Amelia Earhart - Innovator
America's famous aviatrix Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 at her grandparents' home in Atchison, Kansas.
In 1919, Amelia enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Although doing well in her studies, in 1920 she decided to join her mother and father in California. The had recently reunited and were encouraging the sisters to join them.
After several months in California, Amelia and her father went to an aerial meet at Daugherty Field in Long Beach. She had become very interested in flying. The next day, given a helmet and goggles, she boarded the open-cockpit biplane for a 10 minute flight over Los Angeles.
"As soon as we left the ground I knew I myself had to fly!"
Amelia had heard of a woman pilot who gave flying instructions and shortly afterwards began lessons with pioneer aviatrix Anita "Neta" Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach. Amelia and Neta took to each other on sight, both having similar backgrounds.
In July 1920, Amelia purchased a prototype of the Kinner airplane. She had several accidents during this period, but attributed these to unreliable engines and slowness of the planes.
By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet.
Amelia later sold her Kinner airplane and purchased a car. She drove her mother, Amy, cross-country to Boston.
On April 27, 1926 her life was to change forever...a phone call from Captain H.H. Railey asked.."how would you like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic?"
H.H. Railey had been asked by George Palmer Putnam, a New York publisher, to find the woman to make a trans-atlantic flight. No woman had so far flown across the Atlantic. Railey, having been struck by Amelia's strong resemblance to Charles Lindbergh, coined the name "Lady Lindy".
A week later, Amelia met with George Putnam in New York. George was said to have been so impressed by her at the meeting that he decided Amelia should be the woman to make the flight. Amelia accepted the offer although she would only be a passenger on the flight.
Since she had no experience of multi-engine or instrument flying. Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon would pilot the tri-motor Fokker named the "Friendship" with Amelia having the official title of "commander" of the flight.
On Sunday, June 3, 1928 after waiting several days for the weather to clear, the Friendship left for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Bad weather conditions again delayed the flight out of Halifax till June 18. Flying through dense fog for most of their journey, they landed at Burry Port in South Wales and not in Ireland as had been planned...with little fuel remaining.
"I was a passenger on the journey...just a passenger. Everything that was done to bring us across was done by Wilmer Stultz and Slim Gordon. Any praise I can give them they ought to have...I do not believe that women lack the stamina to do a solo trip across the Atlantic, but it would be a matter of learning the arts of flying by instruments only, an art which few men pilots know perfectly now..."
Amelia was distressed that Stultz and Gordon were ignored by reporters. It was the woman they had come to see...or rather "the girl" as they insisted on calling her. Even President Coolidge had cabled his personal congratulations to Amelia.
On to London, then to the States...to a full calendar of tours...Amelia was in great demand on the lecture circuit and pictured frequently in the newspapers. Behind the scene, George Putnam kept Amelia's name in the forefront of everyone's mind and in the pages of newspapers across the country.
Amelia flew a solo flight from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in September 1928 to attend the National Air Races. Returning to New York, she began a series of lecture tours organized by George to publicize her new book about the Atlantic flight, "20 hours, 40 minutes". Often George accompanied her on these trips.. They had become "close" and found many similar interests in life. This had become reason for some gossip in aviation circles, as George was married at the time.
Aviation was quite a new concept and the industry looked for ways of improving its image. Amelia was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport (later known as TWA) with a special responsibility of attracting women passengers.
Amelia organized a cross-country air race for women pilots in 1929, the Los Angeles to Cleveland Women's Air Derby. Will Rogers coined the name "The Powder-Puff Derby"...a name that stuck!
The "Ninety-Nines", a now famous women pilots organization, was formed by Amelia Earhart in her hotel room in Cleveland during a meeting with other women pilots. Charter membership included 99 applicants. She was to serve as its first President.
George's close relationship with Amelia had not gone unnoticed. Dorothy Putnam left her husband shortly after Amelia returned from Cleveland and a divorce was granted in Reno, Nevada in December 1929.
"...I was interested in aviation, so was he. We both loved the outdoors, books, sports...We came to depend on each other, yet it was only friendship between us, or so - at least I - thought at first. At least I didn't admit even to myself that I was in love..."
Amelia continued to work for the airline and was writing regular articles for Cosmopolitan and other publications, with speaking engagements in many cities across the country. In 1930 she broke several women's speed records in her Lockheed Vega aircraft. After turning down George's proposals several times, they finally married on February 7, 1931.
"Would you mind if I flew the Atlantic?"
Amelia and George had talked casually about a solo flight across the Atlantic. She was now ready to make the flight as the pilot rather than a passenger, as was the case in the 1928 flight. At the time, several other women pilots were making preparations for such a flight and George knew that in order to keep Amelia's name in the forefront she would need to make the trip.
By early 1932 no other person had successfully flown solo across the Atlantic since Lindbergh. Amelia would not duplicate Lindbergh's course but would fly from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with the British Isles as her destination.
On May 20, 1932, exactly 5 years after the Lindbergh flight, Amelia's modified Lockheed Vega began the journey. Since she did not drink coffee or tea, she would keep awake by using smelling salts on long trips. Amelia prided herself on traveling light...a thermos of soup and a can of tomato juice would sustain her.
Somewhat off-course, she landed in an open field near Londonderry in northern Ireland. On climbing from her plane a man approached. She asked:
"Where am I?"...the man replied "in Gallegher's pasture...have you come far?"..."from America", she replied.
She had broken several records on this flight...the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo and only person to fly it twice...the longest non-stop distance flown by a woman...and a record for crossing in the shortest time.
George joined Amelia in London, and after spending several weeks touring Europe they returned to New York to a tickertape parade. President Hoover presented Amelia with the Special Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Honors of all kinds continued to be heaped on Amelia and keys of various cities bestowed. Amelia was voted Outstanding Woman of the Year which she accepted on behalf of "all women". The French press ended an article about Amelia's accomplishment with..."can she bake a cake?" ...Amelia replied...
"So I accept these awards on behalf of the cake bakers and all of those other women who can do some things quite as important, if not more important, than flying, as well as in the name of women flying today."
In the autumn of 1934, Amelia announced to George that her next venture would be a trans-Pacific flight from Hawaii to California...and then on to Washington D.C. Ten pilots had already lost their lives attempting this crossing. Amelia's flight would be the first in which a civilian plane would carry a two-way radio telephone.
She departed Wheeler Field on January 11, 1935 and landed in Oakland, California to a cheering crowd of thousands. President Roosevelt sent his congratulations..."You have scored again...(and) shown even the "doubting Thomases" that aviation is a science which cannot be limited to men only."
In the following months Amelia was on the road almost non-stop with her lecture tours. After meeting the Consul-General of Mexico at a reception, Amelia flew to Mexico City on a goodwill visit. Upon her return, she announced that she had accepted an appointment at Purdue University in Indiana. She would serve as a consultant in the department for the study of careers for women.
Later in 1935, Amelia began to formulate plans for an around-the-world flight. The Lockheed Electra 10E was chosen as the plane for the flight. The flight would be two major firsts...she would be the first woman, and she would travel the longest possible distance, circumnavigating the globe at its waist.
Fredrick Noonan, a former navigator on the PanAmerican Pacific Clipper, was chosen as the navigator because of his familiarity with the Pacific area. The first leg of the journey would be from Oakland to Hawaii on March 17, 1935.
As Amelia was taking off from Luke Field near Pearl Harbor she over compensated for a dropped right wing and the plane swung to the left out of control. The undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft slide along the runway on its belly. Fortunately there was no fire but a great deal of damage was done to the plane.
The Electra was shipped back to California for repairs as Amelia continued to make plans for another attempt at the around-the-world flight.
Amelia decided since the next attempt would be later in the year, that it would be safer to reverse the original flight plan and fly eastwards due to weather conditions in the Caribbean and Africa.
After delivery of the rebuilt Electra, Amelia departed from Los Angeles, California for Florida on May 21, 1937.
"I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system and I hope this trip is it. Anyway when I have finished this job, I mean to give up long-distance "stunt" flying."
On June 1, 1937 Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan departed Miami, Florida bound for California by traveling around the world. The first destination was San Juan, Puerto Rico...from there skirting the northeast edge of South America and then on to Africa and the Red Sea.
The flight to Karachi was another first...no one had previously flown non-stop from the Red Sea to India before. From Karachi the Electra flew to Calcutta on June 17... from there, on to Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore and Bandoeng.
Monsoon weather prevented departure from Bandoeng 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.
George continued to seek help in the search, but by October he too abandoned all hope of finding them alive.
Amelia regularly sent letters to George at stops along her route. These were published in the book "Last Flight."