Amelia Earhart, aviation pioneer

Amelia Earhart is one of the worlds most famous aviators. Her determination to follow her dreams and break through barriers continues to inspire today. She was born in 1897, the older of 2 sisters. As children Amelia who was mostly called Meely and her younger sister Grace who was also known as “Pidge” could be found doing boisterous activities and not at all conducting themselves like young ladies of the time. Their mother Amy had them wearing bloomers and didn’t see the attraction of shaping her daughters into “nice little girls”. They had an active life in the outdoors and spent much of their time catching insects and other wildlife. Amelia developed an urge for thrillseeking at an early age. When just 7 years old she decided to make a home made rollercoaster attached to the family toolshed. Throwing herself down a homemade slide she flew off the end and landed in a heap, ripping her dress and bleeding from the lip. Despite her injuries she excitedly proclaimed to her sister: “Oh Pidge, it’s just like flying!”. When she was 10 years old she came face to face for the first time with an aircraft at the Iowa state fair. Earhart’s father tried to get Amelia on the plane but she refused saying “It’s a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting” In 1917 Earhart decided to become a nurse after seeing the plight of soldiers returning from the front in World War 1. In 1918 the Spanish Flu pandemic struck and while nursing the sick, Amelia herself fell ill.
In 1918 the Spanish Flu pandemic struck and while nursing the sick, Amelia herself fell ill. The illness left her with lifelong sinus problems which sometimes impaired her flying. Amelia wasn’t one to lie around though. She took advantage of the time as she was recovering by studying mechanics and learning to play the banjo. Later that same year she attended an airshow with a friend where a World War 1 flying ace was putting on a demonstration of his skill. Seeing Amelia and her young friend on the ground the pilot dived at them intending to scare the young women and make them scamper away. However Amelia stood her ground. She later said she did not understand it at the time, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” She became passionate about learning to fly. Saving and borrowing money from her mother she managed to get $1000 to enrol in flying school and took her first lesson in 1921. She was taught by another woman aviator, Anita Snook. To fit in with the other women pilots, Earhart cut her hair short and wore a brown leather flying jacket… which she slept in for 3 nights so that it didn’t look completely new. Six months later she bought her first plane. It was a second hand Kinner Airster which she named, “The Canary”. That same year, she set the women’s altitude record by reaching 14,000 feet in the Canary. After the financial crisis in the 1920s money was tight and she had to sell the Canary and took up work as a teacher and a social worker. During this time she was still passionate about aviation and wrote several newspaper columns championing women aviators. Around this time she got a call at work from a Captain Hilton H. Railey, who asked her a simple question that would change her life, “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?” She was only to be a passenger on the flight but it still made her the first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. The plane landed in Southampton Water in England. The locals gave her a rousing reception and the mayor of Southampton who was also a woman congratulated her heartily. In a later interview Earhart said “Stultz did all the flying — had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes… maybe someday I’ll try it alone.” Returning to America she was hailed as the “Queen of the Air” by newspapers. She became associate editor at Cosmopolitan and had a number of celebrity endorsements for many products including clothes and luggage and of course commercial flying. She now pushed for an untarnished record of flying achievements of her own. In 1928, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. In 1931, she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet. In 1931 she married her publisher George Putnam after he had proposed to her 6 times. In a letter to her husband delivered to him on the day of the wedding, she wrote, “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” She kept her surname and she considered her marriage as being one of “dual control”. On May 20th 1932 Earhart set off from Newfoundland for what is seen to be her greatest achievement, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. It took almost 15 hours. She landed her Lockheed Vega 5B in Ireland where she was greeted by the locals who asked “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America”. In 1937, approaching her 40th birthday, Earhart said, “I have a feeling that there is just one more good flight left in my system…” That flight was to be an attempt to fly around the world. On July 2, 1937 Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae in New Guinea with a destination of Howland Island in the Pacific, a tiny piece of land 2,200 miles away. Special navigation procedures were put in place. Radio contact was to be made with the U.S. Coast Guard ship Itasca off Howland Island. Using direction finding equipment Earhart should have been able to navigate in. After taking off from Lae Earhart encountered problems with overcast skies and rain. Some witnesses reported that the radio antenna may have been damaged. Nearing Howland Island, the communication was confused and sporadic and for a number of reasons is was not sufficient to determine direction. The last communication from Earhart was at 8:43 a.m.: “We are running north and south.” The Itasca began a rescue after she failed to land on Howland… but nothing was found. On January 5th, 1939, Earhart was declared legally dead. No trace of the world’s most famous female pilot, her navigator, or their plane has ever been found. In a letter to her husband to be opened in the event of her death she wrote “Please know I am quite 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 but a challenge to others.”

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