THE MOVIE CRASH
The movie Amelia graphically depicts Amelia Earhart’s crash on Ford Island in March, 1937. Ford Island is located in the heart of Pearl Harbor and is home to Pacific Aviation Museum. The crash ended her first attempt to fly around the world. The scene perfectly captured the suddenness, confusion, and terror of the crash. But what really happened?
THE REAL FORD ISLAND CRASH
Simply but sadly put, Amelia Earhart ground-looped her Lockheed Electra on take-off. To begin her departure, she had taxied her aircraft to the Northeast end of the island (the nearest end to the current bridge). After lining up with the runway, she revved the engines on the powerful Electra. The aircraft started veering to the right. Earhart adjusted he throttles to correct the drift, but she overcorrected. It had rained heavily the night before, and the field was slick.
The plane spun left into a full ground loop. All of the aircraft’s weight was put on the right landing gear as the left wing lifted the left landing gear off the runway. The combined weight of the heavily packed Electra and its three crew members was too much. The right landing gear collapsed. The Electra spun on the ground in the shower of sparks shown in the movie. The aircraft was salvageable, but not quickly. Amelia Earhart could not go on to her next landing, tiny Howland Island. She left that afternoon on the Steamship Malolo to return to California and plan her next attempt.
THREE CREW MEMBERS?
Readers who saw the movie are probably asking, “Three crew members?” In the movie, she only had Fred Noonan aboard during the crash. In that respect, Amelia was simplifying things for dramatic purposes. In her second attempt, Amelia and Fred did fly by themselves. However, in the first attempt, Fred Noonan was her copilot and assistant navigator. Her navigator was Captain Harry Manning. On the first leg of the flight, from Oakland, California to Hawaii, she even had a fourth person on board, the attempt’s technical specialist, Paul Mantz. The four landed on March 18, at 5:45 am. The three crew members went into Honolulu to rest, while Mantz handled the aircraft’s maintenance.
WHY LUKE FIELD?
Why did Earhart take off from Luke Field (Currently the residence of the Pacific Aviation Museum)? Certainly, Wheeler Air Force Base was much larger and better equipped, and Wheeler was where she landed with her four crew members on March 18. The aircraft was given important maintenance at Wheeler, but for the last of its maintenance, Mantz had to fly it to Luke Field on Ford Island. Mantz was interested in Luke Field because of its reputation for being smoother than Wheeler. Luke Field lived up to its reputation, and Earhart did attempt her take-off from Luke Field.
By the way, although the runway was Luke Field during her crash, it was no longer Luke Field during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. When the U.S. Army Air Force contingent left Ford Island for Hickam Air Force Base in November, 1939, it relinquished the name Luke so that it could be used for a new Air Force base in Arizona, which was Frank Luke, junior’s home state.