(source)Born: 24 July 1897, Atchison, Kansas.
Disappeared: 3 July 1937
Education: Columbia University; Harvard Summer School.
Amelia Earhart established
herself as a talented and respected role model. She was tireless in
efforts to demonstrate to young women that females were as capable as
men in succeeding at their chosen vocations.
She proved this
point time and time again in her own career as an aviator. A kind, soft-spoken,
inquisitive and quietly courageous woman, Amelia Earhart was destined
to become one of the most familiar and celebrated names of the 20th
century. She received her first flying lesson in 1921, and bought her
first plane on her birthday of that year.
She was the first
woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928 when she accepted the invitation
of the American pilots Wilmer Stultz (1900-29) and Louis Gordon to join
them on a transatlantic flight. She published the book "20 Hrs.,
40 Min." (1928) describing her experience as the first woman to
make the crossing by air, followed by "The Fun of It" (1932).
In 1935, Earhart
made a solo flight across the Atlantic, and in the new record time of
13 hours and 30 minutes. Both the American and French governments awarded
honors to her for the accomplishment.
A solo Pacific Ocean
crossing was her next quest, in 1935, between Hawaii and California.
Within the same year, she also set another speed record, this time for
a non-stop flight in 14 hours and 19 minutes between Mexico City and
New York City.
By 1937, she attempted
to fly around the world, beginning from Miami, Florida on an eastward
flight. Frederick J. Noonan, acted as navigator on board. But after
flying over 22,000 miles, contact was lost with their plane on a leg
from Lae, New Guinea, intending to refuel at Howland Island.
The U.S. Navy mounted
a search with shipes and airplanes, but they had disappeared, seemingly
without a trace being discovered. How and why the plane carrying Earhart
and Noonan went down remains an enigma.
Her diary and transmissions
from various lay-overs along the 22,000 miles provided material for
a posthumous publication of her words describing her final travels.
The book, Last Flight (1937), was edited by her husband, George Palmer
Putnam (1887-1950), a book publisher.
July 1st, 1937 was a fairly quiet day. A steel strike has just ended
in the midwestern United States. Senators and Congressmen called for
strict isolationism to avoid being pulled into the conflict that would
soon become known as World War II. Jesse Zelda was suing newspaper tycoon
William Randolph Hearst for $40,000 claiming that Zelda had been attacked
by a "vicious, wild and dangerous ostrich" at the Hearst property
in San Simeon.
Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1898 in Atchison, Kansas. Her father
was a lawyer and her mother the daughter of a wealthy judge. Her parent's
difficult marriage had a profound effect on Amelia Earhart's philosophy
of life. Her father, Edwin, was frustrated because he was never able
to provide his wife with the kind of lifestyle she had become accustomed
to growing up in the judge's house. He gave up his dreams and instead
worked as an attorney for the railroad because the position paid the
most. Even with this good salary, there were money pressures on Edwin
and he began to drink. This lead to an alcohol addiction and the loss
of his job.
Edwin moved his
family to Des Moines, Iowa, then to St. Paul, Minnesota. His alcoholism
continued, though, and he found it difficult to find and keep a job.
Finally his wife, Amy, took the children, Amelia and her younger sister,
Muriel, to live with friends in Chicago while Edwin went to Kansas City
to make a new start.
Amelia saw her father's
frustration and unhappiness and determined that she would be an independent
woman who could share responsibilities equally with a man and not be
dependent on him. She graduated from Chicago's Hyde Park High School
on time in 1916 despite the numerous different schools she'd been moved
through. She assisted in a Toronto military hospital during World War
I and afterward enrolled in the medical program at Columbia University
in New York City in 1919. She did well there, getting A's in Zoology
and French and B's in Chemistry and Psychology. One of her professors
said, "She had a great curiosity and fine ability to synthesize...who
knows what she would have discovered if she had chosen the research
laboratory rather than aviation as a career?"
It was not to be,
though. Her father was able to open a law office in California and Amelia
and her mother moved back in with him. While there, Amelia attended
an air show and her father arranged for her to take a trial flight.
In the air, Amelia realized she'd found her calling.
Neta Snook with
She immediately arranged to take lessons on an installment plan from
Neta Snook, the first woman graduate of the Curtiss School of Aviation.
Later she took additional training from John Montijo, a former Army
instructor. In June 1921 Amelia Earhart took her first solo flight.
Earhart soon became
a fixture around the airfield in her leather flying jacket, khaki pants,
boots and scarf. Her skill increased with her hours in the air and she
won grudging respect among the male flyers.
In 1922, with the
help of her father, she purchased a sport biplane built by William Kenner.
That same year she used her plane to set her first aviation record which
was the maximum-altitude-obtained-by-a-woman-pilot: 14,000 feet.
While things were
going well for Earhart in the air, her family was having problems back
on the ground. Her parents divorced in 1924. Amelia decided to put her
aviation on hold, sold her plane and bought a car. She used the car
to drive her mother across country to settle in Medfort, Massachusetts
where Amelia's sister, Muriel lived. Amelia returned to her studies
at Columbia University, but withdrew before the semester was over. Earhart
later told friends, "That semester convinced me that I didn't have
the qualities to be an M.D. For one, I lacked the patience. I wanted
to be doing something, not preparing for it."
In 1926 she accepted
a position as a social worker at a settlement house in Boston. She might
have made a career in social work if it hadn't been for a phone call
two years later from a man named George Palmer Putnam.
The Flight of the
In 1919 a U.S. Naval flying boat had crossed the Atlantic to Portugal
via the Azores Islands. In 1927 Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh made the
first solo flight from New York to Paris. The world was going wild for
aviation and Mrs. Frederick Guest of London decided that it was time
for a woman to make the cross-Atlantic flight.
Mrs. Guest, who
was wealthy, purchased a tri-motor Forkker aircraft and planned to hire
a crew to take her on the flight. After reassessing the dangers involved,
Mrs. Guest decided to back out and allow another girl "with the
right image" to take her place. George Putnam, from the publishing
company G.P. Putnam's Sons, who hoped to publish an account of the trip,
started searching for a replacement. He hoped to find a girl with a
flier's license and an extraordinary amount of courage. He found Amelia
the project to Earhart. She would have liked to have been more that
just a passenger on the flight, but realized it would still be a great
adventure. Wilmer L. Stultz was selected as the pilot. The Forkker was
flown to Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland and there the crew of three waited
for good weather. On June 17th, 1928 it cleared and the Forkker, which
had been christened Friendship, took off. It landed in Burry Port, Wales
with less than an hour of fuel still on board.
The flight brought
instant fame to Earhart including a ticker-tape parade through New York
City. George Putnam assisted Earhart with her account of the flight
published as 20 Hrs., 40 Mins.. After the book was done, she set out
on a lecture tour and later took a position as Aviation Editor on Cosmopolitan
After Putnam's divorce
in 1930 he went on a campaign to win Earhart as his wife. He proposed
several times before she finally accepted. They were married on February
7th, 1931. George probably wasn't the perfect mate for Earhart but he
did provide her a business manager and media spokesman all rolled into
one. Most importantly, from Earhart's point of view, Putnam never tried
to curtail her freedom to fly.
for Earhart to promote everything from cigarettes (though she didn't
smoke) to pajamas to luggage. She did put the brakes on some of Putnam's
plans. When he wanted to sell a small ribbon meant for children and
decorated with her signature Earhart told him, "Forget it, George.
I won't be a part of cheating youngsters. Adults are supposed to know
better, but not kids."
Earhart felt guilty about her fame because she'd only been a passenger
on the transatlantic flight, not the pilot. To remedy this on May 20,
1932, exactly five years after Lindbergh, she soloed from Newfoundland
to Ireland and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic alone. This
earned her audiences with princes, kings and presidents. She became
the first woman to be honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Three
months later she broke the woman's non-stop transcontinental speed record
by flying from Los Angeles, California to Newark, New Jersey, a distance
of 2448 miles in 19 hours and five minutes. In 1933 she broke the record
again by repeating the trip in 17 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds. In
1935 she became the first pilot, man or woman, to solo from Hawaii to
California. Three months later she became the first to solo from Los
Angeles to Mexico City. Then three weeks later she again soloed from
Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey.
Earhart was invited
to join Purdue University as a visiting counselor for women students.
She loved her role there and the University decided to establish a special
fund for aeronautical research. Fifty-thousand dollars was given to
Earhart to outfit what she called her "Flying Laboratory":
a Lockheed Electra twin-engined airliner. She had the seats removed
and extra fuel tanks put in their place. With these changes the plane
had a fuel capacity of 1204 gallons which gave it a range of 4,500 miles.
The Around the World
With this new plane Amelia decided it was time to go for one of aviation's
most difficult challenges: a flight around the world. A team was quickly
put together to support Earhart on her flight. Paul Mantz, an experienced
pilot, was hired as technical adviser. Captain Harry Manning and Commander
Fred J. Noonan were selected as navigators. Clarence Williams prepared
the maps and charts for the flight. It was decided to fly from east
to west, so on March 17th, 1937, the Electra took off from Oakland,
California heading for Hawaii.
The first leg of
the trip went flawlessly and the plane arrived in Honolulu fifteen hours
and fifty-two minutes later. The plane refueled and on March 20th it
taxied out onto the runway to make the long trip to tiny Howland Island
where the U.S. Navy had recently constructed a emergency landing strip.
The plane, heavily loaded with fuel, responded sluggishly when Earhart
applied the throttle. The plane lurched to the left then swung right.
Earhart tried to compensate, but couldn't. The Electra groundlooped,
the gear collapsed and a wing was torn open. Fortunately, though fuel
poured from ruptured tanks across the ground, there was no fire. Manning,
Noonan and Earhart suffered no injuries, but the Electra had to be sent
back to Lockheed's facility in Burbank for repairs. It was never clear
exactly why the accident happened. Some blamed a blown tire, while Earhart
herself believed that the fuel had not been distributed evenly throughout
all the tanks causing a weight imbalance.
It took less than
two months to repair the plane and a new attempt was scheduled to start
on May 20th. Because of the delay, Captain Manning was unable to continue
on as navigator and only Noonan flew with Earhart. Seasonal weather
conditions prompted them to change the flight to go west to east. The
first stop for the Electra (after leaving Oakland) was Tucson Arizona.
On June 1st Earhart left U.S. airspace at Miami, Florida on her way
to Puerto Rico.
The flight went
without major incident for over a month. The plane had small repairs
done to it along with several routine engine overhauls as needed. By
July 1st they had reached Lae, New Guinea. About seven thousand miles
remained to be covered. Most of it was over the wide, empty expanse
of the Pacific Ocean. The first leg would take them to Howland Island,
a distance of 2556 miles. The plane was loaded almost to capacity with
gas. Because Earhart didn't want to dilute her tank of high octane fuel
used only on takeoff with the low octane fuel available at Lae, the
Electra left 50 gallons short of its 1151 gallon capacity.
The Electra roared
down Lae's 3,000 foot runway at 10:30 a.m., July 2nd. The U.S. Coast
Guard Cutter Itasca was stationed off of Howland ready to assist by
sending a homing signal to Earhart to guide her in. The plane flew overnight
and should have approached Howland and the Itasca the next morning,
which because the plane was crossing the international dateline, was
Picking tiny Howland
Island out of the vast Pacific was a difficult navigational problem.
To solve it, Noonan had several tools. The first was celestial navigation.
By sighting two stars 90 degrees apart from each other on the horizon
and then measuring their height above the horizon, Noonan could use
a set of prepared tables and a clock to figure his position. If the
sky was overcast, and one of Earhart messages from the plane seemed
to imply that, Noonan might not have gotten a two-star fix. If this
was the case, he could have directed Earhart to fly by "dead reckoning."
This navigational method is simple, but prone to error. Noonan would
just figure out where the plane was on the map, then use a compass to
calculate the course the aircraft should fly to get to the destination.
Because compasses are sometimes inaccurate and the distance was long,
the Electra could get many miles off course without the crew noticing.
The final method
was to home in on the Itasca's radio signal. But, reports from the Electra
seemed to indicate it never received a strong enough signal to make
Even if Noonan couldn't
get a star fix, when the sun rose he could use a measurement of its
height to figure a line-of-position. This calculation would tell the
Electra's crew where they were east-to-west, but not north-to-south.
They would have to fly north and south along the right line to find
Howland Island. This seems to be precisely what happened. At 7:42 A.M.
the Itasca picked up the message, "We must be on you, but we cannot
see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We
are flying at 1,000 feet." The ship tried to reply, but the plane
seemed not to hear. At 8:45 Earhart reported, "We are running north
and south." That seems to suggest that for at least an hour Earhart
and Noonan were flying along that line-of-position searching for Howland.
Those were the last
words heard from the Electra. By that afternoon it was obvious the plane
had either gone into the sea, or landed someplace other than Howland.
The U.S. Navy started a massive search. Some 262,281 square miles of
the Pacific were examined, but no sign of the Electra or its crew was
found. Noonan and Earhart were declared dead, and the great mystery
of "What happened to Amelia Earhart" began.
In the first few days following the disappearance, there were some 300
reports of messages being received from Earhart's crashed plane. Undoubtedly,
most, if not all of them were either hoaxes or misunderstandings.
The conflict that would become World War II was brewing in the Pacific
and soon after her disappearance it became a popular idea that she had
been captured by the Japanese, or that Japanese forces had shot down
her plane, or that she was working with the U.S. government on a secret
mission against the Japanese. This story was dramatized in a 1943 film,
Flight for Freedom starring Rosalind Russell as a Amelia-Earhart-type
flyer. The script followed Earhart's life story precisely, and extended
it by suggesting that the disappearance was engineered to allow U.S.
Naval forces an excuse to case Japanese military installations.
Shortly after the end of the war Jacqueline Cochran, a pilot and friend
of Earhart, traveled to Japan to investigate the role of Japanese women
in the hostilities. While there she claimed she'd discovered several
files on Earhart which later disappeared. Later, in 1965, retired Air
Force Major Joseph Gervias came to the conclusion that Cochran had actually
discovered Earhart herself and smuggled her back into the U.S.. There
Earhart set up residence in New Jersey under a new name. The woman he
named as Earhart denied Gervias' assertions.
In 1960 a woman named Josephine Akiyama came forward with a tale she
said took place while she was living on Saipan (a small Pacific island).
In 1937 Akiyama had seen two American flyers there, a man and a woman,
who were being held by the Japanese. Saipan seems an unlikely candidate
as an emergency landing site for the Electra, though, unless Noonan
was very, very lost.
Fred Goerner, a
CBS broadcaster, took the story seriously and traveled to Siapan, which
was at that time under U.S. administration. He found a number of residents
who remembered the flyers, though there seemed to be no official record
of them. Some reports indicated that the flyers had been executed by
the Japanese, something the government of Japan denied. Goerner hired
divers to search the bottom of the Siapan harbor and they retrieved
what looked like aircraft wreckage. The most interesting piece was what
appeared to be an aircraft starter motor and generator. However ,careful
analysis by the manufacturer proved it was not the one on board the
Electra when it left Oakland.
More stories about
Siapan emerged including a report from a man stationed on Siapan in
1945. He said he'd been shown graves on Siapan that reportedly belonged
to the two mysterious flyers. Another expedition to Siapan recovered
the remains of the bodies, but later examination ruled out that they
were Earhart or Noonan.
Goerner heard other
reports that Earhart's plane may have gone down in the Marshall Islands.
The Marshall Islands are much closer to Howland than Siapan. U.S. Naval
personnel stationed in the area during World War II reported hearing
stories from the Islanders that were very similar to those told on Siapan:
Two flyers, a man and a woman, crash landed and were taken captive by
the Japanese. No proof emerged from these accounts either, though Goerner
finally reached the conclusion that Earhart probably crashed in the
Marshall Islands and was later held captive on Siapan.
