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Who is Amelia Earhart?

By Aniza Pourtauborde
Updated May 23, 2024
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Amelia Mary Earhart's appearance into the world of aviation is as intriguing as her mysterious disappearance over the Pacific Ocean during her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. Born on 24 July 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, Earhart began her passion for flying 20 years later at an aerial meet at Daugherty Field in Long Beach. She was invited on board an open-cockpit biplane with pilot Frank Hawks. Flying over Los Angeles at above 200 feet (61 m), she realized that flying was indeed her calling in life.

Earhart' first flying lesson took place in January 1921 at Kinner Field near Long Beach. By July, she had purchased a used Kinner Airster, a two-seater biplane that she cheerfully named The Canary because of its bright yellow paint. She set her first women's record in October 1922 by flying to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,267 m). Less than a year later, Earhart earned a pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

A financial setback in 1924 forced Earhart to sell The Canary and become a social worker in Boston, Massachusetts. It was three years later, in April 1928, when she received a call that commenced her rise to fame. Captain H. H. Railey had been commissioned by publicist George Putnam to find a woman capable of flying across the Atlantic. Earhart accepted the challenge without hesitation. However, due to her limitations in instrument and multi-engine flying, she was just a passenger alongside two other pilots, Wilmur Stultz and Louis Gordon.

In June 1928, their tri-motor Fokker airplane, Friendship, took off for Ireland. Due to bad weather and low fuel, they landed instead at Burry Port, South Wales. Nevertheless, the success of this flight turned Earhart into an instant celebrity.

Earhart went on to achieve many coveted flying awards. In August 1929, she won third place in the First Women's Air Derby, an air race from Los Angeles to Cleveland. She was also the founder and president of The Ninety-Nines, an organization consisting of 99 women pilots.

In February 1931, Earhart married her publicist, George Putnam. Together, they prepared for her solo flight across the Atlantic the following year. On 20 May 1932, the fifth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's Atlantic flight, Earhart broke records by being the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic, having the shortest crossing time and flying the longest non-stop distance for a woman pilot. She was presented with National Geographic Society's gold medal by President Herbert Hoover and was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Earhart continued to impress the world with her flying achievements. She began plans to become the first woman to fly around the world. On 1 June 1937, Earhart climbed aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E with her navigator, Frederick Noonan, commencing their 29,000-mile (46,671-km) journey around the world. By the end of June, they had arrived at Lae, New Guinea with only 7,000 miles (11,265 km) to go. Success seemed imminent.

Their next stop was Howland Island, situated 2,556 miles (4,113 km) from Lae. This destination was a flight challenge, since it was only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide. All precautions were taken to assist in their safe landing. Three United States ships lit all the lights on board and positioned themselves along the flight route to help Earhart see where she was landing. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Itasca, was also anchored nearby.

At 12:30 p.m. on 2 July 1937, Earhart and Noonan left Lae. They flew through unexpected cloudy skies and irregular rain showers. These weather conditions made navigation difficult. Their radio transmissions were unclear and filled with static.

At 7:42 a.m., Itasca received one of Earhart's transmissions, in which she said she might be flying over Howland Island although she could not see it. They were already flying on low fuel at 1,000 feet (305 m). An hour later, Itasca received a second transmission that they were flying North and South. Earhart was never heard from again.

The U.S. Government invested four million US dollars (USD), using both air and naval resources, to search over 250,000 square miles (647,497 sq km) of ocean for any indication of what had happened to the airplane. The search was called off on 19 July 1937. Until today, the mystery of Earhart's last flight remains unsolved.

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Discussion Comments
By anon42183 — On Aug 19, 2009

Amelia Earhart is my hero and role model. I wish I could do something amazing just like her!

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