Monday, August 4, 2008

Amelia Earhart


Born on July 24th, 1897 to Samuel ‘Edwin” Stanton Earhart and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart in Atchinson, Kansas, Amelia Mary was born into a simple childhood spent climbing trees and hunting rats with her younger sister, Grace Muriel, who affectionately referred to each other as Millie and Pidge. Throughout her childhood many would call Amelia a tomboy, who would rather waste the days away playing outside her grandparent’s farm rather than be inside playing with dolls. Home schooled until the age of 12 by her mother and a governess, Amelia very much kept to herself as a child.

In 1907, Samuel Earhart was transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. Amelia’s parents both made the move, but Amelia and Grace both remained in Atchinson living with their grandparents. Frequent visits were made between the two places, and it was at the annual Iowa State Fair that Amelia encountered her first experience with a plane. Many people nowadays are reasonably surprised with how 10 year old Amelia, future pioneer of the aviation world, reacted when first becoming face to face with a plane. After being asked by her father if she would like to go for a small ride on the plane, Amelia turned her nose up in disgust, stated planes were boring and asked if she could go on the merry go round again.

At the age of 12, Amelia and the rest of her immediate family were reunited in Des Moines and the girls were enrolled in public school for the first time. Only a short few years later Samuel was forced to retire from his current job because of his alcoholism, after trying to rehabilitate himself but failing on many separate occasions. It was also around this time that Amelia’s grandmother, Amelia Otis, died leaving a substantial estate to her daughter. This was put in a trust as she had feared Samuel would drown it with his drinking. Samuel found a job as a clerk at Great Northern Railway in Minnesota, but the position was short lived as the previous clerk decided to come out of retirement and demanded his job back. With the family still in mourning and Samuel still searching for a job Amelia decided to take her two daughters with her to stay in Chicago with friends.

Here Amelia enrolled in Hyde Park High School which is where she remained until she graduated in 1916. Amelia began attending a local college but left the following year to obtain training as a nurse’s aide from the Red Cross to help during WWI. During the war Amelia was stationed at the Volunteer Aid Detachment Centre at Spadina Military Hospital preparing food and handing out medication. Amelia enrolled briefly at Columbia University in 1919 to study a course on medicine but left after a few months to join her parents in California. It was here on Long Beach a year later where Amelia went on a plane ride that would change her life.

On the 28th December 1920 Amelia and her father attended an airfield where a stunt flying exhibition was being held. Pilot Frank Hawks gave Amelia a plane ride where Amelia is quoted to have said “By the time I got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly” in an interview conducted later. After this one 10 minute flight Amelia became determined that one day she would pilot a plane of her own. January 3, 1921 saw Amelia have her first flying lesson at Kinner field under the instruction of Anita Snook a pioneer female pilot who used a Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” for training. Over the coming months Amelia skimped and saved over $1000 which she earned from working three jobs as a photographer, a truck driver and stenographing at a local telephone company to be able to afford her ongoing lessons.

6 months after having her first flying lesson Amelia purchased her own second hand plane, a bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane which she affectionately nicknamed “The Canary”. It was in this plane that Amelia set her first record by being the first women to fly to an altitude of 14,000 feet, and on the 15th May 1923 Amelia was the 16th women to ever be issued a pilots license by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. By this time Amelia had begun to make a name for herself in the world, and set out to be accepted into the mainly male dominated world of planes, even going as far as buying a leather jacket and sleeping in it for weeks before wearing it out in public to give it a more worn feel.

After taking a small break from flying and pursuing other careers such as teaching and becoming a social worker, Amelia soon returned. Amelia became a founding member for the American Aeronautical Society and was elected vice president of the Boston chapter. Amelia also invested money into Dennison Airport and became a sales representative for Kinner aeroplanes in Boston. It was around this time in 1927 that Charles Lindbergh began planning his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. An American socialite at that time, Amy Phipps Guest expressed interest in accompanying Lindbergh on the flight as a passenger, making her the first women to cross the Atlantic by plane. As time passed and the departure date loomed, Guest began questioning the safety of the flight and pulled out, suggesting Amelia Earhart take her position.

Charles Lindbergh, accompanied by Wilmer Stultz, Louis Gordan and Amelia Earhart departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and arrived 20 hours and 40 minutes later in Wales, United Kingdom making it the first flight of its kind. Upon return to the US they were greeted with a parade in New York and then a reception with the President at the White House.

By now Amelia had gained somewhat of a celebrity status and the press began referring to her as the Queen of the Air. Many companies wanted Amelia to endorse their products and she was used for marketing campaigns from luggage to cigarettes to sportswear. Amelia became actively involved in many of her promotions and used the funding from these projects to help fund her flying. Apart from advertising different products Amelia became the associate editor for magazine Cosmopolitan and used the magazine as an opportunity to gain a wide acceptance of women in aviation.

Amelia was always a feminist and all for equality between males and females and in 1930 Amelia became a member of the National Aeronautic Association and promoted the establishment of separate women’s records and wanted to convince America that “aviation was no longer just for daredevils and supermen”. Amelia was a founding member and president of The Ninety-Nines Organisation which provided moral support and helped in the advancing of women in aviation.

