Amelia and Taiping (Part Two)

The conclusion in my blog post Amelia Earhart and Taiping was that she had never landed at Tekah airport. I am a contributor to Wikipedia and, after a discussion with (THS) friends, I decided to edit the history section of the Wikipedia entry for Taiping Airport, removing ” and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refuelling

I left the part “Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya. “, although I was wondering if this statement was correct, because I could not find any other independent reference on the Internet.

I was also intrigued that she mentioned a few times Alor Star in her notes, but never Taiping.

In this post I will try to answer/solve both issues.

After publishing my post, I searched the Internet again and I was lucky, I found another reference in the Wikipedia entry Federated Malay States Here it is:

Notable event
The Federated Malay States were within the flight path of American aviator Amelia Earhart on the Thailand–Singapore leg of her final and fatal attempt to cross the globe in 1937. She was given permission to enter FMS airspace with provision to land at Taiping Airport on 7 June 1937.

Contributor Bukhrin added this passage about Amelia Earhart on 14 January 2007. Notice the differences. Main point is that she got permission to enter FMS airspace.

That night, before I fell asleep (!), I remembered that Purdue University has an Amelia Earhart Archive ! The next morning I searched the Archive and, lo and behold, this is what I found:

Authorisation to fly through the FMS airspace, and permission for the aircraft to land at the Taiping Aerodrome. Signed 7 June 1937!

So, after all, Taiping IS special? Not really.

In those days before the war, British Malaya comprised three entities, the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Melaka, Penang and the Dindings), the Federated Malay States (Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang) and the Unfederated Malay States (Kedah, Johore, Perlis, Terengganu and Kelantan).

During her flight, Amelia Earhart passed all three , so she needed authorisations for each of them. They were handled by the American Consulate in Singapore. Here are the letters of the Consul to Amelia with the permits attached.

And here are the permits, one for the Straits Settlement, and separate ones for Johore and Kedah. Click to enlarge. For the FMS permit, see above.

All give permission to enter the airspace and a provision to land at the respective aerodrome(s). For the Straits Settlements in Penang and Singapore, for Kedah in Alor Star , for Johore in Batu Pahat and for the FMS in Taiping.

Five airports. Could it be that she had in her mind to land at Taiping airport. And why did she mention Alor Star in her notes?

Today I found the missing puzzle piece in the Purdue archive!

It is the flight plan for her first (failed) attempt in March 1937, where she was planning to circumnavigate the globe in the opposite direction. She will have used the same flight plan in June. Starting on 20 June in Rangoon, two options are shown, a) From Rangoon to Alor Star and then to Singapore or b) From Rangoon to Bangkok, then to Alor Star and finally to Singapore.

She chose option b), landed in Bangkok for refueling, and then decided to skip Alor Star and fly directly to Singapore.

In that case the remark in her notes: We checked over Alor Star airport but did not stop, and headed for Singapore, makes complete sense.

Case closed for me.

I think Taiping Heritage Society should completely rewrite the History section of the Taiping Airport entry. Because the source of the confusion is located there. The info in the FMS entry is correct, although you may argue that it is not really that notable 🙂

Of course a more general problem is, how reliable is Wikipedia? It is a collective effort with more than 100.000 active contributors. Read more here about Wikipedians . There are checks and balances against vandalism, wrong info etc. But especially with “minor” entries, like Taiping Airport, errors can go unnoticed for a long time.

Precession of the Equinox

Don’t be put off by the title of this blog, I’ll try to keep it simple 🙂

In Greek/Roman times it was thought that Earth was the center of the Universe. The Sun , the planets, the stars were all rotating around Earth.

Now we know that Earth itself is rotating, in 24 hours (although we keep saying that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West).

We also know that Earth is orbiting around the Sun in 365 days. As seen from Earth, the Sun seems to be moving across the sky. This apparent path of the Sun throughout the year is called the ecliptic.

If Earth would be rotating like in the picture below, then during the whole year, the Sun would be above the Equator and there would be no seasons. . Day and night would be both 12 hour, everywhere on Earth, throughout the year.

