Amelia Earhart


Amelia Earhart

She was always curious about everything, and she liked to tinker and experiment. As a youth she collected bugs, rocks, moths, and other things and displayed them in her “museum” on the porch of her home. She and her sister Muriel often built inventions, including a roller coaster that descended from the top of a shed, a pulley system to send things from their home to a neighboring one, and a harness for their dog, James Ferocious, so he could pull a doll carriage around while the girls urged him on by dangling a bone in front of him. She was Amelia Earhart, born July 24, 1898, in Atchison, Kansas.

Amelia was seldom discouraged from doing something that she thought was right. Sometimes her enthusiasm was encouraged by her parents. For instance, the Earharts had no objections when their daughters stayed up late to watch an eclipse of the moon or to get a good view of Halley’s Comet.

Many times Amelia’s adventures were shared with Muriel. One time, when the family was moving and the last load was ready to go, the family cat, Von Sol, had run off, and the family had to leave without it. At the end of the next day, when nothing had been done to find the cat, Amelia and Muriel grabbed a gunnysack, climbed over a fence, went through a back alley, and set off for their former home. It was a long walk, but they made it. There by the door sat Von Sol. When the girls tried to capture him, the cat became frightened and scrambled up a nearby birch tree. The lowest limb was ten feet above the ground. Seeing no other way to get to the cat, and not being one to give up, Amelia shinnied up a porch post to the roof of the house. From there she climbed onto a branch of the tree and up to where Von Sol was crouching. After a long discussion, Amelia coaxed the cat into the gunnysack. It was a very tiring walk home for the girls, especially with the weight of Von Sol in the gunnysack. And worry about their parents’ reaction to their adventure didn’t make the trip any easier. But Amelia was happy to have rescued Von Sol.

Amelia never expected things to be free or to come easily. She knew that most important things had a price, and she always felt that if she truly wanted something, the price was worth it. When she first wanted to take flying lessons, she was living in California. Her father told her that the thousand-dollar lessons were too expensive. Instead of being discouraged, Amelia found a job at the telephone company and worked long hours to pay for the lessons.

Amelia did as much flying as she could in those early days of aviation, and in 1928 she was invited to become the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane. She was only a passenger then, but in 1932 she decided to cross the Atlantic again—this time as the first woman pilot to fly across it!

On the evening of Friday, May 20, 1932, she took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Early in the flight the altimeter, which measures the distance an airplane is above the ground or water, stopped working. It was a very dark night, and clouds blocked out the light of the moon. A lightning storm arose. Visability was poor, and Amelia couldn’t see how high above the water she was. She decided to try flying above the clouds where she would have moonlight and be safely away from the storm and the ocean. However, as she climbed through the cloud layer, ice formed on the plane’s wings. The extra weight caused the plane to go into a spinning dive. As the plane came closer to the surface of the water, the ice melted from the wings and Amelia was able to pull the plane out of the spin. But she had been close enough to the ocean to see the whitecaps on the waves.

Later during the same flight Amelia noticed flames trailing from a broken weld in the manifold of her engine. If the flames caused the manifold to weaken and break apart, the airplane might crash. Amelia could have turned back to Harbour Grace, but “there was nothing to do about it … ,” she said. “So it seemed sensible to keep going.” Although the flames never ceased and the manifold rattled steadily, Amelia made it to Ireland. She landed there in a pasture rather than continuing on to Paris as she had planned.

In her lifetime Amelia broke several long-distance flying records. She believed that one day everyone would fly from one part of the world to another and that nations and peoples would therefore come to understand each other better. She knew this could only happen if difficult exploratory flights were made first in order to learn important information about piloting, flying conditions, and airplane design and safety. “Every flight … is potentially important,” she said. “It may yield valuable knowledge. We can look at all flights across the Atlantic and see that each, in its way, has done some definite good.”

When she wasn’t flying, Amelia kept busy by lecturing, writing, counseling at a university, and helping to start a number of commercial airline services. In 1931 she married George P. Putnam, a book publisher.

In spite of her time-consuming activities, Amelia still felt that she needed to make one more long-distance flight. She told her husband that it would be her last long flight.

On January 11, 1937, Amelia started her flight by flying west from Oakland, California, to Hawaii. Then she had an accident while trying to take off in Honolulu, and she was delayed several weeks until major repairs were completed on her Lockheed Electra airplane. During this time it was decided that Amelia should fly around the world going east instead of west.

It was May 1937 when she finally took off from Oakland again. Amelia said she was just making a test flight. On board with her were Fred Noonan, her navigator; Bo McKneeley, her mechanic; and her husband. Things went so well, however, that they continued on to Miami, where on June 1 Amelia and Fred Noonan took off to finish the eastward flight around the world. A month later, on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart’s plane was lost while she was trying to locate Howland Island in the South Pacific Ocean. She had completed more than two-thirds of her around-the-world flight. Neither she, Fred Noonan, nor the airplane were ever found.

Amelia deserved the tribute that newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann had previously written about her: “The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security, and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Dick Brown