Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.
Biography of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane, piloting herself. She performed this feat on May 20, 1932.
History of transatlantic flights
In April 1932, an American aristocrat (Amy Guest) had purchased one of the few Fokker FVIIB-3m “supermodern” aircraft designed and built in the Netherlands.
This lady’s goal was to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean, piloting herself.
Until then, no one had made that solo journey, since Charles Lindbergh rose to fame in May 1927. Lindbergh had traveled from New York to Paris nonstop, and piloting a monoplane aircraft, the “Spirit of Saint Louis“.
But, the determined opposition of Amy Guest’s family got her to give up on the attempt. So the lady hired George Putnam, a publicist from New York, to find another woman who could and wanted to do this feat.
That other woman was the advertiser’s wife: Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart’s early life and family
Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas on July 24, 1897. Her parents were named Samuel Earhart (a lawyer at a railroad company) and Amelia Earhart.
Her maternal grandfather was a prominent retired federal judge, who believed that Amelia’s father was not in a position to give his family a loose enough lifestyle.
Therefore, Amelia spent a good part of her childhood with her maternal grandparents, who provided her with all kinds of comforts.
As a child, Amelia Earhart showed signs of a restless and bold personality. One of her hobbies was collecting newspaper clippings of famous women who excelled in activities traditionally starring men.
In 1905, her father landed an executive job in Iowa, and the entire family moved to the city of Des Moines, most likely to the great distress of her maternal grandparents.
However, shortly afterwards several misadventures fell on the Earhart family.
In 1911, in Kansas, Amelia’s maternal grandmother passed away. In addition, her father had given himself up to drink and was fired from his job.
It began a sad wandering of the family, first to Minnesota, and later to Springfield, Missouri, hoping that her father would find a job there.
Studies and early works of Amelia Earhart
As it continued without anyone hiring Samuel Earhart, Amelia’s mother took her two daughters (Amelia and Muriel) and went with them to Chicago.
Thanks to the help of her grandfather, the judge, Amelia Earhart studied at Columbia University (New York). She completed her training in Harvard University summer courses. Later she worked as a social worker in Boston (Massachusetts).
During World War I, she went with her sister Muriel to Toronto (Canada) to collaborate as a volunteer nurse, attending to pilots injured in combat. There she visited a field of the Royal Canadian Air Corps and was fascinated by the planes.
Amelia Earhart’s first steps in aviation
In 1920, after the war, her mother and the two sisters went to live in California.
In Long Beach, she witnessed an air show and managed to be carried aboard a biplane, in which she flew for ten minutes over the city of Los Angeles. When the exciting flight ended, she knew she would have to be a pilot and fly from now on.
Almost immediately, on January 3, 1921, she enrolled in aviation classes in order to obtain a pilot’s degree.
Amelia was 1.73m tall and bursting with energy, audacity, and an appetite for adventure.
Very soon, with her savings and some help from her grandfather, she bought a small second-hand sailorslane, painted it yellow, and baptized it with the name “Canary“.
These biplane planes carried an engine of about 150 hp. They had been widely used in pilot training when the United States entered World War I.
Production was rather scarce, since aviation was in its infancy. After the war, they were used to perform aerobatics displays.
In those early years of aviation, engines were not very reliable and there was almost no quality control testing.
Under these circumstances, it was normal for Amelia to suffer some mishaps. But none of that could scare her away. Fortunately, these small planes could not reach high speeds.
Amelia Earhart started breaking records
Already in October 1922, she achieved her first altitude record, flying more than 4,000 meters high. Of course, without a pressurized cabin.
In 1923, she obtained the pilot license from the International Aeronautical Federation. She was the sixteenth woman to receive a pilot’s license.
Amelia left aviation for a while and bought a car, which she painted yellow. It was nicknamed “The Yellow Hazard“.
With this car she traveled with her mother from California to Boston. She crossed the country astonishing the peasants, for whom it was a great novelty to see a car. In addition, with that color it did not go unnoticed.
In 1927, she enrolled in the National Aeronautical Association. She invested some money to build an airstrip and was selling some Kinner planes.