But everybody knows that this is not the case. In the Northern hemisphere. daylight will be longer than night in summer and shorter in winter, whereas in the Southern hemisphere it is just the other way around. The reason is that the axis of rotation of the Earth is slightly tilted, about 23.5° .

Notice that during Earth’s orbit, the direction of the rotation axis remains the same (pointing to the North Star).

In the picture below we can see what happens in a bit more detail. Let’s start with the 1st Day of Spring (20/21 March), when the tilt is not directed towards the Sun and the Sun is directly over the equator. Day and night are equally long all over Earth, it is called the March Equinox. The same happens on the 1st Day of Autumn (22/23 September), the September Equinox.

From March until June, the Sun moves North, days become longer and nights shorter until the 1st Day of Summer, 21/22 June, the Summer Solstice, after which the Sun moves back to the Equator. From September to December, the Sun moves South, days become shorter and nights longer, until the 1st Day of Winter, 21/22 December, the Winter Solstice, after which the Sun moves back again to the Equator. All this has been described from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere everything is opposite.

So the axial tilt of Earth is responsible for the seasons and there are scientists who believe that this tilt has been critical for life: Axis Tilt is Critical for Life , but this is quite controversial.

Until now I have been rather vague about the apparent position of the Sun. “Above the Equator”, “moving North”, “moving South”. Actually, we can be much more precise nowadays, using a coordinate system similar to what we use on Earth, with latitude and longitude. But how did the Greek and Romans do that?

To describe the location of the Sun against the backdrop of stars, the Greeks used the concept of constellations, patterns of stars that were given a name, often based on their myths and religion. A constellation most of you will know is Orion, the mythological Greek hunter. The left photo was taken by the Hubble telescope and shows the characteristic shape of Orion. Right an antique star chart, published in 1824. To guide the eye, I have connected the main stars with blue lines

During a year, the Sun crosses twelve of these constellations , as indicated in the image below. These twelve constellations are called the Zodiac. The names of the constellations may be familiar to you, if you know your (Western) horoscope 😉 .

At the moment that this post has been published , the Sun has left the Leo constellation and entered Virgo.

Nowadays many more constellations have been defined (88!), covering the whole sky. Below you see a map of the celestial globe. The Celestial globe is similar to the Earth globe, but everything is projected to the “sky”.

Notice that the horizontal scale (Right Ascension) is not in degrees, like longitude on the Earth globe, but in hours and going from right to left. Same as on the Earth globe the choice of the origin (zero) is arbitrary. On the Earth globe it is the Greenwich meridian, on the Celestial Globe it is the March Equinox. The traditional name for this origin is the First Point of Aries.

The name was coined by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived from c 190 BC until c 120 BC. At that time the Sun had just entered the Aries constellation during the Spring Equinox. The March Equinox is indicated by the Aries symbol ♈︎ .

The ecliptic is shown, with the constellations (in white) which the Sun is passing throughout a year. Following the ecliptic from right to left, you will notice that it starts at 0h in Pisces, the Sun moves North until 6h (Gemini) then back to the equator at 12h (Virgo), going down South until 18h (Sagittarius) and back to Pisces for the next cycle.

Do you notice the contradiction? The First Point of Aries is now located in Pisces! How can that be? Time to talk about the Precession of Earth!

Above I wrote that the rotation axis of Earth, during its orbit around the Sun, is always pointing in the same direction (to the North Star). That is correct at the moment, but not forever, because there is a third movement of Earth.

Probably many of you have been playing with spinning tops. When a top (or a gyroscope) is spinning, it will often “wobble” under the influence of the force of gravity. The same happens with the Earth under the influence of the gravitational force of Sun and Moon. This wobble is called Precession.

Here is a short video about the precession of a gyroscope

The Precession of Earth is a very slow process. One round takes about 25800 year. Here is an animation of the process.

