Amelia Earhart

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Amelia Earhart

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Amelia Earhart
Earhart beneath the nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, March 1937 in Oakland, California, before departing on her final round-the-world attempt prior to her disappearance
BornAmelia Mary Earhart
July 24, 1897
Atchison, Kansas, U.S.
DisappearedJuly 2, 1937 (aged 39)
Pacific Ocean, en route to Howland Island from LaeNew Guinea
StatusPresumed dead[1]
January 5, 1939 (aged 41)
Other namesLady Lindy (after Charles Lindbergh)Meeley (childhood)
Alma materOgontz School
Columbia University
(did not graduate from either)
Known forMany early aviation records, including first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
SpouseGeorge P. Putnam ​(m.1931)​
Parent(s)Samuel Stanton and Amelia Otis Earhart
AwardsDistinguished Flying Cross
Légion d’honneur
National Aviation Hall of Fame
National Women’s Hall of Fame

Amelia Mary Earhart (/ˈɛərhɑːrt/ AIR-hart, born July 24, 1897; disappeared July 2, 1937; declared dead January 5, 1939) was an American aviation pioneer and writer.[2][Note 1] Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.[4] She set many other records,[3][Note 2] was one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.[6]

Born and raised in Atchison, Kansas, and later in Des Moines, Iowa, Earhart developed a passion for adventure at a young age, steadily gaining flying experience from her twenties. In 1928, Earhart became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by airplane (accompanying pilot Wilmer Stultz), for which she achieved celebrity status. In 1932, piloting a Lockheed Vega 5B, Earhart made a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to achieve such a feat. She received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross for this accomplishment.[7] In 1935, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University as an advisor to aeronautical engineering and a career counselor to female students. She was also a member of the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.[8][9] Known as one of the most inspirational American figures in aviation from the late 1920s throughout the 1930s, Earhart’s legacy is often compared to the early aeronautical career of pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh, as well as to figures like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for their close friendship and lasting impact on the issue of women’s causes from that period.

During an attempt at becoming the first woman to complete a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. The two were last seen in LaeNew Guinea, on July 2, 1937, on the last land stop before Howland Island and one of their final legs of the flight. She presumably died in the Pacific during the circumnavigation, just three weeks prior to her fortieth birthday.[10] Nearly one year and six months after she and Noonan disappeared, Earhart was officially declared dead. Investigations and significant public interest in their disappearance still continue over 80 years later.[Note 3]

Decades after her presumed death, Earhart was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1968 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1973. She now has several commemorative memorials named in her honor around the United States, including an urban park, an airport, a residence hall, a museum, a research foundation, a bridge, a cargo ship, an earth-fill dam, four schools, a hotel, a playhouse, a library, multiple roads, and more. She also has a minor planetplanetary corona, and newly-discovered lunar crater named after her. She is ranked ninth on Flying‘s list of the 51 Heroes of Aviation.[12]


Early life


Earhart as a child

Earhart was the daughter of Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart (1867–1930) and Amelia “Amy” (née Otis; 1869–1962).[13] She was born in Atchison, Kansas, in the home of her maternal grandfather, Alfred Gideon Otis (1827–1912), who was a former federal judge, the president of the Atchison Savings Bank and a leading citizen in the town. Earhart was the second child of the marriage after an infant was stillborn in August 1896.[14] She was of part German descent. Alfred Otis had not initially favored the marriage and was not satisfied with Edwin’s progress as a lawyer.[15]

According to family custom, Earhart was named after her two grandmothers, Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton.[14] From an early age, Earhart was the ringleader while her sister Grace Muriel Earhart (1899–1998), two years her junior, acted as the dutiful follower.[16] Amelia was nicknamed “Meeley” (sometimes “Millie”) and Grace was nicknamed “Pidge”; both girls continued to answer to their childhood nicknames well into adulthood.[14] Their upbringing was unconventional, as Amy Earhart did not believe in raising her children to be “nice little girls”.[17] But their maternal grandmother disapproved of the “bloomers” they wore, and although Earhart liked the freedom of movement they provided, she was sensitive to the fact that the neighborhood’s girls wore dresses.

