Perhaps no name is as symbolic of aerospace achievement as the American aviator Amelia Earhart. She became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air and the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone. She was also the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. Her accomplishments as a pilot set standards for all fliers for years to come.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897. She referred to herself as "AE". She served during World War I as a military nurse in Canada, where she developed an interest in flying. She pursued her interest in flying in California, where she received her pilot's license in 1922. After receiving her pilot's license, Amelia spent several years as a teacher and social worker at Dennison House, in Boston. While she was doing this she continued her association with aviation by entering numerous flying meets.
Amelia became obsessed with flying. She spent a lot of solo flying time in The Canary. She set a women's altitude record in October 1922 by flying The Canary to 14,000 feet. Ruth Nichols broke the record a few weeks later, but the effort is what started Earhart's fame.
In 1928, Earhart was asked to join Wilmer Stultz, a pilot, and Lou Gordon, a flight mechanic, as a passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight, called The Friendship. The flight went from Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland, to Burry Port, Wales a distance of more than 2,010 miles. Twenty hours and forty minutes after take off they landed safely in Wales, making Earhart the first woman to ride in a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. This accomplishment gave Earhart the nickname of "Lady Lindy".
On their return home, the three were greeted with a parade in New York and reception in Boston, Chicago, and Medford, Massachusetts. Amelia was also given a reception at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge. Earhart latter wrote a book about the flight, which she named 20 Hrs. and 40 Min. On November 2, 1929 Earhart helped co-found the "Ninety-Nines", an international organization of women pilots. The group was named for its ninety-nine charter members. Earhart served as the first president of the organization from 1930 to 1933.
As more and more woman challenged the skies, the group grew to an international organization. The "Ninety-Nines" continues today to promote aviation education and aeronautical science to women. On May 20, 1932, the five-year anniversary of the first Atlantic crossing by Charles Lindbergh, Amelia began her attempt to be the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic alone. Her flight began in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.
The crossing was extremely difficult and dangerous. Amelia had to fly through a lightning storm and she almost crashed into the ocean. Her plane began to leak fuel and Amelia gave up hope of reaching her planned destination of Paris, France. Amelia was forced to make an emergency landing into a cow pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. Even though she had to make an emergency landing, she not only crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but she also set a new time record of thirteen hours and thirty minutes.
Congress voted Earhart the first woman to receive The Distinguished Flying Cross. Amelia was an adventurous person. Her next daring flight she was planning was to fly around the Earth at the equator, something no one had ever attempted. Amelia asked her good friend and navigator, Fred Noonan to join her. Together they studied charts and learned about weather patterns along their flight-path. Then, in June of 1937, they set out on an eastward adventure.
After thirty days Amelia and Fred had nearly completed their circumnavigation of the Earth. With only two days of travel remaining, Earhart and Noonan were supposed to make a scheduled refueling stop at Howland Island in the Pacific. The last authentic message that was picked up by Earhart was, "We must be on you but we cannot see you. Gas is running low.
We are circling but cannot see the island". The United States Navy led in an extensive search with all the ships and planes available, but no word had been received concerning the plane or Earhart and Noonan when the search was officially abandoned. Thus, what seemed to be a great adventure turned very quickly into a tragedy. Captain Ellen Long, an airline pilot who set his own record of flying around the world, believes the plane can be found about thirty-five miles west-northwest of Howland Island. But a search for the plane by an undersea vehicle in an area twenty miles by forty miles would be extremely expensive. Though very few facts are known about the July 2, 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart, there are various conspiracy theories about the tragedy.
Amelia Earhart is woman that will never be forgotten. She had made a unique and timeless contribution to aviation and to women in aviation that will go on for decades to come.