The Search Continues
Investigations into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan
continue even today. TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft
Recovery) has an active project trying to determine if the Electra might
have gone down on of a collection of islands called the Phoenix Group
which lie on the same line-of-position as Howland. If the Electra had
missed Howland and turned onto that line heading in a southwardly direction,
it might well have reached one of the small islands of Baker, McKean
or Gardner (now known as Nikumaroro) and crash landed on it. A search
of Nikumaroro turned up aircraft parts similar to those on the Earhart's
Electra and a heel from a woman's shoe from the 1930's. Perhaps these
items were Earhart's, but there is no proof as of yet. Further expeditions
to Nikumaroro are planned.
on Nikumaroro, perhaps on Siapan, perhaps in the Marshall Islands, maybe
at the bottom of the Pacific, is the evidence that will solve the mystery
of what happened to Amelia Earhart. Will someone find it? Or will this
piece of aviation history remain forever a mystery?
born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. As a young woman, working
in a Toronto hospital for Canadian servicemen, Amelia would go to the
airport to watch the planes take off. World War I was being fought and
there was considerable military traffic. She vowed she would learn to
fly some day.
In 1928, after earning
her pilot's license, Amelia was asked to join Wilmer Stultz (pilot)
and Lou Gordon (flight mechanic) on a trans-Atlantic flight. Twenty-one
hours after take off they landed safely in Europe, making Amelia the
first woman to ride in a plane across the Atlantic Ocean.
On May 20, 1932,
the anniversary of the first Atlantic crossing by Charles Lindbergh,
Amelia began her attempt to be the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic
alone in her Lockheed 5B Vega. The crossing was difficult and dangerous.
She flew through a lightning storm, and once almost crashed into the
ocean. Her plane began to leak fuel, and Amelia was forced to make an
emergency landing in an Irish cow pasture. But, she had completed the
Atlantic crossing, and in the process set a new record of thirteen hours
and thirty minutes. In 1935, Amelia became the first woman to fly the
Pacific Ocean, when she made the crossing from Hawaii to California.
Next, Amelia began
to plan her next great adventure. She would fly around the Earth at
the equator, something no one had ever attempted. For this trip, she
asked Fred Noonan to join her as navigator. They studied charts and
learned about weather patterns along their flight-plan. In June of 1937
they set out on an eastward heading in a Lockheed 10A Electra. After
30 days, Amelia and Fred had nearly completed their circumnavigation
of the Earth. With only 2 days of travel remaining, they missed a scheduled
refueling stop at tiny Howland Island in the Pacific. Ships and planes
from all over the area began an exhaustive search, but no trace was
ever found. Their disappearance remains a mystery.
career as a world-famous flier spanned only a few years. She achieved
instant acclaim as the first woman to fly the Atlantic in 1928; she
disappeared while on the last leg of a round-the-world flight in 1937.
Yet her fame has endured in a remarkable fashion over the past sixty
years, assuring her a permanent place in history. Books, magazine articles,
films, televised biographies, symposia, memorials, schools and other
public buildings named in her honor &endash; all testify to the
lasting impression that she made as one who truly embodied the spirit
of adventure and the desire to advance human knowledge.
In recent years,
the attempt to find a definitive solution to the mystery of her disappearance
has tended to overshadow her actual achievements and to obscure the
meaning of her life, which is quite independent of the circumstances
of her death....
I reiterate my
belief. . . that those who have propounded often sensational theories
about Amelia‚Äôs disappearance have consistently failed
to produce convincing, substantial evidence that would incline us to
reject the more plausible view that Amelia‚Äôs aircraft
ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific when it failed to make its
landing at Howland Island. . . . As children growing up in Kansas, we
were inseparable, sharing many tomboyish activities, riding horses together,
loving animals, participating in imaginative games. Throughout our lives
we confided in each other, experiencing each other‚Äôs
triumphs and tragedies. We understood each other, each one was there
for the other at crucial times such as Amelia‚Äôs first
solo flight or my wedding. Amelia‚Äôs childhood and
young adulthood provide many clues to understanding the person she became.
She was determined to make a lasting contribution to the science of
aviation. The homemade roller coaster has become the symbol of her early
love of adventure which later found its realization in her flying. The
influence of her family and her education remained strong throughout