Early influence

1963 U.S. Postal stamp honoring Earhart

A spirit of adventure seemed to abide in the Earhart children, with the pair setting off daily to explore their neighborhood.[Note 4] As a child, Earhart spent long hours playing with sister Pidge, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle, and “belly-slamming” her sled downhill.[19] Although the love of the outdoors and “rough-and-tumble” play was common to many youngsters, some biographers have characterized the young Earhart as a tomboy.[20] The girls kept “worms, moths, katydids and a tree toad”[21] in a growing collection gathered in their outings. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, Earhart cobbled together a home-made ramp, fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen on a trip to St. Louis, and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Earhart’s well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a bruised lip, torn dress and a “sensation of exhilaration”. She exclaimed, “Oh, Pidge, it’s just like flying!”[15]

Although there had been some missteps in Edwin Earhart’s career up to that point, in 1907 his job as a claims officer for the Rock Island Railroad led to a transfer to Des Moines, Iowa. The next year, at the age of 10,[22] Earhart saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.[23][24] Her father tried to interest his daughters in taking a flight. One look at the rickety “flivver” was enough for Earhart, who promptly asked if they could go back to the merry-go-round.[25] She later described the biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting”.[26]


Sisters Amelia and Muriel (who went by her middle name from her teens on) remained with their grandparents in Atchison while their parents moved into new, smaller quarters in Des Moines. During this period, the Earhart girls received home-schooling from their mother and governess. Amelia later recounted that she was “exceedingly fond of reading”[27] and spent countless hours in the large family library. In 1909, when the family was finally reunited in Des Moines, the Earhart children were enrolled in public school for the first time and Amelia, 12, entered seventh grade.

Family fortunes

Earhart in evening clothes

While the family’s finances seemingly improved with the acquisition of a new house and even the hiring of two servants, it soon became apparent that Edwin was an alcoholic. Five years later in 1914, he was forced to retire and although he attempted to rehabilitate himself through treatment, he was never reinstated at the Rock Island Railroad. At about this time, Earhart’s grandmother Amelia Otis died suddenly, leaving a substantial estate that placed her daughter’s share in a trust, fearing that Edwin’s drinking would drain the funds. The Otis house was auctioned along with all of its contents; Earhart was heartbroken and later described it as the end of her childhood.[28]

In 1915, after a long search, Earhart’s father found work as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Earhart entered Central High School as a junior. Edwin applied for a transfer to Springfield, Missouri, in 1915, but the current claims officer reconsidered his retirement and demanded his job back, leaving the elder Earhart with nowhere to go. Facing another calamitous move, Amy Earhart took her children to Chicago, where they lived with friends. Earhart made an unusual condition in the choice of her next schooling; she canvassed nearby high schools in Chicago to find the best science program. She rejected the high school nearest her home when she complained that the chemistry lab was “just like a kitchen sink”.[29] She eventually enrolled in Hyde Park High School but spent a miserable semester where a yearbook caption captured the essence of her unhappiness, “A.E. – the girl in brown who walks alone”.[30]

Earhart graduated from Chicago’s Hyde Park High School in 1916.[31] Throughout her troubled childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.[22] She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania, but did not complete her program.[32][33][Note 5]

During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in TorontoWorld War I had been raging and Earhart saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a nurse’s aide from the Red Cross, she began work with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital’s dispensary,[34][35] there Earhart heard stories from military pilots, developing an interest in flying.[36][37]

Spanish flu pandemic of 1918

When the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic reached Toronto, Earhart was engaged in arduous nursing duties that included night shifts at the Spadina Military Hospital.[38][39] She became a patient herself, experiencing pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis.[38] She was hospitalized in early November 1918, owing to pneumonia, and discharged in December 1918, about two months after the illness had started.[38] Her sinus-related symptoms were pain and pressure around one eye and copious mucus drainage via the nostrils and throat.[40] While staying in the hospital during the pre-antibiotic era, she had painful minor operations to wash out the affected maxillary sinus,[38][39][40] but these procedures were not successful and Earhart subsequently had worsening headaches. Her convalescence lasted nearly a year, which she spent at her sister’s home in Northampton, Massachusetts.[39] She passed the time by reading poetry, learning to play the banjo, and studying mechanics.[38] Chronic sinusitis significantly affected Earhart’s flying and activities in later life,[40] and sometimes even on the airfield she was forced to wear a bandage on her cheek to cover a small drainage tube.[41]

Early flying experiences

Earhart perched atop the dome of Low Memorial Library at Columbia in 1920. Earhart recalled in a 1933 interview, that “The first adventure I had at Columbia was in the air. I climbed to the top of the Library and then I descended into the intricate tunnels.”[42]

At about that time, Earhart and a young woman friend visited an air fair held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. “The interest, aroused in me, in Toronto, led me to all the air circuses in the vicinity”[43] One of the highlights of the day was a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ace.[44] The pilot overhead spotted Earhart and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dived at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,'” she said. Earhart stood her ground as the aircraft came close. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”[45]

By 1919, Earhart prepared to enter Smith College but changed her mind and enrolled at Columbia University, in a course in medical studies among other programs.[46] She quit a year later to be with her parents, who had reunited in California.

L–R: Neta Snook, Earhart’s Kinner Airster and Amelia Earhart, c. 1921[47][48]

On December 28, 1920, Earhart and her father attended an “aerial meet”[49] at Daugherty Field in Long Beach, California. She asked her father, Edwin, to ask about passenger flights and flying lessons.[43] She was booked for a passenger flight the following day at Emory Roger’s Field, at the corner[50] of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.[43] The cost was $10 for a 10 minute flight with Frank Hawks (who later gained fame as an air racer). Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change Earhart’s life. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet [60–90 m] off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.”[51]

The next month Earhart recruited Neta Snook to be her flying instructor. The initial contract was for 12 hours of instruction, for $500.[43] Working at a variety of jobs including photographer, truck driver, and stenographer at the local telephone company, she managed to save $1,000 for flying lessons. Earhart had her first lesson on January 3, 1921, at Kinner Field on the west side of Long Beach Boulevard and Tweedy Road,[49] now in the city of South Gate. Snook used a crash-salvaged Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck”, that Snook had restored, for training. In order to reach the airfield, Earhart had to take a bus to the end of the line, then walk four miles (6 km). Earhart’s mother also provided part of the $1,000 “stake” against her “better judgement”.[52]

Earhart’s commitment to flying required her to accept the frequent hard work and rudimentary conditions that accompanied early aviation training.[citation needed] To complete her image transformation, she also cropped her hair short in the style of other female flyers.[53] Six months later in the summer of 1921, Earhart purchased a secondhand bright chromium yellow Kinner Airster biplane, against Snook’s advice,[43] which she nicknamed “The Canary”. After her first successful solo landing, she bought a new leather flying coat.[43] Due to the newness of the coat, she was subjected to teasing, so she aged her coat by sleeping in it and staining it with aircraft oil.[43]

On October 22, 1922, Earhart flew the Airster to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,300 m), setting a world record for female pilots.[citation needed] On May 16, 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilot’s license (#6017)[54] by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).[55] [Note 6]

Aviation career and marriage

Amelia Earhart, Los Angeles, 1928
X5665 – 1926 “CIT-9 Safety Plane”

Financial crisis

Throughout the early 1920s, following a disastrous investment in a failed gypsum mine, Earhart’s inheritance from her grandmother, which was now administered by her mother, steadily diminished until it was exhausted. Consequently, with no immediate prospects for recouping her investment in flying, Earhart sold the “Canary” as well as a second Kinner and bought a yellow Kissel Gold Bug “Speedster” two-seat automobile, which she named the “Yellow Peril”. Simultaneously, Earhart experienced an exacerbation of her old sinus problem as her pain worsened and in early 1924 she was hospitalized for another sinus operation, which was again unsuccessful. After trying her hand at a number of ventures that included setting up a photography company, Earhart set out in a new direction.[56]


Following her parents’ divorce in 1924, she drove her mother in the “Yellow Peril” on a transcontinental trip from California with stops throughout the western United States and a jaunt up to Banff, Alberta. The meandering tour eventually brought the pair to BostonMassachusetts, where Earhart underwent another sinus operation which was more successful. After recuperation, she returned to Columbia University for several months but was forced to abandon her studies and any further plans for enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, because her mother could no longer afford the tuition fees and associated costs. Soon after, she found employment first as a teacher, then as a social worker in 1925 at Denison House, a Boston settlement house.[57] At this time, she lived in Medford, Massachusetts.

When Earhart lived in Medford, she maintained her interest in aviation, becoming a member of the American Aeronautical Society’s Boston chapter and was eventually elected its vice president.[58] She flew out of Dennison Airport (later the Naval Air Station Squantum) in Quincy, Massachusetts, and helped finance its operation by investing a small sum of money.[59] Earhart also flew the first official flight out of Dennison Airport in 1927.[60] Along with acting as a sales representative for Kinner Aircraft in the Boston area, Earhart wrote local newspaper columns promoting flying and as her local celebrity grew, she laid out the plans for an organization devoted to female flyers.[61]

Transatlantic flight in 1928

Photo of Amelia Earhart prior to her transatlantic crossing of June 17, 1928

After Charles Lindbergh‘s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Guest (1873–1959) expressed interest in being the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic Ocean. After deciding that the trip was too perilous for her to undertake, she offered to sponsor the project, suggesting that they find “another girl with the right image”. While at work one afternoon in April 1928, Earhart got a phone call from Capt. Hilton H. Railey, who asked her, “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”

Commemoration Stone for Amelia Earhart’s 1928 transatlantic flight, next to the quay side in Burry PortWales

The project coordinators (including book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam) interviewed Earhart and asked her to accompany pilot Wilmer Stultz and copilot/mechanic Louis Gordon on the flight, nominally as a passenger, but with the added duty of keeping the flight log. The team departed from Trepassey HarborNewfoundland, in a Fokker F.VIIb/3m named “Friendship” on June 17, 1928, landing at Pwll near Burry Port, South Wales, exactly 20 hours and 40 minutes later.[62] There is a commemorative blue plaque at the site.[63] Since most of the flight was on instruments and Earhart had no training for this type of flying, she did not pilot the aircraft. When interviewed after landing, she said, “Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” She added, “… maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”[64]

Earhart reportedly received a rousing welcome on June 19, 1928, when she landed at Woolston in Southampton, England.[65] She flew the Avro Avian 594 Avian III, SN: R3/AV/101 owned by Lady Mary Heath and later purchased the aircraft and had it shipped back to the United States (where it was assigned “unlicensed aircraft identification mark” 7083).[66]

When the Stultz, Gordon, and Earhart flight crew returned to the United States on July 6, they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan, followed by a reception with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

Celebrity image

Earhart walking with President Hoover in the grounds of the White House on January 2, 1932

Trading on her physical resemblance to Lindbergh,[67] whom the press had dubbed “Lucky Lindy”, some newspapers and magazines began referring to Earhart as “Lady Lindy”.[68][Note 7] The United Press was more grandiloquent; to them, Earhart was the reigning “Queen of the Air”.[69] Immediately after her return to the United States, she undertook an exhausting lecture tour in 1928 and 1929. Meanwhile, Putnam had undertaken to heavily promote her in a campaign that included publishing a book she authored, a series of new lecture tours and using pictures of her in mass-market endorsements for products including luggage, Lucky Strike cigarettes (this caused image problems for her, with McCall’s magazine retracting an offer)[70] and women’s clothing and sportswear. The money that she made from Lucky Strike had been earmarked for a $1,500 donation to Commander Richard Byrd‘s imminent South Pole expedition.[70]

The marketing campaign by both Earhart and Putnam was successful in establishing the Earhart mystique in the public psyche.[71] Rather than simply endorsing the products, Earhart actively became involved in the promotions, especially in women’s fashions. For a number of years she had sewn her own clothes, but the “active living” lines that were sold in 50 stores such as Macy’s in metropolitan areas were an expression of a new Earhart image.[72] Her concept of simple, natural lines matched with wrinkle-proof, washable materials was the embodiment of a sleek, purposeful, but feminine “A.E.” (the familiar name she went by with family and friends).[69][73] The luggage line that she promoted (marketed as Modernaire Earhart Luggage) also bore her unmistakable stamp.

A wide range of promotional items bearing the Earhart name appeared.

Promoting aviation

Studio portrait of Amelia Earhart, c. 1932. Putnam specifically instructed Earhart to disguise a “gap-toothed” smile by keeping her mouth closed in formal photographs.

Celebrity endorsements helped Earhart finance her flying.[74] Accepting a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, she turned this forum into an opportunity to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially focusing on the role of women entering the field.[75] In 1929, Earhart was among the first aviators to promote commercial air travel through the development of a passenger airline service; along with Charles Lindbergh, she represented Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, later TWA) alongside Margaret Bartlett Thornton[76] and invested time and money in setting up the first regional shuttle service between New York and Washington, D.C., the Ludington Airline. She was a Vice President of National Airways, which conducted the flying operations of the Boston-Maine Airways and several other airlines in the northeast.[77] By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.

Competitive flying

Although Earhart had gained fame for her transatlantic flight, she endeavored to set an “untarnished” record of her own.[78] Shortly after her return, piloting Avian 7083, she set off on her first long solo flight that occurred just as her name was coming into the national spotlight. By making the trip in August 1928, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back.[79] Her piloting skills and professionalism gradually grew, as acknowledged by experienced professional pilots who flew with her. General Leigh Wade flew with Earhart in 1929: “She was a born flier, with a delicate touch on the stick.”[80]

