|Earhart in the cockpit of her Electra|
Earhart caught the flying bug when she 10-years old. It was during a stunt-flying exhibition sometime around 1907, a moment when she stood fast as a pilot plunged his plane right at her. "I did not understand [the feeling] at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by." Her first flight wouldn't happen for over a decade. Pilot Frank Hawks took her up in 1920. Once two or three hundred feet off the ground, Earhart knew she had to fly, but it would take yet more time and effort, mixed with some luck, before she would take the stick. Convention of the day wasn't big on women pilots.
However, Earhart didn't hold with convention. She was a tree climbing, belly-slamming sledder and rat hunter, completely used to shocking the knickers off her contemporaries. Most certainly she had her sights set on plowing new ground for women because she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in male-oriented fields. Even more endearing is that Earhart never shirked her civic or humanitarian duties. During WWI, she left college in her sophomore year (c 1917) to work as a nurse's aide. And she later became a social worker in Boston.
But about a year after that first rush from that flight with Hawks, Earhart took a flying lesson. Six months after that, she had saved enough money to buy her first plane—a second-hand Kinner Airster biplane that was painted bright yellow. Naming it "Canary," Earhart used it to set her first women's record by reaching an altitude of 14,000 feet. And in 1923 she became only the 16th woman to earn a pilot license.
Earhart's early flying efforts did not blanket her with glamour. In fact they were quite the reverse. Conditions for a woman in the early days of flying were less than luxurious or convenient, and the training was hard work. Still, this is where Earhart began her branding transformation. Very aware that male aviators would judge her, she began to cultivate her look with a simple act of sleeping in a brand new leather jacket to give it some wear. She also short-cropped her hair like other female flyers.
Putnam hooked her up with pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. And the team flew a Fokker F7 from Newfoundland to Wales in June of 1928. It was a 21-hour flight. And as a publisher and publicist, Putnam was in a position to generate press for Earhart, making her a star. The landmark flight to Wales made headlines worldwide. Three women had died on previous attempts to be that first woman. So on their return to the United States, the team was received with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
All the fanfare launched Earhart into the limelight and she became an instant celebrity. Endorsement deals rolled in and earned more than enough money to fund her flying. It also opened the door to her teaming up with the likes of Charles Lindbergh to promote commercial air travel, a ground floor opportunity for investment in a developing TWA, and to serving as VP of what would become Northeast Airlines
The stars aligned for Earhart and her career took off. She became the first woman, and only the second person, to solo across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was the first. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and broke major ground for women in her field. From there, she cruised into the history books by breaking records all along the way. But it was where she was headed next that sealed her immortal fate in the public heart.
|Earhart with her Lockheed Electra.|
After eight hours in the air, the Earhart team was frantically looking for their target. One of her final transmissions to a US Coast Guard ship tracking her was, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." After 8:45 pm on 2 July 1937, nothing more.
The world loved her for her audacity to attempt what few, if any women or even men had dared. She courted danger with a quiet resolve and a forced smile. She wasn't into the publicity, but it came with her achievements, and her ties to Putnam. Suddenly Amelia was gone—but where? What happened and why? Even after an exhaustive $4 million dollar and 250,000 square mile search, there was no trace, nothing but a sudden emptiness that drives our continued longing for Amelia Earhart.
Update - 09.10.2016: The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) continue gathering a good deal of evidence now supporting a 23-year old theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, survived a forced landing on the island of Nikumaroro, a very small, inhospitable spit of sand just over 400 miles south of their intended target of Howland Island. A recent expedition recovered video and artifacts consistent with items of Earhart's era, and possibly parts of the plane. As well, TIGHAR has collected verified reports of Earhart transmitting calls for help following her crash. Read more HERE.
Matilde E. Moisant
So many more...