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Hidden Fliers

Bessie_Coleman,_First_African_American_Pilot_-_GPN-2004-00027Amelia Earhart was a famous pilot in the early days of aviation, but she was not the only one, and was far from the first woman to fly. Bessie Coleman was born January 26, 1892 into a  family of sharecroppers in Texas. Her mother was African American and her father was Native American, and she was the 12th of 13 children. A bright young woman, she attended segregated schools in Texas and Oklahoma before taking an interest in aviation. Hearing stories of the exploits of World War I fliers sparked her imagination, and she set her sights on becoming a pilot. Barred from flight school in the U.S., she spent the next several years learning French and saving money to move to Paris, where gender and racial discrimination were not barriers. In 1922, at the age of thirty, she achieved her dream and became the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license.Returning to the U.S., she earned a living performing in air shows, specializing in stunt flying and parachuting. These were the Roaring Twenties, days of barnstorming without safety standards, when pilots vied to perform ever more dangerous stunts. Fliers like Charles Lindbergh cut their teeth on early exhibition teams, where surplus military aircraft and lack of FAA regulations combined to allow “flying circuses” to flourish.
Coleman quote

Coleman was one of those young daredevils who “not only thrilled audiences with her skills as a barnstormer, but also became a role model for women and African Americans. Her very presence in the air threatened prevailing contemporary stereotypes. She also fought segregation when she could by using her influence as a celebrity” – David H. Onkst, Women in History.
Bessie Coleman had ambition, and aimed to start a flying school for African Americans. Sadly, the thirty-four year old pilot was testing a newly purchased plane in 1926 when it unexpectedly went into a spin. She was flung from the cockpit and plummeted to her death.
Coleman has received many honors, including induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition: The Quest

On the morning of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in a Lockheed 10 Electra from Lae, New Guinea, heading east, having completed three-fourths of their planned flight around the world.  Their destination was Howland Island, a small U.S. territory 2,300 miles east of New Guinea.  Because of the difficulty of finding such a small target in the middle of the featureless Pacific, the U.S. Coast Guard had stationed the cutter Itasca at the island.  Its radio signals would help guide Earhart and Noonan in for what was to be a refueling stop before the next leg to Honolulu.

Final Flight map

The following morning, as Earhart’s Electra approached Howland Island, the radiomen aboard the Itasca heard her calls for navigational help.  But, except for one brief contact, it was clear she could not hear their replies.  Unable to get a radio bearing, running low on fuel, and relying only on celestial navigation with outdated charts, Earhart and Noonan never arrived at Howland. Despite an intensive air and sea search led by the U.S. Navy and its aircraft carrier Lexington, no trace of the aircraft or its pilot and navigator were ever found.  After 16 days, the Navy gave up the search and declared Earhart and Noonan lost at sea.

Many Americans could not accept the Navy’s conclusion.

In the years since 1937, hundreds of amateur investigators have researched the case in the hope of finding the “true” solution to the mystery.  They have scoured her final radio transmission for clues, sought to unearth suspected government documents, investigated Earhart sightings and aircraft wrecks on islands throughout the Pacific, and written dozens of books advancing a profusion of theories, including the following:

• She was an American spy, captured and executed by the Japanese on the eve of World War II;

• She secretly returned to the U.S. and quietly lived out her life under an assumed name in Teaneck, New Jersey; and

• She landed on an uninhabited island and died there after being overlooked by the Navy.

These are just a few of the theories that have been proposed.  Though none has ever been proven, they have served to keep the mystery alive.  More than seven decades after she vanished, the question of Earhart’s fate continues to intrigue and fascinate people all over the world.

Despite these theories and legends the body of verifiable evidence shows that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed at sea after missing tiny Howland Island, where they were planning to refuel.  The information and the technology exist to reconstruct Earhart’s final flight, search the ocean bottom in the area where we believe she came down, find the aircraft, and solve the mystery.

This is our quest.

The Deep-Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart Resumes

In late February a team from Nauticos with stratospheric explorer Alan Eustace and aviation pioneer Elgen Long will depart Honolulu for the vicinity of Howland Island, 1,600 miles to the southwest, to complete the deep sea search for Amelia Earhart’s lost Lockheed Electra. Adding to the work conducted during prior expeditions in 2002 and 2006, the team plans to complete a sonar survey of about 1,800 square miles of seafloor, an area believed to contain the aircraft. The expedition will use autonomous underwater technology to image the ocean floor nearly 18,000 feet below.

The Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition is an important step in human exploration, expanding the realm of human achievement, funded by an explorer who extends the range of human possibility and in honor of a great explorer lost in those causes. Alan Eustace, with a doctorate in computer science, has led developments in pocket computing and computer architecture, and most recently retired from Google as Director of Knowledge.

Alan Eustace soars to the stratosphere
Alan Eustace soars to the stratosphere

A pilot, skydiver, and adventurer, Alan made history in 2014 with a record breaking near-space dive from the stratosphere at 135,890 feet. Free-falling over 23 miles, he reached a speed of 821 mph (breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.3) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and parachuting safely to earth. His spacesuit and support equipment went on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on December 15, 2016.

Besides conducting our own search operations, our expedition will be working with NOAA to support its upcoming exploration of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as the research vessel Okeanos Explorer maps the deep seafloor near Howland Island in March. An education team on board our vessel will share the excitement of deep sea exploration and the fascination of robotic technology as we sail the central Pacific in our quest.

Stay tuned over the coming days and weeks as we share details of our team, technology, and adventures as we prepare to go to sea.

StratEx at the Smithsonian

The StratEx Spacesuit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, NASM
The StratEx Spacesuit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air & Space Museum

On October 24th, 2014, Alan Eustace made history with a record breaking near-space dive from the stratosphere at 135,890 feet. Free-falling over 123,000 feet, he reached a speed of 821 mph (Mach 1.3) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and parachuting safely to earth. The StratEx spacesuit and Balloon Equipment Module went on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on December 15, 2016. It is an extraordinary honor for all of us who were directly involved in the project. The exhibit is in an area dedicated to stratospheric exploration, with the space capsules for the Breitling round-the-world mission and the Red Bull Stratosjump nearby. It is also just a couple of hundred feet from the Space Shuttle Discovery! There was a lovely celebration led by General Jack Dailey, Director of the museum, and featuring pilot Alan Eustace and co-founder of Paragon Space Development, Taber MacCallum. Colleagues from World View, Paragon (StratEx lead and launch system), ILC Dover (spacesuit), United Parachute Technologies, Performance Design (parachute system), and Nauticos (recovery team) attended as well as balloonist Julian Nott and Alan’s extended family.

L to R: Jane Poynter, Alan Eustace, Daniel "Blikkies" Blignaut, Taber MacCallum, Dave Jourdan
L to R: Jane Poynter, Alan Eustace, Daniel “Blikkies” Blignaut, Taber MacCallum, Dave Jourdan

“I always wondered: what if you could design a system that would allow humans to explore the stratosphere as easily and safely as they do the ocean?” Alan’s inspiration and technical leadership started the three-year project. He did not seek publicity, but rather strived to  develop a self-contained spacesuit system that allows for manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Such a system has a wide range of applications in stratospheric science, development of spaceship crew egress and the study of suited aerodynamics above Mach 1.

The team was led by Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter of Paragon, with Flight Director Sebastian Padilla, Launch Director John Strauss, PSA (Pressure Suit Assembly) Team Lead Jared Leidich, and Recovery Team Lead Dave Jourdan (Nauticos). Daniel “Blikkies” Blignaut led the parachute design team, and skydived from an orbiting aircraft to escort Alan to the ground. Dozens of other scientists, engineers, and technicians from around the world helped make the project an unqualified success.

A new book The Wild Black Yonder by StratEx team member Jared Leidich tells the stirring tale of the record-breaking project. It is an amazing story of imagination, exploration, engineering, perseverance, setbacks, successes, and teamwork.

Pearl Harbor LIVE Dive

The Japanese mini submarine HA-19 (similar to the mini sub sunk by the USS Ward), which washed ashore on December 8, 1941. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.
The Japanese mini submarine HA-19 (similar to the mini sub sunk by the USS Ward), which washed ashore on December 8, 1941. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.

On December 7, 2016, 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, join NOAA for a live dive on two Japanese mini submarines, the first of which was sunk by the USS Ward prior to the attack. This will be the first time the public will be able to view live underwater exploration of the submarines in real time.