She worked intensively to promote aviation, especially among women. As it could not be less, she began to make a name in society. In those years, the Boston Globe recognized her as one of the best pilots in the United States.
In June 1928, Amelia Earhart flew as a passenger, on a plane commanded by pilot Wilmer Stultz and with Louis Gordon as a mechanic.
They covered the 3,200 kilometers between Newfoundland and Wales. She was the first passenger to cross the Atlantic by plane.
They did it on a Fokker FVIIB-3m monoplane, dubbed “Friendship“.
It was so out of the ordinary for a woman to have been a passenger on this novel and risky flight, that when the plane landed, reporters ignored the plane, the pilot, and the mechanic and focused all their attention on the friendly Amelia Earhart.
In recognition of her courage, she was awarded by the United States Congress with the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was the first awarded to a woman.
Acknowledgments to Outstanding Amelia Earhart
The famed publisher and explorer George Putnam had fallen in awe of this exceptional Amelia Earhart.
George Putnam helped Amelia publish her book “Twenty Hours, Forty Minutes“. In it, Amelia narrated the details of the historic journey through the Atlantic.
Amelia Earhart’s fame grew in the media and she began lecturing across the country.
George Putnam accompanied her everywhere. Three years later, in 1931, the two married, but decided that Amelia would continue to use her maiden name.
Amelia’s activities in aviation
Amelia continued to drive aviation among women. In 1929, among many other activities, she organized an air race for women. The race was across the country: from Los Angeles to Cleveland.
The following year, she helped form an airline between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. In this company she had the position of vice president of public relations.
Amelia Earhart was 34 years old, a woman with a restless and daring personality, who had been flying aircraft for almost 8 years. The fame of an excellent air pilot had been earned through effort and courage.
The idea of embarking on a transatlantic flight
In April 1932, an American aristocrat (Amy Guest) had purchased one of the few Fokker FVIIB-3m “supermodern” aircraft. These planes were designed and built in the Netherlands.
Amy Guest’s intention was to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean, piloting herself. But, the strong opposition of her family, forced her to give up the attempt.
This willing woman hired George Putnam to find another woman who could and wanted to.
George Putnam saw that this was his wife’s opportunity to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.
Other women were about to try, and this adventure, in addition to making her happy, would serve to keep her name on the front page.
Amelia was delighted to accept and planned to make the journey from Grace Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Britain.
This is how, on May 20, 1932, exactly 5 years after Lindberg, Amelia Earhard made the journey that made her immortal.
In that journey, she achieved several marks: a) first woman to make a solo flight in the Atlantic; b) first person to do it twice; c) the longest distance flown by a woman without stopping; and d) record of crossing the Atlantic in the shortest time.
International fame of this extraordinary aviator
Praise and honor have been accumulated from around the world. She toured Europe; in New York she toured under a shower of lampoons.
President Hoover decorated her with the National Geographic Society’s special gold medal.
She received the keys to various cities; she was voted the most outstanding woman of the year; She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the United States Congress, first awarded to a woman.
Flight across the Pacific Ocean
In 1934, she announced to her husband George that her next big adventure would be a flight across the Pacific: Hawaii – California – Washington.
This flight had already been attempted by 10 other pilots; and with fatal result in all cases.
Amelia Earhart left Honolulu on January 11, 1935 and landed in Oakland, California, before a cheering crowd. President Roosevelt congratulated her.
That same year 1935, Amelia Earhart made the first lonely journey in history with the course: Los Angeles – Mexico City – Newark – New Jersey. It was another clamorous success that increased her fame.
In that same year 1935, Amelia Earhart began planning a trip around the world.
Northwest Airlines was one of eight air carriers that had purchased the Lockheed Electra twin-engine light aircraft, built by the Lockheed Aircraft company.
It was a short-range aircraft that reached a speed of 325 km/hour; It was 12 m long, it was equipped with two 450 hp engines and an all-metal fuselage.
The first 150 aircraft produced had been purchased by 8 companies that were already engaged in commercial flights.
This slightly modified aircraft was the machine of choice for Amelia Earhart for her journey.