Earhart subsequently made her first attempt at competitive air racing in 1929 during the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women’s Air Derby (nicknamed the “Powder Puff Derby” by Will Rogers), which left Santa Monica, California on August 18 and arrived at Cleveland, Ohio on August 26. During the race, she settled into fourth place in the “heavy planes” division. At the second to last stop at Columbus, her friend Ruth Nichols, who was coming in third, had an accident while on a test flight before the race recommenced. Nichols’ aircraft hit a tractor at the start of the runway and flipped over, forcing her out of the race.[81] At Cleveland, Earhart was placed third in the heavy division.[82][83]

In 1930, Earhart became an official of the National Aeronautic Association, where she actively promoted the establishment of separate women’s records and was instrumental in the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) accepting a similar international standard.[75] On April 8, 1931,[84][85] she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet (5,613 m) flying a Pitcairn PCA-2[86] autogyro borrowed from Beech-Nut Chewing Gum.[87][88][89][90]

During this period, Earhart became involved with The Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots providing moral support and advancing the cause of women in aviation. She had called a meeting of female pilots in 1929 following the Women’s Air Derby. She suggested the name based on the number of the charter members; she later became the organization’s first president in 1930.[6] Earhart was a vigorous advocate for female pilots and when the 1934 Bendix Trophy Race banned women, she openly refused to fly screen actress Mary Pickford to Cleveland to open the races.[91]

Marriage to George Putnam

Earhart and Putnam in 1931

Earhart was engaged to Samuel Chapman, a chemical engineer from Boston; she broke off the engagement on November 23, 1928.[92] During the same period, Earhart and publisher George P. Putnam had spent a great deal of time together. Putnam, who was known as GP, was divorced in 1929 and sought out Earhart, proposing to her six times before she finally agreed to marry him.[Note 8] They married on February 7, 1931, in Putnam’s mother’s house in Noank, Connecticut. Earhart referred to her marriage as a “partnership” with “dual control”. In a letter written to Putnam and hand-delivered to him on the day of the wedding, she wrote, “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” She continued, “I may have to keep some place where I can go to be by myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.”[Note 9][95][96]

Earhart’s ideas on marriage were liberal for the time, as she believed in equal responsibilities for both breadwinners and pointedly kept her own name rather than being referred to as “Mrs. Putnam”. When The New York Times, per the rules of its stylebook, insisted on referring to her as Mrs. Putnam, she laughed it off. Putnam also learned that he would be called “Mr. Earhart”.[97] There was no honeymoon for the newlyweds, as Earhart was involved in a nine-day cross-country tour promoting autogyros and the tour sponsor, Beech-Nut chewing gum. Although Earhart and Putnam never had children, he had two sons by his previous marriage to Dorothy Binney (1888–1982),[98] a chemical heiress whose father’s company, Binney & Smith, invented Crayola crayons:[99] the explorer and writer David Binney Putnam (1913–1992) and George Palmer Putnam, Jr. (1921–2013).[100] Earhart was especially fond of David, who frequently visited his father at their family home, which was on the grounds of The Apawamis Club in Rye, New York. George had contracted polio shortly after his parents’ separation and was unable to visit as often.

Transatlantic solo flight in 1932

Monument in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador

Lockheed Vega 5B flown by Amelia Earhart as seen on display at the National Air and Space Museum

On the morning[citation needed] of May 20, 1932, 34-year-old Earhart set off from Harbour GraceNewfoundland, with a copy of the Telegraph-Journal, given to her by journalist Stuart Trueman[101] to confirm the date of the flight.[101] She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to emulate Charles Lindbergh‘s solo flight five years earlier.[102][Note 10] Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen, who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of “decoy” for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart’s Vega for his own Arctic flight.[Note 11] After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes, during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of DerryNorthern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America”.[105][106]

Amelia Earhart Museum, Derry

As the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, Earhart received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French Government and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society[107] from President Herbert Hoover. As her fame grew, she developed friendships with many people in high offices, most notably First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt shared many of Earhart’s interests and passions, especially women’s causes. After flying with Earhart, Roosevelt obtained a student permit but did not further pursue her plans to learn to fly. The two friends communicated frequently throughout their lives.[Note 12] Another flyer, Jacqueline Cochran, who was said to be Earhart’s rival, also became her confidante during this period.[109]

Additional solo flights

On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California.[Note 13][110][111][112] Although this transoceanic flight had been attempted by many others, notably by the unfortunate participants in the 1927 Dole Air Race that had reversed the route, her trailblazing[113] flight had been mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns. In her final hours, she even relaxed and listened to “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York”.[113]

In a Stearman-Hammond Y-1

That year, once more flying her Lockheed Vega airliner that Earhart had tagged “old Bessie, the fire horse”,[Note 14][115] she flew solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City on April 19. The next record attempt was a nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York. Setting off on May 8, her flight was uneventful, although the large crowds that greeted her at Newark, New Jersey, were a concern,[116] because she had to be careful not to taxi into the throng.

Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage, because her stock Lockheed Vega, which topped out at 195 mph (314 km/h), was outclassed by purpose-built air racers that reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h).[117] The race had been a particularly difficult one, as a competitor, Cecil Allen, died in a fiery takeoff mishap, and rival Jacqueline Cochran was forced to pull out due to mechanical problems. In addition, “blinding fog”[118] and violent thunderstorms plagued the race.

Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft, including the Kinner Airster, Lockheed Vega, and Pitcairn Autogiro. By 1935, recognizing the limitations of her “lovely red Vega” in long, transoceanic flights, Earhart contemplated, in her own words, a new “prize … one flight which I most wanted to attempt – a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be”.[119] For the new venture, she would need a new aircraft.

Move from New York to California

Amelia Earhart talking to Charles T.P. Ulm at Oakland Airport, California, USA, 1934

While Earhart was away on a speaking tour in late November 1934, a fire broke out at the Putnam residence in Rye, destroying many family treasures and Earhart’s personal mementos.[120] Putnam had already sold his interest in the New York-based publishing company to his cousin, Palmer Putnam. Following the fire, the couple decided to move to the West Coast, where Putnam took up his new position as head of the editorial board of Paramount Pictures in North Hollywood.[121][Note 15] While speaking in California in late 1934, Earhart had contacted Hollywood “stunt” pilot Paul Mantz in order to improve her flying, focusing especially on long-distance flying in her Vega, and wanted to move closer to him.

At Earhart’s urging, Putnam purchased a small house in June 1935 adjacent to the clubhouse of the Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake, a San Fernando Valley celebrity enclave community nestled between the Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures studio complexes, where they had earlier rented a temporary residence.[122][123] Earhart and Putnam would not move in immediately, however; they decided to do considerable remodeling and enlarge the existing small structure to meet their needs. This delayed the occupation of their new home for several months.[124]

In September 1935, Earhart and Mantz formally established a business partnership that they had been considering since late 1934, by creating the short-lived Earhart-Mantz Flying School, which Mantz controlled and operated through his aviation company, United Air Services. The company was located at the Burbank Airport, about five miles (8 km) from Earhart’s Toluca Lake home. Putnam handled publicity for the school that primarily taught instrument flying using Link Trainers.[125]

World flight in 1937

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E. During its modification, the aircraft had most of the cabin windows blanked out and had specially fitted fuselage fuel tanks. The round RDF loop antenna can be seen above the cockpit. This image was taken at Luke Field on March 20, 1937; the plane would crash later that morning.


In 1935, Earhart joined Purdue University as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to its Department of Aeronautics.[118][Note 16] Early in 1936, Earhart started planning a round-the-world flight. Although others had flown around the world, her flight would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km) because it followed a roughly equatorial route. With financing from Purdue,[Note 17] in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E (reg. NR16020) was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications, which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate many additional fuel tanks.[127] Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane her “flying laboratory”. The plane was built at Lockheed’s Burbank, California, plant, and after delivery it was hangared at Mantz’s United Air Services, which was just across the airfield from the Lockheed plant.[128]

Although the Electra was publicized as a “flying laboratory”, little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book.[129] Earhart chose Captain Harry Manning as her navigator; he had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.[126] Manning was not only a navigator, but he was also a pilot and a skilled radio operator who knew Morse code.[130]

Earhart and Noonan by the Lockheed L10 Electra at Darwin, Australia on June 28, 1937

The original plan was a two-person crew. Earhart would fly and Manning would navigate. During a flight across the country that included Earhart, Manning, and Putnam, Earhart flew using landmarks. She and Putnam knew where they were. Manning did a navigation fix, but that fix alarmed Putnam, because Manning’s position put them in the wrong state. They were flying close to the state line, so the navigation error was minor, but Putnam was still concerned.[131] Sometime later, Putnam and Mantz arranged a night flight to test Manning’s navigational skill.[132] Under poor navigational conditions, Manning’s position was off by 20 miles. Elgen M. and Marie K. Long consider Manning’s performance reasonable because it was within an acceptable error of 30 miles, but Mantz and Putnam wanted a better navigator.[133]

Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator because there were significant additional factors that had to be dealt with while using celestial navigation for aircraft.[133][134] Noonan was experienced in both marine (he was a licensed ship’s captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company’s China Clipper seaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American’s navigators for the route between San Francisco and Manila.[135][Note 18] The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

