Off the Beaten Track
in Vol. 13 - July Issue - Year 2012
The Lure of Flying, the Lure of Beauty
Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E
Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan
“The stars seemed near enough to touch and never before have I seen so many. I always believed the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, but I was sure of it that night.”
Amelia Earhart wrote these words shortly before attempting to become the first female aviator to circumnavigate the globe. The story of her life, her determination to make her mark as a woman in a world dominated by men and the mystery surrounding her death are a constant source of speculation and fascination seventy-five years later.
Amelia was born in 1897 in a small farming town in the American Midwest. As a young girl, she would set out with her younger sister to explore their neighborhood, often attempting feats of physical prowess usually reserved for boys. She was home schooled until the age of twelve, when she was enrolled for the first time in a public school, and loved to spend long hours reading books in the large family library. Her father’s unstable job situation forced the family to move from one city to another and as a result Amelia had a rather unhappy childhood. At high school she preferred chemistry and mechanics over other subjects and also started collecting newspaper clippings on women who had become successful in fields normally dominated by men.
Amelia Earhart was not impressed when she saw her first airplane at the age of ten. She later described it as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and… not at all interesting.” As a teenager she provided aid to wounded soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War I. Her destiny was decided at the age of twenty-three, when she was given her first ride in an airplane. She later wrote: “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly”. Taking a variety of odd jobs, she accumulated the money needed for her first flying lessons with a female aviation pioneer called Anita Snook. Amelia gladly accepted the hard work and sacrifices required by her training. She soon managed to buy a small second-hand biplane which she named “The Canary” because of its bright yellow color. With this airplane in 1922 Amelia flew to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,300 meters), thereby establishing a world record for a female pilot.
Amelia continued to practice and to perfect her flying technique, but she could no longer afford to keep an aircraft and was forced to sell her beloved biplane in 1927. Problems with her health and with the family finances forced her to move to Boston and to accept more odd jobs, first as a teacher and then as a social worker. Nevertheless, she became the local agent for a small aircraft manufacturer and wrote numerous aviation articles. At the same time, she did not forget her desire to promote the role of women in modern society and made plans to found an organization devoted to female aviators.
In 1928 she was offered the possibility of becoming the first woman to fly, or rather, to be flown across the Atlantic Ocean. This flight was a huge success with the American public and, although Earhart’s participation was limited to keeping the flight log, it gave her the possibility of earning considerable sums of money through lecture tours and the endorsement of consumer goods such as luggage, cigarettes, women’s clothing and sportswear. Writing for a well-known magazine, Amelia continued to promote aviation and the role of women in this field.
Amelia quickly resumed her flying activity and became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back in 1928. Between 1930 and 1935 she set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records and in 1932 was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
On June 1st, 1937 Earhard left Miami with navigator Fred Noonan in a Lockheed Electra 10E in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. They arrived in New Guinea on June 29th and three days later left for a small Pacific island 4,000 km away. Radio contact with a U.S. Navy ship was lost during the final approach to the island and the plane with its occupants disappeared without a trace. Numerous search and rescue missions were fruitless.
In one of her last diary entries, Amelia wrote: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others”.
By Giovanni Gregorat, Contributing Editor MFN & Sales Manager, Pometon Abrasives
Author: Giovanni Gregorat