“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
On the 11th of January 1935, a little plane took off from Honolulu, Hawaii. Destination: Oakland, California. The flight: 2,408 miles long. 8,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, it was bitterly cold.
The pilot, quite alone in that plane and the vast expanse of water and sky, opened a thermos of hot chocolate and poured herself a cup. Now, imagine the taste of that chocolate and the heat filling the pilot’s chest. “Adventure is worthwhile in itself,” Amelia Earhart always said.
It was a red airplane that did it: stole her heart when she was twenty years old. Standing in a field, she watched a stunt pilot dive and at the last minute, swoop up. When, a few years later, a pilot gave her a ride, “by the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia
And fly she did. Amelia Earhart would become the most famous female aviator in history.
The first to rise to 14,000 feet, cross the Atlantic ocean alone, fly solo from coast to coast of the United States, from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, Mexico City to Newark, and from the Red Sea to India. And when she disappeared in midflight, in 1937, she was on her way to be the first person to fly around the world.
Earhart was more than just a pilot. She was a woman who challenged the limitations set on her by the laws of physics and society. As a child, she kept a scrapbook of stories about successful women in fields like film direction and production, law, management, and engineering. She climbed trees and dropped out of finishing school to work in a military hospital during World War One. She then became a social worker, putting her money away to buy her first plane, a second-hand Kinner Airster she baptized “The Canary.”
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.”
It was with her Canary that Amelia, on her own, broke the 14,000 feet record. From there, the trans-Atlantic flight, then onto the next adventure. The challenges she set for herself were as much ones of aviation skill as trails she blazed wide open for other women to venture on.
“…Now, and then, women should do for themselves what men have already done—occasionally what men have not done—thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action.”
Earhart was one of the founding members and first president of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots. The organization still exists today and represents pilots from 44 countries.
Her achievements also inspired the more than 1,000 female pilots of the Women Air-force Service Pilots (WASP) who “ferried military aircraft, towed gliders, flew target practice aircraft, and served as transport pilots during World War II.”
Photo credit: NBC News
Amelia Earhart captured hearts and imaginations because she was independent and free, but it was her courage and determination that truly made her immortal:
She had once attempted to fly around the world, a first among male and female pilots. Her plane had crashed in Honolulu in March of 1937. By the first of June, however, she had repaired it and taken off, for the second time, on an eastbound flight from California around the world.
Photo credit: Getty Images
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace, the soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things.”
With fellow navigator Fred Noonan, she flew to Miami, then to South America, then crossed the Atlantic to Africa, then India, all the way to Southeast Asia. By the 29th of June and Lae, New Guinea, she had flown 22,000 of the 29,000 miles of the journey.
On the morning of the 2nd of July – slightly overcast, diaries say – Earhart took off from Lae for Howland Island. She and Noonan disappeared.
Amelia Earhart’s last adventure could be viewed as a failure, but failure itself is but an outcome, one tiny sentence at the end of a chapter. Before it, there is ambition, tenacity. After it: legacy, inspiration. She opened a sky of opportunity to generations of women.