Amelia Earhart - Last
Flight - Part 3
From San Juan I had hoped
perhaps to be able to fly through in one day to Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana. but
that did not work out and instead we spent the night at Caripito in Venezuela.
While the air courses of he Caribbean and along the coasts of South America are
well traveled by the ships of Pan American Airways, which have established a
notably successful record with their southern service, it must be remembered
that P.A.A. flies seaplanes so that all the way they have a watery landing strip
beneath them where they may alight. For a land plane, however, especially a
rather large one requiring considerable space on alighting, this territory is
more difficult. On the three-thousand-mile stretch from San Jan to Natal there
are only four reasonably satisfactory airports and 3tween them the slimmest sort
of chance for a ship like mine to land safely. the intermediate territory mostly
offers the alternative of Atlantic Ocean or jungled tree-tops.
At Clara Livingston's plantation
in Puerto Rico I rolled out of bed at a quarter of four in the morning, hoping
to make a dawn take-off from San Juan, but actually the Electra did not lift her
wheels from the runway until nearly seven o'clock, with the sun well above the
horizon. Incidentally, construction work at the field shortened the available
take-off distance, making a heavy fuel load a bit difficult, and adding a
further factor in the final decision not to try to push through the thousand
miles to Paramaribo. "Push through." I find myself writing those words
almost resentfully. We're always pushing through, hurrying on our long way,
trying to get to some other place instead of enjoying the place we'd already got
to. A situation, alas, about which there was no use complaining. I'd made my
schedule and had to abide by it. After all, this was not a voyage of
sight-seeing. Only there were so many sights I wanted to se. These lovely white
Caribbean cities, for instance, nestling among green hills.
As to San Juan, i had a curious feeling I had been
there before - which I hadn't! But at least i left determined to visit it again.
All the way, the ambition strengthened to retrace my steps (what is the aviation
synonym for that - 're-fly my courses"?), next time really seeing the lands I've
only skimmed now - all of them entirely new to me - and visiting their peoples
in a decently leisurely and civilized manner. sometime I hope to stay somewhere
as long as I like.
In Puerto Rico and our south American stops I noticed
first what was further borne in on me as we progressed eastward. We had chosen a
route which lay in lands of exclusively brown-eyed people. All the native eyes,
seemingly, wee dark. I began deliberately looking for blue eyes. It was a little
like the childhood game of spotting white horses as one drove the highways, or
the more sophisticated beard-hunting pastime. "Beaver." From the time we crossed
the green mountains of Puerto Rico until we sighted the Island of Mangarita to
starboard we saw nothing but the tops of clouds and the blue sea below. A line
in my log-book: "The little clouds spread far. they looked like white scrambled
eggs." I flew at 8,000 feet most of the way, bucking head winds of probably
thirty miles an hour.
The coast of Venezuela in the hazy distance was my
first glimpse of south America. As we drew near I saw densely wooded mountains
and between them wide valleys of open plains and jungle. I had never seen a
jungle before. Like the purple cow which one would rather see than be,
close-knit tropic jungles are in a pilot's eyes about the least desirable of all
possible landing places. Planes have, on occasion, pan-caked more-or-less in one
piece into (pr upon) the tree-tops, and the pilot been able to "walk away," as
the saying goes. But such walking (if any) in a genuine jungle! Likely, the
getting away would be worse than the getting down. A muddy river wound through
the mountain pass we followed, a reddish-brown snake crawling among tight-packed
greenery. A few miles inland lay the red-roofed town of Caripito, with squat oil
tanks on the outskirts. thee was a splendid airfield, with paved runways and a
well-equipped hangar. it is managed jointly by Pan American Airways and the
Standard Oil company. We wee met by Don Andres Rolando, President of the state
of Managas, and don Ramiro Rendiles, Secretary-General, who wee accompanied b
their wives. They welcomed us cordially to their beautiful country.
Amelia and Fred in Jakarta (then called
While the Electra was appropriately refreshed with
gasoline, its crew were guests at a luncheon prepared and served in the hangar.
An elaborate and delicious meal it was, running the gastronomic gamut from grape
juice to beefsteak and fruitcake. Our host was Henry E. Linam, general manager
of the Standard Oil company of Venezuela, at whose home we stayed. It seems that
hospitality always awaits flying visitors. At my place at the table were orchids
such as denizens of drab cities to the north wear only an extravagant occasions.
In this lush country the lovely blooms grow wild, as commonplace as the poppies
of California. Mine seemed beautiful even against the dingy setting of a
crumpled flying shirt. Rain clouds hung thick about Caripito as we left on the
morning of June third. We flew over jungles to the coast, and then played
hide-and-seek with showers until I decided I had better forgo the scenery, such
as it was, and climb up through the clouds into fair weather. An altitude of
5,000 feet topped all but the highest woolly pinnacles.
In such a maneuver lies a recurrent delight of flying.
Often one can find the weather wanted, at one level or another. As on this and
many other days, the pilot sees the rain slant against the land below.
