Amelia Earhart, born in 1897, is primarily remembered for her unexplained disappearance, but she was undoubtedly the most inspirational female aviator who ever lived. During her short known life she broke several records in women’s aviation and founded the Ninety-Nines, an organization intended to promote greater roles for females involved aviation.  Amelia Earhart was also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone, a feat she accomplished in 1932. Three years later she matched this by being the first female aviator to cross the Pacific. She vanished while attempting to fly around the world, a task no one, male or female, had ever accomplished. Her life and her disappearance in 1937 remain the stuff of legend.

     The young Amelia Earhart had parents who helped her foster an interest in hobbies typically associated with boys, including sports like football and fishing. This boldness extended to planes as well. After a 10-minute flight with a pilot whom she paid to allow her aboard, she knew her calling was to be an aviator. When she was 25, she obtained her aviator’s license from the Federation Aeronatique Internationale. Shortly afterwards, she set her first record: she was the first female aviator to reach an altitude of 14,000 feet.

     Another female aviator named Amy Guest sought to emulate Charles Lindbergh, who became the first pilot to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Amy Guest, wanting the be the first female to do the same, went so far as to purchase an aircraft for the occasion, but her family refused to allow her to make the flight. Amelia Earhart seized the opportunity and in doing so became the first woman to traverse the Atlantic, although she did so in the company of two other male pilots who largely denied her any role in the proceedings. In her own words, she was “just baggage” on the trip. She felt like only a solo flight like Lindbergh’s could demonstrate her excellence as an aviator.

     After founding the Ninety-nines in 1929, Amelia Earhart went on to break women’s records for both speed and autogiro altitude but remained unsatisfied because she had not met her goal. She did so only in 1932, piloting her plane from Newfoundland to Ireland in about fifteen hours in spite of numerous hazards including unpredictable weather, a malfunctioning altitude gauge, and leaking fuel. The plane even caught fire at one point following a drop of three thousand feet , but she persisted and achieved her goal of being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She received the National Geographic Medal in 1932 from President Hoover and went on to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross from the American Congress. Because of the ensuing publicity, countless omen in America and around the world were inspired to seek their own careers both aviation and in other disciplines. This alone is enough to render her an American heroine, but the fact that she was to soon presumably give her life for her passion makes her even more of one.

     Amelia Earhart went on to break two more records for women, flying coast to coast and then over the Pacific in 1935. Even these feats did not satisfy her – she was resolved now to be the first person to fly around the world. After several inauspicious starts in her purchased Lockheed Model 10E Electra (which had been modified to hold additional fuel tanks), she took off on her fateful flight from Miami on June 1st, 1937. At this time she stated, “I have a feeling 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.”

   After landing in Lae, New Guinea, on June30th, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan had flown 22,000 miles, leaving only 7,000 miles in their round-the-world trip. The world press was following them closely and reporting on their experiences at this time. The last leg of the flight involved flying to tiny Howland Island in the Pacific, 2,500 miles from Lae. The aviator and her navigator took off on the 1st of July for Howland Island and were never heard from again. The last known transmissions from Amelia Earhart were those in which she was requesting to know what the weather was near Howland Island, having encountered a storm. She never made it to the island.  

    Since that time, numerous individuals have offered explanations as to why she disappeared, ranging from fuel shortages to capture by the Japanese, but no one has ever solved the mystery.  One theory insists that Amelia Earhart was an American spy and that her disappearance was staged in order to allow the American government to take pictures of Japanese military bases while pretending to search for her.  One thing is for certain: whatever her fate might have been, Amelia Earhart remains an inspiration to women in American and elsewhere. She is an American heroine that reminds us that anything is possible if we follow our dreams.

Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor