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Amelia Earhart

 

 

Perhaps no name is as symbolic of aerospace achievement as Amelia Earhart. When you say female aviator, the first name that comes to mind is Amelia Earhart! Born in Atchison, Kansas, July 24, 1897, she attended Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Ogontz School for Girls in Rydal, Pa., and Columbia University in New York to prepare for a career in Medicine and Social Science. She served during World War I as a military nurse in Canada where she developed an interest in flying. She pursued this interest in California, receiving her pilot's license in 1922. Though she continued her association with aviation by entering numerous flying meets, she spent several years as a teacher and social worker at Dennison House, in Boston.

Amelia Earhart gained considerable fame June 17-18, 1928, as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. She felt this fame somewhat unjustified as she had only been a “passenger” on a Fokker trimotor piloted by Wilman Stutz and Louis Gordon from Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland, to Burry Port, Wales. In 1929 Earhart co-founded the “Ninety-Nines,” an international organization of women pilots, which continues today to promote opportunities for women in aviation, and served from 1930 to 1932 as its first president.

Amelia Earhart was one of the first women in aviation to juggle a public and private life. Her 1931 marriage to publisher George Putnam did not prevent her from setting an autogyro altitude record. the following year she reaccomplished the Atlantic flight which brought her fame, this time as a solo pilot flying from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Londonderry, Ireland, a first for a woman. At a time when women were extremely rare in technical and scientific areas, Amelia Earhart distinguished herself by setting records which bettered men's records as well as women's.

Amelia Earhart

She became active in the movement that encouraged the development of commercial aviation. Amelia Earhart took an active role in efforts to open the field of aviation to women and end male dominance in this exciting new field. She served as an officer of the Luddington line, which provided one of the first regular passenger services between New York and Washington, D.C. In January 1935, she outdid her Atlantic solo by making a solo flight from Hawaii to California, a much longer distance than the Canada-England flight. She became the first pilot to successfully fly that route. Her numerous accomplishments earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first women so designated by the United States Congress.

Always pushing the envelope, Amelia Earhart set out in June 1937 to circumnavigate the world. Accompanied by Fred Noonan, her navigator, Amelia Earhart flew her twin engine Lockheed Electra into one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. On the most difficult leg of the trip, Earhart and Noonan vanished near Howland Island in the Pacific. Intense searching by both the American and Japanese forces found no trace of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, or their plane and fueled speculation as to the reason for such a dangerous flight. many argued that the flight was a reconnaissance flight to gather data on Japan prior to the United States entry into World War II. Many others, especially in the aviation community, held fast that Amelia Earhart was driven by her passion for flying.

Though few facts are known about the July 2, 1937 disappearance in the central Pacific near the International Date Line, one thing is certain: Amelia Earhart had made a unique and timeless contribution to aviation and to women in aviation which will go unparalleled for decades to come.

References: Collier's Encyclopedia, 1991; The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1991; World Book, 1990; and Compton's Encyclopedia, University of Chicago, 1989. From Leadership: 2000 And Beyond, Vol. II, pgs. 11-24 and 11-25, Civil Air Patrol, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

 


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Updated: 12 March, 2004