Amelia Mary Earhart (born July 24, 1897; disappeared July 2, 1937) was an American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this accomplishment. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. In 1935, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University as an adviser to aeronautical engineering and a career counselor to women students. She was also a member of the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.
Earhart was the daughter of Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart (1867–1930) and Amelia “Amy” (nee Otis; 1869–1962). 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. Amelia was the second child of the marriage, after an infant stillborn in August 1896. 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.
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, Earhart saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Her father tried to interest her and her sister 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. She later described the biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting”.
The two sisters, Amelia and Muriel (she 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, Earhart received a form of home-schooling together with her sister, from her mother and a governess. She later recounted that she was “exceedingly fond of reading” 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 with Amelia Earhart entering the seventh grade at the age of 12 years.
Earhart graduated from Chicago’s Hyde Park High School in 1916. 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. She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania, but did not complete her program.
During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in Toronto. World 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.
Early flying experiences
At about that time, Earhart and a young woman friend visited an air fair held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto. One of the highlights of the day was a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ace. 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.”
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. She quit a year later to be with her parents, who had reunited in California.
In Long Beach, on December 28, 1920, Earhart and her father visited an airfield where Frank Hawks (who later gained fame as an air racer) 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.” After that 10-minute flight (that cost her father $10), she immediately became determined to learn to fly. 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 lessons, beginning on January 3, 1921, at Kinner Field, near Long Beach. 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”. Her teacher was Anita “Neta” Snook, a pioneer female aviator who used a surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” for training. Earhart arrived with her father and a singular request, “I want to fly. Will you teach me?”
Earhart’s commitment to flying required her to accept the frequent hard work and rudimentary conditions that accompanied early aviation training. She chose a leather jacket, but aware that other aviators would be judging her, she slept in it for three nights to give the jacket a “worn” look. To complete her image transformation, she also cropped her hair short in the style of other female flyers. Six months later, Earhart purchased a second hand bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane she nicknamed “The Canary”. 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.
On May 15, 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to be issued a pilot’s license (#6017) by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)
Aviation career and marriage
Throughout the early 1920s, her grandmother’s inheritance, which was now administered by her mother, steadily diminished until it was exhausted, following a disastrous investment in a failed gypsum mine. 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 “Speedster” two-passenger 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 unusual ventures that included setting up a photography company, Earhart set out in a new direction. Following her parents’ divorce in 1924, she drove her mother in the “Yellow Peril” on a transcontinental trip from California with stops throughout the West and even a jaunt up to Banff, Alberta. The meandering tour eventually brought the pair to Boston, Massachusetts, 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. 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. 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. Earhart also flew the first official flight out of Dennison Airport in 1927. 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.
Transatlantic flight in 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?”
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 Harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F.VIIb/3m on June 17, 1928, landing at Pwll near Burry Port, South Wales, exactly 20 hours and 40 minutes later. There is a commemorative blue plaque at the site. 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.”
Earhart reportedly received a rousing welcome on June 19, 1928, when she landed at Woolston in Southampton, England. 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).
When the Stultz, Gordon and Earhart flight crew returned to the United States, 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.
Trading on her physical resemblance to Lindbergh, whom the press had dubbed “Lucky Lindy”, some newspapers and magazines began referring to Earhart as “Lady Lindy”. The United Press was more grandiloquent; to them, Earhart was the reigning “Queen of the Air”. 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) and women’s clothing and sportswear. The money that she made with “Lucky Strike” had been earmarked for a $1,500 donation to Commander Richard Byrd’s imminent South Pole expedition.
The marketing campaign by both Earhart and Putnam was successful in establishing the Earhart mystique in the public psyche. 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. 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). 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.
Celebrity endorsements helped Earhart finance her flying. 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. 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) 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. By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.
Although Earhart had gained fame for her transatlantic flight, she endeavored to set an “untarnished” record of her own. 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. 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.”
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 on August 18 and arrived at Cleveland on August 26. During the race, she settled into fourth place in the “heavy planes” division. At the second last stop at Columbus, her friend Ruth Nichols, who was coming 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. At Cleveland, Earhart was placed third in the heavy division.
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. In 1931, she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet (5,613 m), flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro borrowed from Beech-Nut Chewing Gum While to a reader today it might seem that Earhart was engaged in flying “stunts”, she was, with other female flyers, crucial to making the American public “air minded” and convincing them that “aviation was no longer just for daredevils and supermen.”
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. 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.
Marriage to George Putnam
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”. 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), a chemical heiress whose father’s company, Binney & Smith, invented Crayola crayons: the explorer and writer David Binney Putnam (1913–1992) and George Palmer Putnam, Jr. (1921–2013). 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
On the morning of May 20, 1932, 34-year-old Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with a copy of the Telegraph-Journal, given to her by journalist Stuart Trueman, intended to confirm the date of the flight. She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to emulate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight five years earlier. 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. 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 Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America”. The site now is the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.
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 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. Another famous flyer, Jacqueline Cochran, who was considered to be Earhart’s greatest rival by both media and the public, also became a confidante and friend during this period.
Additional solo flights
On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. 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 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”.
That year, once more flying her Lockheed Vega airliner that Earhart had tagged “old Bessie, the fire horse”, 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, 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, due to the stock Lockheed Vega, topping out at 195 mph (314 km/h), was outclassed by purpose-built air racers that reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h). 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, the “blinding fog”, and violent thunderstorms that 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”. For the new venture, she would need a new aircraft.
Move from New York to California
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
World flight in 1937
Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications, which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank. Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her “flying laboratory” and hangared it at Mantz’s United Air Services located just across the airfield from Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant in which it had been built.
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. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.
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. He had vast experience 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. 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.
*But something went wrong in his life; he started to drink–and Pan Am let him go. Amelia certainly knew about it.He had tried so hard to reform. Not everyone was convinced that he had succeeded. Gene Vidal that including Fred Noonan on Amelia’s flight was a great mistake, and he told her so. Pan Am pilots, who presumably knew what they were talking about, believed that although Noonan “might have missed a trip or something,” he never drank on the job. But he had an automobile accident in the recent past. Amelia wasn’t bothered by this knowledge; she knew that he was in the process of changing his life, that he and his first wife had gotten divorced just that spring, and that he had a new, serious lady friend.
East to the Dawn by Susan Butler
On March 17, 1937, Earhart and her crew flew the first leg from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii in 15 hours and 47 minutes. In addition to Earhart and Fred Noonan, Harry Manning and Paul Mantz (who was acting as Earhart’s technical adviser) were on board. Eighty miles from Makapu, “Fred says start down.” She turned over the controls to Paul Mantz. Paul circled the field twice; airport personnel watching the plane feared that the winds were causing trouble. Paul admitted to wrapping the plane around “in a steep bank” in order to check the windsock. The landing was terrible–so hard, in fact that the impact weakened the landing gear. Amelia was not happy.*
*East to the Dawn by Susan Butler
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. During the takeoff run, Earhart ground-looped, circumstances of which remain controversial. Some witnesses at Luke Field including the Associated Press journalist on the scene said they saw a tire blow. Earhart thought either the Electra’s right tire had blown and/or the right landing gear had collapsed. Some sources, including Paul Mantz, cited pilot error. With the aircraft severely damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was shipped by sea to the Lockheed Burbank facility for repairs.
At 0530 the motors were started, and Captain Manning and Noonan took their places, and at 0540, Amelia taxied out to the northeast end of the runway, preceded by Paul in a car. As the Electra roared down the runway gathering speed, it swung slightly to the right, whereupon Amelia throttled down the left engine. The plane then started swinging left, and as it did, it tilted outwards, throwing all the weight on the right wheel. Suddenly the right hand landing gear collapsed and ” The airplane spun sharply to the left sliding on its belly and amid a shower of sparks from the mat, came to rest headed about 200 degrees from the initial course.”
The official crash report described the accident. But the official report did not mention that army aviators thought the wet runway had added to the problem, that after a heavily loaded started skidding, it would have been almost impossible to straighten it out
Amelia immediately shut down the engines, thereby preventing a fire. She would later write that the plane was moving so easily down the runway “that I thought the takeoff was actually over. In ten seconds more we would have been off the ground, with our landing gear tucked up and on our way southwestwards. There was not the slightest indication of anything abnormal.” She studied the accident, naturally, and listened to the comments of the witnesses who said the tire blew, but she thought the fault lay in the landing gear, weakened by Paul’s hard landing. “Possibly the landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way,” she wrote for publication. Her intimation that something was wrong was when she felt the plane pull to her right: I reduced the power on the opposite engine and succeeded in swinging from the right to the left. For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course. But, alas, the load was so heavy.”*
*East to the Dawn by Susan Butler
*Longitude and latitude are imaginary lines drawn on the globe. The equator is the beginning point of latitude, from which all degrees of latitude are measured. all other latitudes run parallel to it. it is also the only great circle of latitude–the only one that passes through the centre of the earth. so circling the earth at its waist means travelling at zero degrees latitude. put another way, it means, roughly always flying east or west.
Longitude is harder to pin down. the meridians of longitude are not parallel; they are all great circles that pass through the North and South poles. That makes the distance between them zero at the poles and maximum at the equator.
Any sailor worth his salt can gauge latitude–that was how Columbus sailed straight across the Atlantic in 1492. Latitude depends on taking sights on the sun, or “shooting the sun,” measuring the angle between the sun and the horizon when it is highest in the sky at noon. time is not a factor. Fred had no trouble figuring latitude.
But figuring longitude is much more of a problem because time is a factor. zero degrees longitude is an arbitrary line. navigational aids calculating longitude began when the Englishman John Harrison perfected the chronometer, so the meridian passing through Greenwich, England became zero degrees. Likewise, the measurement of time was based on the observatory in the town of Greenwich. Greenwich Mean Time–GMT–became the universal benchmark from which times all over the world are calculated.
Longitude is measured in degrees, but to plot one’s position the navigator must know the exact time–exactly. The earth makes one complete spin–one 360-degree circle–every twenty four hours. Every hour is 15 degrees of longitude, always. But the distance between the meridians is greatest at the equator and least at the poles. One degree of longitude always equals 4 minutes of time, but only at the equator does one degree stretch for 60 nautical miles. Latitude by contrast, is always the same–one degree of latitude equals sixty nautical miles no matter where on earth you are.
When navigating by the sun and stars, the only tools available on ocean passages in 1937, longitude–that is, the distance travelled around the earth–was determined by consulting the Greenwich Hour Angle, a detailed compilations of star positions, upon which Fred Noonan also relied. The Air Almanac gave the Greenwich Hour Angle–the geographic position of the important celestial bodies for every day, hour, minute, and second of the year. using the octant to “shoot” heavenly bodies, Fred could locate the spot on the earth, the geographic position that was directly under a given celestial body–it’s splash down position–and work out the plane’s distance from that spot. Then he would enter the Electra’ s probable position on his chart. But to do this he had to know what time it was–exactly–for each minute of error would result in a fifteen mile miscalculation. That is why radio communication was so important to Fred: he had to check the rate of his chronometers.
Amelia kept the Electra at an altitude of 11,000 feet for most of the way to Lae, to stay above a heavy cloud layer. Proceeding by a combination of celestial navigation and **dead reckoning, Fred positioned them perfectly; they came down, as planned, on the western flank of New Guinea’s mountain range, reached the coast, found Lae, and set down. Lae was by no means a hardship stopover. More than a thousand Europeans lived there, and it was the headquarters of Guinea Airways. It had a three-thousand foot long airstrip, a new hotel, and excellent communication with the rest of the world.
