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Ocean exploration team Deep Sea Vision has presented sonar images of what could be the end of a decades-long mystery: what happened to pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan? The team swept thousands of feet of Pacific Ocean floor between September and December 2022. On January 27, the team announced that they had captured something that looked like a Lockheed Electra airplane. The images were taken about 100 miles from Howland Island between Hawaii and Australia.

Amelia Earhart poses on the nose of her Lockheed Electra airplane
Amelia Earhart on her Lockheed Electra 10E airplane | Bettmann via Getty Images

Earhart and Noonan had departed eastbound from California on their quest some 86 years ago, on May 21, 1937. The pair hoped to seat Amelia as the first female pilot to fly around the world. After six weeks, they had made it across the U.S., past South America, and over the Atlantic.

Having flown over the Sahara and the Middle East, they touched down in New Guinea before starting the longest leg of continuous flight. They were scheduled to refuel on Howland Island, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. After several radio transmissions referencing bad weather, low fuel, and navigational estimating, transmissions stopped.

While the U.S. Coast Guard was actively stationed near Howland Island at the time, a three-week-long search ended with zero sign of the pilot, her navigator, or her plane. The island remains uninhabited.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E plane

Amelia Earhart inspects her in-production plane at a hangar in Purdue University in 1936
Amelia Earhart inspects her unfinished Lockheed Electra airplane inside a hangar at Purdue University | New York Times Co. via Getty Images

By 1937, Amelia was already a famous aviator. She had solo-crossed the Atlantic in 1932, a trip only accomplished by Charles Lindbergh before her.

Based in Burbank, California, Lockheed Aircraft Company built the plane Earhart selected to take around the globe. The Electra 10E was one of five Model 10 variants. The production Electra was designed small and for only short to medium distances. Still, the base model could carry two crew members with enough space in the back for 10 passengers.

The Electra 10E was two-engined, low-winged, all-metal mono-bodied, twin-tailed, and came with retractable landing gear. Lockheed built 15 E-variants. Amelia’s was serial number 1055.

The $80,000 plane was ordered in March 1936 and was funded by donations made by individuals through the Purdue Research Foundation. To make it around the world, the modifications list included:

  • Four auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment
  • Navigator’s station to the rear of the fuel tanks 
  • Remove passenger windows
  • Sperry autopilot added
  • Add radio and navigation equipment
  • Add more batteries

Amelia test-flew her Electra in July 1936. Its civil certification number was NR16020. The “R” indicates modifications to the production model. The plane’s certification was restricted to only carrying two crew members.

Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 Specs

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E airplane with rear parachute deployed and crew standing in front
Amelia Earhart and team stand in front of her finished Lockheed Electra 10E plane | MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images
1936 Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020Spec
Length38 ft. 7 in.
Wingspan55 ft.
Empty weight7,2600 lbs
Max takeoff weight16,500 lbs
Fuel capacity1,151 gallons
EngineSupercharged 22L 9-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1
Horsepower at 5,000 feet550 hp @ 2,200 rpm
Horsepower at takeoff600 hp @ 2,250 rpm
Max speed, sea level177 mph
Max range4,500 miles

With these new sonar images of what might be the legendary Lockheed Electra 10E, we can’t help but curiously await word of any upcoming recovery mission.

Sources: Post and Courier, This Daily Aviation