Palmyra May be Lonely but Life There Must Have its Good Points

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Palmyra May be Lonely but Life There Must Have its Good Points


Great article discussing the aerial survey of Palmyra in 1921, and featuring some great photographs from the trip, including the first one we've discovered of the plane used to take the photos.

Includes some unique details, like the model of plane used, the process of getting the plane in the air, and how they allayed rumors that trees were growing on nearby Kingman Reef.



Honolulu Advertiser




Public Domain



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Scenes taken during the recent trip to Palmyra Islands fo a navy seaplane and its attendant, Eagle Boat 40. Upper left shows Col. and Mrs. William Meng and Edward Benne, who were found short of provisions when the Eagle boat arrived. Mrs. Meng returned to Honolulu on the Eagle boat. The upper right view shows another picture of Mrs. Meng. Upper center shows the method of carrying the seaplane on the bow of the Eagle boat while immediately below is shown the landing of provisions on Palmyra in ship’s boats. Fish caught by naval men who made the trip and a cocoanut crab, ugly but delicious food, also are shown.

Palmyra Islands offer a large and safe anchorage in a zone free from violent storms, for vessels of the United States navy, providing the shoals between deep water and the big lagoon are blasted out.

This is one of the results of the naval expedition which visited Palmyra Islands last week from Pearl Harbor aboard Eagle boat 40, which was conducted entirely by the air service attached to Pearl Harbor naval station.

The seaplane view of the semi-circle of 50 tiny islets which form a coral rim within which are three lagoons of an average depth of 25 fathoms, disclosed the entire formation of shoals and the possibilities of opening up a channel into the lagoon where vessels can anchor with entire safety.

According to Lieut. Commander R. D. Kirkpatrick, USN, commander of the naval air station at Pearl Harbor and also in command of the expedition, the Eagle boat being the regular air service tender.

Harbor Easily Obtained

“The photographs taken from the seaplane in flight clearly and definitely indicate the possibility of a large, comfortable and safe harbor in the western lagoon,” said Commander Kirkpatrick yesterday. “The depth of water there is about 25 fathoms.

“All that is necessary is to blast a channel from the sea into the lagoon, and this I believe could be accomplished without an enormous expenditure of funds, should this object ever become desirable or necessary.”

The naval air commander says that Palmyra Islands are singularly free from storms, according the best records obtainable.

The group is out of the storm center and out of their track and he does not believe that storms originate there.

It is a haven for calm weather. At this season of the year Palmyra islands is about the center of the doldrums, and therefore, naturally calm weather is to be expected. That also accounts for the fact that the air service expedition was made at this time of the year.

Commander Kirkpatrick explains that the purpose of the expedition, in broad terms, was to make an aerial photographic mosaic map of Palmyra islands with a view to determining absolutely, and accurately, the exact formation and relative location of the different islands, lagoons and location of shoals, and dangers to navigation.

Of Value to Shipping

“That data is of tremendous value from a shipping standpoint and aid to navigation, and from a military standpoint it is of value in that such a mosaic map naval expeditions can readily determine of what value any of these islands would be for military purposes.

“We had previously demonstrated the entire feasibility of work of this character, far from our regular base, during our expedition a year ago to Midway Island, this last trip being so far as the method is concerned a repetition of the first expedition, of carrying a seaplane aboard an Eagle boat. The plane with engine was carried on the quarter deck of the Eagle boat, the wing section being stowed on the superstructure, to keep them as clear as possible from the deteriorating effects of salt spray, as far as practicable.

New Way of Carrying Plane

“This method of carrying a seaplane was never done before we went to Midway, in the history of aeronautics.

“Upon arrival at the scene of operations the plane was completely assembled on board the Eagle boat and not taken ashore or to the lagoon and assembled. The complete assembling and line up was done on board. This operation required extreme care and many calculations due to the difficulty of leveling up and choecking on such a small craft and in a rolling sea. If it was not truly lined up the plane could not fly.

“After assembling the motor was tried out on deck. Finding it ran properly, the plane was hoisted out onto the water and allowed to drife clear of the vessel. The assistant pilot then started the motor on the water and the plane took off into the air.

In Air Eight Hours

“While at Palmyra five seperate flights were made within a total flying time of eight hours.

“We found that the air conditions were vastly superior to those encountered at the Hawaiian islands, and in fact I have never encountered more perfect air conditions in any other part of hte world, and I have flown in many parts of the United States, ENgland, France, and Ireland.

“The air conditions are similar to those in the neighborhood of San Diego than in any other locality I have flown.

“The photographic work was accomplished on the morning of September 21, between 10:30 and noon. We were blest with a perfect day, with scarcly a cloud in the sky, absolutely no haze and Old SOl seemed to outdo himself in his endeavor to give us full value of actinic reays, so necessary to photographic work. Under such conditions it is needless to say the photography was almost perfect. The day preceding and the day following the conditions were extremely poor, which certainly seemed to indicate that one of our number must have taken his rabbit’s foot along.

Islands well Worth Seeing

“From a sightseeing standpoint, from the seaplane, Palmyra islands presented the most beautiful picture I hae seen from aloft. It was unique and different. The different coloring of the water caused by varying depths of the water and different character of the bottom with the islands as a background, so verdantly green, made a picture which I cannot describe adequately.

“While we were in this general locality we took occasion to investigate Kingman’s reef, which is approximately 35 miles northwest of Palmyra. One of the reasons for investigating this reef is the fact that it has been repeatedly reported that trees were growing on it, notwithstanding the official announcement of the hydrographic bureau that the reef is awash at low tide. Our observations substantiated the official hydrographic information, that the reef is awash and that at high tide it is merely showed as a line of breakers and there were absolutely no trees upon it.

“I believe from our observations that Kingman Reef is of larger extent than has been charted, and mariners in that locality should be careful, particularly in view of the fact that there is a strong current in this locality of about one knot an hour intensity.

Islands Lie in a Chain

“All these islands lie in a chain similar to the chain from Hawaii to Midway, and about parallel.

“There was no difficulty getting our seaplane back on the Eagle boat. Today she is in the hangar at Pearl Harbor and ready at any moment to take to the air. The plane is locally called No. 11. It is a Curtis N-9-H, powered with a 140 Hispano Suiza motor.”

On this expedition were Commander Kirkpatrick, in charge; Lieut. A.P. Kilmer, Squadron commander at Pearl Harbor at the naval air station, and on this expedition the chief pilot; Lieut. G.A. Ott, the intelligence officer at the naval air station, Pearl Harbor, and on the is expedition in charge of communications and photographic work.

Lieut. J.D. Glick commanded Eagle boat 40, which is the air service station tender; Lieut. E.H. Smith was executive and navigating officer; Pharmacist Steel, attached to the air station, was the medical officer to the expedition.


“Palmyra May be Lonely but Life There Must Have its Good Points,” Palmyra Archive, accessed August 8, 2020,