**dead reckoning also known as pilotage is estimating one’s position on the surface with reference to a map taking into consideration the wind affecting the heading in the air and then plotting the track made good on the map; the derived groundspeed computed from indicated airspeed in the cockpit, outside air temperature and altitude of travel. Over the ocean in clouds and at night, this procedure is inapplicable because the surface landmarks such as known islands in the vicinity do not register—Mohammad
After seeing the airplane and getting radio and weather reports, Fred and Amelia went their separate ways. Amelia went out to dinner with Eric Chater, the manager of Guinea Airways; Fred went out drinking with some locals, including James A. Collopy, district superintendent of civil aviation. Fred “had some drinks and sat talking airplanes” and didn’t turn in until well after midnight, according to Collopy.
The next day Amelia got on the telephone and called her story into the Herald Tribune. She was aiming to get off the next day at noon, she reported, if everything could be done by then. “Everyone has been as helpful and cooperative as possible–food, hot baths, mechanical service, radio and weather reports, advice from veteran pilots here.”
But the plane was having radio difficulties again, according to Amelia, just a day after being fixed by the Australians. “Captain Fred Noonan, my navigator, has been unable, because of radio difficulties, to set his chronometers.”
Later in the day, she sent a telegram to George, which has been the subject of much speculation. She sounded worried.
Radio misunderstandings and personnel unfitness probably will hold one day. Have asked Black for forecast for tomorrow. You check meteorologist on job as FN must have star sights. Arrange credit if Tribune wishes more story.
“Radio misunderstanding” probably refers to the fact that Amelia had thought that Itasca could take radio bearings on her on 3105 kilocycles until they informed her that they could not “due to lack of suitable calibrated equipment on that frequency.” The coast guard on June 18, just prior to Itasca’s sailing, said they informed her of that.
The words “personnel unfitness” remain a mystery. Gene Vidal told Gore that he as well as George had been at the Herald Tribune office, that “personnel trouble” was the code for Fred’s drinking, and that both he and George had advised her to abandon the flight. But she told them she thought “personnel” were improving. Since Amelia’s views on alcohol had gone from laissez-faire to negative–there was no liquor served in her new house–she was being strangely mysterious if the problem was a clear-cut case of too much alcohol. Paul Collins, a close friend of Gene’s, corroborates this conversation. Gene told Paul, “Amelia stated that she was still having personnel trouble and had to delay her takeoff for Howland Island for two days though the weather pattern was good.” George never divulged to anyone what he thought, and, it must be noted, he never mentioned that he had spoken to Amelia in Lae.
One can only speculate. Possibly Fred went on a bender. Possibly the word in the telegram is misspelled and Amelia meant “personal” unfitness. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that something was wrong, or Amelia wouldn’t have sent the telegram. The real question is, did it affect the flight? And the answer, of course, is that we don’t know.
*East to the Dawn by Susan Butler
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 Lae, New 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 (New Guinea)
On July 2, 1937, the Electra loaded to the maximum-with 1.110 gallons of gasoline and 75 gallons of oil—began to roll down the runway at precisely 0000 Greenwich Mean Time, 0000Z,* 1000, Lae time. The flight to Howland Island was 2,556 miles, or 2,201 nautical miles (4113 kilometres), a very long way, but no one—certainly not Fred’s peers—expected that Fred would have any trouble finding Howland. The fact that they had left at zero Greenwich time made it easier for Fred to work out their position from the celestial sights, for now his watch time and GMT were the same.
*Z = GMT
The chart of the area then in use, #1198, published at the Hydrographic office within the Navy, contrary to assertions that it showed Howland Island wrongly placed, in fact was reasonably accurate. According to he last chart correction made by the U.S. Government dating from 1995, the coordinates to the day beacon on the west side of Howland are: latitude N 0 degrees 48 minutes, 19 seconds; longitude W 176 degrees 37 minutes. The chart Fred was using showed Howland within half a mile of those coordinates.