You can view the dive on our Expedition Portal or at
 on the morning of December 7. Live streaming will start at 6:30 a.m. HST (8:30 a.m. PST, 11:30 a.m. EST.) A team of maritime archaeologists and scientists from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research will live-stream the dive. A remotely operated vehicle deployed off of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will send back images of the wreck site.

Holiday Reading

The Search for the Japanese Fleet — USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway by David W. Jourdan
The Search for the Japanese Fleet — USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway by David W. Jourdan

Looking for a holiday gift for someone interested in military history? Wondering how to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day? Making plans to observe the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway next year? Need a good book about a hot day in June to pass a cold winter night? Why not try The Search for the Japanese Fleet?

Available on Amazon or get a signed copy here.

Happy Holidays!

The Wild Black Yonder

wild-black-yonder-coverIn 2014, Alan Eustace rose to a record-breaking height of 26 miles above the earth, lofted by a giant helium balloon and protected from the frigid near vacuum by nothing more than a specially-designed spacesuit. Then he released and plummeted to the ground in a 123,000 foot free fall, landing safely by parachute in the New Mexico desert. Jared Leidich, the man who led the team that designed and built that spacesuit and parachute recounts how a small group of engineers spent three years designing, building, testing, failing and starting over, until they made the system that carried Eustace safely to the edge of the black sky and back. The Wild Black Yonder is an amazing story of imagination, exploration, engineering, perseverance, setbacks, successes, and teamwork. The stakes were high – before Alan, only four other aeronauts had attempted to ascend to the stratosphere and skydive down. Two of them died trying.

Throughout the book, Jared describes the technical challenges, designs, engineering, and problem solving that made the program a success. He also shares his personal highs and lows, many false starts, and internal debates that sometimes spilled into frustration and anger. He admits that at times he felt they “were becoming weathered soldiers in a losing war against disappointment.” The  long hours and the pressure of building a system that would put a friend in utmost danger yet bring him back to safety took a significant toll on his personal life. Yet in the end the honor of success, the reward of working with a great team, and the value of pushing the boundaries of knowledge made it all worthwhile.

Besides being a stirring saga, the book is impressively illustrated with drawings, diagrams, and eye catching photos included with every chapter. The splendor of the desert at dawn contrasted with the beauty of a well made machine is clearly seen in these pages.

Purchase your signed copy here and invite yourself to imagine the future of travel away from the planet – the missions, the craft, and the reasons for going.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Nauticos!

untitled-001On September 30, 1986, thirty years ago today, Meridian Sciences, Inc. was founded by Joe Crabtree, Dan Schoenberger, and Dave Jourdan. The company was formed to provide technical analysis and special software in support of Navy underwater programs. In 1995, Meridian received international recognition for its leadership in the discovery of I-52, a historic World War II deep-water shipwreck of a Japanese submarine found at a depth of 17,000 feet. In 1998, the company was rebranded Nauticos as part of an initiative to expand our ocean technology services to government, science and industry.

In 1998, Nauticos managed the operations for Titanic Live, a live broadcast from the bottom of the ocean, for the Discovery Channel and NBC’s Dateline. The following year the company again gained worldwide recognition for the discovery of Dakar, an Israeli submarine lost in the Mediterranean Sea in 1968, and for locating wreckage from the Japanese aircraft carriers sunk at the World War II Battle of Midway in 1942. The company has found deep sea ancient wrecks over 2,000 years old, has recovered artifacts for memorials of lost sailors, has built sonar and video systems to operate to depths of 20,000 feet, has appeared on National Geographic, and has led expeditions in the deep sea quest to find Amelia Earhart’s lost Electra. Nauticos also supports educational and scientific initiatives though the non-profit SeaWord Foundation, formed in 1999. Dave Jourdan continues to lead Nauticos in a diverse program that has included the use of deep-ocean water, historical shipwreck searches, and stratospheric exploration.


