Friday, March 26, 2010

Amelia Earhart - First Woman To Fly Around The World

A few months ago I went to see a movie called "Amelia”. This was a 2009 dramatized biographical film of the life of Amelia Earhart, starring Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart along with a cast that includes Richard Gere (who played George P. Putnam her to be husband), Christopher Eccleston (who played Fred Noonan, her navigator) and Ewan McGregor (who played Gene Vidal, her lover). I quite enjoyed the film and it has just come out on DVD, so I have purchased the DVD. The film received quite a lot of negative reviews, but nevertheless I recommend it.

After viewing the film again I thought I’d do a post on Amelia. My post is a condensed version of her life. Naturally there is a wealth of information on the internet. I’m also going to include a trailer from the film, and also another video clip of a newsreel about her life (this film clip only goes 1.36 minutes).

Amelia Earhart the world's most famous female aviator disappeared in 1937, as she attempted to become the first woman to fly around the world. With her navigator, Fred Noonan, her Lockheed Electra, Amelia was last heard from about 100 miles from the tiny Pacific atoll, Howland Island on July 2, 1937. President Roosevelt authorized an immediate search; no trace was ever found. Over the years, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart has spawned almost as many conspiracy theories as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Kennedy Assassination.

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in Kansas, the daughter of Edwin and Amy Earhart. At the age of three, she was sent to live with her grandmother.

She took her first ride in an airplane in 1920. After her flight with barnstormer Frank Hawks, she said "As soon as we left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly." Indeed, within a few days, she took her first flying lesson, in a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. Six months later, she bought her own airplane, a yellow Kinner Airster, that she dubbed "The Canary." Amelia was not a naturally gifted pilot, but she persevered, built up her flying time, and even broke the woman's altitude record in 1922.

She became the first woman to fly across the
Atlantic on June 18-19, 1928. The flight was the brainchild of Amy Guest, a wealthy, aristocratic American expatriate living in London. Aware of the huge publicity that would accrue to the first woman to fly the Atlantic, the 55 year old Mrs. Guest had purchased a Fokker F7 trimotor from Commander Richard Byrd, to make the flight herself. Her family objected, and she relented, as long as the "right sort" of woman could make the flight. The "right sort" would take a good picture, be well-educated, and not be a publicity-seeking gold-digger. The Guest family hired George Putnam, a New York publicist who had promoted Lindbergh's book We, to look for a suitable women pilot. He selected the little-known Amelia Earhart, and introduced her as "Lady Lindy".

While the flight instantly made her world-famous, she was little more than a passenger in the Fokker tri-motor "Friendship." They took off from Trepassy, Newfoundland, and after a 20 hour and 40 minute flight, landed in Burry Port, Wales. When they went on to London, another huge mob welcomed them. The pilots, Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon, were all but forgotten in the media frenzy surrounding the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

After Amelia's flight across the Atlantic in 1928, succeeded in attracting even more publicity than her sponsors, Amy Guest and George Putnam, had expected, George, a New York publicist, next organized a cross-country flight and a speaking tour for Amelia. While Putnam was married at the time, he was attracted to Amelia. He divorced his wife, and he and Amelia married in 1931. She was a charter member and first president of the "Ninety Nines," an organization of women in aviation, so named for the original number of members.

She achieved a number of aviation record. This is only a few of them:

The first woman to fly across the Atlantic, in 1928

The second person to fly solo across the Atlantic, in 1932

The first person to solo from Hawaii to California, in 1935

Guided by her publicist and husband, George Putnam, she made headlines in the era when aviation gripped the public's imagination.

On May 21, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh's flight, she took off in a Lockheed Vega, in an attempt to become the second person after Lindbergh (and first woman) to fly solo across the Atlantic. Starting from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, her flight lasted almost 15 hours, when she touched down in a pasture near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (In fact, the distance from Newfoundland to Ireland being considerably shorter than Lindbergh's route from Long Island to Paris, her flight time was correspondingly shorter than his 33 hours.) Her Vega 5B is on display at the Smithsonian NASM.

Her Last Flight

In 1937 Amelia Earhart attempted an around-the-world flight. Flying a custom-built, Lockheed Model 10E Electra equipped with extra-large gas tanks, she would follow a 'close to the Equator' route, thus going one better than Wiley Post's northern, mid-latitude route. In her first effort, in March of 1937, she flew west, but a crash in Hawaii abruptly ended that trip.

.....................Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

Starting on May 21, 1937 from Oakland, California, in the recently repaired Lockheed Electra, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, stayed over land as much as possible. After relatively short flights to Burbank, California, and Tucson, Arizona, they next touched down in New Orleans, and then Miami where the airplane was tuned-up for the long trip. From Miami, they flew through the Caribbean, to an enthusiastic welcome in San Juan, and then to Natal, Brazil, for the shortest possible hop over the Atlantic, although, at 1727 miles, it was the longest leg of the journey that they completed safely. They touched down in Senegal, West Africa; then eastward across Africa (via the dusty Sahal outposts of Gao, N'Djamena, and El Fasher) to Khartoum and then Ethiopia. From Assab, Ethiopia, they were the first to make an Africa-to-India flight, touching down in Karachi (then part of India), a 1627 mile leg.

From Calcutta, India they flew to Rangoon, Bangkok, and then Bandung, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Monsoon weather prevented departure from Bandung for several days. Repairs were made on some of the long distance instruments which had given trouble previously. During this time Amelia had become ill with dysentery that lasted for several days. After a stop in Darwin, Australia, they continued eastward to Lae, New Guinea, arriving there on June 29.

From Lae, they took off for Howland Island, 2200 miles away in the Pacific. Setting out to refuel at tiny Howland Island, radio transmissions between USCGC Itasca, a Coast Guard picket ship, and Earhart's aircraft reveal a rising crisis, as her fuel begins to run out. Her last message is a cryptic position report that the Coast Guard radio operators realize is not of sufficient length to provide a "fix". Earhart and Noonan continue to fly on. They never arrived.

Disappearance Speculation

Ironically Amelia Earhart has become more famous for disappearing than for her many real aviation achievements. It sparked a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theorists and "researchers." There are two main themes to these ideas. One, her around-the-world flight was a cover for a spy mission, commissioned by President Roosevelt to determine what the Japanese were up to in the Pacific. Two, she and Fred Noonan weren't simply swallowed up by the vast Pacific Ocean, but were captured by the Japanese. Obviously these two main themes work well in combination.

No evidence has ever been found to support either one of these ideas. But a lack of facts has not dissuaded these researchers.


Peter said...

Well that's all great BUT... we are STILL stuck somewhere in Victoria!!!!!!

Peter said...

Since January 20 2009!!!!!!!!!!

Merle said...

Hi Warren~~ Great post about Amelia. It is sad to think the most famous
thing about her and her life is her
disappearance. Guess we will never know what happened to her.

Victoria was so good, you just don't want to leave it -- Right?
Take care, Love, Merle.

Puss-in-Boots said...

All I can say is that she had more intestinal fortitude than I would.

I don't even like Jumbos all that much...there's no way I'd get in a Tonka toy of that size.