Nuclear engineers analyze a possible piece of Amelia Earhart's airplane

Originally published at: Nuclear engineers analyze a possible piece of Amelia Earhart's airplane | Boing Boing


That’s a pretty big chunk of aluminum, with clearly discernible rivet patterns and other well defined features. Surely it would be trivial to compare it dimensionally with the rivet patterns on other Lockheed Electras to see if it could have come from that model of plane?


It didn’t match any standard part of an Electra (they did a comparison). However, they later theorize it might be a patch used to close over a window on the Electra.

Jump ahead to 1:50 in the video for its discover, and 5:13 for the updated hypothesis. How TIGHAR Found Amelia on Vimeo


Back then all riveting was done by hand. The craftsman would fit the skin in the place where it needed to go, draw a line on the skin indicating the locations of the ribs below, then drill the needed holes by eyeballing it.

Pre-drilled skins didn’t enter into aircraft manufacture until the advent of NC and CNC machinery.


Sounds like some serious motivated reasoning to me, but then again you’d expect that from someone who has dedicated their life to finding Amelia’s plane, as opposed to a dispassionate neutral investigator who was simply trying to determine the most likely source of a piece of metal.

Amelia’s Lockheed was famous and pretty well photographed, so I would imagine one could find good images of any potential “window patches.” Also, I’ve been in an Electra before. I’m pretty sure the windows were not nearly as large as that piece they found.


It looks like they took out a much bigger section for that patch that just a window. The metal they have definitely would work in the dimensions they were showing. But I’m with you on the “motivated reasoning” aspects of this. I sometimes feel (and this is all personal feelings now) that folks like this who have dedicated so much of their lives to solving some mystery might start seeing everything as potential proof of their pet theories. And why do we still need to find her after all this time? Maybe it’s time to just put all that money to some better use.


Gillespie has made a full career of spinning stories so people will give him money. He has had many expeditions to Niku and the south Pacific paid for in the millions by other people, always with “one more tantalizing clue yet to be explored!” The money must be drying up, finally. He’s spinning more stories now to try to open the spigots up again. I sound a bit jaundiced, I know, but my history with TIGHAR started in 1992 as a supporter and hopeful believer. They beat that trust to death over the years, turning me into a jaded sceptic of anything they do. Many millions have been flushed.


I’m a little confused how proving that a piece of aluminum was hit with an axe meant that it was part of Amelia Earhart’s plane?

The rest seems like a lot of extreme long shot fishing. Hoping to find evidence of a serial number that had been destroyed but maybe still detectable via stress patterns in the metal? Good luck with that.


Actually, it happens frequently with serial numbers on cars (“VIN”) or guns that have been obliterated. There are several techniques that bring out patterns in the metal that have been filed off or otherwise removed:


I more meant good luck that the piece in question had any sort of markings to find in the first place. A serial number seemed to be the most likely option since I seriously doubt they’ll find a scratched in Amelia + Frederick 4 ever and ever in a heart on it.

I seem to recall that this panel was previously matched to one on a B-24 (an aircraft produced in large numbers). Theory was that a B-24 crashed on a different island, was scavenged for scrap metal, and then this panel was brought here by persons from nearby islands.

But theres also a lot of hearsay out there on the intertubes


Interesting factoid about the B-24, it is by a hefty margin the most heavily produced multi-engine aircraft of all time. It’s close to double the number of 737s ever built in all configurations.

My understanding is that Amelia managed to crash fairly intact and likely survived long enough to get on shore before being eaten by the local crabs. Her aircraft would have then been swept out to sea with relatively little debris left behind. If she hadn’t been such a good pilot and had catastrophically crashed there would have been more loose debris to find. The biggest enemy however is the many decades that passed between the crash and when people made a serious effort to find her remains.


Here’s the thing: the vast, vast, VAST majority of the region where Earhart’s plane is thought to have crashed is covered in ocean. Odds are that the remains of that plane and its two passengers aren’t on any island at all.

The ongoing search for Earhart’s physical remains reminds me of the old joke about the drunk looking for his house key near the corner street lamp instead of the part of the sidewalk where he thinks he dropped it: “because the light is better here.”


Not really accurate. It was major news at the time, and FDR authorized a massive, multi-week search as soon as she disappeared. They really did put a lot of resources into it.

Once people finished flying planes around the area looking for shiny new wreckage they pretty much gave up on finding her remains. Granted, it would have been absurdly expensive to sail boats around the hundreds of islands in the search area so this isn’t really criticism of the government action, just a statement of fact that most of the evidence was long lost by the time people honed in on that one remote island.


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The U.S. Government spent more than two weeks conducting a massive search for her. Then Earhart’s husband George P. Putnam spent a fortune of his own money keeping the search going for another three months before finally giving up hope.

So like @Otherbrother said it’s not like there wasn’t a serious effort to find her at the time. It was probably one of the biggest search-and-rescue efforts of the 20th Century.

Yep, this. My own cherished pet theory these days is she went down in the water. She may have even gotten the plane down mostly intact, but it wouldn’t have been on the surface long, and the two wouldn’t have lasted long in the open water, assuming they survived the crash.

Amelia Earhart has always been one of my favorite figures in history. I’m an aviation fan in general, and the early years of flight and setting records has always appealed to me. But watching the decade after decade effort of these folks to make every tiny shred of evidence fit a theory strikes me as sad and obsessive. Honestly, it’s time to move on.

Maybe one day we’ll find a relatively intact wreck of a Lockheed Electra at the bottom of the ocean when someone is doing a survey. But the “mystery” of her disappearance isn’t so much a mystery as an expectation of the dangers of flight through it’s first fifty decades, a situation that has improved only relatively recently with better navigation systems, better design, etc. The only mystery is whether or not she lived long after the plane went down, and I’d much rather not know if she suffered. It’s enough to remember her spirit and move on.


A neutron walks into a bar and the bartender says “we don’t serve neutrons here”

The neutron replies “that’s OK, I was just passing through”

Badum Tish

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