Did a Robot Find Amelia Earhart’s Plane?
It’s not much more than a couple of pieces of landing gear, but 75 years after Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra airplane went missing, a pair of robots may have found its final resting place.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recover (more easily remembered as TIGHAR), announced last week that its robot search team (which consists of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle [AUV] from Bluefin robotics and a remote-control unit from Submersible Systems, Inc. known as the TRV 005) captured images of a debris field that may be from the ill-fated plane.
The two robots had been searching the Western Pacific in an area known as Nikumaroro, which is part of the Phoenix Islands. TIGHAR researchers chose that location because they believe Earhart and her navigator Frederick Noonan landed the Lockheed aircraft on reef before it eventually washed over and broke up in the ocean.
Robots at Work
The AUV and submersible actually worked in tandem to discover what appears to be a set of landing gear lying on the ocean floor. After scanning the target area with a hull-mounted sonar device, the researchers released the AUV. This self-navigating, battery-powered, torpedo-shaped robot used a side-mounted sonar to map the area. Researchers then used the remote-controlled submersible to first relocate the target zone and then deliver high-definition real-time video and images back to the team on the TIGHAR expedition boat.
News of the discovery comes nearly a month after initial reports, which emerged on the actual 75th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance, said the TIGHAR team failed to find the aviator’s plane
“Early media reports rushed to judgment in saying that the expedition didn’t find anything,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. He said that while researchers originally thought they’d find “large pieces of aircraft wreckage,” they soon realized that the rough current would naturally have torn the aircraft to pieces and “we would be looking for debris.”
Discovery Channel, which helped sponsor the expedition, aired a special on the findings on Aug. 19.
Do you think what the TIGHAR team found is, in fact, Amelia Earhart’s crash-landing site? Let us know in the comments.