Horizontally, distant views are blotted out; vertically, clouds droop to shroud
the shoulders of mountains, or weep upon the jungled plain. but how many of the
earthbound realize the relative nearness of sunlight above the cloud-covering?
how many know that perhaps only three thousand feet above the gray dank world my
plane, if I will it, may emerge into sunlight over a billowy sea of clouds
stretching away into blue infinity. Sometimes the climb is greater,
sometimes the airplane cannot top the towering formation of a storm. But no
matter whether separated by ice or snow or rain or cold gray mist, the pilot
knows the wall-card motto is meteorologically true, "Behind the clouds the sun's
Now and again that sun illumines mystic caves and
rearing fortresses or shows giant cloud creatures mocking with lumpy paws the
tiny man-made bird among them. but he airman's pleasantest sight is probably
glimpses of the earth through openings in a cloudy floor beneath his wings. Such
sights in plenty we had in the days that followed, of sea and jungle and
shoreline, framed by the clouds that played tag with us during most of our hours
aloft. When we sighted Georgetown, British Guiana, we were well out at sea
cutting corners, but even so we could distinguish the neat irrigated fields
around the settlement and along the coast. Between the two Guianas, British and
Dutch, was a wide muddy delta into which flowed the river Nickerie. Indeed, the
entire coastal region abounds with sprawling jungle waterways, many of them
connected to each other by cross-streams.
Later, we cut more corners, inland. While Fred Noonan
had flown this region many times, our route differed from those he had followed
before. In a letter home he wrote: "The flight from Caripito to Paramaribo was
tremendously interesting. Instead of following the coastline as Pan American
seaplanes do and I have always done before, we cut straight across dense virgin
jungle. It was so thick that for hundreds of miles all we could see was solid
tree-tops broken by an occasional large river." Strong head winds again cut
the speed to an average of 148 miles, which included dodging squalls and flying
low. I cannot make fast time at a low altitude, other conditions being the same,
for it is too hard on the engines to open the throttles wide when near the
ground, except momentarily on a take-off. Modern engines attain an efficiency so
high that i certainly would not knowingly mistreat my faithful ones. today's
geography required the best equipment for safety. As we progressed, the clouds
disappeared and I began to descend for sightseeing again. From an uninhabitable
swampy shore endless armies of jungle trees marched inland. then clearings,
where many little houses appeared among the paddy fields.
Soon we saw the river Surinam, a silver streak
meandering to the coast, a wide tidal stream full of floating green islands of
small trees and water plants, and bordered with vast stretches of mud. Twelve
miles from its mouth is Paramaribo, capital of Dutch Guiana, and twenty-five
miles further inland the airport. Our instructions were to follow a narrow-gauge
railroad track. flying very low, we rounded every curve even as Casey Jones did.
Nothing was visible but engulfing jungle stretching endlessly with little rice
fields and huts beside the track. I tired to see the wind direction from smoke
or from clothes on lines, as i expected to find only a meager clearing, and felt
I might have to sit down suddenly. Then in a matter of minutes, the field. such
a pleasure surprise! No make-shift airport this, but one of the best natural
landing areas I have ever seen, where everything possible was prepared for our
arrival with what one is apt to set down appreciatively as characteristic Dutch
An orange wind sock flew from a pole. Strips of white
cloth marked the best section for landing. As soon as we came into view, a
bonfire was touched off to show the wind direction and a main waved a white flag
to guide us in "Zandery" is the field's name, which means "sandy." As far s I
could see it is the only space of the kind for miles. We were welcomed by
Commissary Wempe and Captain Sluyter, in command of troops, James Lawton,
American consul at Paramaribo, and others who had come out from town. Soldiers
stood by to pump in gasoline from drums and guard the plane. Coffee, orange
juice and sandwiches were ready for hot and famished flyers. Never did I have
better service anywhere, or welcome more sincere. After the tanks had been
refilled and the propellers greased, the plane was staked down in the open, for
there was no hangar. Then we embarked on the railroad which we had followed in
from the coast for the hour's run to Paramaribo. Dog, chickens and goats were
herded from the track at our approach. Women carrying baskets of fruit on their
heads came to the car when we stopped. For part of the way, the road ran beside
a canal. Burma cattle, burros, bicycles, a fleet of boars and, now and then,
automobiles, were varied means of locomotion noted.
The next day we had planned a jump to Fortaleza,
Brazil, though that depended on the weather and field conditions. It had rained
heavily at Paramaribo the previous day but the officials solemnly p0romised to
arrange a good take-off wind and dry ground in the early morning as part of
their hospitality. The name of the river, Surinam, was once applied to this
whole country. In its heyday, Surinam was a black spot of slavery and colorful
viciousness, probably as wicked a town as flourished along all the wild coast of
South America. The Paramaribo of today is a substantial community with the
inherent virtues of Holland written in its broad tree-planted streets and its
general spic-and-spanness. but, at that, it is picturesquely tropical. The
adjacent jungle, which creeps to the very edge of town, is inhabited by Bush
Negroes, descendants of escaped African slaves of long ago. Now they are friendly
people and it was fun to glimpse them in the market, bartering soft-shell turtle
eggs, string beans eighteen inches long, horned cucumbers, breadfruit and
We stayed at the Palace Hotel, a stamping ground of
Noonan's in his P.A.A. days. he encountered an old friend, Carl Doake, who was
his radio operator in Haiti in 1930. this south American leg of our journey
provided a sort of old-home week for Fred, who knew many people and was familiar
with the coast line generally although he did not know the land-plane fields we
used. Incidentally, little by little I came to know my shipmate's full story. In
addition to being an air navigator, he is a master Mariner unlimited. And, for
some quaint reason, he also holds a first-class pilot's license on the
Mississippi River. In his diversified twenty-odd years of nautical knocking
about, he rounded ape Horn seven times, thrice on a wind-jammer and four times
on steamships. At the age of fifteen for no particularly good reason except that
he wanted to, Fred left home to go to sea. During the World War he served on a
munitions carrier between New York and England, and later in the British Navy
was on three ships which were torpedoed.
Once we were discussing the delays apparently
inevitable in aviation, especially with our kind of flying. "It's all a mater of
comparison," Fred assured me. "We're impatient about a day's delay. that's
because the lot day's flying might se us across a continent or an ocean. But a
swell way to lean patience is to try a tour of sailing-ship voyaging. Back in
1910 I was on the bark Crompton which was then the largest square-rigged
ship under the English flag. We were weather-bound 152 days on the voyage from
the state of Washington, on the Pacific coast, to Ireland. After nearly half
year on one vessel on one trip you become pretty philosophical about the
At that, I decided to stick to airplanes.
The weather at Paramaribo was perfect except for a
morning mist from the Surinam River, when we took off to skim the tree-tops and
then pull up. Speaking of trees, we had plenty of them on this jump to
Fortaleza in Brazil - trees and water. During the day we flew over 960 miles of
jungle, added to hops of 370 miles by compass course over open sea, a total of
1,330 miles, or a trifle more than half the transcontinental distance between
new York and Los Angeles. There was only one possible stop between Paramaribo
and Fortaleza, a jungle-surrounded and none-too-large field at Para, which, as
all went well, we passed by. The infrequency of ports of call made land-plane
flying somewhat uncertain as I've pointed out. Then, again, we left too early to
receive weather reports so what lay in store for us was largely a matter of
conjecture. Under such conditions in a strange county one must be prepared to
turn back if and when it looks like bad visibility at the destination - assuming
the way back can be found and a landing made wherever "back" may be.
- One of the last photos of Amelia and
Fred, taken in Lae, New Guinea (with them is F.C. Jacobs,
- manager of a New Guinea gold mine).
They took off for Howland Island and were never seen again.
Yesterday I had my introduction to a continent new to
me. Today I crossed the equator for the first time. Fred had plotted an
appropriate ceremony, himself officiating as an aerial King Neptune. But at the
time the Electra's shadow passed over the mythical Line we were both so occupied
he quite forgot to duck me with the thermos bottle of cold water which he later
confessed had been provided for the occasion. I remember once crossing the
United States by night, when I had been flying very high, glimpsing through
suddenly opening clouds the broad Mississippi gleaming in the moonlight. today
we crossed the Mississippi's southern brother, the huge Amazon. We did not
actually span the river itself, short-cutting the 180 mile stretch between the
capes at its ultimate mouth. To our right stretched the lower delta, seen from
aloft a crazy-quilt of variously colored currents each flowing this chosen
course, each retaining its own particular hue of yellow or grown muddiness, and
all bearing seaward, like matches, countless thousands of giant trees wrenched
up at the roots. How far beyond our view those tentacles of muddy water soiled
the sea I do not know.
After about ten hours' flying I was glad to see
Fortaleza sitting just where it should be, according to the maps, between the
mountains and the sea, on a brown, sandy plain, in the arc of a crescent-shaped
indentation just west of Cape Mucuripe. the adjacent coast line differed vastly
from that encountered northward. Instead of dank jungles surging down to the
surf thee were wise stretches of semi-desert, and off-shore tidal flats of mud
and sandy reefs. there the climate was almost arid. Drought, not excessive
rainfall, was customary. Fortaleza is a town of 100,000 people, a potent
metropolis whose name few of us in North America have even heard. In my own
ignorance I had thought of Natal as a more important place. that, of course,
because Natal figures so largely in aviation matters. Fortaleza's airport was so
fine we decided to make final preparations for the South Atlantic hop there
rather than at Natal, the actual jumping-off place for that much-flown stretch.
When Captain Macedo generously put at our disposal Pan American Airways'
facilities we determined to lay over a day and get everything shipshape with the
plane, mechanically and from a housekeeping standpoint. Likewise ourselves.
Sartorially, at least, we required a full measure of attention. Looking as we
did after only a week on the way, i hesitated to visualize what disgraceful
tramps we'd be before journey's end.
