Amelia Mary Earhart (born 24 July 1897, Atchison, Kansas - missing from 2 July
1937, western Pacific ocean), daughter of Edwin and Amy Earhart, was an American
aviator and noted early female pilot who mysteriously disappeared over the
Pacific Ocean during a circumnavigational flight in 1937.
Amelia's grandfather was Alfred Otis, a former federal judge and a
leading citizen in Atchison who reportedly was not satisfied with
her father Edwin's own success as a lawyer, which is said to have
contributed to the break up of her family. Some biographers have
speculated that this history of disapproval and doubt followed Amelia
throughout her childhood as a tomboy and into her adult flying career.
As a girl she is said to have spent long hours playing with her little
sister Muriel (Pidge) along with climbing trees, “belly-slamming” her
sled downhill and hunting rats with a rifle. At the age of ten (1907)
in Des Moines, Iowa Amelia saw an airplane at the Iowa State Fair.
She later described it as “...a thing of rusty wire and wood
and not at all interesting.”
Amelia was twelve when her father Edwin, by then a railroad executive,
was promoted and the family's finances improved. However it soon became
apparent Edwin was an alcoholic. Five years later, in 1914, he was
fired from The Rock Island Railroad. Amy Earhart took Amelia and Muriel
to Chicago where they lived with friends. She sent the girls to private
schools using money from a trust fund set up by her grandfather Alfred.
Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1915, then went to Canada
where she visited her sister at school. She received training as a
nurse's aide and in November 1918 began work at Spadina Military Hospital
in Toronto, Ontario. By 1919 Earhart had enrolled at Columbia University
to study pre-med but quit a year later to be with her parents who had
gotten together again in California. Later in Long Beach she and her
father went to a stunt-flying exhibition and the next day she went
on a ten minute flight.
Earhart had her first flying lesson at Kinner Field near Long Beach.
Her teacher was Anita “Neta” Snook, a pioneer female aviator.
Six months later Earhart purchased a yellow Kinner Airster biplane
which she named "Canary." On 22 October 1922 she flew it
to an altitude of 14,000 feet, setting a women's world record. On 15
May 1923 Earhart was the sixteenth woman to be issued a pilot's license
by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).
Aviation career and marriage to GP
High-altitude fliers made little money. Earhart sold Canary and bought
a yellow Kissel roadster which she named "the Yellow Peril." Her
parents divorced in 1924 and she drove her mother across the United
States in the Yellow Peril to Boston, Massachusetts where in 1925 she
took employment as a social worker. Earhart also became a member of
the National Aeronautic Association's Boston chapter, through which
she invested a small sum of money into airport construction and the
sale of Kinner airplanes in the Boston area. She also wrote local newspaper
columns on flying and as her local celebrity grew she helped market
Kinner airplanes, promote flying and encourage women pilots. According
to the Boston Globe she was “one of the best women pilots in
the United States,” although this characterization has been somewhat
disputed by aviation experts and experienced pilots in the decades
After Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927,
Amy Guest, a wealthy American living in London, UK, expressed interest
in being the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic Ocean.
After deciding the trip was too dangerous to make herself, she offered
to sponsor the project anyway, suggesting they find "another girl
with the right image." While at work one afternoon in April 1928
Earhart got a phone call from a man who asked her, "Would you
like to fly the Atlantic?" She interviewed with the project coordinators
who included book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam and was
asked to join pilot Wilmer Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis Gordon
on the flight, nominally as a passenger. The team left Trepassey Harbor,
Newfoundland in a Fokker F7 on 17 June 1928 and arrived at Burry Port,
Wales, United Kingdom approximately 21 hours later. She piloted the
plane for part of the journey and wrote in the flight log, "If
anyone finds that wreck, know that the non-success was caused by my
getting lost in a storm for an hour." When the crew returned to
the States they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York
and a reception by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. Because
of her physical resemblance to Lindbergh, whom the press had dubbed "Lucky
Lindy", they sometimes called her "Lady Lindy."
Earhart later placed third at the Cleveland Women's Air Derby (nicknamed
the "Powder Puff Derby" by Will Rogers). For a while she
was engaged to Samuel Chapman, an attorney from Boston. Meanwhile Putnam
took the chance of heavily promoting Earhart, which included publishing
a book she authored, lecture tours and using pictures of her in mass
market endorsements for products including luggage, cigarettes (she
didn't smoke), pajamas and women's sportswear. The extensive time they
spent together led to intimacy and after substantial hesitation on
her part they were married on 7 February 1931. Earhart referred to
the marriage as a "partnership" with "dual control",
and appears to have requested an open marriage; in a recently-discovered
premarital letter to Putnam, she wrote that "I want you to understand
I shall not hold you to any midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to
me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.",.
Later in 1931 she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet (5613
m) in a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, a forerunner of the helicopter.
On the morning of 20 May 1932, at the age of thirty-four, Earhart
took off from Saint John, New Brunswick with the latest (dated) copy
of a local newspaper. She stopped off in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland
in her single engine Lockheed Vega, intending to fly to Paris and duplicate
Charles Lindbergh's solo flight. However strong north winds, icy conditions
and mechanical problems forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry,
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. As the first woman to fly solo non-stop
across the Atlantic she received the Distinguished Flying Cross from
Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French
Government, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from
President Herbert Hoover.