Under the Ice Cap

Nautilus in Bergen, Norway
Nautilus in Bergen, Norway

Trivia Question: Which was the first submarine to travel under the arctic ice cap? Answer: USS Nautilus … WRONG! “Nautilus” is correct, but it was NOT the nuclear powered USS Nautilus (SSN-571) of fame. Yes, USS Nautilus was the first submarine to transit the ice cap and visit the North Pole. But an earlier submarine, USS O-12 (SS-73) has the distinction of being the first to dive under the ice cap. This vessel, launched in 1917, was a post World War I vintage O-Class submarine, displacing 500 tons and able to dive to 200 feet. It was decommissioned in 1924, then leased for $1 per year to Hubert Wilkins’s and Lincoln Ellsworth’s Arctic Expedition. The vessel was re-christened “Nautilus” (sans the military moniker “USS”) and baptized with a bucket of ice cubes (champagne forbidden under Prohibition laws at the time). With funding promised by William Randolph Hearst, the boat got underway for Arctic waters in June, 1931 with a plan to rendezvous at the North Pole with the German airship Graf Zeppelin. A series of mishaps, storms, and equipment failures thwarted all attempts until August, when under pressure from Hearst the damaged submarine managed to submerge under the ice. Unable to travel far, and with malfunctioning radios, the ship was presumed lost. However, she had managed to surface through a polynya (area of open water within an ice pack) and was able to return safely. The crew carried out investigations and published scientific papers; however, Hearst considered the venture a failure and refused to pay for the expedition. I learned this bit of history through a re-reading of Rachel Carson’s 1950 book The Sea Around Us.

World War Two Shipwreck Discovered!

Anti-aircraft gun on foredeck of Amakasu Maru
Anti-aircraft gun on foredeck of Amakasu Maru

NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer and the ashore team made a historic discovery while exploring the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument near Wake Island. On August 11 the team imaged a World War Two Japanese armed tanker, IJN Amakasu Maru No. 1, torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Triton (SS-201) on December 24, 1942. The team was aiming to locate the wreck of IJN Hayate, a Japanese destroyer sunk by U.S. Marine shore batteries during the Battle of Wake Island in December 1941. Earlier multi beam sonar surveys suggested a target of the right size and in the predicted location. Explorers (including those watching live video via telepresence) were rewarded with stunning views of a shipwreck early in the dive. But soon it became apparent that there were subtle differences between the wreck and details of Hayate. With the aid of historian Tony Tully, explorers were able to verify that the vessel was in fact Amakasu Maru, a ship of almost identical size and with a similar bow configuration. The identification was confirmed when Japanese characters welded on the stern were imaged and translated.

Kisogawa Maru, sistership of Amakasu Maru No. 1, pre war.
Kisogawa Maru, sistership of Amakasu Maru No. 1, pre war.

Amakasu Maru No. 1 was an auxiliary water tanker, delivering precious fresh water to occupied islands such as Wake and to ships at sea. One of 26 built between 1937 and 1943, the ships were armed for anti-aircraft defense. All were sunk during the Pacific war by various causes. Three torpedoes fired by Triton hit the port side of Amakasu Maru and sealed her fate. Viewers were able to clearly see evidence of torpedo damage on the stern. Other features imaged as the ROV Deep Discoverer surveyed the wreck included deck guns, anchors, piping, masts, the pilot house and many other details. The wreck was festooned with sea life and sprinkled with a light coating of sediment. Explorers were surprised to see significant remnants of wooden deck planking, surviving after nearly 74 years in the sea. Twelve crewmen were lost in the sinking, but no evidence of remains was noted (or expected).

ROV Deep Discovery approaches bow of Amakasu Maru
ROV Deep Discovery approaches bow of Amakasu Maru

Observers ashore were very impressed with the cool professionalism of the at-sea team, including ship crew, ROV operators, camera operators, and scientists, such as we have come to expect from prior dives. Scientists ashore were able to direct the ROV to image specific features through live hi-def video feeds and a teleconference link, while archaeologists and translators worked to research identifying markings in real time. Many interested members of the public watched from their home computers as undersea mysteries were revealed thousands of miles away and nearly a thousand meters deep.

The location of Hayate remains a mystery. The team imaged two other possible targets that turned out to be huge rocks. Since the ship was blown in half and sunk near an active region with high currents and a steep drop off, its wreckage may have been lost to the abyss. Okeanos will move on and will continue its current mission to conduct scientific baseline characterization of cultural and natural resources in the Wake Atoll unit of the monument, returning to Kwajalein on August 19. Daily dives can be followed on our Expedition Portal or on the Okeanos website.