Frederick Joseph “Fred” Noonan

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Frederick Joseph “Fred” Noonan

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Death 2 Jul 1937 (aged 44)
At Sea
Burial Buried or Lost at Sea, Specifically: near Howland Island
Memorial ID 7099253 · View Source
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Aviation Pioneer and Navigator. He is best remembered for his historic flight around the world with the famed aviator Amelia Earhart that disappeared over the Central Pacific Ocean in July 1937. Born in Cook County, Illinois, When he was four years old his mother died, and at age 12 he left home and went to Seattle, Washington and eventually found work as a seaman. At the age of 17 he shipped out of Seattle as an ordinary seaman on the British sailing vessel Crompton. Between 1910 and 1915 he worked on over a dozen ships, rising to the ratings of quartermaster and bosun's (or boatswain's) mate and continued working on merchant ships throughout World War I and was on board three ammunition ships that were sunk by German U-boats. After the war he continued in the Merchant Marine and achieved the rank of as a ship's officer. After a distinguished 22-year career at sea which included sailing around Cape Horn seven times, he decided to become a commercial aircraft pilot. He learned to fly in the late 1920s, and received a "limited commercial pilot's license" in 1930, on which he listed his occupation as "aviator." The following year, as a Merchant Mariner, he became qualified as a merchant ship's captain for any ocean. During the early 1930s he worked for Pan American World Airways as a navigation instructor in Miami, Florida and an airport manager in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, eventually assuming the duties of inspector for all of the company's airports. In March 1935 he was the navigator on the first Pan Am Sikorsky S-42 clipper at San Francisco Bay in California. The following month he navigated the historic round-trip China Clipper flight between San Francisco, California and Honolulu, Hawaii piloted by Ed Musick (who was featured on the cover of Time magazine that year). He then became responsible for mapping Pan American's clipper routes across the Pacific Ocean, participating in many flights to Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. In 1937 he resigned from Pan American and returned to his home in Los Angeles, California with an interest in starting a navigation school. He then met Amelia Earhart through mutual connections in the Los Angeles aviation community and chose him to serve as her navigator on her World Flight in a Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft purchased with money donated by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The first attempt began on March 17, 1937 with a record-breaking flight from Burbank, California, to Honolulu. However, while the aircraft was taking off to begin its second leg to Howland Island, its wing clipped the ground. Earhart cut an engine off to maintain balance, the aircraft ground looped, and its landing gear collapsed. He and Earhart escaped uninjured and the aircraft had to be shipped by sea back to the Lockheed facility in Burbank, California for expensive repairs. Over one month later they tried starting again, this time leaving Oakland, California in the opposite (eastward) direction, landing in Miami, Florida. On June 1 they departed Miami and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, they arrived at Lae, New Guinea four weeks later, completing about 22,000 miles of the journey with the remaining 7,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean. On July 2, 1937 they took off from Lae and headed for Howland Island, a tiny sliver of land in the Pacific Ocean, barely 2,000 meters long. Their plan for the 18-hour-long flight was to reach the vicinity of Howland using his celestial navigation abilities and then find Howland by using radio signals transmitted by the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca. Through a combined sequence of misunderstandings or mishaps (that are still controversial), over scattered clouds, the final approach to Howland Island failed, although Earhart stated by radio that they believed they were in the immediate vicinity of Howland. The transmissions received indicated that Earhart and Noonan were indeed in the vicinity of Howland island, but could not find it and after numerous more attempts it appeared that the connection had dropped. The last transmission received from Earhart indicated they were flying along a line of position which he would have calculated and drawn on a chart as passing through Howland. Two-way radio contact was never established, and the aviators and their aircraft disappeared somewhere over the Central Pacific Ocean. Despite an unprecedented, extensive search by the US Navy, including the use of search aircraft from an aircraft carrier, and the US Coast Guard, no traces of them or their aircraft were ever found. Many theories exist on their disappearance, with the most widely accepted as being their aircraft ran out of fuel and they crashed in the ocean and sank that resulted in their deaths. One relatively new theory suggests that he may have made a mistake in navigation due to the flight's crossing of the International Date Line. Further recent research has indicated that on July 2, 1937, their aircraft was not (contrary to current literature) flown over the great circle New Guinea-to-Howland. He was declared dead on June 20, 1938, nearly two weeks before his 45th birthday. He was played by actor Mark Stitham in a 1990 episode of "Unsolved Mysteries." Additionally, actor Rutger Hauer portrayed him in the television movie "Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight" (1994, with Diane Keaton and Bruce Dern), and actor Christopher Eccleston played his role in the biographical movie "Amelia" (2009, with Hilary Swank and Richard Gere). He is a main character in Jane Mendelsohn's acclaimed novel, "I Was Amelia Earhart" (1996), and in Neal Bowers' poem "The Noonan Variations" (1990).

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 20 Jan 2003
  • Find a Grave Memorial 7099253
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Frederick Joseph “Fred” Noonan (4 Apr 1893–2 Jul 1937), Find a Grave Memorial no. 7099253, ; Maintained by Find A Grave Buried or Lost at Sea, who reports a near Howland Island.