I always enjoy my old friend Stephan Wilkinson’s contributions to Aviation History, and his article “Amelia” in the January 2010 issue is no exception. Earhart has seldom had so eloquent an apologist. I should point out that TIGHAR has been to Nikumaroro eight times, not four, over the past 20 years. I’ll take Steve’s word for it on the $4 million cost—I’ve lost count. I do agree with him that we’ve recovered some encouraging artifacts but have yet to find the long-sought smoking gun. That’s why we’re going back again this spring.
But it frankly surprises me that Stephan doesn’t think we should. He says leave the lady where she lies. He argues that the most meaningful way to honor Amelia is to let the mystery be. But what if TIGHAR is right? What if those encouraging artifacts are just as encouraging as they seem to be? What if the end of Amelia Earhart’s story was not a fatal ditching at the conclusion of a failed flight, but rather a successful landing at an expedient alternate followed by heroic, but ultimately futile, months spent as a castaway? Wouldn’t that be worth knowing? He says, quite correctly, that I’m in it for the “intellectual exercise.” For anyone who might be interested in joining us, I can assure you that it’s a great workout.
Ric Gillespie, Executive Director
Stephan Wilkinson has done an excellent job of profiling Amelia Earhart, with all her strengths and faults. But one thing needs to be pointed out: Her success at soloing the Atlantic in 1932 was due to polar aviator Bernt Balchen. Having complained bitterly that she was “only baggage” as a passenger on the 1928 transatlantic flight with Wilmer Stultz, Earhart wanted to fly the route solo. Her husband, George Putnam, asked Balchen to secretly teach her navigation and instrument flying.
Balchen instructed her for more than a month without drawing any attention from the press. On May 17, 1932, Balchen with mechanic Eddie Gorski flew her in a Lockheed Vega 5B from Teterboro, N.J., to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. He made up a flight plan for her that included the best throttle settings and the course to fly based on the forecast winds. After she took off on May 20, Balchen wired Putnam: “AE took off 712 NFLD perfect performance.”
Balchen’s instructions saved Earhart. She had to recover from a spin as the wings were iced up. After she landed in Northern Ireland, she cabled him: “Your help made it possible thank Eddie too AE.”
Author of Bernt Balchen: Polar Aviator
Twin Mustang Betty Jo
As a new subscriber, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first three issues, especially the September 2009 issue and the story about the F-82 (“First Blood in Korean Skies,” by Warren E. Thompson). For some reason, I was not familiar with the F-82; however, I do recall seeing an airplane called Betty Jo that looked like two P-51s put together. I first read about Betty Jo in 1945 or maybe ’46. I also recall that in 1947 and part of ’48, when I was stationed at the Marine barracks in the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor, I saw Betty Jo flying in and out of Hickam Field. Can you tell me more about that plane?
John C. Korn
Your memory is indeed accurate: The Betty Jo you recall was a famous P-82B, serial number 44-65168, that Colonel Robert E. Thacker made history in on February 27, 1947, when he flew nonstop from Hawaii to New York without refueling, a distance of 5,051 miles, in 14 hours and 32 minutes. Shown above right is a photo of the airplane (note external fuel tanks).
The comprehensive article on the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in the September 2009 issue (“The Magnificent Merlin”) is a great credit to author Nicholas O’Dell, but the sidebar summary of Merlin-powered aircraft that accompanies it on P. 36 is a little too comprehensive in putting the Merlin in the P-82 Twin Mustang. In the piece “First Blood in Korean Skies,” which appears in the same issue, the F-82 is described in the specs on P. 55 as having two Allison V-1710s. I believe that P. 55 wins over P. 36 on this question.
Actually, both the Merlin sidebar and illustration specs are correct. In its original configuration, the P-82 (through the B model) had Merlin engines. The USAAF ultimately forced North American to switch to the lower-powered Allisons due to the expense of licensing the Merlins (and no doubt because it wanted to use an American engine). As a result, the Twin Mustang is one of the few aircraft in history where the prototype and early versions outperformed the later service models.
Buffalos on Crete
I very much enjoyed E.R. Johnson’s “Made in America” article in the January 2010 issue. While overall Johnson did an outstanding job describing the American-made fighters that served with foreign governments prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, I found one omission I think is most interesting.
Not all Brewster Buffalos obtained by the UK were assigned to the Far East as the article stated. Three Buffalos were actually part of the fighter force deployed by the British to Crete for the air defense of that island. At the time of the German attack, the Buffalos were unserviceable due to a lack of spares for their machine guns’ interrupter gear. But for the lack of spares, the Buffalos would have challenged the Luftwaffe over the Med.
Charles G. Jarrells
Send letters to Aviation History Editor, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to email@example.com.