Perhaps the most famous pilot of all time, bridging the gaps between the male and female gender, was Amelia Earhart. She was born to her parents Amy Otis and Edwin Earhart in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1898. Amy was an athletic and strong-willed mother who came from a prominent local family. Edwin was a tall man; the wise son of a local minister. Amelia s father worked as a claims adjuster for railroads a job which required constant travel around the country. As a child Amelia suffered from many common childhood illnesses such as typhoid fever and diphtheria.
She made it through the illnesses and became a bright, creative, and mechanically minded child known for making chicken traps, dangerous ramps for her sled, and even building a backyard roller coaster from scraps of wood. At the young age of ten Amelia saw her first plane at the Iowa State Fair, where she watched a young pilot perform tricks in a beaten up old biplane, “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood,” she later recalled. But Amelia was not interested in the plane in the least and left the fair with a new hat made of a peach basket which she purchased for fifteen cents. Amelia had no idea that in a few years she would leading the way to modern aviation as a form of transportation and even helping women in gaining new opportunities in the male dominated field of aviation.
Amelia s father received a promotion in 1909, which lead to more stress in his already busy life. He began drinking heavily and this put a huge strain on his family life. By the time Amelia was a teenager the family had separated. Amelia went to live in Chicago with her mother and sister Muriel where they had family friends. She graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916 and unsure of her future went to live with Muriel in Toronto, Canada.
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In Toronto Amelia volunteered to be a nurses aid in World War I and continued to do so until the end of the war in November 1918. Amelia and Muriel moved to North Hampton, Massachusetts to specialize in their studies, Muriel attended Smith College and Amelia opted rather for private lessons in music and automotive repair. But her parents were trying to glue back their relationship and Amelia thought that she could help it along by going out to Los Angeles where they were living. It was in Los Angeles that Amelia found her love the airplane and the feeling of flying.
At twenty-three years old Amelia took her first ride in an airplane and that was all she needed. She later wrote in her memoirs that she knew it was her calling to fly, ” I think I d like to fly I told my family casually that evening, knowing full well I d die if I didn t.” Amelia heard about a female pilot who offered lessons on how to fly and to pay for the lessons she took up a job at the local phone company. Amelia knew that she would learn quicker from a strong female pilot and was pleased when she met Neta Snook. Neta was twenty-four, owned a rebuilt Canadian Canuck biplane, and taught out of Kinner Airport.
“S nooky” as she was commonly called, was quickly becoming famous for being the only female pilot in Southern California to give lessons and carry passengers. Neta took Amelia on as a student, which proved to form a bond between the pilot and the soon to be star. In July of 1920 Amelia purchased a prototype of an airplane being developed at the Kinner Airport for two thousand dollars and nicknamed it “the Canary,” because of the yellow colored sheet metal which covered it. She had several accidents during this period, but considering the unreliability of planes in those early days of aviation, many of them could have been attributed to the slowness of the planes. Neta had uncertainties over Amelia s skill as a pilot, a feeling that would later be held be many of Amelia s contemporaries.
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In October of 1922 Amelia proved Neta wrong and broke the women s altitude record by reaching fourteen thousand feet. Amelia eventually sold her beloved “Canary” and bought a car which she nicknamed “the Yellow Peril.” With this car Amelia drove her mother Amy across country to Boston. It was in Boston that the unsuspecting Amelia would receive a call that would once again change her life. In the fall of 1925 Amelia took a job at the Dennison House in Boston as a social worker and later was promoted to staff manager. She joined the Boston Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, and invested what ever money she had in a company that was building an airport in Boston that marketed Kinner airplanes. During her stay in Boston she took advantage of the cultured city to promote aviation especially to the female population.
She was regularly the subject of articles in the Boston Globe which called her “one of the best women pilots in the United States.” In 1927 a then unknown pilot, Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop solo air flight across the Atlantic Ocean. After his flight aviation was popularized and Lindbergh became “Lucky Lindy.” The following year an American living in London organized a flight to give a women the chance to fly across the Atlantic. A panel of experts in America interviewed many women but ultimately chose Amelia for her intelligence, self-confidence, and straightforward demeanor. She wrote ecstatically to her friend, “When a great adventure s offered you-you don t refuse it, that s all.” The twenty hour flight left Newfoundland with pilot Bill Stutz, mechanic Slim Gordon, and Captain Amelia Earhart. When the plane touched down in Wales, England she was greeted by a few farmers, which paled in comparison to Lindbergh s crowd, but it didn t bother her. And once the British press found her she was thrown into the international spotlight and remained there until her mysterious death.
Everyone wanted to meet “Lady Lindy,” the name the British press had given her. She hated the name and said it was an insult to both her and Lindbergh, which showed her desire to be allowed to shine in the spotlight by herself and without the name of another pilot, especially a male pilot. Amelia s good looks and charming wit caught the eye and hearts of many men but she always rejected them claiming that her work was just to important in her life. Until she met George Palmer Putnam, grandson of the founder of G. P.
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Putnam s Publishing Company. Putnam had been had been on the board that selected her for the transatlantic flight. He was a genius at public relations, and arranged to become her manager, agent, and publisher of a book about her great flight. With the help of Putnam s public relations skill her fame grew. She bought another airplane and became the first woman to fly coast to coast and return back. She entered in the first Women s Air Derby which flew from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio in eight days.