With the plane the only specific job to be done, so far
as appeared, was curing one small leak where a gauge let flow a few drops of
gasoline, though from a harmless source. But while everything was working well,
a complete inspection was in order, and an oil change, greasing, check of
landing gear and the like. further, the plane itself was given a thorough-going
scrubbing. Moisture of the preceding week had tarnished its metal surfaces,
which every so often should be cleaned and burnished to a degree. Laundrying for
ourselves seemed as important as for the plane. I was on my last shirt and had
abandoned hope that the appearance of slacks, or my shoes, ever gain would be
respectable. (Phil Cooper,* I am sure, would have disowned me.) My one suitcase
supposedly carried everything I could need on a world flight but of necessity it
didn't contain many duplications. My wardrobe included five shirts, two pairs of
slacks, a change of shoes, a light working coverall and a trick weightless
raincoat, plus the minimum of toilet articles. whi8ch, for me, was pretty
elaborate. In my salad days I flew the Atlantic with no luggage at all and no
personal equipment but a toothbrush. A reward was the fun of shopping in London
literally "from the bottom up."
And a sun helmet. Neither Fred nor I have a coat (which
complicated formal entertaining). but soundly lectured by tropical experts, wise
in the ways of sun-stroke, we each started with one sun hat, to which others, as
gift, were added seemingly at each port of call. by habit we are both
bare-headed people and I find each of us up to this point apparently had worn
one hat once, and that solely because whenever we fared forth friends clapped
protective headgear on our unworldly pates. In Fortaleza we stayed at the
Excelsior Hotel.** the windows of our rooms opened on red-tiled roofs and busy
streets which ended in the sea. i could hardly believe were were in the tropics
it was so comfortably cool, with a good breeze. but after all I know the topics
only from books, and I have always loved sunshine and warmth.
*Phil is a New York cleaner who has kept
A.E.'s outfits comparatively presentable for years. He endeared himself at the
conclusion of the Atlantic solo flight by sending her this message: "Knew you'd
make it. I never lost a customer."
**In one of the few letters she had time to
write. A.E. reported from Fortaleza: "The hotel people naively put F. N. and me
in the same room. They were a bit surprised when we both countermanded the
arrangement! ... For a female to be traveling as I do evidently is a matter of
puzzlement to her sheltered sisters hereabout, not to mention the males. I'm
stared at in the streets. I feel they think, 'Oh, well, she's American and
they're all crazy'" G.P.P.
At the airport next day Fred and I cleaned house
while the men worked on the plane. We repacked all spares, sent home the maps
used so far and washed the oily engine and propeller covers. these, of light
strong Grenfell cloth, I had designed and made at Burbank. They were
close-fitting union suits to protect engines and propellers from sand and
dust, and somewhat from rain, when absence of hangar facilities made it
necessary to stake out our chariot for the night. Also we sorted what we had
accumulated in the last few days, including everything from a gift pineapple
to calling cards, and one unusual object - a large yellow and mauve moth who
had established himself on the black cushions of a pilot's seat. I wondered if
it had recognized the Wasp-motored Lockheed Electra monoplane as a very big
Among our purchases wee coveralls for navigator
Noonan, a transaction whose bewildering sped would put to shame any North
American tailor shop I've encountered. He was measured for them at eleven
o'clock in a shop where ten or more women sat at sewing machines, ready to
pounce on the cloth as soon as it was cut. by afternoon he was properly garbed
to do any kind of manual labor. I had brought along my own suit. Fortaleza is
one of two cities in Brazil which is laid out with straight streets. I fond
that out when I left the airplane long enough to do some exploring, in
addition to shopping. the latter included a successful search for sponge
rubber to replace some on the cockpit hatch which was wearing out. A pleasant
feature of the purchase was that I was not permitted to pay for it.
I found on Fortaleza's waterfront interesting sights.
The fishermen wee returning with the day's catch in catamarans called "jangada."
Most of these are very small, consisting of logs bound together, with a large
three-cornered sail overhead. The mariners venture as far as twenty miles
off-shore and are famous for their skill in handling their frail craft. Great,
round, hand-made baskets lashed to the masts were the usual containers for the
fish. Sale of the wares began as soon as the boat were beached and hauled on
rollers back under the palm trees which line the shore, an open-air market
colorful and pungent. The dexterity of the fishermen is not more than that of
the women I saw balancing varied loads on their heads while they paced along,
their hands and arms occupied with large or small bundles, or baskets with
fruit or loaves of bread. the only inconvenience seems to be their inability
to turn their heads quickly if anything worth looking at passes. the custom
appears to aid the carriage, for they are straight and sturdy as can be.
I went tourist and took pictures about the fringes of
my flying. A group of them wee munching breakfast in the heavy grass at the
edge of Fortaleza's airport when we appeared at dawn. they just didn't like
the commotion created by the Electra's engines warming up. They showed their
hurt feelings not by silly protest, but by gravely stalking away, turning a
completely cold shoulder (plus hind-quarters) on the interloper. Proud cows,
those. Likely they wee kin to some haughty hero of the bull-ring. During the
night a deluge of rain had fallen and i feared we might find the field a
quagmire. but fortunately it was well drained and the sod had and firm. So
there was no difficulty in getting off the light load needed for the short 270
mile hop to Natal.