At 0720Z, Lae received a report from the plane that their position was S 004 degrees 33 minutes, E 159 degrees 07 minutes, near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles (1,300 km) into the flight. That meant that they were on course flying ENE, coming up on the equator but still south of it by some 277 miles, with 1,390 nautical miles to go before they would reach Howland. But it also meant that they had covered, by Fred’s computations, only 785 miles in 7 hours, 20 minutes and were therefore making a groundspeed of only 107 knots (nautical miles) per hour. Flying at that rate, it would take them another thirteen hours to reach Howland. That meant slightly over twenty-one hours in the air. That longitude reading meant that headwinds they were encountering were stronger than had been predicted.
Sunrise at Howland was at 1745Z. If the headwinds stayed steady on the nose, they would get there about two and a quarter hour after sunrise (ETA 2000Z). Flying into the sun, all Fred had to figure out was longitude: he knew they were heading in the right direction—he just didn’t know how far they had gone, for the effect of wind, often variable on a plane over water, is hard to determine.
The Itasca, 250 feet long, painted white, was lying off the northeastern side of Howland Island. It was sending a plume of black smoke to serve as a signal for the fliers that could be seen for miles. The low-lying island, two miles long by half mile wide, was marked by a lighthouse erected by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. At sea level the lighthouse could be seen ten miles away. Mariners figure that they are two miles from a shore when they can see a building’s windows, but for aviators, visibility at sea changes in the blink of an eye. An island can disappear under a bank of clouds.
Visibility at Howland Island was good that morning, according to the Itasca—the sky was clear to the south and west, the direction from which Amelia was approaching, although it was somewhat overcast about twenty miles to the northwest. There was an east-northeast wind ranging between fourteen and thirty miles per hour.
And so, began the tragic last act. Amelia was supposed to contact the Itasca at fifteen minutes before and after the hour. They were supposed to send her a steady stream of weather information and position fixes.
At 1415Z, the Itasca reported that hey had recognized an Earhart voice message, but that it wasn’t clear except for the words “Cloudy weather cloudy.”
One hour later at 1515Z, the Itasca heard Amelia asking them to broadcast on 3105 kilocycles on the hour and half hour. She reported it was overcast.
At 1624Z, the Itasca reported that they could hear Amelia but that her voice signals were “unreadable” with five people listening. Twenty minutes later she broadcast again, and this time her message was clear: she wanted bearings on 3105 frequency and said she would whistle into the microphone. A few minutes she called again. “About 200 miles out,” the Itasca radioman heard, and she whistled briefly into the microphone.
On the agreed-upon schedule at 1715Z, Amelia was back on the radio:
Please take bearings on us and report in half hour. I will make noise in microphone about 100 miles out.
During the time the Itasca had been transmitting weather reports to Amelia on the hour and half hour on 3105 kilocycles, as she had requested. She received none of their transmissions.
Sunrise at Howland Island was at 1745Z. There was now enough light so that Amelia and Fred would have been looking to see the island, as Amelia’s next transmission nineteen hours into the flight makes clear:
We must be on you but cannot see you but gas is running low, have been unable reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.
At 1927Z, twenty-seven minutes later, the radioman heard:
We are circling but cannot see the island, cannot hear you, go ahead on 7500 kilocycles with long count either now or on schedule time on half hour.
1933Z — for the first and only time—Amelia received a transmission.
Earhart calling Itasca, we received your signals but unable to get minimum please. Please take bearings on us and answer on 3105 kilocycles.
The Itasca then reported that they had heard long dashes for a brief period but that the high frequency direction finder could not cut her in on 3105 kilocycles.
2014Z: the last voice transmission received on Itasca from Earhart indicated she and Noonan were flying along a line of position (taken from a “sun line” running on 157–337 degrees) which Noonan would have calculated and drawn on a chart as passing through Howland.
We are on the line of position 157 dash 337. Will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. We are now running north and south.
And then there was silence
East to the Dawn by Susan Butler
Through a series of misunderstandings or errors (the details of which are still controversial), the final approach to Howland Island using radio navigation was not successful. Fred Noonan had earlier written about problems affecting the accuracy of radio direction finding in navigation. Another cited cause of possible confusion was that the Itasca and Earhart planned their communication schedule using time systems set a half-hour apart, with Earhart using Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Itasca under a Naval time zone designation system.