On 11 January 1935 Earhart became the first person to fly solo from
Honolulu to Oakland, California. Later that year she soloed from Los
Angeles to Mexico City and back to Newark, New Jersey. She held several
transcontinental speed records. Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue
University in 1935 as counselor on careers for women, exploring new
fields for young women to enter after graduation.
World Flight, 1937
In July 1936 she took delivery of a Lockheed 10E "Electra" financed
by Purdue University and started planning a round-the-world flight.
This would not be the first to circle the globe, but would be the longest
at 29,000 miles (47,000 km) since it would follow a grueling equatorial
route. Although the Electra was publicized as a "flying laboratory" little
useful science was planned and the flight seems to have been arranged
around Earhart's goal to circumnavigate the earth along with providing
raw material and public attention for her next book. Through contacts
in the Los Angeles aviation community Fred Noonan was eventually chosen
as navigator. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed
ship's captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan
Am, where he established most of the company's seaplane routes across
the Pacific. He hoped the resulting publicity would help him establish
his own navigation school in Florida.
On 17 March 1937 they flew the first leg, Oakland, California to Honolulu,
Hawaii. The flight resumed three days later but a tire blew on takeoff
and Earhart ground-looped the plane. Severely damaged, the aircraft
had to be shipped to California for repairs and the flight was called
off. The second attempt would begin at Miami, this time flying east.
They departed on 1 June and after numerous stops in South America,
Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia they arrived at
Lae, New Guinea on June 29. About 22,000 miles (35,000 km) of the journey
had been completed and the remaining 7,000 miles (11,000 km) would
all be over the Pacific.
On 2 July 1937 at midnight GMT Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae.
Their intended destination was Howland Island, a flat sliver of land
2000 meters long and 500 meters wide, 10 feet (3 m) high and 2556 miles
(4113 km) away. Their last positive position report and sighting were
over the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles (1,300 km) into the flight.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Itasca was on station at Howland,
assigned to communicate with Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E and guide
her to the island once she arrived in the vicinity.
Through a series of misunderstandings or errors (the details of which
are still controversial), the final approach to Howland using radio
navigation was never accomplished, although vocal transmissions by
Earhart indicated she and Noonan believed they had reached Howland's
charted position, which was incorrect by about five nautical miles
(9 km), over scattered clouds which are said to have cast hundreds
of island-like shadows on the ocean. After several hours of frustrating
attempts at two-way communications, contact was lost, although subsequent
transmissions from the downed Electra may have been received by operators
across the Pacific.
The United States government spent $4 million looking for Earhart.
The air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard was the most costly
and intensive in history at that time, but search and rescue techniques
during that era were rudimentary and planning was influenced by individuals
wary about how their roles in looking for an American hero might be
reported by the press. Many researchers believe the plane ran out of
fuel and Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea. However, one group (TIGHAR
- The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) suggests
they may have flown for two and a half hours along a standard line
of position, which Earhart specified in her last transmission received
at Howland, to Nikumaroro (then known as Gardner) Island in what is
now Kiribati, landed there, and ultimately perished. TIGHAR's research
has produced a range of documented, archaeological and anecdotal evidence
(but no proof) supporting this theory.
Amelia Earhart was a widely-known celebrity during her lifetime. Her
shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under
pressure, courage and goal-oriented career along with the mysterious
circumstances of her disappearance have driven her lasting fame in
popular culture. Hundreds of books have been written about her life,
which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for girls.
Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon who blazed a trail
of achievement for generations of women who came after her.
Books by Earhart
Amelia Earhart was an accomplished and articulate writer who served
as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine from 1928 to 1930. She
authored numerous magazine articles and essays, and published two books
based upon her experiences as a flyer during her lifetime:
20 Hrs., 40 Min. was her journal of her 1928 flight across the Atlantic
as a passenger (making her the first woman to make such a journey).
The Fun of It was a memoir of her flying experiences, as well as an
essay on women in aviation.
A third book credited to Earhart, Last Flight, was published following
her disappearance and featured journal entries she made in the weeks
prior to her final departure from New Guinea. Compiled by Putnam himself,
historians have cast doubt upon how much of the book was actually Earhart's
original work and how much had been embellished by Putnam.
During the decades since her disappearance many rumours and urban legends
have circulated (and often been published) about what might have
happened to Earhart and Noonan. Some have claimed Earhart was captured
in the South Pacific Mandate area by the Japanese and interned for
a number of years before either perishing or being executed. Purported
photographs of Earhart during her captivity have been identified
as having been taken before her final flight. A fictional World War
II era movie called Flight for Freedom starring Rosalind Russell
and Fred MacMurray is often cited as the most likely source of a
popular myth Earhart was a spy. Some researchers have noted the possibility
that for wartime propaganda purposes, the US government may have
tacitly encouraged (or was indifferent to) false rumours Earhart
had been captured by the Japanese. An archaeological dig on Tinian
in 2004 failed to turn up any bones at a location rumoured since
the close of World War II to be the aviators' grave.
Perhaps the strangest rumour was that Earhart had been forced to make
propaganda radio broadcasts as one of the many women known as Tokyo
Rose. Others have suggested Earhart later managed to return to America
where she changed her name and lived out her life quietly, while still
others blame her disappearance on Unidentified Flying Objects. There
is no evidence to support any of these suggestions, which have all
been dismissed by serious historians. (The aforementioned Star Trek
episode was based upon the UFO myth.)
This biography is courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia