Amelia Earhart: The record-breaking aviator whose fate remains a mystery
Get to know the American pilot who disappeared while attempting to fly around the world
Amelia Earhart deservedly remains one of the world’s most celebrated aviators of all time. Remembered predominantly for her achievements and record-breaking experiences in the air, Earhart’s courage and ambition have been inspirational to people across the globe.
Born Amelia Mary Earhart to Samuel ‘Edwin’ and Amelia ‘Amy’ Earhart in 1897, she had a somewhat difficult start in life. With an alcoholic father, Earhart and her sister were sent to stay with grandparents where home life became tough. The sisters created their own adventures – Earhart was quite the tomboy – but they had an unsettled childhood to say the least. Frequently changing schools inevitably had an impact on the quality of their education. Despite this, Earhart graduated from Hyde Park High School having excelled in chemistry, and with a particular admiration for women who had succeeded in male-orientated fields.
A serious hobby
Although Earhart went on to attend Ogontz School, a visit to her sister in Toronto, Canada, exposed her to the harsh realties of World War I and she became a nurse’s aide for the Red Cross in a military hospital, tending to wounded soldiers. Earhart returned to college as a premedical student, but her studies were interrupted again, as she moved to California to be closer to her parents. It was here that her interest in aviation turned into a serious hobby. After a ten-minute plane ride at an air show in 1920, Earhart knew she had to fly. She took her first lesson in 1921 and had saved enough money to buy her first plane within six months. She nicknamed the second-hand, bright-yellow Kinner Airster ‘The Canary’. Seven years later, Earhart was asked if she would like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She completed the trip in approximately 21 hours on 17 June 1928 in a Fokker F.VII.
The ultimate challenge
As a result of this flight, Earhart developed a friendship with publisher George P Putnam, and married him in 1931. Although a happy marriage, it was perhaps lacking in passion and romance, maybe because aviation was Earhart’s first love. Over the years that followed, Earhart won aviation awards, took part in notable flights and broke even more records. She decided her ultimate challenge was to become the first woman to fly around the world. Taking off on 1 June 1937 with navigator Fred Noonan, Earhart intended for this to be her final challenge. Unfortunately it turned out to be final in more ways than one, as the pair ran into difficulties after 35,400 kilometres (22,000 miles). With only 11,265 kilometres (7,000 miles) to go, contact was lost during the flight between Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island, and the pair went missing without a trace. Despite a $4-million search, neither they nor the plane were found. The following year, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in Earhart’s memory.
Following a number of aviation successes, Earhart decided that 1937 was to be the year of her ultimate achievement: she was going to become the first woman to fly around the world. After a failed attempt in March of that year, the ever-determined Earhart set off on 1 June with navigator Fred Noonan. Inaccurate maps and unexpected weather conditions proved challenging, but the pair travelled 35,400km (22,000mi) of the 46,670km (29,000mi) trip before tragedy struck. No one knows exactly what happened, as Earhart’s last radio transmissions were of a poor quality. Despite an extensive search, this was called off after 17 days, and their fate remains a mystery.
In their footsteps
Born in 1925 in the United States, Geraldine (or Jerrie) Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world. The trip took place in 1964, and took 29 days to complete. Inspired by Earhart, Mock was known as the ‘flying housewife’. She covered nearly 37,000km (23,000mi), made 21 landings and, of course, made history too. She died aged 88 in 2014.
Amelia Rose Earhart
Born in 1983, Amelia Rose was named after Amelia Earhart, but she is not related to her namesake. Amelia Rose felt the need to honour the first Amelia and complete her flight. In July 2014, Amelia Rose became the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine aircraft. She’s president of the Fly With Amelia Foundation, which grants flight-training scholarships to young women.
Five facts about Amelia Earhart
1) She was nicknamed after a man
Earhart was nicknamed Lady Lindy because many people at the time thought her slim build and facial features resembled US aviator Charles Lindbergh.
2) She rejected flying clothes
Preferring dresses or suits instead of traditional flight gear, Earhart also wore a hat rather than a helmet, and only her goggles when out of sight.
3) The search cost millions
When she went missing, the US spent $4 million searching for her. It was the most expensive and intensive air and sea search in history at the time.
4) She planned to teach Eleanor Roosevelt
Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt developed a strong friendship. Roosevelt had a student pilot license and Earhart said she would teach her to fly, but this never happened.
5) She didn’t always like planes
When Earhart first saw a plane, aged ten, she thought it was “not at all interesting.” It was a whole decade later that her interest in aviation was born.