Amelia Earhart perched atop her custom Lockheed Electra Model 10E,
1937. The plane had most of the cabin windows blanked out and had
specially fitted fuselage fuel tanks. The modifications increased the
tank size from 200 to 1200 galloons.
Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her plane.
Flight analysis data sheet from Howland Island to Lae.
Map of route of Amelia Earhart’s second, and final, world flight attempt, June 1, 1937 – July 2, 1937.
Amelia Earhart discussing her world flight plans with George Putnam and Fred Noonan.
Amelia Earhart surrounded by news personnel after landing in Londenderry, Northern Ireland following her transatlantic flight.
Amelia Earhart’s proposed route from Lae, Papua, New Guinea to Howland Island.
Amelia Earhart, nicknamed “Lady Lindy” because of her achievements comparable to those of Charles Lindbergh, is considered “the most celebrated of all women aviators.” Her accomplishments in the field of aviation inspired others and helped pave the ways for those that followed.
Born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhart’s
parents encouraged her from a young age to participate in activities usually
left to boys, such as football, baseball, and fishing. Their encouragement,
watching numerous air shows in Los Angeles, and paying a pilot a dollar for a
10-minute airplane ride all contributed to her decision to become a pilot and
join this predominantly male field. After her first ride, she wrote, “By the
time I had gotten two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to
From 1921 to 1922, Earhart was taught to fly by Neta Snook,
the first woman to graduate from the Curtiss School of Aviation. In October 1922,
Earhart received her pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronatique
Internationale. Soon after, on October 22, 1922, Earhart set a women’s altitude
record of 14,000 feet (4,200 meters) in a Kinner Canary, an open-cockpit,
Charles Lindbergh made his record-setting
across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. One of the people inspired
by his feat was flying enthusiast Amy Guest, who hoped to be the first
cross the Atlantic. She purchased a plane but her family vetoed the
Earhart went in her place and became the first female to cross the
Ocean. Leaving Newfoundland, Canada, on June 4, 1928, Earhart joined
Stutz and Louis E. Gordon in their bright red Fokker F.VII named the
Friendship on their 2,000-mile
(3,219-kilometer) trip to Wales. Earhart had no part in piloting the
during the 20-hour, 40-minute trip and was, in her words, “just
baggage,” making her even more eager to cross the Atlantic on her own.
In 1929, Earhart co-founded an organization whose goal it
was to advance women’s participation and opportunities in aviation. Called the Ninety-Nines, the organization was composed of 99
charter members, representing 99 of the 117 licensed women pilots in the United
States at the time.
Earhart continued setting records. On July 6, 1930, she set
a woman’s speed record of 181 miles per hour (291 kilometers per hour), in a Lockheed Vega, a single-engine
monoplane. On April 8, 1931, she set an autogiro altitude record of 18,451
feet (5,623.8 meters).
On May 20-21, 1932, Earhart accomplished her goal of flying
solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She took off from Newfoundland, Canada, at 7:12
p.m. on May 20, in her Lockheed Vega. Her flight was filled with dangers, from
rapidly changing weather to a broken altimeter so she could not tell
how high she was flying, to gasoline leaking into the cockpit. At one point her
plane dropped almost 3,000 feet (914 meters) and went into a spin (which she
managed to pull out of) and flames were shooting out of the exhaust manifold.
She brought her plane down on the coast of Ireland after a harrowing trip
lasting 15 hours and 18 minutes The flight was the second solo flight across
the Atlantic and the longest nonstop flight by a woman–2,026 miles (3,261
kilometers)–as well as the first flight across the Atlantic by a woman.
President Herbert Hoover awarded her the National Geographic Society Medal on
June 21, 1932, for her achievement, and the U.S. Congress awarded her the
Distinguished Flying Cross, the first woman to receive such an honor. Earhart’s
accomplishment meant a great deal to the entire world, but especially to women,
for it demonstrated that women could set their own course in aviation and other
Her next major achievement was to set the women’s nonstop
transcontinental speed record. On August 24-25, 1932, she flew from Los
Angeles, California, to Newark, New Jersey, in a record 19 hours, 5 minutes,
flying a Lockheed Vega, also becoming the first woman to fly solo
coast-to-coast. The next July she set a new transcontinental speed record,
making the same flight in a record 17 hours, 7 minutes.
In January 1935, Earhart became the first woman to make a
solo long-distance flight over the Pacific Ocean, flying from Honolulu, Hawaii,
to San Francisco, California. This complicated flight in her second Lockheed
Vega occurred in adverse weather conditions and demonstrated Earhart’s courage
as well as her stubbornness. She followed that flight with two more first solo
flights–one on April 19-20 from Los Angles, California, to Mexico City, in 13
hours, 23 minutes and the second on May 8, 1935, from Mexico City to Newark,
New Jersey, in 14 hours, 19 minutes.
Earhart wanted to be the first of either gender to fly
around the world at its widest, close to the equator. She acquired the most
advanced long-range, non-military aircraft available–a Lockheed Model 10E Electra. The all-metal,
two-engine plane had been reconfigured with extra fuel tanks replacing the
passenger seats, allowing the plane to travel farther between refuelings.
Her first attempt at the world flight began on March 17,
1937, in Oakland, California, but ended abruptly with a runway crash in
Honolulu, Hawaii, after a tire blew and a shock absorber on the landing gear failed. Earhart
decided to repair the damaged plane and try again.
The flight began again on May 20, 1937, this time heading
from Oakland to Miami, Florida. But it was plagued with mechanical problems
along the way that resulted in further delays. Eventually she and Fred Noonan,
her navigator, reached Miami and made final adjustments to the plane’s engines
and instruments. Finally, Earhart and Noonan were ready to depart.
What turned out to be the final flight of Earhart’s career,
and, ultimately, her life, began on June 1, 1937. Earhart and Noonan left for
their round-the-world flight from Miami, Florida, in her twin-engine,
red-winged Electra. From Miami, they flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Right
before taking off on this leg of the flight, Earhart was quoted as saying, “I
have a feeling there is just about one more good flight left in my system and I
hope this trip is it. Anyway, when I have finished this job, I mean to give up
long-distance ‘stunt’ flying.”
As Earhart’s journey continued, news of her flight made the
front page of newspapers around the world. She sent reports of the land,
cultures, and people she encountered. On June 30, 1937, Earhart and Noonan
arrived in Lae, New Guinea. They had traveled 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers)
and had 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers) left to go.
Their next destination, and the most dangerous stop of the
trip, was Howland Island, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, 2,556 miles
(4,113 kilometers) away. Before Earhart took off from Lae on July 1, there was
confusion about which radio frequencies were to be used, which remained
unresolved before she took off. As the scheduled time neared for Earhart to
approach the island, several transmissions were received from her, demanding to
know the weather. A new weather report describing heavy clouds and rain
northwest of Howland had been issued, and Earhart had apparently run into the
storm. Earhart transmitted several more times but never reached her
destination, disappearing somewhere off the coast of the island. A large search
party was quickly organized, but no remains of the crew and the plane were ever
There are many theories surrounding the controversial
disappearance of the plane on July 2, 1937. The most commonly accepted theory
is that the fliers got lost, ran out of gas, and went down somewhere in the
Pacific Ocean. However, as war between the United States and Japan was
imminent, there were rumors that Earhart had been on a spy mission for the
United States and was supposed to photograph Japanese military installations.
This theory says that she crash-landed and was captured by the Japanese, who
imprisoned or executed her. A third theory was that her disappearance was
staged to allow the U.S. Navy to conduct a search in the South Pacific.
Although only 39 when she disappeared, Earhart accomplished
a great deal and is considered a true hero of the 20th century, especially for
women. She demonstrated courage, integrity, and an independent spirit. She used
her fame to advance the cause of women and showed that a determined woman could
achieve anything. Her efforts led a generation of women to seek new horizons
and new roles for themselves.
References and Further Reading:
G. The Search for Amelia Earhart.
London, Bodley Head, 1966.
P. Mastering the Sky: A History of
Aviation From Ancient Times to the Present. New York: Sarpedan, 1996.
Rich, Doris L. Amelia Earhart: a Biography. Washington,
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
Schraff, Anne. American Heroes of Exploration and Flight.
New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Shore, Nancy. Amelia Earhart. Philadelphia: Chelsea
House Publishers, 1987.
Wood, Leigh H. Amelia Earhart. Philadelphia: Chelsea
House Publishers, 1997.
Earhart.” Allstar Network. From “These We Honor.” The International
Hall of Fame. The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California: 1984. http://www.allstar.fiu.edu/aero/earhart1.htm.
Earhart.” National Air and Space Museum. http://www.nasm.edu/nasm/aero/women_aviators/amelia_earhart.htm.
Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers. Purdue University. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/aearhart/
Standard Designation (where applicable)
Content of Standard
National Council for Geographic Education
How to use maps and other geographic representations,
tools, and technologies to process information.
National Center for History in the Schools
US History Standards
The struggle for gender equality.
International Technology Education Association
Students will develop an understanding of the influence of
technology on history.
International Technology Education Association
Students will develop an understanding of engineering