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Amelia Otis Earhart, the First Female Aviator to Fly Solo across the Atlantic Ocean

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Amelia Earhart main

Amelia Otis Earhart, Queen of the Air

 

25 January 2015, Nirapad News : This month marks the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s historic Hawaii to mainland U.S. flight. Departing from Honolulu on Jan. 11, 1935, Earhart arrived in Oakland, Calif. The next day, becoming the first person ever to fly from Hawaii to the mainland.

Amelia Earhart and younger sister Grace Muriel Earhart

Amelia Earhart and younger sister Grace Muriel Earhart

Amelia was born on June 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, to Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart. While she was named in accordance with the Earhart family tradition, after her two grandmothers (Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton), she was nicknamed “Meeley”. Amelia had a younger sister – Grace Muriel Earhart.

Amelia was 10 years old when she saw her first aircraft after her father, Edwin, was transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. Amelia first went to school when she was 12 years old and entered the seventh grade directly in Des Moines. She however, completed her high school from Hyde Park High School in Chicago in 1916. It was a troubled childhood as she lost her grandmother suddenly, and all her family wealth was auctioned off.

Amelia Earhart College

Amelia Earhart completed her high school from Hyde Park High School in Chicago in 1916.

Earhart talked about her early flying experiences with a degree of innocence. She had visited a Canadian National Exposition in Toronto where she saw a flying display by a World War I pilot. She recalled, “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

When Earhart was 23, a 10-minute flight on Long Island completely changed her perspective. She said, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”

Earhart had her first flying lessons in January 1921 and her trainer was Anita “Neta” Snook who used a Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck”. Earhart wore a leather jacket and cut her hair short to match the style of women aviators of the time.

Earhart hair and jacket

Earhart wore a leather jacket and cut her hair short to match the style of women aviators of the time.

 

In October 1922, Earhart became the first female pilot to reach an altitude of 14,000 ft. She did that in her first plane – a second hand yellow Kinner Airster biplane which she called “The Canary”.

Earhart Canary

Yellow Kinner Airster biplane which Earhart called “The Canary”

 

Six years later, Earhart received a call from Capt. Hilton H. Reilly, asking her whether she wanted to fly across the Atlantic. While she was on the plane, she wasn’t the one flying it, “Stultz (Wilmer) did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” She added, “…maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”

When she returned from England, she was given a rousing welcome and dubbed the “Queen of the Air” by the press. Earhart found fame at the time, and the endorsements helped her finance her flying. She was also a pioneer in aviation promotion and played a key role in the formation of a commercial airline service. She spent time and money in setting up the Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), starting the service between New York and Washington D.C.

In August 1928, Earhart flew solo across the North American continent and back, becoming the first woman to do so.

Earhart solo flight

It was in February 1931 that Earhart got married to George P. Putnam. Earhart did not take Putnam’s name and chose to be called by her own name instead.

Amelia Earhart travelled in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B.

Amelia Earhart travelled in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B.

In May 1932, when Earhart was 34 years of age, she travelled in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B across the Atlantic and landed in Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The place is now the site of a museum called the Amelia Earhart Centre.

 

Earhart was the first to fly alone from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California, this despite the fact that many others had tried it before.

Earhart’s first attempt at a world flight came in March 1937. It fell flat in its early stages, the Lockheed Electra that Earhart planned to use needed servicing. When Earhart finally tried to take off, the plane ground-looped and was severely damaged. The flight was hence called off.

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan

While Earhart’s second attempt to circle the world was quite successful (she was able to cover 22,000 miles, making stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia), the last leg of her journey that involved a 7,000-mile journey over the Pacific proved fatal. The departure of her flight was from Lae, New Guinea on July 2, 1937. They intended to make a stop at Howland Island, but were never able to make it. Earhart and Noonan’s last known position was Nukumanu Islands, 800 miles into the journey.

In spite of an unparalleled search expedition by the US Navy and Coast Guard, no physical proof of Earhart, Noonan or the Electra 10E she was on, was found. On January 5, 1939, Earhart was declared legally dead.

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