She came in third place out of twenty but with the help of Putnam s publicity she was the star of the race. The team grew increasingly closer as her continued managing her career. Putnam eventually divorced his wife in hopes that Amelia would marry him, and after proposing six times she finally said yes in 1930. Both were strong willed people which made for an unusual marriage at first. But Amelia knew that she was equal to any man, unlike many women in the 1930 s and was not afraid to show it. Amelia had always regretted that she had flown across the Atlantic Ocean with two other men so she planned to do it by herself.
In May 1932 she was greeted by an enormous crowd in England including the Royal Family and back in America by parades in her name after finally completing the solo voyage. In the next few years her career exploded. She became close friends with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor. She continued to set new flight records: a New York to Los Angeles speed record, the first flight ever from Hawaii to California, and the first solo flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City. She was also the first person to fly a cross between an airplane and a helicopter called and autogiro, and the first to cross the country nonstop.
Amelia accepted an offer from Purdue University to counsel female students and conduct research in aviation. In exchange the university bought her a new airplane. It was a twin-engine Lockheed Electra 10 E, the largest, fastest, most powerful aircraft she had ever flown. It cost the university eighty thousand dollars which in today s money is about one and a half million dollars. This plane would take Amelia on her final flight and right into history. Amelia decided that she was going to fly her plane around the world.
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A feat accomplished previously by only two pilots, but both on a shorter course in the northern hemisphere. Amelia wanted to fly around the world at the equator. She planned to travel westward from California to Hawaii, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Brazil and back to California in about one month. It took her about a year to finalize the details and raise the money necessary to make the flight. On March 17, 1937 Earhart left California accompanied by navigators Harry Manning and Fred Noonan bound for Hawaii.
The trip to Hawaii went fine but on the take off for the next leg of the flight the plane went out of control. Luckily no one was hurt but the plane required two months of repair work back in California at the Lockheed factory. But Amelia overcame any discouragement she may have had and pushed forward. The flights plans had to be changed to account for seasonal changes so this time they would fly eastward and without the navigation expertise of Harry Manning who had previous engagements to attend.
This time Amelia had decided to leave behind many basic pieces of equipment, such as a trailing wire to help direction finding equipment locate her, a Morse code key, and a five hundred kilocycle radio. But on May 22 the Electra flew from California to Miami and this began her most famous flight ever. No matter what happened on this attempt it was to be her last flight she wanted, “to make way for the younger generation before” she was “feeble.” This time they were on a very tight schedule because Putnam had a series lectures, book contracts, and other commitments lined up for Amelia. The Electra flew all the way to Africa from Miami to South America and the across the Atlantic. Fatigue had been slowly gaining on Earhart and Noonan from sleeping in bug infested mattresses in extremely hot air fields. Once in the Sahara Desert they had to refuel the plane at night to avoid an explosion from the gasoline touching the hot metal of the plane.
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From Africa they continued onto Pakistan, then British India, to Burma then to Lae, New Guinea. It was here in Lae that Earhart was last seen alive. They had to stay in Lae for a longer time than expected because of weather problems but finally prepared for the hardest and longest leg of the trip, seven thousand miles over the Pacific Ocean. On July 2 nd the Electra finally left Lae bound for Howland Island where the U. S. Coast Guard ship Itasca would be waiting for them.
Communications throughout the flight were extremely bad and covered by static. At around five in the morning the only words able to be understood by the crew of the Itasca were “partly cloudy.” There was no sign of the Electra until seven forty-two in the morning, “We must be on you, but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at altitude one thousand feet.” The crew clearly heard the entire broadcast signaling that the plane was close. At seven fifty-eight she signaled once more, “KHA QQ calling Itasca.
We are circling, but cannot hear you. Go ahead on seventy five hundred either now or on scheduled time of half hour.” At eight fifteen the Itasca heard the last broadcast from the Electra, “We are on line of position 157 dash 337. Will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait, listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south.” The Itasca tried to reply but got no response. They knew that she was in serious danger, and that began the largest sea rescue in history.
The search cost the United States four million dollars total and covered an area as large as Texas, two hundred and fifty thousand square miles. On January 5 th, 1939 Amelia Earhart was officially declared dead. There are still to this day many different “explanations” about what may have happened to Amelia on that fateful day in July. Many outrageous stories tell of her being captured by the Japanese for spying on the onset of the war and even becoming a disc jockey on Japanese radio who encouraged American soldiers to give up the war effort. But what no one can deny is that she was a strong willed woman who pushed on no matter what. She overcame stereo types about women being weak willed, weak minded, and inferior to men.
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The story of the disappearing was one of the top ten stories reported in the century. Amelia Earhart truly showed the women of the 1900 s that they could do anything that men could do. Amelia was fortunate to meet such a powerful and influential man in George Putnam, however without her sense of determination none of the things she accomplished would have been done. And even though she didn t make it all the way around the world, her mysterious death in the Pacific reached millions of people, men and women together, and let people know that women can be more determined to do risky things than men. She paved the way for countless women first s from Sally Ride to the WNBA, but she will always be remembered as the most famous pilot ever.