(continued from Childhood and Education)
Pioneering Woman Aviator, Lost on Flight over the Pacific
By Stephen Sherman, Jan. 17, 2001. Updated June 24, 2011.
After Amelia's flight across the Atlantic in 1928 succeeded in attracting even more publicity than her sponsors (Amy Guest and George Putnam) had expected, George organized a cross-country flight and a speaking tour for Amelia.
While Putnam, a New York publicist, was married at the time, he was attracted to Amelia. He divorced his wife, and he and Amelia married in 1931.
She was a charter member and first president of the "Ninety Nines," an organization of women in aviation, so named for the original number of members.
On May 21, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh's flight, she took off in a Lockheed Vega, in an attempt to become the second person after Lindbergh (and first woman) to fly solo across the Atlantic. Starting from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, her flight lasted almost 15 hours, when she touched down in a pasture near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (In fact, the distance from Newfoundland to Ireland being considerably shorter than Lindbergh's route from Long Island to Paris, her flight time was correspondingly shorter than his 33 hours.) Her Vega 5B is on display at the Smithsonian NASM.
Timeline of Her Aviation Achievements
- October 22, 1922 - Set women's altitude record of 14,000 feet
- June 17-18, 1928 - First woman to fly across the Atlantic; 20hrs 40min (Fokker F7, Friendship)
- August 1929 - Placed third in the First Women's Air Derby, aka the Powder Puff Derby; upgraded from her Avian to a Lockheed Vega
- Fall 1929- Elected as an official for National Aeronautic Association and encouraged the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) to establish separate world altitude, speed and endurance records for women
- June 25, 1930 - Set women's speed record for 100 kilometers with no load, and with a load of 500 kilograms
- July 5, 1930 - Set speed record for of 181.18mph over a 3K course
- April 8, 1931 - Set woman's autogiro altitude record with 18,415 feet (in a Pitcairn autogiro)
- May 20-21, 1932 - First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; 14 hrs 56 min (it was also the 5th anniversary of Lindberg's Atlantic flight; awarded National Geographic Society's gold medal from President Herbert Hoover; Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross
- August 24-25, 1932 - First woman to fly solo nonstop coast to coast; set women's nonstop transcontinental speed record, flying 2,447.8 miles in 19hrs 5min
- Fall 1932 - Elected president of the Ninety Nines, a new women's aviation club which she helped to form
- July 7-8, 1933 - Broke her previous transcontinental speed record by making the same flight in 17hrs 7min
- January 11, 1935 - First person to solo the 2,408-mile distance across the Pacific between Hawaii and Oakland, California; also first flight where a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio. She took off from Oahu's Wheeler Field; after an 18 hour flight, she landed at Oakland, with thousands of cheering fans to welcome her.
- May 8, 1935 - First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to Newark; 14hrs 19min. In 1935, she dedicated the new Administration Building at Newark Airport.
Her Last Flight
In 1937 Amelia Earhart attempted an around-the-world flight. Flying a custom-built Lockheed Model 10E Electra, equipped with extra-large gas tanks, she would follow a 'close to the Equator' route, thus going one better than Wiley Post's northern, mid-latitude route. In her first effort, in March of 1937, she flew west, but a crash in Hawaii abrubtly ended that trip.
Starting on May 21, 1937 from Oakland, California, in the recently repaired Lockheed Electra, she and her navigator, Fed Noonan, stayed over land as much as possible. After relatively short flights to Burbank, California, and Tucson, Arizona, they next touched down in New Orleans, and then Miami where the airplane was tuned-up for the long trip. From Miami, they flew through the Caribbean, to an enthusiastic welcome in San Juan, and then to Natal, Brazil, for the shortest possible hop over the Atlantic, although, at 1727 miles, it was the longest leg of the journey that they completed safely.
They touched down in Senegal, West Africa; then eastward across Africa (via the dusty Sahal outposts of Gao, N'Djamena, and El Fasher) to Khartoum and then Ethiopia. From Assab, Ethiopia, they were the first to make an Africa-to-India flight, touching down in Karachi (then part of India), a 1627 mile leg.
