passing this way. It has two runways and a large hangar. Imperial Airways and Air France stops regularly, and K.L.M., the Dutch line, when necessary to refuel or on account of the weather. . .
“We did not intend to stay at Akyab overnight. Instead we hoped to reach Rangoon at least, and started off from Akyab after checking the weather and fueling. Once in the air the elements grew progressively hostile. The wind, dead ahead, began to whip furiously. Relentless rain pelted us. The monsoon, I find, lets down more liquid per second that I thought could come out of the skies. Everything was obliterated in the deluge, so savage that is beat off patches of paint along the leading edge of my plane’s wings. Only a flying submarine could have prospered. It was wetter even than it had been in that deluge of the mid-South Atlantic. The heavens unloosed an almost unbroken wall of water which would have drowned us had our cockpit not been secure. After trying to get through for a couple of hours we give up, forced to retreat to Akyab.
“Back-tracking, we headed out to sea, flying just off the surface of the water. We were afraid to come low over land on account of the hills. When it’s impossible to see a few hundred yards ahead through the driving moisture the prospect of suddenly encountering hilltops is not a pleasant one. By uncanny powers, Fred Noonan managed to navigate us back to the airport, without being able to see anything but the waves beneath our plane. His comment was, ‘Two hours and six minutes of going nowhere.’ For my part, I was glad that our landing gear was retractable, lest it be scraped on trees or waves. . . .” —Amelia Earhart
17–18 June 1928: Amelia Mary Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied pilot Wilmer Lower Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard the Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NX4204, Friendship. The orange and gold, float-equipped, three-engine monoplane had departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and arrived at Burry Port, on the southwest coast of Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later.
Amelia Earhart wrote 20 hrs. 40 min.—Our Flight in the Friendship (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1928), describing her adventure.
Friendship had been originally ordered by Richard E. Byrd for his Antarctic expedition, but because Ford Motor Company was a major sponsor, he made the decision to switch to a Ford Tri-Motor airplane. Byrd sold the new Fokker to Donald Woodward, heir to the Jell-O Corporation, for $62,000, and it was registered to his Mechanical Science Corp., of Le Roy, New York. Woodward then leased the airplane to Mrs. Frederick Edward Guest (née Anne T. Phipps, also known as Amy Phipps) for her to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. She chose the name Friendship for the airplane.
Mrs. Guest was a daughter of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American industrialist. She was married to Captain the Right Honourable Frederick Edward Guest P.C., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.P., a prominent British politician, former Secretary of State for Air, and a member of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council. Amy Phipps Guest, however, was a multi-billionaire in her own right.
Mrs. Guest was not a pilot, so Stultz and Gordon had been hired to fly the airplane. When her family ruled out her transoceanic journey, “an American girl of the right type” was selected to make the flight in her place. Miss Amelia Mary Earhart, a social worker living in Boston, was interviewed and was the candidate selected.
Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience, she did not act as a pilot on this flight. She was, however, the aircraft commander. Instructions from Mrs. Guest’s attorney, David T. Layman, to Stultz and Gordon, dated 18 May 1928, were very specific on this matter:
“This is to say that on arrival at Trepassey of the tri-motor Fokker plane “FRIENDSHIP” if any questions of policy, procedure, personnel or any other question arises the decision of Miss Amelia M. Earhart is to be final. That she is to have control of the plane and of the disposal of the services of all employees as fully as if she were the owner. And further, that on arrival of the plane in London full control of the disposition of the plane and of the time and services of employees shall be hers to the same extent until and unless the owner directs otherwise.”
— The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 11 at Page 104.
It was during the planning for this flight that Earhart first met her future husband, George Palmer Putnam.
Though Friendship was equipped with aluminum pontoons for water takeoffs and landings, it was otherwise the same type as Southern Cross, the airplane that Sir Charles E. Kingsford Smith flew from the United States to Australia earlier in the month. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s N. V.Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands, in early 1928. Friendship , serial number 5028, was the fourth aircraft in the series. Flown by Bernt Balchen, it made its first flight 16 February 1928.
The Fokker F.VIIb/3m is a three-engine high-wing passenger transport with fixed landing gear. It could carry up to 8 passengers. The airplane was was 14.6 meters (47.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of 21.7 meters (71.2 feet) and 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) high. The wing had an area of 67 square meters (721 square feet). Its empty weight was 3,050 kilograms (6,724 pounds) and the gross weight, 5,200 kilograms (11,464 pounds).
The F.VIIb/3m was powered by three 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.90 liter) air-cooled Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines. The left engine was serial number 8229, the center, 8280, and the right engine, 8321. These were direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. They drove two-bladed Standard adjustable-pitch propellers. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).