We got into the air at 4.50 A.M. and arrived at Natal
at 6.44, so our day's work was done almost before conventional breakfast time.
However, we had wanted to reach Natal early, on the chance we might start
thence across the South Atlantic that evening. The weather was unsettled all
the way, a morning of vagrant clouds and rain-squalls which chased each other
across the sky. it was interesting country we flew over. Ruffled dunes on the
shore shone with bright and. We passed near a stately church on a high hill,
supposed to be one of the oldest in Brazil. We could see it plainly and even
spot parishioners, tiny dark dots trailing along the white ribbon of a road.
We saw the airport at natal almost before the town because it is so large,
consisting of long marked runways, large hangars and living quarters. With
French, German, Brazilian and American planes coming and going constantly it
is, I suppose, the most cosmopolitan and multilingual airfield of our
In the last few minutes of flying we raced a black
rain squall to the field. As we turned on the runway and taxied toward the
hangar the rain caught us, a muddy tropic deluge which blotted out vision
fifty feet away. We wee waterproof in our cockpit, but those who kindly rushed
out to push the plane into shelter were soaked for their pains. The French
have been crossing the south Atlantic on regular schedule for several years.
the service is now run twice a week, carrying mail but no passengers. I talked
with the crew of the next plane out, and found they preferred to fly early in
the morning, since they expect the most difficult weather during the first 800
miles. So I decided to rely on their experience and defer my departure until
the following morning, by which is meant some time after midnight. The plane
was refueled by daylight so as to be ready. if the weather had turned out too
bad to take off in the dark with such a heavy load, I planned to wait until
the next afternoon and then fly all night, reaching Africa in the morning.
Everyone at Natal co-operated generously. The French
have two ships stationed in the south Atlantic, which give weather conditions,
and their information they shared with me. Incidentally, I believe that a
similar arrangement will be - at least should be - worked out in connection
with the north Atlantic flying services. In due time we may well see a couple
of vessels anchored at appropriate positions to serve as gatherers of weather
data, as radio guideposts and emergency aids. Perhaps such a system may
involve the use of modified "floating landing fields" which were considerable
discussed some years ago. The soil in this part of Brazil is red, reminiscent
of Georgia or Virginia. As man of the houses are built of 'dobe a vivid touch
of color is added to the landscape. Green trees face a gray-green sea.
1928. Amelia posing before a Plymouth.
Chrysler hired her to be their first celebrity spokesperson.
At luncheon I could hardly realize that I was in
South America, for the food was so like that at home - corn on the cob and
apple pie a la mode. Speaking of food, everyone took pit on us. When we left
Fortalez we had a 0resent of a package of turkey sandwiches and cake. If this
continues there will be no keeping down our weight, lean as Fred and I
naturally are. By the way, the measuring stick of avoirdupois aloft is
gasoline. six added pounds offset one precious gallon of fuel. As i wrote
this, looking out the window I can se two children playing in the sand. I
would like to play too, or at least sunbake beside them. Beyond, the surf
beats against a stranded wreck. I noticed a number of these along the coast,
and the long white ribbons of surf breaking on the shoals and sandbars that
lurk dangerously about twenty-five miles off the shore. I want to get a pair
of sandals such as I see so many people wearing. It is easy to
understand where this season's toeless and heelless shoes originated -
somewhere around the equator.
On the evening of June 7, my Electra put her wheels
down in Africa, the third continent of our journey. That left two more
continents before u, Asia and Australia. Also we crossed the equator for the
second time since leaving home, the schedule calling for two more crossings
beyond India. it was 3.15 in the morning when we left Parnamirio Airport at
Natal, Brazil. The take-off was in darkness. The longer runway, which has
lights, was unavailable because a perverse wind blew exactly across it. So I
used the secondary runway, whose surface is of grass. In the dark it was
difficult even to find it, so Fred and I tramped its length with flashlights
to learn what we could and establish something in the way of guiding
landmarks, however shadowy. Withal, we got into the air easily. Once off the
ground, a truly pitch dark encompassed us. however, the blackness of the night
outside made all the more cheering the subdued lights of my cockpit,
glowing on the instruments which showed the way through space as we headed
east over the ocean. "The night is long that never finds the day," and our
night soon enough was day. I remembered, then, that this was my third dawn in
flight over the Atlantic.
The trip was uneventful except for little incidents
of long-range flying - just another crossing of this stretch of Atlantic which
has been flown so many, many times. Such uneventfulness, I suppose, is a part
of expeditioning which comes off successfully. If all goes well, there is not
much to report. If all doesn't, there are "incidents." The weather was exactly
as predicted by the efficient Air France meteorologist. Nearly all the way
head winds prevailed. I dare say they averaged twenty miles an hour for the
first half of the distance. Then came a stretch of doldrums, a period of clear
skies, and next an area of low, ragged clouds strewn all about the sky, and
the heaviest rain I ever saw. The heavens fairly opened. Tons of water
descended, a buffering weight bearing so heavily o the shi I could almost feel
it. Fortunately, that was long after daylight. The water splashed brown
against the glass of my cockpit windows, a soiled emulsion mixed with the oil
spattering from the propellers.