From Calcutta, India they flew to Rangoon, Bangkok, and then Bandung, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Monsoon weather prevented departure from Bandung for several days. Repairs were made on some of the long distance instruments which had given trouble previously. During this time Amelia had become ill with dysentery that lasted for several days. After a stop in Darwin, Australia, they continued eastward to Lae, New Guinea, arriving there on June 29.
From Lae, they took off for Howland Island, 2200 miles away in the Pacific. They never arrived.
Timeline of Her Last Flight
|May 21||Oakland, California||Burbank, California||283||.|
|.||Tucson||New Orleans, Louisiana||1,070||.|
|.||New Orleans||Miami, Florida||586||final servicing of plane|
|June 1||Miami||San Juan, Puerto Rico||908||June 3 photo taken at S.J.?|
|.||San Juan||Cumana, Venezuela||492||.|
|.||Natal, Brazil||St. Louis, Senegal||1,727||transatlantic leg, 13 hours, 12 min. flight time|
|.||St. Louis, Senegal||Dakar, Senegal||100||.|
|.||N'Djamena||El Fasher, Sudan||610||.|
|.||El Fasher||Khartoum, Sudan||437||.|
|.||Assab||Karachi, Pakistan||1,627||first flight from Africa to India|
|June 16-17||Karachi||Calcutta, India||1,178||.|
|.||Singapore||Bandung, Indonesia||541||delayed here by monsoon|
|June 27||Bandung||Surabaya, Indonesia||310||.|
|June 28-29||Darwin||Lae, New Guinea||1,012||direction finder repaired, parachutes sent home|
|.||Lae||Howland Island||2,224||never arrived|
|.||Howland Island||Honolulu, Hawaii||1,648||.|
Her next destination was Howland Island, 2200 miles away, the longest over-water leg of the trip. To aid in radio communications, the U.S. Coat Guard cutter Itasca was stationed off Howland Island. The Lockheed Electra took off from Lae at 0:00 Greenwich Mean Time. 8 hours later she called in to Lae for the last time. At 19:30, Itasca received the following:
"KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you...gas is running low..."
An hour later, the last message came in:
"We are in a line position of 157- 337. Will report on 6210 kilocycles. Wait, listen on 6210 kilocycles. We are running North and South."
Ironically Amelia Earhart has become more famous for disappearing than for her many real aviation achievements. It sparked a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theorists and "researchers." There are two main themes to these ideas. One, her around-the-world flight was a cover for a spy mission, commissioned by President Roosevelt to determine what the Japanese were up to in the Pacific. Two, she and Fred Noonan weren't simply swallowed up by the vast Pacific Ocean, but were captured by the Japanese. Obviously these two main themes work well in combination.
No evidence has ever been found to support either one of these ideas. But a lack of facts has not dissuaded these researchers.
In March, 2011, as part of the never-ending search for Amelia Earhart's remains, researchers examined the DNA of bones found on Nikumaroro, and determined that they might or might not be remains of the famous aviatrix. In fact, the researchers could not even state with certainty that the small bone fragments in question were human.
Amelia Earhart left a rich legacy; she continues to be an inspiration, not only to women, but to all who seek to explore and push their own limits and the world's boundaries. Several schools across the country have been named in her honor.
"Adventure is worthwhile in itself."
"Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things; knows not the livid loneliness of fear."
"Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price."
"In soloing - as in other activities - it is far easier to start something than it is to finish it."
"Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn't be done." (ed - This one has to be my favorite Amelia Earhart quote.)
"Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others."
"The most effective way to do it, is to do it."
"The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune."
"There is so much that must be done in a civilized barbarism like war."
"Women must pay for everything. They do get more glory than men for comparable feats, but, they also get more notoriety when they crash."
In 1994, the made-for-TV movie Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight, starring Diane Keaton and Rutger Hauer (as Fred Noonan), dramatized the story of her last flight. But it played fast-and-loose with the facts, playing to all the myths related to her disappearance. One IMDB commentator called it "a conspiracy-theorist's fantasy extravaganza."
In 2009, Hilary Swank starred as Amelia, in the movie by that name, and Richard Gere co-starred. This movie is more of a biopic, focusing on her difficult relationship with her husband, George Putnam (played by Gere).