The standard F.VIIb/3m had a cruise speed of cruise 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour), and maximum speed of 190 kilometers per hour (118 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). It had a normal range of 1,240 kilometers (771 miles). NX4204 was modified at Fokker’s American subsidiary, Atlantic Aircraft Corporation in Teterboro, New Jersey, increasing the total fuel capacity to 870 gallons (3,293 liters).
Friendship was sold to José Roger Balet of Argentina in May 1929, and renamed 12 de Octubre, the date of an important national holiday. On 21 June 1931, the airplane was on a commercial flight from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza when it made an emergency landing in Alto Sierra. It was acquired by General Enrique Bravo for the Fuerza Aérea Nacional, November 1931.
The ultimate fate of the airplane is uncertain. Sources indicate that it was removed from service and salvaged for parts after June 1932. Other sources indicate that it was destroyed by accident or fire in September 1934.
17 June 1937: Leg 19. “From Karachi on June 17 we flew 1,390 miles to Calcutta, landing at Dum Dum airdrome shortly after four in the afternoon. Low clouds hung about during the beginning of the flight, but these disappeared as we drew near the Sind Desert. Through this great barren stretch rough ridges extended almost at right angles to our course. A southerly wind whipped the sand into the air until the ground disappeared from view in regular ‘dust bowl’ fashion. We flew along until the ridges grew into mountains and poked their dark backs like sharks through a yellow sea. these acted as a barrier to the sand, and the air cleared somewhat, so we could again see what we were flying over – dry river beds, a few roads connecting villages, and then a railroad.” —Amelia Earhart
16 June 1937: After flying nearly 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) the previous day, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan lay over at Karachi, India (now, Pakistan). The Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, is fueled and serviced in preparation for the next leg of the Around-the-World flight.
“Landward from Karachi there is desert. To the north is the thirsty hilly landscape of Kohistan, the limestone spurs of the Kirthir range, breaking down southwards into sandy wastes. Southerly is a monotonous expanse riddled by creeks and mangrove swamps reaching to the coast, and further south the great Indus River, born one thousand miles north in Afghanistan, flows into the Arabian Sea. The city’s population is close to 300,000, its seaport serving a huge hinterland which embraces the whole of Sind, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, the Punjab, and beyond. Karachi airdrome is, I think, the largest that I know. It is the main intermediate point on all the traffic from Europe to India and the east. Imperial Airways flies frequent schedules all the way to Australia, and K.L.M. to the Dutch East Indies. In military aviation it is, I suppose, the most important headquarters in India, strategically located in relation to the mountain country of the Northwest Frontier, with its troublesome tribes.
“In our hurried scheme of things, with the problems of our own special transport uppermost, most of or time ‘ashore’ was spent in and around hangars. More important far than sightseeing was seeing to it that our faithful sky steed was well groomed and fed, its minute mechanical wants cared for. So the geography of our journey likely will remain most clearly memorized in terms of landing-field environments, of odors of baking metal, gasoline and perspiring ground crews; of the roar of warming motors and the clatter of metal-working tools. Such impressions competed, perforce, with the lovely sights of the new worlds we glimpsed; the delectable perfumes of flowers, spices and fragrant country side the sounds and songs and music of diverse peoples. . . . Of all those things, external to the task at hand, we clutched what we could.”—Amelia Earhart
15 June 1937: Leg 18. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fly from Assab, Eritrea, to Karachi, India (now, Pakistan), a distance of 1,880 miles (2,865 kilometers). Prohibited from flyng over Saudi Arabia, they skirt along the southern coastline.
“We left Assab early on the morning of the fifteenth, well before daylight. First we cut across a deep indentation on the Eritrean coast, and thence at an angle flew over the narrow southern entrance to the Red Sea called Bab-al-Mandah to the Arabian shore. That reached, we straightened out over the desolate southeastern tip of Arabia, checking over Aden after the sun was well up, one hundred and seventy-five miles on our way. . . Flying by foreigners over Arabia is not welcome. . . Finally the authorities relented. . . They gave permission to land at Aden, and permission to fly thence to Karachi, possibly stopping first at Gwadar, 350 miles up the coast at the mouth of the Persian gulf in Baluchistan close to the Persian border. It was stipulated that we were not to fly over Arabia itself but along the edge of the sea. So from Aden, as directed, I held a course along the coast. Sometimes the blue Arabian Sea was below. Sometimes clouds piled along the ocean’s edge forced us shoreward for brief stages. Flying high, we were able to see considerable of this forbidden and forbidding country. Surely some of the wastelands of the world bordered our route. One could scarcely imagine a more desolate region than that shore…Beyond Ras el Hadd, which is on the eastern end of Arabia, facing the Gulf of Oman, we cut across to Gwada, which we checked over at five o’clock. Thence we skirted the coast southeastward to Karachi, arriving at 7.05 P.M. I think our elapsed time for the 1,920 miles from Assab to Karachi was 13 hours and 10 minutes. . . .”