Perhaps one of the most famous legendary aviators of all time, male or female, is Amelia Mary Earhart. Born in July of 1898, Amelia was ten years old when she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. Contrary to what many would believe, it was not love at first sight. In fact, it would be more than a decade before Ameliaıs interest in aviation would awaken.
After visiting her sister, Muriel, at a college preparatory school in Canada, Amelia decided to stay in Toronto to train as a nurse. She served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in a military hospital until the armistice of World War I was signed. In the fall of 1919, Amelia pursued her interest in helping the sick when she enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Several months later, however, she visited an aerial meet in California and her role in life began to change from nursing to flying. After taking a brief, ten minute ride in a biplane, her heart was lost: ³As soon as we left the ground, I knew I had to fly!² Soon after this experience, Amelia began taking lessons from pioneer aviatrix Anita ³Neta² Snook.
By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record-breaking attempts and set a womenıs altitude record of 14,000 feet. Although Amelia later traded in her Kinner airplane for a Kissel car, she still continued to be recognized as a novelty. Cross-continental travel by automobile was uncommon and, as Amelia and her mother made their way from California to Boston, they were continually stopped by people. Upon reaching Boston, Amelia took full advantage of her circumstances to promote flying for women. On April 27, 1926, Captain H.H. Railey changed her life forever when he asked, ³How would you like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic?² Although she was merely a passenger aboard The Friendship , Ameliaıs name was forever imprinted upon the worldıs memory.
Amelia began organizing various events to further introduce women into the world of aviation. She was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport with the responsibility of attracting women passengers. She organized the famous cross-country air race for women pilots, the Los Angeles to Cleveland Womenıs Air Derby, in 1929. Amelia also co-founded and presided over the Ninety-Nines womenıs pilot organization. In 1930, she broke several womenıs speed records and accepted George Putnamıs proposal of marriage a year later.
On May 20, 1932, exactly five years after the Lindbergh flight, Amelia began her solo journey across the Atlantic ocean, carrying only tomato juice, a lucky bracelet, a few light tools, a bottle of smelling salts, her powder compact and her trademark scarf. Upon landing in northern Ireland, Amelia broke many records: the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo and the only person to fly it twice, the longest nonstop distance flown by a woman and a record for crossing with the shortest time.
After a series of non-stop lecture tours, Amelia accepted an appointment at Purdue University to serve as a consultant in the department for the study of careers for women. Then, in 1935, she began planning for an around-the-world flight in a Lockheed Electra 10E plane. Although this first attempt was halted by equipment problems, Amelia tried again two years later. In July 1937, as she attempted the first round-the-world flight via the equator with navigator Frederick J. Noonan, Ameliaıs plane mysteriously disappeared after takeoff from New Guinea. It was determined that the plane went down some 35-100 miles off the coast of Howland Island. President Roosevelt authorized a search that ultimately cost approximately $4 million, but Amelia and her navigator were never found. Their fate continues to be the subject of unending speculation.
Amelia regularly sent letters to her husband along her route. Her fate was eerily prophetized in one of these notes, as she wrote, ³Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards...I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.² Amelia would be proud of the women aviators who recognize the hazards and continue to face the challenges.