Our flying speed was about what I had planned.
Throughout my flight, calculations had been built on a base sped of 150 miles
an hour. Reckoning the distance across the Atlantic as about 1,900 miles, our
average fell only little short of the estimate despite head winds. On this
stretch, as on those that preceded, I did not at all open up the engines. With
plenty of work ahead, i wanted to treat them as gently as could be. When need
be we could better our speed twenty or more miles each hour. About midway we
passed an Air France mail plane. Unfortunately I could not "talk" to it. The
mail plane's radio equipment, I believe, is telegraphic code, while mine, at
the moment, was exclusively voice telephone. As always, i broadcast my
position by voice each half hour. Whether it was heard at all, or understood
if heard, perhaps I shall never know.
Once before I kept a little diary when flying over
the Atlantic, that time on a route some four thousand miles further north.
Some of those scribblings later appeared in a book of mine. Here, then, are
extracts penciled at random exactly as set down in the "log-book" (which was a
loose-leaf stenographer's notebook) while the Electra flew us across the South
6.50 Just crossing equator, 6000 feet. sun brilliant.
Little lamb clouds below. Ahead dark ones.
Ship below. I descend to let him see us for report.
Doldrums. Rain send clouds. Sperry flies while I do
this. Have just come through very heavy rain. Blotted out everything. Looked
brown on windshield.
* * *
Ragged clouds piled up very high. giants of
S. Atlantic throw liner about carelessly down there. Up here can be
rough too. sly unkempt. Water dirty gray.
Left engine been bumping. Now starts again.
Also right. Only too much oil I think.
Gas fumes in plane from fueling made me sick
again this morning aft4r starting. Stomach getting weak I guess.
French and Standard oil
people very careful about wiping oil cans. No ground wire used as in
U.S. In refueling at Natal boys spilled so much gas it was funny. I am
charged with 165 gals. in a 149 gal. tank.
Have tried get something on
radio. No go. Rain, static. Have never seen such rain. Props a blur in
it. Kinseys sent lunch. took to field. Odd scene. Frenchmen all rotund.
Berets. Champagne bottles along walk. Frenchmen waiting their plane from
B.A. not in until 6 A.M.
Rain makes strange patterns
on windows. Harried by speed. Indicated our speed 140 at 5780 feet. Man.
press. 26.1/2 rpm 1700 5.1/2 hours out.
Driest cockpit ever had ... boys at Lockheed
did a good job. ... Glad I got that new rubber lining at Fortaleza.
1 hr. 15 mins. doldrums.
Seeing nothing but rain now through wispy cloud. Fred dozes. . . . I
never seem to the sleepy flying. Often been tired but seldom sleepy.
Outside temp. 60 degrees. Seems to be a good Equator we've picked -
upstairs anyway. In half hour should be about half way across.
9.41 Natal time. Clouds seem
to be changing. formation seems thinner, shredding out. Rather bright in
spot. Can hardly believe sun is north of us but so it its.
distance across 1900
8 hrs. out
Seven hundred and something
to go . . . that's about the mileage between Burbank and Albuquerque.
Seems long way off . . . long way too from radio beams and lighted
airways . . . our flyers at home don't know pampered they are . . . air
High overcast now. good
visibility except now and then showers. Fred takes sight. Says we're
north of course a little.
Oil from props and rain on windshield have
made smeary emulsion. I cant see through. Nothing to see anyway.
Fred goes back to catch a bug.
That entry ended that particular batch of skywrit
recordings. Unexplained it could imply something intimate and embarrassing.
Actually what it referred to was remote and scientific. The creature to be
caught was a micro-organism of the upper air. Fred C. Meier of the Department
of Agriculture equipped me with a "sky hook" similar to that carried by
colonel Lindbergh in his 1933 Greenland flight. this is a device to obtain in
flight samples of air content which are then preserved in sealed aluminum
cylinders for microscopic outside of the plane the cylinder is turned so that
the slide within it is exposed to the moving air and gathers upon it whatever
minute beasties may inhabit the particular stretch of atmosphere just then
being flown through.
We devised a mechanical refinement for our sky hook.
Noonan was too busy to hold it extended through either the cockpit window or
the door of the fuselage, had either arrangement been practical. So, at Miami,
we had brackets fitted to the side of the ship just behind the fuselage door.
when this door was open a couple of inches, which was easily done, the device
was clamped in these brackets, and the cylinder manually opened. Then for a
period of thirty minutes of so nature took its course. subsequently the
cylinder was closed, sealed and the place and time of it exposure recorded.