Some sources have noted Earhart’s apparent lack of understanding of her direction-finding system, which had been fitted to the aircraft just prior to the flight. The system was equipped with a new receiver from Bendix that operated on five wavelength “bands”, marked 1 to 5. The loop antenna was equipped with a tuneable loading coil that changed the effective length of the antenna to allow it to work efficiently at different wavelengths. The tuner on the antenna was also marked with five settings, 1 to 5, but, critically, these were not the same frequency bands as the corresponding bands on the radio. The two were close enough for settings 1, 2 and 3, but the higher frequency settings, 4 and 5, were entirely different. Earhart’s only training on the system was a brief introduction by Joe Gurr at the Lockheed factory, and the topic had not come up. A card displaying the band settings of the antenna was mounted so it was not visible. Gurr explained that higher frequency bands would offer better accuracy and longer range.
Motion picture evidence from Lae suggests that an antenna mounted underneath the fuselage may have been torn off from the fuel-heavy Electra during taxi or takeoff from Lae’s turf runway, though no antenna was reported found at Lae. Don Dwiggins, in his biography of Paul Mantz (who assisted Earhart and Noonan in their flight planning), noted that the aviators had cut off their long-wire antenna, due to the annoyance of having to crank it back into the aircraft after each use.
Beginning approximately one hour after Earhart’s last recorded message, the USCGC Itasca undertook an ultimately unsuccessful search north and west of Howland Island based on initial assumptions about transmissions from the aircraft. The United States Navy soon joined the search and over a period of about three days sent available resources to the search area in the vicinity of Howland Island. The initial search by the Itasca involved running up the 157/337 line of position to the NNW from Howland Island. The Itasca then searched the area to the immediate NE of the island, corresponding to the area, yet wider than the area searched to the NW. Based on bearings of several supposed Earhart radio transmissions, some of the search efforts were directed to a specific position on a line of 281 degrees (approximately northwest) from Howland Island without evidence of the flyers. Four days after Earhart’s last verified radio transmission, on July 6, 1937, the captain of the battleship Colorado received orders from the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District to take over all naval and coast guard units to coordinate search efforts.
Later search efforts were directed to the Phoenix Islands south of Howland Island. A week after the disappearance, naval aircraft from the Colorado flew over several islands in the group including Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro), which had been uninhabited for over 40 years. The subsequent report on Gardner read: “Here signs of recent habitation were clearly visible but repeated circling and zooming failed to elicit any answering wave from possible inhabitants and it was finally taken for granted that none were there… At the western end of the island a tramp steamer (of about 4000 tons)… lay high and almost dry head onto the coral beach with her back broken in two places. The lagoon at Gardner looked sufficiently deep and certainly large enough so that a seaplane or even an airboat could have landed or taken off in any direction with little if any difficulty. Given a chance, it is believed that Miss Earhart could have landed her aircraft in this lagoon and swum or waded ashore.” They also found that Gardner’s shape and size as recorded on charts were wholly inaccurate. Other Navy search efforts were again directed north, west and southwest of Howland Island, based on a possibility the Electra had ditched in the ocean, was afloat, or that the aviators were in an emergency raft.
The official search efforts lasted until July 19, 1937. At $4 million, the air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard was the most costly and intensive in U.S. history up to that time but search and rescue techniques during the era were rudimentary and some of the search was based on erroneous assumptions and flawed information. Official reporting of the search effort was influenced by individuals wary about how their roles in looking for an American hero might be reported by the press. Despite an unprecedented search by the United States Navy and Coast Guard, no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan or the Electra 10E was found. The aircraft carrier USS Lexington, the battleship USS Colorado, the Itasca, the Japanese oceanographic survey vessel Koshu and the Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi searched for six–seven days each, covering 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2).