First attempt

On March 17, 1937, Earhart and her crew flew the first leg from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition to Earhart and Noonan, Harry Manning and Mantz (who was acting as Earhart’s technical advisor) were on board. Due to lubrication and galling problems with the propeller hubs’ variable pitch mechanisms, the aircraft needed servicing in Hawaii. Ultimately, the Electra ended up at the United States Navy’s Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The flight resumed three days later from Luke Field with Earhart, Noonan and Manning on board. The next destination was Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific. Manning, the only skilled radio operator, had made arrangements to use radio direction finding to home in to the island. The flight never left Luke Field. During the takeoff run, there was an uncontrolled ground-loop, the forward landing gear collapsed, both propellers hit the ground, the plane skidded on its belly, and a portion of the runway was damaged.[136] The cause of the ground-loop is controversial. Some witnesses at Luke Field, including the Associated Press journalist, said they saw a tire blow.[137] Earhart thought either the Electra’s right tire had blown and/or the right landing gear had collapsed. Some sources, including Mantz, cited pilot error.[137]

With the aircraft severely damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was shipped by sea to the Lockheed Burbank facility for repairs.[138]

Manning, having taken a leave of absence to do the flight, felt that there had been too many problems and delays. He ended his association with the trip, leaving only Earhart with Noonan, neither of whom were skilled radio operators.

Second attempt

The planned flight route

While the Electra was being repaired, Earhart and Putnam secured additional funds and prepared for a second attempt. This time flying west to east, the second attempt began with an unpublicized flight from Oakland to Miami, Florida, and after arriving there Earhart publicly announced her plans to circumnavigate the globe. The flight’s opposite direction was partly the result of changes in global wind and weather patterns along the planned route since the earlier attempt. On this second flight, Fred Noonan was Earhart’s only crew member. The pair departed Miami on June 1 and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, arrived at LaeNew Guinea, on June 29, 1937. At this stage, about 22,000 miles (35,000 km) of the journey had been completed. The remaining 7,000 miles (11,000 km) would be over the Pacific.

Departure from Lae

On July 2, 1937 at 10:00 in the morning (midnight GMT), Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae Airfield (06°43′59″S 146°59′45″E)[143] in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island (0°48′24″N 176°36′59″W),[144] a flat sliver of land 6,500 ft (2,000 m) long and 1,600 ft (500 m) wide, 10 ft (3 m) high and 2,556 miles (2,221 nmi; 4,113 km) away.[Note 19] The expected flying time was about 20 hours, so, accounting for the 2-hour time-zone difference between Lae and Howland and crossing of the International Dateline, the aircraft was expected to arrive at Howland the morning of the next day, 2 July. The aircraft departed Lae with about 1100 gallons of gasoline.[145]

In March 1937, Kelly Johnson had recommended engine and altitude settings for the Electra. One of the recommended schedules was:[146][Note 20]

AltitudeRPMinchesCambridge[Note 21]Fuel consumption [gph]Hoursfuel used [gal]octane[Note 22]
10000160024.0 or full throttle.0723815.7 (calculated)110087

Earhart used part of the above schedule for the Oakland to Honolulu leg of the first world flight attempt. Johnson estimated that 900 gallons of fuel would provide 40% more range than required for that leg. Using 900 gallons was 250 gallons less than the Electra’s maximum fuel tank capacity; that meant a weight savings of 1,500 pounds (680 kg), so Earhart included Mantz as a passenger on that leg. The Oakland to Honolulu leg had Earhart, Noonan, Manning, and Mantz on board. The flight from Oakland to Honolulu took 16 hours.[147] The Electra also loaded 900 gallons of fuel for the shorter Honolulu to Howland leg (with only Earhart, Noonan, and Manning on board), but the airplane crashed on take off; the crash ended the first world flight attempt.[148]

Around 3 pm Lae time, Earhart reported her altitude as 10,000 ft but that they would reduce altitude due to thick clouds. Around 5 pm, Earhart reported her altitude as 7,000 ft and speed as 150 knots.[149]

Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles (700 nmi; 1,300 km) into the flight.

During the flight, Noonan may have been able to do some celestial navigation to determine his position. If crossing the International Dateline was not taken into account, a 1° or 60 mile position error would result.[150]

Radio equipment

In preparation for the trip to Howland Island, the U.S. Coast Guard had sent the cutter USCGC Itasca (1929) to the island. The cutter offered many services such as ferrying news reporters to the island, but it also had communication and navigation functions. The plan was the cutter could: communicate with Earhart’s aircraft via radio; transmit a radio homing signal to make it easy to find Howland Island without precise celestial navigation; do radio direction finding if Earhart used her 500 kHz transmitter; use an experimental high-frequency direction finder for Earhart’s voice transmissions; and use her boilers to “make smoke” (create a dark column of smoke that can be seen over the horizon). All of the navigation methods would fail to guide Earhart to Howland Island.

