History of the Search for Amelia Earhart Part 1

About the search for female flying ace Amelia Earhart, biography and history of the woman pilot.

THE CONTINUING SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART

Background

Amelia Earhart, or "A.E." to her friends, was at one time or another a premed student, nurse's aide, telephone operator, truck driver, social worker, lecturer, writer, and editor. But her only constant love was aviation. She caught the flying bug while working in a Toronto military hospital during W.W.I. Wounded pilots talked fondly of their airborne derring-do and the sheer adventure of flying. Amelia was fascinated by their accounts and became hooked for life.

Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1898, she graduated from high school in Chicago. After her Toronto stint, she moved to Los Angeles, where she learned to fly. In 1922 she bought her first airplane, and three months later she set a women's altitude record of 14,000 ft. But her big break came in 1928. On June 17, a strange trio--an alcoholic pilot, an ex-army mechanic, and Amelia--took off from Newfoundland in a trimotor Fokker flying boat and landed in Wales about 21 hours later.

Amelia, as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, became an instant international celebrity, even though she was only a passenger. The tall, slender aviatrix with blond, close-cropped hair and an engaging smile captured everyone's heart. "Lady Lindy," they called her. In May, 1932, she duplicated Lindbergh's feat by flying solo across the Atlantic, another first for a woman. Other records quickly followed: women's nonstop cross-country speed record of 19 hours and 5 minutes (1932); first person to solo from Hawaii to California (January, 1935); first to solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City (April, 1935); first to solo from Mexico City to Newark, N.J. (May, 1935).

In 1937 Amelia was ready to realize her dream--to pilot a flight around the world. She received enthusiastic support from George Palmer Putnam, the wealthy publisher she had married six years earlier. Other pilots had flown around the world, but Amelia would take the longest and most difficult route. It lay along the equator, a distance of about 27,000 mi. "I want to do it because I must do it," she said. "Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others."

Amelia's original intention was to fly from east to west. But after an aborted takeoff from Honolulu in March, 1937, she reversed the direction. In May she flew from Oakland, Calif., to Miami, Fla. Then, on June 1, she took off again and headed south. With her was Frederick Noonan, 44, an experienced navigator and former Pan Am pilot. Their plane was a twin-engine Lockheed Electra 10-E, capable of doing 4,000 mi. nonstop. Their route: Puerto Rico, Brazil, Africa, Pakistan, Burma, Singapore, Australia, New Guinea, Howland Island, Hawaii, and back to Oakland.

There were some delays and some malfunctioning of equipment, but Amelia and Noonan arrived safely at Lae, New Guinea, on June 30. The longest and most hazardous leg of their flight lay ahead. Their next stop, Howland Island, was a tiny speck in the Pacific, 2,556 mi. to the east. At 10:30 A.M. on July 2, the Electra roared down the Lae runway for its last takeoff.

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