The red line connects the two equinoxes, the March Equinox is marked with the Aries symbol. Notice how the March Equinox passes all signs of the zodiac during one precession. 360° in ~ 25800 year, means a shift of 1° every 72 year. Since Hipparchus’ time, the First Point of Aries has shifted ~30° , it is no longer in Aries, but in Pisces and will cross over to Aquarius
around 2600 AD.

The second part of the video shows how the North pole points to different stars during a precession. In the picture you see that “today” it is pointing at Polaris (the North Star) , but in 3000 BC it pointed at the star Thuban, and in 14000 AD it will point close to the bright star Vega.

To summarise, here is a picture, with the three movements of Earth, the daily rotation (24 hours), the yearly orbit around the Sun (~365 days) and the precession of the rotation axis (~25800 years).

Notice that the rotation of Earth and its orbit around the Sun are counterclockwise , while the precession is clockwise! So the yearly motion of the Sun through the Zodiac goes from Pisces to Aries to Taurus etc. But the Spring Equinox has, since Hipparchus , shifted back from Aries to Pisces and will shift to Aquarius around 2600 AD.

Let me end this post with some explanation about why I decided to write it.

Everything written above belongs to the realm of astronomy. Unfortunately there exists also astrology, a pseudoscience. Basically astrology states that the position of the heavenly bodies affects our lives. For example, an important factor is the location of the Sun on the day that you were born. That becomes the sign of your horoscope. Here is an example:

I was born on 17 April, therefore I am a Ram. But that is nonsense, maybe true in Hipparcos’ time. Because of the precession I was actually born when the Sun was in Pisces (12 March – 19 April)

Of course astrologers are aware of the precession, see for example
Sidereal and Tropical Astrology. for various “solutions”.

Directly related to precession is the concept of Astrological Ages. As explained above, during one precession of 25800 year, the March Equinox traverses all 12 signs of the Zodiac, staying in one sign on average 2150 year. Such a period is called an Astrological age. At the moment we live in the Age of Pisces.

Astrologers claim that each age is characterised by certain properties. For example the Age of Pisces is the age of religion, the Age of Aries was the age of war and the coming Age of Aquarius will be the age of freedom.

You will not be surprised that in my opinion these Astrological Ages are even more nonsense than horoscopes.

A few months ago a friend told me about Matias de Stefano, who calls himself an Indigo Child and has memories from an earlier life in Atlantis. He is 29 year old and has many followers. I listened to his video lecture Total Recall. Here is a transcription. One quote to give you an impression of the lecture:

We are Beings (indigo/crystal) that come from the 6th to 13th dimension, to try to promote the 4th and 5th dimension inside the 3rd.

But the following statement is so ridiculous that I decided to write this post.

Earth spins around the sun in a process which lasts about 365 days, but at the same time, our Sun spins around another sun which is a lot bigger, called Syria, about every 26,000 years. As a year on Earth, the Sun’s year has its seasons, equinoxes, solstices and ages, too.

Apparently he has not the faintest idea what the Precession of the Equinox means.

I will end this post with a famous song from the 1967 musical Hair. ” This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius “

Amelia Earhart and Taiping

This blog post will have a different format. I will describe chronologically what made me a detective the last three months 🙂

It started with this article in the New Straits Times of 17 June: Historical aerodrome make Taiping what it is today, say experts, conservationists . In this article it says:

The Taiping Aerodrome became famous when aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart made a refuelling stop there on June 7, 1937, before continuing her journey to Singapore and New Guinea in her historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

I had heard about Amelia Earhart, that she disappeared during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, but I knew not much more than that. So I checked Wikipedia, it has a detailed article about her. Here is part of her 1937 flight route:

Of course I directly saw a problem. Refuelling in Taiping on 7 June? On 7 June she crossed the Atlantic! On 20 June she flew from Bangkok to Singapore. Could it be that on that day she made a refuelling stop in Taiping?

I am a member of the Taiping Heritage Society and asked them :

There was no response, and I left it at that.

Fast forward to 30 August, when a THS friend wrote: “Wow! There’s a mural being painted on a wall at the corner shop next to the Taiping hospital complete with her face and an aeroplane. 👏👏👏”

Another THS member sent me a picture of the, still unfinished, mural.