By the time Africa was reached we had a dozen or more
such recordings. in the directions given me, Mr. Meier wrote: "This phrase of
research was originally opened by Louis Pasteur in classical experiments
recorded in 1860 which have since been followed by medical men and botanists
of many countries. The results of our new upper air studies bring to light
fundamental principles lead to many practical applications, perhaps the most
important of which are improved measures of control of diseases of plants and
animals." To get the hang of how to handle them we "exposed" a couple of
alumimum cylinders before starting. I happened hat Fred coughed upon a slide
of one of these. "That's ruined," he said, starting to throw it away. "The
collection of germs on that slide would look like a menagerie under a
But I insisted on adding that cylinder to our
collection. l thought it would give the laboratory workers something unique to
ponder when they came upon its contents among the more innocent bacteria of
the equatorial upper airs. Heaven knows what cosmic conclusions Fed's
contribution might help them reach! . . . such absurd procedure must be
debited to a pilot's perverted sense of humor. At St. Louis are the
headquarters of Air France for the trans-Atlantic service, and I was grateful
for the field's excellent facilities, which were placed at my disposal. But it
is only fair to say that I really had intended to land at Dakar, 163 miles
south of St. Louis. The fault was mine.
When we first sighted the African coast, thick haze
prevailed and for some time no position sight had been possible. My navigator
indicated that we should turn south. Had we done so, a half hour would have
brought us to Dakar. but a "left turn" seemed to me in order and after fifty
miles of lying along the coast we found ourselves at St. Louis, Senegal. Once
arrived above the airport it was wiser to sit down rather than retrace our
track over a strange country with the sudden darkness of the tropics imminent.
the elapsed time across, by the way, was thirteen hours and twelve minutes.
Africa smells. The same smell evades Dakar as St.
Louis. to me it seemed a sort of strong human tang of people, quite different
from the aromas of South American cities which are those of fruit, fish, meat
and growing things - sometimes overgrown! (It happens I am one of those people
whose sense of smell is acute. Often I recall the odor of flowers, places and
people quite as clearly as i can visualize their appearance. In flying such a
sense can sometimes be useful, enjoyable, or the reverse. Examples: Detecting
the first pungent scent of overly hot oil or rubber - and doing the right
thing about it. Quaffing the fragrance of blooming orchards or orange groves,
which often caries to considerable altitudes. Recognizing the unmistakable
odors which rise from such places as the grassy marshes around Newark or the
stockyards of Chicago!
To get the full impact of fresh scenes, a very good
way is to fly into them. To drop down, for instance, out of the western skies
upon the coast of Africa. In such an approach the traveler has no period of
preparation of becoming acclimatized, socially and geographically, as must
happen on slow steamer voyages with recurrent stops whereon one filters
gradually into new environments whose boundaries perforce become
imperceptible, their outlines hazy. with an advent like ours the shift of
scene was complete, clear-cut. That is the drama of modern air-voyaging. Last
week, Home. Yesterday, south America. today, Africa.
1928. Amelia agreed to do this Lucky
Strike ad because she wanted to donate the proceeds to Commander Richard
Byrd's expedition to Antarctica. The editor of McCall's, Otto Wiese,
was so put off by the advertisement that he withdrew his offer of employment,
and Amelia went to work for Cosmopolitan.
Focused from the kaleidoscopic first impressions,
beyond its aromas Africa was to me a riot of human color. An amusing, friendly
riot of bright raiment adorning good-natured ebony people. their clothing
contrasted gaudily with the neutral background of brown plains, bare hills,
parched vegetation and drab dwellings. "Feet here are the most interesting
thing Ii have seen." I found that log-book observation written as we hopped
over from St. Louis to Dakar. Probably the superlative was out of order but at
that the feet of natives seemed extraordinary. Mostly they wear "toe covers,"
or no shoes at all. when black feet generously proportioned from generations
of heavy-loaded use, were encased in hand-me-down European shoes the results
were absurd. Around the airport at St. Louis stood primitive huts. Tall black
figures endowed with a certain innate dignity went about their own affairs
without such concern for their neighbor airplanes. Seeing the majesty of these
natives I asked myself what many must have asked before. What have we in the
United Sates done to these proud people, so handsome and intelligent in the
setting of their own country?
The street were tropic comic opera. Mother Hubbards
draped from native necks. women carried babies slung haphazardly on their backs
or their fronts. They wore headdresses of all types and miraculous
conformations and often perched on top wee baskets laden with fruit and much
beside. some faces were scarred by tribal slashes. much of the jewelry could
have originated with the American Brass Company, the ladies going in heavily
for bracelets and massive necklaces. I saw no disfiguring ornamentation like
the nostril buttons worn by some in Paramaribo, which, I am told, were to
discourage wife-kissing during husbands' absence from home. In the cities I
heard no native music. Perhaps that is for villages only. Of all god's
children who've "got rhythm," few, I dare say, are blessed with it more
basically than true Africans.
In the market places there wee mountains of peanuts,
somewhat held in place by filled sacks. Incidentally, a bag of peanut very
specially fresh roasted was about the only West African export we carried on
our way. Subsequently as we munched them Fred and I might have been in the
bleachers of a ball-game back home, instead of in the cockpit of a plane
spanning remote deserts. Dakar nestles far out on the peninsula of Cape Verde,
the most westerly point of the continent. It is the capital of French West
Africa and as a jumping-off point for the south Atlantic holds a commanding
population, I believe, is about 35,000.