The Electra had radio equipment for both communication and navigation, but details about that equipment are not clear. The Electra failed to establish two-way radio communications with USCGC Itasca (1929) and failed to radiolocate Itasca. Many explanations have been proposed for those failures.

The plane had a modified Western Electric model 13C transmitter. The 50-watt transmitter was crystal controlled and capable of transmitting on 500 kHz, 3105 kHz, and 6210 kHz.[147] Crystal control means that the transmitter cannot be tuned to other frequencies; the plane could transmit only on those three frequencies. The transmitter had been modified at the factory to provide the 500 kHz capability.

The plane had a modified Western Electric model 20B receiver. Ordinarily, the receiver covered four frequency bands: 188–420 kHz, 550–1500 kHz, 1500–4000 kHz, and 4000–10000 kHz. The receiver was modified to lower the frequencies in the second band to 485–1200 kHz. That modification allowed the reception of 500 kHz signals; such signals were used for marine distress calls and radio navigation.[147][Note 23] The model 20B receiver has two antenna inputs: a low-frequency antenna input and a high-frequency antenna input. The receiver’s band selector also selects which antenna input is used; the first two bands use the low-frequency antenna, and the last two bands select the high-frequency antenna.[151]

It is unknown whether the model 20B receiver had a beat frequency oscillator that would enable the detection of continuous wave transmissions such as Morse code and radiolocation beacons.[147] Neither Earhart nor Noonan were capable of using Morse code.[145] They relied on voice communications. Manning, who was on the first world flight attempt but not the second, was skilled at Morse and had acquired an FCC aircraft radiotelegraph license for 15 words per minute in March 1937, just prior to the start of the first flight.[130]

A separate automatic radio direction finder receiver, a prototype Hooven Radio Compass,[152] had been installed in the plane in October 1936, but that receiver was removed before the flight to save weight.[153][154] The Hooven Radio Compass was replaced with a Bendix coupling unit that allowed a conventional loop antenna to be attached to an existing receiver (i.e., the Western Electric 20B). The loop antenna is visible above the cockpit on Earhart’s plane.

Alternatively, the loop antenna may have been connected to a Bendix RA-1 auxiliary receiver with direction finding capability up to 1500 kHz.[Note 24][Note 25] It is not clear that such a receiver was installed, and if it were, it may have been removed before the flight.[147] Elgen and Marie Long describe Joe Gurr training Earhart to use a Bendix receiver and other equipment to tune radio station KFI on 640 kHz and determine its direction.[155]

Whichever receiver was used, there are pictures of Earhart’s radio direction finder loop antenna and its 5-band Bendix coupling unit.[156] The details of the loop and its coupler are not clear. Elgen and Marie Long claim that the coupling unit adapted a standard RDF-1-B loop to the RA-1 receiver, and that the system was limited to frequencies below 1430 kHz.[157] During the first world flight attempt’s leg from Honolulu to Howland (when Manning was a navigator), Itasca was supposed to transmit a CW homing beacon at either 375 kHz or 500 kHz.[158] At least twice during the world flight, Earhart failed to determine radio bearings at 7500 kHz. If the RDF equipment was not suitable for that frequency, then attempting such a fix would be operator error and fruitless. However, the earlier 7-band Navy RDF-1-A covered 500 kHz–8000 kHz.[159] The later 3-band DU-1 covered 200 kHz–1600 kHz.[160][161] It is not clear where the RDF-1-B or Earhart’s coupler performance sits between those two units.[Note 26] In addition, the RDF-1-A and DU-1 coupler designs have other differences. The intention is to have the ordinary receive antenna connected to the coupler’s antenna input; from there, it is passed on to the receiver. In the RDF-1-A design, the coupler must be powered on for that design function to work.[Note 27] In the later DU-1 design, the coupler need not be powered.[Note 28]

There were problems with the RDF equipment during the world flight. During the transatlantic leg of the flight (Brazil to Africa), the RDF equipment did not work.[Note 29] The radio direction finding station at Darwin expected to be in contact with Earhart when she arrived there, but Earhart stated that the RDF was not functioning; the problem was a blown fuse.[Note 30] During a test flight at Lae, Earhart could hear radio signals, but she failed to obtain

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