Of course my curiosity was raised again and I repeated my question, does anyone know where this claim comes from. This time there was more response 🙂 . A THS member wrote that there was a separate Wikipedia article about Tekah Airport. Here is a quote:

The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refuelling. Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya.

This solved part of the puzzle. It doesn’t say that Amelia LANDED at Tekah on 7 June, but that on 7 June she got PERMISSION TO LAND at Tekah . I will come back to this Wikipedia article later.

Next I used Google to find information about Amelia and Bangkok, Taiping and Singapore. Amelia Earhart & Taiping gave a few hits only, for example this one and this blog, but they basically just copied the info from the Wikipedia article about Tekah.

Earhart & Singapore gave more results. Especially this one: Kallang Airport put S’pore on global aviation map, visited by legendary pilot Amelia Earhart Here is an picture from this link:

Interesting detail: Kallang Airport in Singapore was opened on 12 June, one week earlier than Amelia’s arrival! I will come back to that later. The newspaper clippings show how famous she was.

My Google search for Amelia Earhart & Bangkok struck gold 🙂 . The website This Day in Aviation describes important dates in aviation history, and, not surprisingly, has many pages about Amelia Earhart.

Here is the page about her flight from Rangoon to Singapore: 20 June 1937 .

From Rangoon, yes! When you look at the route planning, shown above, you will see that there are TWO entries for 20 June. First from Rangoon to Bangkok, where she landed for refuelling, then from Bangkok to Singapore.

There were two other planes that day, from Rangoon to Singapore. She left Rangoon after the two others, all three stopped in Bangkok, but she arrived first at Singapore, BECAUSE WE CUT STRAIGHT AND DID NOT STOP ALONG THE WAY.

Here are her notes:

Though we did not sight them, there were two transport planes that day on the same route which we flew. The Imperial Airways machine left Rangoon first and the K.L.M. Douglas at daybreak. Our Wasp-motored Lockheed left fifteen minutes later. All stopped at Bangkok, then followed different courses to Singapore. We arrived there first, at 5:25 P.M. local time, because we cut straight and did not stop along the way.”


When I communicated these findings with my TH friends, most of them were convinced, but some of them wondered if those notes where authentic.

Then a THS friend pointed out that a few months after Amelia’s disappearance a book was published by her husband (and manager) Palmer Putnam: Last Flight.

The book is out of stock, but fortunately it has been digitalised and is available as an Amazon e-book . I bought it, it is very interesting reading and of course I was especially interested in her route from Rangoon to Singapore. Here are scans of the relevant chapter.

I have color marked the passages which are of interest for this blog. Click to enlarge.

If you wonder how these notes have survived her disappearance, keep in mind that her whole trip was followed eagerly by public and press. Regularly she communicated her notes with Putnam and the press by telex, cable, telephone. Personally I am convinced that the notes are authentic.

What struck me, reading these pages, is that she mentions three times Alor Star. Why Alor Star and not Taiping?

“… on a course south toward Alor Star …” , “…. along the eastern coast of Malay and then across the peninsula to Alor Star….“, “We checked over Alor Star airport but did not stop….”

A few concluding remarks:

I think that much of the confusion has been caused by the Wikipedia article about Tekah Airport. I checked the history of that item and found that it has been created in 2007 by Wikipedia user Andrew Kidman. He also modified and edited it. In 2009 he added the history section, see the quote above. A few month later he stopped contributing. I have found no other mention of a permission to land on 7 June 1937 and think that it might be erroneous. I have contacted him via Wikipedia, but no reply until now.

Kallang airport was opened only a week before Amelia arrived. In “her” book it is described how much preparation was needed, months before she started. Could it be that her landing at Kallang was a last-minute decision?

Here are some recent pictures of the Amelia Earhart mural in Taiping.

The statement that Tekah airport was the first airport in South East Asia also comes from the Wikipedia article, and is incorrect, I think. Both Thailand (1914) and Indonesia (1924) were earlier.