She intended to set two new milestones: to be the first woman to take a trip of this nature; and achieve the greatest distance traveled by circumnavigating Earth at its equator. According to her, it was the flight that she had to do.
First attempt at flight across the Pacific
Once decided to make this flight, she chose Fred Noonan as a navigator.
Fred Noonan had experience in flight over the Pacific Ocean. In addition, Amelia selected two other crew members as technicians.
The four crew members began the flight from Oakland (California) to Hawaii on March 17, 1937.
In Hawaii they had a serious setback. When taking off near Pearl Harbor, the airplane slipped out of control and sustained considerable damage. It had to be sent to California for repair.
Second attempt of the flight across the Pacific
Amelia began planning a new attempt. This time making the trip from Los Angeles (California) to Miami (Florida). She decided that only she would participate as a pilot and Noonan as a navigator.
On May 21, 1937, they left Los Angeles for Florida. On June 1, 1937, they left Miami for San Juan de Puerto Rico and Caripito, eastern Venezuela.
Then they skirted South America and headed for Africa and the Red Sea. From there they flew to Karachi in Pakistan, then continued on to Calcutta on June 17, 1937.
Subsequently, they continued flight to Burma, Bangkok, Singapore and Bandung (capital of Java, island of Indonesia).
Problems begin on the long journey
At Bandung, Amelia Earhart fell ill with dysentery. In addition, bad weather and the need to make some repairs to the plane forced the departure to Darwin in Australia to be delayed. They resumed flight on June 27, 1937.
When they landed in Papua New Guinea on June 29, 1937, they were flying 35,405 kilometers. They had 11,265 kilometers to complete the odyssey.
In the photos that she sent from Papua to the Herald Tribune newspaper, she looks sick and tired.
At 0:00 GMT on July 2, 1937, after refueling enough fuel for about 20 hours of flight, they headed for America, crossing the Pacific Ocean.
The atmospheric situation was not the most favorable, since it was cloudy and with intermittent rains.
Latest news from Amelia, received by the coastguards
At 7:20 GMT on July 2, 1937, she reported her position to a US Coast Guard (the Itasca).
At 8:00 GMT she made her last radio contact and reported that the plane was flying 3,657 meters high, bound for Howland Island.
Then there were a few short transmissions to the Coast Guard, but the messages were too short and did not allow the position of the plane to be determined.
The message was: “KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on top of you, but we don’t see you … The fuel is running out … ”.
At 20:14 GMT on July 2, 1937, Coast Guard Itasca received the last message. At around 9:30 p.m. GMT they determined that the plane may have crashed into the sea and the search began.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the collaboration of 9 ships and 66 aircraft, an operation at a cost of $ 4 million.
Amelia Earhart was officially declared missing
On July 18, 1937, those responsible abandoned the search in the area of the disappearance. George Putnam, Amelia’s husband, sought more help to continue the search, but hopes of finding them were already nonexistent.
Amelia Earhart regularly sent letters to George Putnam, and in one of them she wrote: “Please, you have to understand that I am aware of the dangers and that I want to do it because I want to. Women should try to do things like what men have done. When they fail in their attempts, they must be challenging for others”.
The disappearance of the plane in which Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were traveling, has generated numerous theories about their end. Subsequently, several expeditions were carried out in search of her remains. Today, the mystery remains unsolved.
Amelia Earhart had become a national idol. Her mysterious disappearance, when she was about to complete the tour of the world by the equator, contributed to magnify her legend.
Her celebrity had already allowed her to promote the commercial use of aviation. Furthermore, she had successfully defended the incorporation of women into this new professional field.
If Amelia Earhart had lived a few decades later, she surely would have wanted to travel into space. It would have been like russian aviator Svetlana Savistkaya or also chinese aviator Liu Yang.
Amelia Earhart was and remains a bulwark in the fight for equal rights and equal opportunities for women.
In 2009, the film “Amelia” based on the life of Amelia Earhart, starring Hilary Swank in the role of Amelia, and with Richard Gere in the role of husband George Putnam was released.
Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.