Amelia Earhart's drive and skill as a record-breaking pilot at a
time when women were expected to stay home created the following parts
of world history.
While considerable controversy
still surrounds the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937, there is no
question that Amelia Mary Earhart was one of the great pioneers of
Amelia Earhart was
born in Atchison, Kansas in 1897
Amelia Earhart was the daughter
of a railroad attorney.
Amelia exhibited an adventurous
spirit at a young age, and was able to travel extensively with her
In 1918 at the age of
twenty-one, Amelia Earhart witnessed a flight demonstration in Toronto,
and this inspired her to take a course in engine mechanics. Three years
later she was in New York City studying medicine at Columbia University
when she had the opportunity to take her first airplane ride to
Immediately she decided to
learn to fly, and she remained in California where she obtained a
pilot's license in 1921.
During the next few years
Earhart worked at many jobs in many locales, but her true love was
Amelia was the first female
passenger to cross the Atlantic in 1928, and the fame this generated
allowed her to direct her attention at attempting other record-breaking
Amelia met George Putnam during
this time, and he supported her flying efforts. They married in 1931.
In 1932 Amelia became the first
woman to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic flying a Lockheed Vega.
Months later she became the
first woman to completed a solo flight from Los Angeles to New York.
In January, 1935 Her next major
record came when she completed a solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland in
a little over 18 hours.
in 1936 Amelia Earhart was appointed to the faculty of Purdue University
which provided her a Lockheed Electra as a flying laboratory. Having
access to the Electra allowed Amelia to begin planning her dream flight,
an around the world crossing as close to the equator as possible.
In March of 1937 Amelia
embarked on an around the world trip in a westerly direction, but her
aircraft was damaged on take off from Hawaii. In June a new route going
in an easterly direction, starting from Miami, was mapped out by her
navigator, Fred Noonan. Departing on June 1, 1937 Earhart arrived in Lae,
New Guinea some 22,000 miles and 146 flying-hours later. The next leg of
this record setting trip would cover 2,500 miles over the Pacific with
the intended destination being the tiny Howland Island.
When Amelia Earhart and Noonan
failed to arrive, a massive search commenced, which was abandoned in
mid-July. Presumably lost at sea, the nation mourned the loss of one of
flight in detail of Amelia presents the various theories about her fate.
Among them are that she was on a spy mission for FDR, that she was
captured by the Japanese, that she is alive and well on a South Seas
island, and that she crashed in Saipan where she and navigator Fred
Noonan were beheaded!
In a Stan Stokes painting
entitled Lady Pioneer, Amelia's beloved Model 10E Electra is depicted
next to the aviator's Cord automobile. This aircraft was delivered to
Earhart in 1936. It was powered by twin 550 HP Wasp S3 H 1 engines, and
was equipped with extended range fuel tanks, giving the craft a maximum
range of 4,000 miles. The Electra was returned to Lockheed's plant in
Burbank in 1937 for repairs following the accident in Hawaii. A new
right wing was fitted, and repairs were made to the center fuselage and
landing gear. The Civilian Aviation Administration officially canceled
the registration of Earhart's NR16020 in July of 1938, approximately one
year after her disappearance.
In 1942, with war raging on two fronts and
military pilots in short supply, the U.S. Army Air Force enlisted
over 1,000 women to fly non-combat missions totaling more than six
million miles. Yet when WWII ended, their heroism was left
unheralded. In 1961, thirteen women from the "Women in Space"
program passed the same rigorous tests as the Mercury astronauts -
only to have their hopes dashed.
1997 will mark the 100th
anniversary of Earhart's birth and the 60th anniversary of her
Florence "Pancho" Barnes, who became the first
female stunt pilot in Hollywood in 1929,
shattered Amelia Earhart's air
speed record in 1930, and, in the 1940s and '50s, entertained the
best test pilots in the world at her "Happy Bottom Riding Club" ranch
(which was immortalized in the Tom Wolfe book The Right Stuff) near
Edwards Air Force Base.