Monday, March 14, 2011

Lindbergh and KHCAL

It was a time in which air travel was the work of celebrity pilots. The little commercial and freight air traffic moved by zeppelin. Charles Lindbergh's famous solo transatlantic flight was in 1927. Most flights between then and WWII were largely experimental including the one on July 27th 1931. That day, Anne and Charles Lindbergh took off in the Sirius for a flight to the orient. Many histories skip this flight which is a shame as we have copious information about it.  He role is often downplayed by biographers. (Walter Ross did a good job in The Last Hero.) Anne Morrow Lindbergh recorded the events of the flight in her book North To The Orient.  It actually details the radio equipment aboard the plane in an appendix of the book. It had the standard Pan American Airways model 10-C, 15 watt C.W. telegraph transmitter with dynamotor and type A.C.C. receiver.And all the following
  • 1 Key assembly
  • 1 Pair Headphones
  • 1 Trailing antenna assembly
  • Transmitting coils for the following frequencies: 333, 500, 3130, 5615, 8450, and 13240 KC. 
  • Receiving coils to cover the range of 17-150 meters, and 600-1100 meters.
  • 1 Direction finder (Fixed Loop)
  • 1 Emergency radio in water-tight box with dry cells (44 lbs)
  • 1 Repair box containing spare tubes, wire, spare sntenna weight, tape, special antenna weight for emergency installation in flight, fuses, misc. spares
  • 1 Extra antenna wire
  • 1 Hydrometer (for battery testing)
  • Lists of fixed and land stations
The reason we care about Anne and this flight at Arcane Radio Trivia is that she was the radio operator for KHCAL about the Sirius. She had made her first solo flight in 1929, in 1930 became the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot's license. But she didn't learn Morse Code until this flight. She had to pass a code test to be permitted to run communications. her test involved sending Morse messages to an unnamed operator on Long Island.  For her flight to Nanking, her first message was to WOA at North Beach. I assume this is North Beach, Maryland as their flight began in Flushing, NY and on this leg was headed to Washington DC. She was a novice at this point and fumbled with the instruments as Charles flew the plane.
"Master Oscillator? Power Amplifier. I held them in my lap, as there was no other place to put them. They were both marked 5615 KC. That was not the right frequency. I was planning to send on 3130 kilocycles, therefore I must find the 3130 coils in the coil box at my feet.  Feeling blindly, I took out two at random. they turned out to be 500 KC. These also went on my lap.  Four more came out.  One of the coils fell down and started rolling back into the dark unknowns of the fuselage...  It was like trying to fit a lamps plug into a socket in the dark."
Her book has this true sense of the difficulty a radio operator endured in that day. Her account is not just hers, but of any novice from that time. that day she did not get the radio to work, she did however manage to take a 400 volt shock to the chest. But by the time she took of at 18:06 July 30th from North Haven Maine for Ottawa she had it down and the radio was outfitted properly. She sent "POSN" and "WEA"  (position and weather) every fifteen minutes.

Throughout the text she refers to stations by their cities Edmonton, North Beach, Coppermine, Chicago, New York, On their flight to Aklavik she was unable to raise another station. She got WXB in Point Barrow while en route on August 8th. He reported low fog confirming they'd be able to land by sight. On august 11th they landed in the Shismaref Inlet off the coast of Alaska as it had become too dark to land and they were short of fuel. She messaged WXB again because she was unable to get WXY in Nome or WXW in Kotzebue. At that time of year, at that latitude it is difficult to predict dusk.They were to meet a ship called the Northland to refuel.
She became increasingly confident on the journey and moved from writing down code to writing down text. By the time She took down her first message from JOC the Japanese station at Nemuro she was completely competent. JOC sent the message "WELCOME TO JAPAN WELCOME COLONEL LINDBERGH"  they guided the Sirius toward Buroton Bay. But they were flying through fog and were forced to land in the open ocean on the east shore of Ketoi Island and were towed to Buroton Bay by the a Shinshiru Maru. One of their sailors, their own radio operator also managed to get a 400 volt shock from the radio aboard the Sirius.  They made it to Nanking on September 19th.

The Sirius was damaged while being towed in the Yangtze river thus ending their air-travel in Hankow. . It was repaired by Lockheed and resides in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.