Amelia Mary Earhart

Born July 24, 1897; disappeared July 2, 1937; declared deceased January 5, 1939


✪ Amelia Mary Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and writer. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set many other records records and was one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel. She also wrote several best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.

Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in¬†Atchison, Kansas at the home of her maternal grandfather to Samuel ‘Edwin’ Stanton and Amelia ‘Amy’ Earhart. From an early age, Earhart was always the dominant sibling while her sister¬†Grace Muriel ‘Pidge’ Earhart (1899‚Äď1998), two years her junior, assumed the duties of follower & protege.

As a child, Earhart spent long hours playing with sister Pidge, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle, and “belly-slamming” her sled downhill. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, Earhart cobbled together a home-made ramp, fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen on a trip to¬†St. Louis, and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Earhart’s well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a bruised lip, torn dress and a “sensation of exhilaration.” She exclaimed, “Oh, Pidge, it’s just like flying!” Amelia later recounted that she was “exceedingly fond of reading”¬†and spent countless hours in the large family library.

While the family’s finances seemingly improved with the acquisition of a new house and even the hiring of two servants, it soon became apparent that her father Edwin was an alcoholic. In 1915, Earhart’s grandmother Amelia Otis died suddenly, leaving a substantial estate that placed her daughter’s share in a trust, fearing that Edwin’s drinking would drain the funds.

During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in¬†Toronto.¬†World War I¬†was raging and Earhart saw many returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a¬†nurse’s aide¬†from the¬†Red Cross, she began work with the¬†Voluntary Aid Detachment¬†at¬†Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital’s dispensary.¬†It was there Earhart heard stories from military pilots and developed an interest in flying. When the Spanish Flu epidemic reached Toronto, Earhart also became a patient herself. She was hospitalized for pneumonia in early November 1918 and discharged two months after the illness started in December 1918.

In the Spring of 1919, Earhart and a young woman friend visited an air fair held in conjunction with the¬†Canadian National Exhibition¬†in Toronto. “The interest, aroused in me, in Toronto, led me to all the air circuses in the vicinity.” she later wrote¬†One of the highlights of that day was a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ace. The pilot overhead spotted Earhart and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dived in at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make these girls scamper,'” she said. instead, Earhart stood her ground as the aircraft came in close. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

On December 28, 1920, Earhart and her father attended an “aerial meet” at¬†Daugherty Field¬†in¬†Long Beach, California. She asked her father, Edwin, to ask about passenger flights and flying lessons.¬†She booked a passenger flight the following day at¬†Emory Roger’s Field, at the corner¬†of what is now Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.The cost was $10 for a 10 minute flight with¬†Frank Hawks¬†(who later gained fame as an¬†air racer). Hawks gave Amelia a ride that would forever change her life. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet [60‚Äď90¬†m] off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.”

The next month Earhart recruited¬†Neta Snook¬†to be her flying instructor. The initial contract was for 12 hours of instruction, for $500.¬†Working at a variety of jobs including photographer, truck driver, and¬†stenographer¬†at the local telephone company, she managed to save $1,000 for flying lessons. Six months later in the summer of 1921, Earhart purchased a secondhand bright¬†chromium yellow¬†Kinner Airster¬†biplane, against Snook’s advice,¬†which she nicknamed “The Canary.” After her first successful solo landing, she also bought a new leather flying coat.¬†Due to the newness of the coat, she was subjected to teasing, so she aged her coat by sleeping in it and staining it with aircraft oil. On May 16, 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilot’s license¬†by the¬†F√©d√©ration A√©ronautique Internationale¬†(FAI).

1928 Transatlantic Flight

After¬†Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the¬†Atlantic¬†in 1927, Amy Guest (1873‚Äď1959) expressed interest in being the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic Ocean. After deciding that the trip was too perilous for her to undertake, she offered to sponsor the project, suggesting that they find “another girl with the right image.” While at work one afternoon in April 1928, Earhart got a phone call from Capt. Hilton H. Railey, who asked her, “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”

The team departed from¬†Trepassey Harbor,¬†Newfoundland, in a¬†Fokker F.VIIb/3m named “Friendship” on June 17, 1928 and landed at¬†Pwll¬†near¬†Burry Port, South Wales, exactly 20 hours and 40 minutes later. Since most of the flight was on instruments and Earhart had no training for this type of flying, she was only a passenger and did not pilot the aircraft. However, when Earhart & the pilot, Wilmer Stultz made the return trip on July 6th, they were greeted with a¬†ticker-tape parade¬†along the¬†Canyon of Heroes¬†in Manhattan, followed by a reception with¬†President¬†Calvin Coolidge¬†at the¬†White House.

Trading on her similar physical resemblance to¬†Lindbergh,¬†whom the press had dubbed “Lucky Lindy,” some newspapers and magazines began referring to Earhart as “Lady Lindy.” Celebrity endorsements helped Earhart finance her flying. Accepting a position as an associate editor at¬†Cosmopolitan¬†magazine, she turned that forum into an opportunity to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially focusing on the role of women entering the field. In 1929, Earhart was among the first aviators along with Charles Lindbergh to promote commercial air travel through the development of a new passenger airline service; Transcontinental Air Transport or TAT which would later become TWA.¬†During this period, Earhart also became involved with The¬†Ninety-Nines, a female pilot organization which provided moral support to advance the cause of women in aviation. She called a meeting of female pilots in 1929 following the Women’s Air Derby and suggested the name to be based on the number of the charter members.In 1930, she would become the organization’s first president.

Earhart was originally engaged to Samuel Chapman, a chemical engineer from Boston; however she broke off their engagement on November 23, 1928.¬†During the same period, Earhart and publisher¬†George P. Putnam¬†were spending a great deal of time together. Putnam, who was known as GP, was divorced in 1929 and sought out Earhart, proposing to her six times before she finally agreed to marry him. They married on February 7, 1931, in Putnam’s mother’s house in¬†Noank, Connecticut. Earhart referred to their marriage as a “partnership” with “dual control.” In a letter written to Putnam and hand-delivered to him on the day of the wedding, she wrote, “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” She continued, “I may have to keep some place where I can go to be by myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.”

On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first aviator to fly solo from¬†Honolulu, Hawaii, to¬†Oakland, California. Although this trailblazing¬†flight was mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns, she even relaxed and listened to “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.” during the final hours of the flight.

The Around The World Flight

Early in 1936, Earhart started planning an around-the-world flight. Although others had flown around the world, her flight would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000¬†km) because it followed a roughly equatorial route. Although her Lockheed Electra 10E was publicized as a “flying laboratory,” little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book.

The original plan was a two-person crew. Earhart chose Captain Harry Manning as her navigator. He had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship which brought Earhart back from a trip to Europe in 1928. Manning was not only a navigator, but also a skilled pilot and radio operator who knew Morse code. Earhart would fly and Manning would navigate.

On March 17, 1937, Earhart flew the Electra 10 the first leg from¬†Oakland, California, to¬†Honolulu, Hawaii. Due to lubrication and galling problems with the propeller hubs’ variable pitch mechanisms, the aircraft needed servicing at Luke Field in Hawaii.¬†The flight never left Luke Field. During the takeoff run, there was an uncontrolled¬†ground-loop, the forward landing gear collapsed, both propellers hit the ground, the plane skidded on its belly and a portion of the runway was damaged.¬†The cause of the ground-loop is still controversial. Some witnesses at Luke Field said they saw a tire blow.¬†Earhart thought either the Electra’s right tire had blown and/or the right landing gear had collapsed. Some sources cited pilot error. With the aircraft severely damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was shipped by sea back to the¬†Lockheed Burbank¬†facility for repairs.

While the Electra was being repaired, Earhart and Putnam secured additional funds and prepared for a second attempt. This time flying west to east, the second attempt began with an unpublicized flight from Oakland to Miami. Only after landing in Miami did Earhart publicly announce her plans to circumnavigate the globe.

The pair departed Miami on June 1 and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, arrived at Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. At this stage of the flight, about 22,000 miles (35,000 km) of the journey had been completed. The remaining 7,000 miles (11,000 km) would all be over the Pacific.

The last voice transmission received from Earhart to Howland Island indicated she was flying along a line of position (running N‚ÄďS on 157‚Äď337 degrees) which calculated and drawn on a chart would have passed through Howland. After all contact was lost with Howland Island, attempts were made to reach the flyers with both voice and¬†Morse code¬†transmissions. Operators across the Pacific and the United States may have heard signals from the downed Electra but these were probably unintelligible or weak.

The official search efforts lasted until July 19, 1937. At $4 million, the air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard was the most costly and intensive in U.S. history up to that time, but search and rescue techniques during the era were rudimentary and some of the search was based on erroneous assumptions and flawed information. As a result, Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.

Many researchers believe that Earhart ran out of fuel while searching for Howland Island, ditched at sea, and died. Another theory is that Earhart and her crew were captured by Japanese forces, perhaps after somehow navigating to somewhere within the Japanese¬†South Seas Mandate. A number of Earhart’s relatives were convinced the Japanese were somehow involved in Amelia’s disappearance, citing unnamed witnesses including Japanese troops and Saipan natives. According to one witness, the Japanese cut the Lockheed Electra into scrap and threw the pieces into the ocean. Another rumor claimed Earhart had made propaganda radio broadcasts as one of the many women compelled to serve as¬†Tokyo Rose¬†was investigated closely by George Putnam. According to several biographies of Earhart, Putnam investigated this rumor but after listening to many recordings of numerous Tokyo Roses, he did not recognize Earhart’s voice among them.

In November 2006, the National Geographic Channel aired episode two of the Undiscovered History series about a claim that Earhart survived the world flight, moved to New Jersey, changed her name, remarried and assumed the identity of Irene Craigmile Bolam. This claim was originally raised in the book Amelia Earhart Lives (1970) by author Joe Klaas and was based on the research of Major Joseph Gervais. Irene Bolam, who was a banker in New York during the 1940s, denied being Earhart and filed a lawsuit requesting $1.5 million in damages and submitted a lengthy affidavit in which she rebutted all such claims.

The unresolved circumstances of Earhart’s mysterious disappearance, along with her fame and celebrity status have also attracted a great amount of other claims and speculation related to her last flight.‚ú™

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