Amelia Earhart (July 24, 1897 - missing July 2, 1937, declared dead January 5, 1939) was a noted American aviation pioneer, and author.
Earhart was the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, which she was awarded as the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.
During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.
Amelia Earhart Amelia Mary Earhart, daughter of Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart, was born in Atchison, Kansas, in the home of her maternal grandfather, Alfred Gideon Otis (1827 - 1912), a former federal judge, president of the Atchison Savings Bank and a leading citizen in Atchison. Alfred Otis had not initially favored the marriage and was not satisfied with Edwin's progress as a lawyer. Amelia was named, according to family custom, after her two grandmothers (Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton). From an early age Amelia, nicknamed "Meeley" (sometimes "Millie") was the ringleader while younger sister (two years her junior), Grace Muriel Earhart (1899 - 1998), nicknamed "Pidge," acted the dutiful follower.
A spirit of adventure seemed to abide in the Earhart children with the pair setting off daily to explore their neighborhood. As a child, Amelia spent long hours playing with Pidge, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle and "belly-slamming" her sled downhill. Although this love of the outdoors and "rough-and-tumble" play was common to many youngsters, some biographers have characterized the young Amelia as a tomboy. The girls kept "worms, moths, katydids, and a tree toad" in a growing collection gathered in their outings. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, she 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. Amelia'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. Although there had been some missteps in his career up to that point, in 1907 Edwin Earhart's job as a claims officer for the Rock Island Railroad led to a transfer to Des Moines, Iowa. The next year, at the age of 10, Amelia saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State fair in Des Moines. Her father tried to interest her and her sister in taking a flight. One look at the rickety old "flivver" was enough for Amelia (Millie), who promptly asked if they could go back to the merry-go-round.
The two sisters, Amelia and Muriel (she went by her middle name from her teens on), remained with their grandparents in Atchison, while their parents moved into new, smaller quarters in Des Moines. During this period, Amelia received a form of home-schooling together with her sister, from her mother and a governess. She later recounted that she was "exceedingly fond of reading" and spent countless hours in the large family library. In 1909, when the family was finally reunited in Des Moines, the Earhart children were enrolled in public school for the first time with Amelia entering the seventh grade at the age of 12 years.
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 Edwin was an alcoholic. Five years later (in 1914), he was forced to retire, and although he attempted to rehabilitate himself through treatment, he was never reinstated at the Rock Island Railroad. At about this time, Amelia's grandmother Amelia Otis died suddenly, leaving a substantial estate that placed her daughter's share in trust, fearing that Edwin's drinking would drain the funds. The Otis house, and all of its contents, was auctioned; Amelia was heart-broken and later described it as the end of her childhood. In 1915, after a long search, Amelia's father found work as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Amelia entered Central High School as a junior. Edwin applied for a transfer to Springfield, Missouri, in 1915 but the current claims officer reconsidered his retirement and demanded his job back, leaving the elder Earhart with nowhere to go. Facing another calamitous move, Amy Earhart took her children to Chicago where they lived with friends. Amelia made an unusual condition in the choice of her next schooling; she canvassed nearby high schools in Chicago to find the best science program. She eventually was enrolled in Hyde Park High School but spent a miserable semester where a yearbook caption captured the essence of her unhappiness. Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916. Throughout her troubled childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women. She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania but did not complete her program. During Christmas vacation in 1917, she visited her sister in Toronto. World War I had been raging and Earhart saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a nurse's aide from the Red Cross, she began work with the Volunteer Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. er duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital's dispensary.
When the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic reached Toronto, Earhart was engaged in arduous nursing duties including night shifts at the Spadina Military Hospital. She became a patient herself, suffering from pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis. She was hospitalized in early November 1918 owing to pneumonia and discharged in December 1918, about two months after the illness had started.
At about that time, with a young woman friend, Earhart visited an air fair held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto. One of the highlights of the 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 at them. Earhart characteristically stood her ground, swept by a mixture of fear and exhilaration. By 1919 Earhart prepared to enter Smith College but changed her mind and enrolled at Columbia University signing up for a course in medical studies among other programs. She quit a year later to be with her parents who had reunited in California.
