5 January 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia,¹ at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937.
George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Mrs. Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. (See This Day in Aviation, 17–18 June 1928) They were married 7 February 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Connecticut.
Judge Craig appointed Mr. Putnam as the executor of Earhart’s estate, which contemporary news reports said was “estimated at more than $10,000.”
Less than five months later, Putnam married the former Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigney James, at Boulder City, Nevada.
¹ Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, Probate Case File 181709
24 July 1936: On her 39th birthday, at the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, Amelia Earhart took delivery of her new Lockheed Electra 10E Special, registered NR16020.
$80,000 to buy the Electra was provided by the Purdue Research Foundation from donations made by several individuals. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband, made the arrangements to order the airplane and in March 1936 gave Lockheed the authorization to proceed, with delivery requested in June.
The Electra Model 10 was manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California. It was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner. In the standard configuration it carried a crew of 2 and up to 10 passengers. The Model 10 was produced in five variants with a total of 149 airplanes built between August 1934 and July 1941. Lockheed built fifteen Model 10Es. Earhart’s was serial number 1055.
Earhart’s Electra was equipped with a Western Electric Model 13C radio transmitter and Model 20B receiver for radio communication. It used a Sperry GyroPilot gyroscopic automatic pilot. Additional modifications included four auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, a navigator’s station to the rear of that, elimination of passenger windows, installation of the autopilot, navigation equipment and additional batteries. These modifications varied from the standard airplane enough that it was restricted to carrying only members of required flight crew. This was denoted by the letter “R” in the airplane’s registration.
The Electra was not ready until mid-July. Earhart first flew the new airplane on 21 July, with Lockheed test pilot Elmer C. McLeod.
The Electra 10E was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.074 meters). The standard Model 10 had and empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms) and a gross weight of 10,500 pounds (4,762.7 kilograms). NR16020 had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3295.4 kilograms). Lockheed’s performance data was calculated using 16,500 pounds (7,484.3 kilograms) as the Maximum Takeoff Weight.
NR16020 had a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage. 80 gallons (302.8 liters) of lubricating oil for the engines was carried in four tanks.
Earhart’s Electra 10E Special was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial engines, with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage centrifugal supercharger and were rated at 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. up to 3,000 feet (914 meters) for take off. They drove 9 foot, 7/8-inch (3.010 meters) diameter, two-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through direct drive. The Wasp S3H1 is 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter and 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.093 meters) long. It weighs 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
The maximum speed for the Model 10E Special at Sea Level and maximum takeoff weight was 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), a reduction of 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour) over the standard airplane. The maximum range was calculated to be 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers)
2 July 1937: At approximately 10:00 a.m., local time, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Lae, Territory of New Guinea, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, enroute to Howland Island, 2,556 miles (4,113.5 kilometers) east-northeast across the South Pacific Ocean. The airplane was loaded with 1,100 gallons (4,164 liters) of gasoline, sufficient for 24 to 27 hours of flight.
1 July 1937: Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are delayed another day at Lae, Territory of New Guniea.
“July 1st. ‘Denmark’s a prison,’ and Lae, attractive and unusual as it is, appears to two flyers just as confining, as the Electra is poised for our longest hop, the 2,556 miles to Howland Island in mid-Pacific. The monoplane is weighted with gasoline and oil to capacity. However, a wind blowing the wrong way and threatening clouds conspired to keep her on the ground today. In addition, Fred Noonan has been unable, because of radio difficulties, to set his chronometers. Any lack of knowledge of their fastness and slowness would defeat the accuracy of celestial navigation. Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available. Fred and I have worked very hard in the last two days repacking the plane and eliminating everything unessential. We have even discarded as much personal property as we can decently get along without and henceforth propose to travel lighter than ever before. All Fred has is a small tin case which he picked up in Africa. I noted it still rattles, so it cannot be packed very full. Despite our restlessness and disappointment in not getting off this morning, we still retained enough enthusiasm to do some tame exploring of the near-by country.” —Amelia Earhart
29 June 1937: Leg 28. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fly the Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, from Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia to Lae, Territory of New Guinea.
“Lae, New Guinea, June 30th. After a flight of seven hours and forty-three minutes from Port Darwin, Australia, against head winds as usual, my Electra now rests on the shores of the Pacific. Beyond the Gulf of Huon the waters stretch into the distance. Somewhere beyond the horizon lies California. Twenty-two thousand miles have been covered so far. There are 7,000 to go.
“From Darwin we held a little north of east, cutting across the Wellington Hills on the northern coast of Arnhem Land, which is the topmost region of Australia’s Northern Territory. The distance to Lae was about 1,200 miles. Perhaps two-thirds of it was over water, the Arafura Sea, Torres Strait and the Gulf of Papua.
“Midway to New Guinea the sea is spotted with freakish islands, stony fingers pointing towards the sky sometimes for hundreds of feet. We had been told the clouds often hang low over this region and it was better to climb above its hazardous minarets than to run the risks of dodging them should we lay our course close to the surface. Then, too, a high mountain range stretches the length of New Guinea from northwest to southeast. Port Moresby was on the nearer side, but it was necessary to clamber over the divide to reach Lae situated on the low land of the eastern shore. As the journey progressed we gradually increased our altitude to more than 11,000 feet to surmount the lower clouds encountered. Even at that, above us towered cumulus turrets, mushrooming miraculously and cast into endless designs by the lights and shadows of the lowering sun. It was a fairy-story sky country, peopled with grotesque cloud creatures who eyed us with ancient wisdom as we threaded our way through its shining white valleys. But the mountains of cloud were only dank gray mist when we barged into them, that was healthier than playing hide-and-seek with unknown mountains of terra firma below. Finally, when dead reckoning indicated we had traveled far enough, we let down gingerly. The thinning clouds obligingly withdrew and we found ourselves where we should be, on the western flanks of the range with the coastline soon blow us. Working along it, we found Lae and sat down. We were thankful we had been able to make our way successfully over those remote regions of sea and jungle – strangers in a strange land.” —Amelia Earhart