March 20, 2009
This summer, the PBS History Detectives series will air an episode that investigates the provenance of a metal airplane part owned by a San Jose, California man. Jon Ott says his grandfather recovered the part from Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E after she dragged a wing on the ground during takeoff on March 20, 1937, at Hawaii’s Luke Field at the start of her around-the-world flight. The Electra was then ferried to Burbank, California, where it was repaired; Earhart departed from Miami, Florida, on June 1 on a second attempt, and disappeared on July 2.
Ott says his grandfather, Dan Stringer, was a military aircraft mechanic working at Luke Field the day Earhart lost control on takeoff. Stringer retrieved a mangled piece of landing gear, about 7 inches square, and saved it to pass on to Ott, who received it when he earned Eagle Scout status.
History Detective Elyse Luray took the part to California Polytechnic for materials testing and then to Grace McGuire’s hangar in Santa Maria, where she compared the part to the landing gear on McGuire’s 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E, a sister ship to Earhart’s and the last known 10E in existence (Lockheed built only 15). McGuire had at one time planned to “finish Amelia’s flight for her,” using only original equipment, but bouts with Lyme Disease, coupled with a loss of sponsorship, dealt major setbacks.
“If we have a piece of her plane,” says Pat Kruis of Oregon Public Broadcasting, “it would be the only one known and historically extraordinary.”
And if it is so, will it end up at a museum, or on eBay?