Amelia's commitment to flying required her to accept the frequently hard work and rudimentary conditions that accompanied early aviation training. She chose a leather jacket but aware that other aviators would be judging her, slept in it for three nights to give the jacket a more "worn" look. To complete her image transformation, she also cropped her hair short in the style of other female flyers. Six months later, Amelia purchased a second-hand bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane which she nicknamed "The Canary." On 22 October 1922, Earhart flew the Airster to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,300 m), setting a world record for female pilots. On 15 May 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to be issued a pilot's license (#6017) by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
Amelia was an intelligent and competent pilot but hardly a brilliant aviator, whose early efforts were characterized as inadequate by more seasoned flyers. One serious miscalculation occurred during a record attempt that had ended with her spinning down through a cloud bank, only to emerge at 3,000 ft (910 m). Earhart was chagrined yet acknowledged her limitations as a pilot and continued to seek out assistance throughout her career from various instructors. Throughout this period, her grandmother's inheritance, which was now administered by her mother, was constantly depleted until it finally ran out following a disastrous investment in a failed gypsum mine. Consequently, with no immediate prospects for recouping her investment in flying, Earhart sold the "Canary" as well as a second Kinner and bought a yellow Kissel "Speedster" two-passenger automobile, which she named the "Yellow Peril." Simultaneously, Earhart experienced an exacerbation of her old sinus problem as her pain worsened and in early 1924, she was hospitalized for another sinus operation, which was again unsuccessful. After trying her hand at a number of interesting ventures including setting up a photography company, Amelia set out in a new direction. Following her parents' divorce in 1924, she drove her mother in the "Yellow Peril" on a transcontinental trip from California with stops throughout the West and even a jaunt up to Calgary, Alberta. The meandering tour eventually brought the pair to Boston, Massachusetts where Amelia underwent another sinus procedure, this operation being more successful. After recuperation, she returned for several months to Columbia University but was forced to abandon her studies and any further plans for enrolling at the MIT because her mother could no longer afford the tuition fees and associated costs. Soon after, she found employment first as a teacher, then as a social worker in 1925 at Denison House, living in Medford. Earhart maintained her interest in aviation, becoming a member of the American Aeronautical Society's Boston chapter, and was eventually elected its vice president. She also invested a small sum of money in the Dennison Airport as well as acting as a sales representative for Kinner airplanes in the Boston area. She wrote local newspaper columns promoting flying and as her local celebrity grew, she laid out the plans for an organization devoted to female flyers.
After Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Phipps Guest, (1873-1959), expressed interest in being the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic Ocean. After deciding the trip was too perilous for her to undertake, she offered to sponsor the project, suggesting 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 project coordinators (including book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam) interviewed Amelia and asked her to accompany pilot Wilmer Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis Gordon on the flight, nominally as a passenger, but with the added duty of keeping the flight log. The team departed Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland in a Fokker F.VIIb/3m on 17 June 1928, landing at Burry Port (near Llanelli), Wales, United Kingdom, exactly 20 hours and 40 minutes later. Since most of the flight was on "instruments" and Amelia had no training for this type of flying, she did not pilot the aircraft. While in England, Earhart is reported as receiving a rousing welcome on 19 June 1928, when landing at Woolston in Southampton, England. She flew the Avro Avian 594 Avian III, SN: R3/AV/101 owned by Lady Mary Heath and later purchased the aircraft and had it shipped back to the United States. When the Stultz, Gordon and Earhart flight crew returned to the United States they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York followed by a reception with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
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Trading on her physical resemblance to Lindbergh, whom the press had dubbed "Lucky Lindy", some newspapers and magazines began referring to Amelia as "Lady Lindy". The United Press was more grandiloquent; to them, Earhart was the reigning "Queen of the Air". Immediately after her return to the United States, she undertook an exhausting lecture tour (1928-29). Meanwhile, Putnam had undertaken to heavily promote her in a campaign including publishing a book she authored, a series of new lecture tours and using pictures of her in mass market endorsements. Rather than simply endorsing the products, Amelia actively became involved in the promotions, especially in women's fashions. For a number of years she had sewn her own clothes, but the "active living" lines that were sold in 50 stores such as Macy's in metropolitan areas were an expression of a new Earhart image. Her concept of simple, natural lines matched with wrinkle-proof, washable materials was the embodiment of a sleek, purposeful but feminine "A.E." (the familiar name she went by with family and friends). The luggage line that she promoted (marketed as Modernaire Earhart Luggage) also bore her unmistakable stamp. She ensured that the luggage met the demands of air travel; it is still being produced today. A wide range of promotional items would appear bearing the Earhart "image" and likewise, modern equivalents are still being marketed to this day. The marketing campaign by G.P. Putnam was successful in establishing the Earhart mystique in the public psyche.
Putnam specifically instructed Earhart to disguise a "gap-toothed" smile by keeping her mouth closed in formal photographs. The celebrity endorsements would help Amelia finance her flying. Accepting a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, she turned this 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 to promote commercial air travel through the development of a passenger airline service; along with Charles Lindbergh, she represented Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), and invested time and money in setting up the first regional shuttle service between New York and Washington, DC. (TAT later became TWA). She was a Vice President of National Airways, which conducted the flying operations of the Boston-Maine Airways and several other airlines in the northeast. By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.
Although she had gained fame for her transatlantic flight, Earhart endeavored to set an "untarnished" record of her own. Shortly after her return, piloting Avian 7083, she set off on her first long solo flight which occurred just as her name was coming into the national spotlight. By making the trip in August 1928, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. Gradually her piloting skills and professionalism grew, as acknowledged by experienced professional pilots who flew with her. She subsequently made her first attempt at competitive air racing in 1929 during the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women's Air Derby (later nicknamed the "Powder Puff Derby" by Will Rogers), placing third. In 1930, Earhart became an official of the National Aeronautic Association where she actively promoted the establishment of separate women's records and was instrumental in the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) accepting a similar international standard. In 1931, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet (5,613 m) in a borrowed company machine. During this period, Earhart became involved with The Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots providing moral support and advancing the cause of women in aviation. She had called a meeting of female pilots in 1929 following the Women's Air Derby. She suggested the name based on the number of the charter members; she later became the organization's first president in 1930.
For a while she was engaged to Samuel Chapman from Boston, breaking off her engagement on 23 November 1928. During the same period, Earhart and Putnam had spent a great deal of time together, leading to intimacy. George Putnam, who was known as GP, was divorced in 1929 and sought out Amelia, proposing to her six times before she finally agreed. After substantial hesitation on her part, they married on 7 February 1931 in Putnam's mother's house in Noank, Connecticut. Earhart referred to her marriage as a "partnership" with "dual control." There was no honeymoon for the newlyweds as Amelia was involved in a nine-day cross-country tour promoting autogyros and the tour sponsor, Beechnut Gum. A few years later, a fire broke out at the Putnam residence in Rye and before it could be contained, destroyed much of the Putnam family treasures including many of Earhart's personal mementos. Following the fire, GP and AE decided to move to the west coast, since Putnam had already sold his interest in the publishing company to his cousin Palmer, setting up in North Hollywood, which brought GP close to Paramount Pictures and his new position as head of the editorial board of this motion picture company.
At the age of 34, on the morning of 20 May 1932 Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with the latest copy of a local newspaper (the dated copy was intended to confirm the date of the flight). She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5b to emulate Charles Lindbergh's solo flight. Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of "decoy" for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart's Vega for his own Arctic flight. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. As the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, Earhart 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. As her fame grew, she developed friendships with many people in high offices, most notably, Eleanor Roosevelt, the "First Lady." Roosevelt shared many of Earhart's interests and passions, especially women's causes. After flying with Earhart, Roosevelt actually obtained a student permit but did not pursue her plans to learn to fly. The two friends communicated frequently throughout their lives.
On 11 January 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. Although this transoceanic flight had been attempted by many others, most notably by the unfortunate participants in the 1927 Dole Air Race which had reversed the route, her trailblazing flight had been mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns. In her final hours, she even relaxed and listened to "the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York." That year, once more flying her faithful Vega which she had tagged "old Bessie, the fire horse," Earhart soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City on 19 April. The next record attempt was a nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York. Setting off on 8 May, her flight was uneventful although the large crowds that greeted her at Newark, New Jersey were a concern as she had to be careful not to taxi into the throng. Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage considering that her stock Lockheed Vega topping out at 195 mph (314 km/h) was outclassed by purpose-built air racers which reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h). Between 1930-1935, Amelia had set seven women's speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft including the Kinner Airster, Lockheed Vega and Pitcairn Autogiro.
Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. In July 1936, she took delivery of a Lockheed L-10E Electra financed by Purdue and started planning a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following 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 intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Amelia back from Europe in 1928. Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed ship's captain) and flight navigation. There were significant additional factors which had to be taken into account while using celestial navigation for aircraft. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company's China Clipper seaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American's navigators for the route between San Francisco and Manila. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.
On St. Patrick's Day, 17 March 1937, they flew the first leg from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition to Earhart and Noonan, Harry Manning and Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz (who was acting as Earhart's technical advisor) were on board. Due to lubrication and galling problems with the propeller hubs' variable pitch mechanisms, the aircraft needed servicing in Hawaii. Ultimately, the Electra ended up at the United States Navy's Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The flight resumed three days later from Luke Field with Earhart, Noonan and Manning on board, and during the takeoff run, Earhart ground-looped. The circumstances of the ground loop remain controversial. Some witnesses at Luke Field including the Associated Press journalist on the scene 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, including Mantz, cited pilot error. With the aircraft severely damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was shipped by sea to the Lockheed facility in Burbank, California 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, Florida and after arriving there Earhart publicly announced her plans to circumnavigate the globe. The flight's opposite direction was partly the result of changes in global wind and weather patterns along the planned route since the earlier attempt. Fred Noonan was Earhart's only crew member for the second flight. They departed Miami on 1 June and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, arrived at Lae, New Guinea on 29 June 1937. At this stage 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
On 2 July 1937 (midnight GMT) Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a flat sliver of land 6,500 ft (2,000 m) long and 1,600 ft (500 m) wide, 10 feet (3 m) high and 2,556 miles (4,113 km) away. Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles (1,300 km) into the flight. The United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca was on station at Howland, assigned to communicate with Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E and guide them to the island once they arrived in the vicinity. Through a series of misunderstandings or errors (the details of which are still controversial), the final approach to Howland Island using radio navigation wasn't successful. Fred Noonan had earlier written about problems affecting the accuracy of radio direction finding in navigation. Some sources have noted Earhart's apparent lack of understanding of her Bendix direction finding loop antenna, which at the time was very new technology.