On the 7 February 1931 Amelia Earhart married George Putnam after he had proposed to her on six different occasions in Naank, Connecticut. Together they did not have any children but Amelia became stepmother to Putnam’s 2 children from a previous marriage. Unfortunately later that year a fire took the family home away from them and the family moved to the west coast where Putnam got a job as Head of Editorial Board at Paramount Pictures.

1932 saw Amelia preparing for what would be her solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean. On May 20 Amelia left Harbour Grace in Newfoundland and headed towards Paris. The flight lasted 14 hours and 55 minutes in which she endured strong northerly winds and icy conditions but finally landed in a pasture in Northern Ireland. Amelia was awarded many awards for this flight including the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honour from the French Government and a medal from the President. From this flight onwards Amelia went on to set many new records and became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Las Angeles to Mexico and Mexico to New York.

In 1936 Amelia purchased a new plane, a Lockheed L-10E Electra plana and began the planning of her world flight. One of the first things to consider was who was going to navigate the flight? Amelia first chose Captain Harry Manning, and then Fred Noonan an experienced marine and flight navigator as a second navigator for the flight. The original plan was that Noonan would navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, Manning would navigate from Howland Island to Australia and then from there onwards Amelia would go alone.

17th March, 1937 was the big day and they set off from Oakland, California for Honolulu, Hawaii. Throughout the flight lubrication and galling problems were experienced with the propeller hubs and maintenance was required in Hawaii. Three days later they were all set and ready to set off again but during take off it is believed Amelia ground looped and the right tire blew and the right landing gear collapsed. Because of the extensive damage caused here the plane had to be shipped back to the Lockheed facility in Burbank, California for repairs delaying plans.

By June 1 the plane was repaired and plans were back on track when they departed from Miami this time heading west to east due to changes in weather patterns and wind since the previously planned flight. This time round only one navigator would be accompanying Amelia on the flight; Fred Noonan. On June 29th Earhart and Noonan arrived in Lae, New Guinea 35,000km into the flight after stopping numerous times in South America, Africa, India, and Asia. From New Guinea onwards there was only 11,000km to go with the rest of the flight being mainly over ocean.

On the 2nd July Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae for Howland Island which was 4,113km away. This would be the last time that they would be seen. The last known position of their plane was near Nukumanu Islands 1,300km into the flight. The United States Coast Guard were set up to communicate via radio but this was not successful with problems believed to have been caused by lack of knowledge of this new technology and not putting into consideration the half hour time difference when scheduling. During the approach to Howland Islands Earharts transmissions could be heard, but it appeared that messages sent to their aircraft were not being received. As time went on transmissions from Earhart became more and more garbled and soon became hard to decipher. The last transmission received indicated that Earhart and Noonan had thought they had found the island, but could not be reached and after numerous more attempts it appeared that the connection had dropped.

Only one hour after last transmission was received had the search for them begun with the United States Coast Guard and Navy both searching the surrounding waters of Howland Island and the neighbouring Gardner Island. The official search ended 17 days later after $4 million had been spent on search resources. At this point in time it was the largest, most expensive and most publicized search to date. Even though the official search had recovered no physical evidence to suggest where they had landed George Putnam financed another search for many weeks after.

There are two main theories which have arisen about what happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. One is the crash and sink theory, and the other the Gardner Island theory. The crash and sink theory seems to be more widely believed by people, but the Gardner Island theory has a much more confirmed explanation.

The crash and sink theory is simply that they ran out of fuel and went into the sea somewhere surrounding Howland Island, though remains have never been recovered.

The Gardner Island theory was developed after the International Group for Historic Aircraft put out the idea that the island that Earhart and Noonan had thought was Howland Island was actually Gardner Island which they landed on, found was uninhabited and ultimately perished there. In 1940 Gerald Gallagher found human remains on Gardner Island, and after orders to send the bones to Fiji it was discovered that they were believed to have belonged to a tall, white female of northern European ancestry. Further searching of this island led to the discovery of an aluminium panel possibly from the plane they were driving, a piece of Plexiglas identical down to the exact thickness and curvature of the window on the model plane they were flying and a size 9 shoe heel resembling the footwear Earhart is shown to be wearing in promotional photos for the flight. Even though the crash and sink theory is more commonly believed, the surviving Earhart and Putnam family all have said to believe in this theory here.

Amelia Earhart was regarded highly as a feminist icon. Hundreds of books and articles have been written on her, sharing her motivational tale to the world. To many young females, especially those alive in the years Amelia Earhart was also alive, Amelia is an inspiration and teaches you to strive for your goals no matter how many people believe in you. Among the things Amelia left the world is the Earhart Foundation which helps provide funding and scholarships in the area of aviation, and the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship which is awarded to women to help them achieve getting advanced pilot certificate ratings, college degrees and technical training, along with many other scholarships, museums and awards which are named after this truly inspiration women.

1 comment:

lee dumett said...

i believe elgen long's theory, crash and sink, is the only logical explanation, and amelia, noonan and the electra plane are at the bottom of the pacific ocean, 3 miles down, and hopefully the plane will one day be dicovered.