What led Amelia Earhart to become an aviator?

24 Jul 2012

Amelia Earhart. Image from Amelia Earhart Facebook page

Today marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering US aviator who became the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic and who subsequently disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937.

Since her ill-fated voyage, when Earhart’s plane, the Electra, which had also been carrying her navigator, went down somewhere near Howland Island on 2 July 1937, the world has been fascinated by this aviation trailblazer and many attempts have been made to find the wreckage of the aircraft.

Just today, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) conceded that its US$2.2m expedition to get images of the wreckage of the Electra aircraft has been unsuccessful.

“We are, of course, disappointed that we did not make a dramatic and conclusive discovery, but we are undaunted in our commitment to keep searching out and assembling the pieces of the Earhart puzzle,” the group confirmed yesterday.

Google has revered Earhart today with a stylish Doodle that depicts the aviator sitting on a plane that has been ‘Googleised’.

But what do we know of the woman who made the first female solo voyage over the Atlantic Ocean in 1932?

According to the U.S Centennial of Flight Commission, it was Earhart’s parents who encouraged her to engage in activities such as fishing, football and baseball.

It seems that an event at an airshow in Los Angeles in 1920 was to really inspire her aviation career. At that airshow, the story goes that Earhart’s father paid the acclaimed aviator Frank Hawks US$10 to take her on her first flight, a 10-minute jaunt.

Earhart, who was 23 at the time, was reported as saying: “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground I knew I had to fly.”

Amelia Earhart

Here’s a brief timeline to give some insight into Earhart’s life.

1897 – Born on 24 July in Atchison, Kansas.

1921 to 1922 – Taught to fly by Neta Snook, the first woman to graduate from the Curtiss School of Aviation.

1922 – Earhart received her pilot’s licence from the Federation Aeronatique Internationale. In that same year she set a women’s altitude record of 14,000 feet in an open-cockpit, single-engine bi-plane known as a Kinner Canary.

1929 – Earhart co-founded the Ninety-Nines, an organisation that aimed to advance women’s participation in aviation.

1928 – On 4 June she set off from Newfoundland with Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon in their red Fokker F.VII called the Friendship on their 3219-kilometre trip to Wales.

1932 – On 20/21 May, Earhart succeeded in flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She left Newfoundland on 20 May. She brought her plane down on the coast of Ireland after a trip lasting 15 hours and 18 minutes, during which Earhart had to overcome many dangers, including leaking gasoline, the plane going into a spin and a broken altimeter.

Her flight was the second solo flight across the Atlantic – Charles Lindbergh had made the first such flight in 1927.

1935 – Earhart succeeded in becoming the first woman to make a solo long-distance flight over the Pacific Ocean. She flew from Honolulu, Hawaii, to San Francisco, California.

1937 – On 1 June, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed Miami, Florida, for their attempt to make a round-the-world flight in her military aircraft, the Electra. Their first stop was San Juan in Puerto Rico.

– On 30 June, Earhart and Noonan arrived in Lae, New Guinea, having flown 35,405 kilometres. They had 11,265 kilometres to go in their attempt to circumnavigate the globe. A tiny island in the Pacific Ocean – Howland Island – was their next stop.

– The plane never reached Howland Island and is believed to have disappeared somewhere off the coast of the island on 2 July 1937.

The remains of Earhart or Noonan have never been found. Neither have any traces of the Electra plane ever been found.

Credit: U.S Centennial of Flight Commission

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic