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).
27 December 1935: When an eruption of Mauna Loa, a volcano on the Island of Hawaii (ongoing since late November) threatened the town of Hilo on the island’s northeastern coast, a decision was made to try to divert the flow of lava by aerial bombing. (The population of Hilo in 1935 was 15,633.)
Until recently, Mauna Loa was thought to be the largest volcano on Earth, but has been downgraded to second-place status by the Tamu Massif in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. It is a shield volcano, meaning that it was built up of fluid lava flows, as opposed to a stratovolcano, such as Vesuvius, which is created by the build up of solids like ash and pumice. The summit of Mauna Loa is 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above Sea Level, but the volcano actually rises 30,085 feet (9,170 meters) from the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
The mission was planned by Lieutenant Colonel George S. PattonThe U.S. Army Air Corps’ 23d Bombardment Squadron, 5th Composite Group, based at Luke Field on Ford Island, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, sent three Keystone B-3A and two Keystone B-6A bombers. The five airplanes dropped twenty 600-pound (272.2 kilogram) Mark I demolition bombs, each containing 355 pounds (161 kilograms) of TNT, with 0.1-second delay fuses.
Five of the twenty bombs struck molten lava directly; most of the others impacted solidified lava along the flow channel margins. . . Colonel William C. Capp (USAF, ret.), a pilot who bombed the lower target, reported direct hits on the channel, observing a sheet of red, molten rock that was thrown up to about 200′ elevation and that flying debris made small holes in his lower wing. Bombs that impacted on solidified, vesicular pahoehoe along the flow margin produced craters averaging 6.7 m diameters and 2.0 m depth. . .
Pilots observed that several bombs collapsed thin lava tube roofs, although in no case was sufficient roof material imploded into the tube to cause blockage. The extrusion of lava ceased within a week, however, and Jaggar wrote that the bombing caused the fluid pahoehoe to thicken and block the vent by the process of gas release. . . .
—Diversion of Lava Flows by Aerial Bombing — Lessons from Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii, by J.P. Lockwood, USGS, and F.A. Torgerson, USAF, abstract.
Eventually the lava turned to follow the natural drainage toward Hilo, instigating a crisis. On December 26, the flow was moving 1.6 km per day (1 mile per day), and at that rate scientists calculated the flows would reach Kaumana Road by January 9 (disrupting mochi-pounding parties). A suggestion to bomb the eruption was made. The U.S. Army Officer who planned the bombing operation was then Lt. Colonel George S. Patton, who would go on to WWII fame.
On December 27, U.S. Army planes dropped bombs, targeting the lava channels and tubes just below the vents at 2,600 m (8,600 ft). The object was to divert the flow near its source. The results of the bombing was declared a success by Thomas A. Jaggar, Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Jagger wrote that ‘the violent release of lava, of gas and of hydrostatic pressures at the source robbed the lower flow of its substance, and of its heat.’ The lava stopped flowing on January 2, 1936.
The Keystone B-3A was a twin-engine two-bay biplane bomber, among the last biplanes used by the United States Army. It was operated by a crew of five. The B-3A was 48 feet, 10 inches (14.884 meters) long with a wingspan of 74 feet, 8 inches (22.758 meters). The maximum gross weight was 12,952 pounds (5,875 kilograms).
The B-3A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet A1 (R-1690-3) single-row 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 5:1. The engine was rated at 525 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m., and turned two-bladed propellers through direct drive. The R-1690-3 was 3 feet, 8.88 Inches (1.140 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.44 inches (1.408 meters) in diameter and weighed 800 pounds (363 kilograms).
The B-3A had a maximum speed of 114 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Cruising speed was 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was 12,700 feet (3,871 meters) —nearly 1,000 feet (305 meters) lower than Mauna Loa’s summit.
Armament consisted of three .30-caliber machine guns and 2,500 pounds (1,133.9 kilograms) of bombs. With a full bomb load, the Keystone B-3A had a range of 860 miles (1,384 kilometers).
63 Keystone B-3As were built for the Air Corps and they were in service until 1940. The 2nd Observation Squadron at Nichols Field, Philippines, was the last unit equipped with the B-3A.
The Keystone B-6A was a re-engined B-3A. There was a change to two 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820E single row 9-cylinder radial engines turning three-bladed propellers. The R-1820E was rated at 575 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The engine weighed 850 pounds (386 kilograms).
Maximum speed increased to 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level with a cruising speed of 103 miles per hour (166 kilometers per hour). Armament and bomb load remained the same but the service ceiling increased to 14,100 feet (4,298 meters). The range decreased to 350 miles (563 kilometers) with a full bomb load.
39 Keystone B-6As were built and they remained in service until the early 1940s.
Newsreel footage of the bombing is available at Critical Past:
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor
FRANK LUKE, JR.
Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Air Service.
Place and Date: Near Murvaux, France, 29 September 1918.
Entered Service At: Phoenix, Ariz. Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Ariz.
G. O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.”
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. shot down three enemy observation balloons along the Meuse front, on Sunday, 29 September 1918. He was apparently wounded by rifle or machine gun fire from the ground and made an emergency landing near the village of Murvaux.
Trying to evade capture, Luke walked away from his airplane toward a nearby creek. He exchanged gunfire with several German soldiers that were near, and was killed in the brief fire fight. The event was witnessed by at least thirteen of the local French villagers.
Luke’s body was buried near a village church, and was not located by graves registration personnel until several months later.
Luke’s commander, Major Harold E. Hartney, said of him, “No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.”
Leading American ace Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker said of Luke: “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that.”
Luke is officially credited with destroying 14 observation balloons and 4 enemy airplanes during a 17 day period, 12–29 September 1918. It is probable that he shot down several more.
The airplane flown by Lieutenant Luke on the day he was killed was a new Société des Avions Bernard-built SPAD S.XIII C.I, serial number 7984. It had been assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron the previous day and had not yet been painted with any squadron markings.
The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.I was a single-seat, single-engine two-bay biplane designed by Louis Béchéreau. It was first flown by Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service), on 4 April 1917.
The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).
The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).
The SPAD S.XIII C.I had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.
The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).
Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).
The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.
During flight testing at McCook Field, Ohio, following the war, a SPAD S.XIII C.I demonstrated a maximum Sea Level speed of 131.5 mph (211.6 kilometers per hour) at 2,300 rpm, and 105 mph (169 kilometers per hour) at 2,060 r.p.m., at 18,400 feet (5,608 meters). Its service ceiling was 18,400 feet (5,608 meters), and the absolute ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).
The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.
The SPAD S.XIII C.I was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built in 1917 and 1918. Only four are still in existence.
Recommended: The Stand: The Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., by Stephen Skinner, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2008.
¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.I serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.