Immediately after the end of the official search, Putnam financed a private search by local authorities of nearby Pacific islands and waters, concentrating on the Gilberts. In late July 1937, Putnam chartered two small boats and while he remained in the United States, directed a search of the Phoenix Islands, Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, Fanning (Tabuaeran) Island, the Gilbert Islands and the Marshall Islands, but no trace of the Electra or its occupants was found.
Back in the United States, Putnam acted to become the trustee of Earhart’s estate so that he could pay for the searches and related bills. In probate court in Los Angeles, Putnam requested to have the “declared death in absentia” seven-year waiting period waived so that he could manage Earhart’s finances. As a result, Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.
- Earhart was a widely known international celebrity during her lifetime. Her shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, courage and goal-oriented career along with the circumstances of her disappearance at a comparatively early age have driven her lasting fame in popular culture. Hundreds of articles and scores of books have been written about her life, which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for girls. Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon.
- Earhart’s accomplishments in aviation inspired a generation of female aviators, including the more than 1,000 women pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who ferried military aircraft, towed gliders, flew target practice aircraft, and served as transport pilots during World War II.
- The home where Earhart was born is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and is maintained by The Ninety-Nines, an international group of female pilots of whom Earhart was the first elected president.
- A small section of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra starboard engine nacelle recovered in the aftermath of the Hawaii crash has been confirmed as authentic and is now regarded as a control piece that will help to authenticate possible future discoveries. The evaluation of the scrap of metal was featured on an episode of History Detectives on Season 7 in 2009.
Countless other tributes and memorials have been made in Amelia Earhart’s name, including a 2012 tribute by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a State Department event celebrating the ties of Earhart and the United States to its Pacific neighbors, noting: “Earhart … created a legacy that resonates today for anyone, girls and boys, who dreams of the stars.” In 2013, Flying magazine ranked Earhart No. 9 on its list of the “51 Heroes of Aviation”.
Records and achievements
- Woman’s world altitude record: 14,000 ft.
- First woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean (1928)
- Speed records for 100 km (and with 500 lb (230 kg) cargo) (1931)
- First woman to fly an autogyro (1931)
- Altitude record for autogyros: 18,415 ft. (1931)
- First person to cross the United States in an autogyro (1932)
- First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932)
- First person to fly the Atlantic twice (1932)
- First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)
- First woman to fly nonstop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933)
- Women’s speed transcontinental record (1933)
- First person to fly solo between Honolulu, Hawaii and Oakland, California (1935)
- First person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, Mexico (1935)
- First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City, Mexico to Newark, New Jersey (1935)
- Speed record for east-to-west flight from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii (1937)
- First person to fly solo from the Red Sea to Karachi (1937)
Books by Earhart
Earhart was a successful and heavily promoted writer who served as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine from 1928 to 1930. She wrote magazine articles, newspaper columns, essays and published two books based upon her experiences as a flyer during her lifetime:
- 20 Hrs., 40 Min. (1928) was a journal of her experiences as the first woman passenger on a transatlantic flight.
- The Fun of It (1932) was a memoir of her flying experiences and an essay on women in aviation.
- Last Flight (1937) featured the periodic journal entries she sent back to the United States during her world flight attempt, published in newspapers in the weeks prior to her final departure from New Guinea. Compiled by her husband GP Putnam after she disappeared over the Pacific, many historians consider this book to be only partially Earhart’s original work.
1963 U. S. Postal stamp honoring Amelia Earhart; Monument in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador; “Earhart Light” on Howland Island in August 2008
Featured image: Amelia Earhart standing under nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, March 1937, Oakland, CA
- Born: Amelia Mary Earhart, July 24, 1897, Atchison, Kansas, U.S.
- Disappeared: July 2, 1937 (aged 39); Pacific Ocean, en route from Lae, Papua New Guinea to Howland Island
- Status: Declared dead in absentia, January 5, 1939 (aged 41)
- Nationality: American
- Known for: Many early aviation records, including first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
- Spouse(s): George P. Putnam
- East to the Dawn by Susan Butler, Da Capo Press, Cambridge MA, 1999