During Earhart and Noonan's approach to Howland Island the Itasca received strong and clear voice transmissions from Earhart identifying as KHAQQ but she apparently was unable to hear voice transmissions from the ship. At 7:42 a.m. Earhart radioed "We must be on you, but cannot see you -- but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." Her 7:58 a.m. transmission said she couldn't hear the Itasca and asked them to send voice signals so she could try to take a radio bearing (this transmission was reported by the Itasca as the loudest possible signal, indicating Earhart and Noonan were in the immediate area). They couldn't send voice at the frequency she asked for, so Morse code signals were sent instead. Earhart acknowledged receiving these but said she was unable to determine their direction. In her last known transmission at 8:43 a.m. Earhart broadcast "We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait." However, a few moments later she was back on the same frequency (3105 kHz) with a transmission which was logged as a "questionable": "We are running on line north and south." Earhart's transmissions seemed to indicate she and Noonan believed they had reached Howland's charted position, which was incorrect by about five nautical miles (10 km). The Itasca used her oil-fired boilers to generate smoke for a period of time but the fliers apparently did not see it. The many scattered clouds in the area around Howland Island have also been cited as a problem: their dark shadows on the ocean surface may have been almost indistinguishable from the island's subdued and very flat profile. Whether any post-loss radio signals were received from Earhart and Noonan remains controversial. If transmissions were received from the Electra, most if not all were weak and hopelessly garbled. Earhart's voice transmissions to Howland were on 3105 kHz, a frequency restricted to aviation use in the United States by the FCC. This frequency was not thought to be fit for broadcasts over great distances. When Earhart was at cruising altitude and mid-way between Lae and Howland (over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from each) neither station heard her scheduled transmission at 0815 GCT. Moreover, the 50-watt transmitter used by Earhart was attached to a less-than-optimum-length V-type antenna. The last voice transmission received on Howland Island from Earhart indicated she and Noonan were flying along a line of position (taken from a "sun line" running on 157-337 degrees) which Noonan would have calculated and drawn on a chart as passing 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 unintelligible or weak. Bearings taken by Pan American Airways stations suggested signals originating from several locations, including Gardner Island. It was noted at the time that if these signals were from Earhart and Noonan, they must have been on land with the aircraft since water would have otherwise shorted out the Electra's electrical system. Sporadic signals were reported for four or five days after the disappearance but none yielded any understandable information.
Beginning approximately one hour after Earhart's last recorded message, the USCG Itasca undertook an ultimately unsuccessful search north and west of Howland Island based on initial assumptions about transmissions from the aircraft. The United States Navy soon joined the search and over a period of about three days sent available resources to the search area in the vicinity of Howland Island. The initial search by the Itasca involved running up the 157/337 line of position to the NNW from Howland Island. The Itasca then searched the area to the immediate NE of the island, corresponding to the area, yet wider than the area searched to the NW. Based on bearings of several supposed Earhart radio transmissions, some of the search efforts were directed to a specific position 281 degrees NW of Howland Island without finding land or evidence of the flyers. Four days after Earhart's last verified radio transmission, on 6 July 1937 the captain of the battleship Colorado received orders from the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District to take over all naval and coast guard units to coordinate search efforts. Later search efforts were directed to the Phoenix Islands south of Howland Island A week after the disappearance naval aircraft from the Colorado flew over several islands in the group including Gardner Island, which had been uninhabited for over 40 years. The official search efforts lasted until 19 July 1937. At $4 million, the air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard was the most costly and intensive in 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. Official reporting of the search effort was influenced by individuals wary about how their roles in looking for an American hero might be reported by the press. Despite an unprecedented search by the United States Navy and Coast Guard no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan or the Electra 10E was found. The United States Navy Lexington aircraft carrier and Colorado battleship, the Itasca (and even two Japanese ships, the oceanographic survey vessel Koshu and auxiliary seaplane tender Kamoi) searched for six-seven days each, covering 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2). Immediately after the end of the official search, G.P. Putnam financed a private search by local authorities of nearby Pacific islands and waters, concentrating on the Gilberts. In late July 1937 Putnam chartered two small boats and while he remained in the United States, directed a search of the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands and the Marshall Islands, but no trace of the Electra or its occupants were found.
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