On the morning of June 8 we flew the 163 miles from
St. Louis. the chief reason I decided to lay over a day at Dakar instead of
proceeding east was because my fuelmeter gave out two hours after we left
Natal. The very efficient chief mechanic at Dakar discovered that a piece of
the shaft was broken. While he worked on that - a difficult job to manage from
a blueprint printed in English, which he did not understand, in an aeroplane
he did not know - I had a forty-hour check of the engines, probably all they
would need until we reached Karachi.
At Dakar again I found my enthusiasm for service
given us was rapidly him to tell Jacques de Sibour how especially helpful
everyone had been, and how well the arrangements made by Standard Oil had
worked out everywhere. We were the guests of Monsieur Marcel de Copper,
governor General, at his spacious mansion. There we had a quiet dinner,
followed with a reception b he Aero Club which was the trip's only function up
to then. at a meeting of military pilots hat afternoon I had to explain that I
had only slacks and shirts in which to meet generals, pilots, kings and
beggars. The Governor is a delightfully cultivated person whose gracious
hospitality I thoroughly enjoyed. With him especially I was ashamed of my
illiteracy. But my French is rudimentary, particularly the aviation brand,
which is not taught in school. Instead I remember questions about my uncle's
health and my aunt's umbrella, about walking in the "jardin" and shutting he "fenetre,"
none of which helps appreciably. with sign language supplemented by scraps of
English and French, we contrived to explain what was what without serious
trouble. I found that aeronautic fundamentals are international; indeed, I
believe that wind cones, indicators of air direction at flying fields, might
be adopted as symbols of world understanding.
The French, I have always heard, have a genius for
colonization. Certainly they seemed miraculously at home in this particular
far corner of the world. IO suspect wherever they may be they live well. Where
Frenchmen are, there also is good food. Certainly at Natal the meals were
delicious, an especially alluring dish being the small reddish fish called "rouget."
Colonel Tavera of the Air Force was generous with information and maps
concerning the route easterly, while the air France officials at St. Louis,
Dakar and Natal wee extraordinarily helpful. Incidentally, all the advance
fuss about passport, permission, medical certificates and such, apparently was
love's labor lost. Up to Dakar no one had asked for a passport. there were no
custom examinations, no inspections. About the only formality was signing the
police register in St. Louis. Officialdom expected us, knew our plans, and
that our papers wee in order. so why be troublesome? Altogether an
The Dakar airport is excellent, picturesquely
situated on a jutting point of land with the pink city nearby. I am finishing
this account of the flight to date, writing in the hangar while he good
mechanics of air France work. Every inch of the plane has been scrubbed with
soap and water. The Electra's periodic face-washings were performed by
natives. i must say the aspect of the African grease monkies was sometimes
considerably simian. it was not only oily when we arrived but thee was a
curious pattern from dust and rain made b the airflow over the wings.
Tomorrow, if all goes well, we start the long air
route across Africa. Exactly what course we will fly will be determined as we
progress. Extremely hot weather is creating unfavorable conditions in the
interior. I am warned of tornadoes to the south and sandstorms to the north.
So I must try to squeeze between. So far our journey has been along
established air lanes. From Miami to Natal I followed the regular route of Pan
American Airways. From Natal to Dakar we were "in the groove" of the
long-established trans-ocean service. Now we turn the nose of the Electra into
regions where planes fly frequently but not on schedule.
When I was a little girl in Kansas, the adventures of
travel fascinated me. with my sister and my cousins I gratified my ambitions
by make-believe. That was in a barn behind our house in Atchison. there, in an
old abandoned carriage, we made imaginary journeys full of fabulous perils.
Early we discovered the special joys of geography.
the maps of far places that fell into our clutches supplemented the
hair-raising experiences of the decrepit carriage. Map-travelling took its
place beside window-shopping as an accepted diversion. the map of Africa was a
favorite. The very word meant mystery. Blithely we rolled on our tongues such
names as Senegal, Timbuctu, Ngami, El Fasher, and Kartoum. We weighted the
advantages of the River Niger and the Nile, the comparative ferociousness of
the Tauregs and Swahili. No Livingstone, Stanley or Rhodes explored with more
enthusiasm than we. As the girl grew older, the inclination did not mind.
Indeed, as flying brought far places closer, the horizon, and what lay beyond
it, gained added lure.
More than once the Electra's pilot, who had been that
little girl, thought of those early flights of fancy in the old carriage as
she herself flew almost straight across Central Africa from the Atlantic to
the red Sea. For me the dreams of long ago and come true. Only, back in
Atchison, our imaginary African treks were on camels or elephants. then
airplanes were of another day. Weather reports at the Dakar air field were not
altogether encouraging. Thee wee barometric lows threatening tornadoes, or
their local equivalent, in the Sudanese region through which our route lay.
So, instead of going to Niamey as at first planned, on the advice o colonel
Tabera, I decided to shift the course slightly to the north, making our
objective Gao on the upper reaches of the River Niger. Just before six o'clock
we were in the air and seven hours and fifty minutes later came down at Gao in
the French Sudan.