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A tribute to Amelia Earhart

Tue 15th Dec 2020

Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Since she was a little girl, Amelia Earhart had a dream to take to the sky and embrace the wind. Maybe she never imagined that her first plane, 'Canary,' would take her to the clouds and set a world record. On the 5th of January, 2021, 82 years since she was officially declared deceased, we look back at the legendary life of a valorous and glamorous woman who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Early life and inspirations

On July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhart was born, the second child of Amy Otis and Edwin Stanton Earhart. Two years later, her sister Muriel was born. They were raised unconventionally, as Amy Earhart did not devote herself to raise her children to become "cute little girls". Amelia spent her free time roaming the countryside, collecting insects, hunting and climbing trees, unlike the other girls in her neighbourhood who were wearing pretty dresses and staying indoors.

The first time she saw an aircraft was at the age of 10 when she went to the lowa State fair in Des Moines in 1908. She described it as "a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting". It was not until a stunt-flying exhibition ten years later that Amelia's passion for flying was ignited. From 1910 to 1915, Amelia and her family went through a turbulent and difficult time after her grandmother passed away. Her father struggled with alcoholism and lost his job. After her father's one-month rehabilitation in a sanatorium, the whole family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. However, Edwin once again failed to recover and find a job. Amelia's mother moved to Chicago alone with Amelia and her sister in desperation.

Little did Earhart know, after scoffing at the aircraft in Des Moines, that she would go on to become one of the most famous female aviators of all time. Photo: News Corp Australia
Little did Earhart know, after scoffing at the aircraft in Des Moines, that she would go on to become one of the most famous female aviators of all time. Photo: News Corp Australia

Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago in June 1916 with an aptitude for science. She then decided to start her academic journey at the Ogontz School, an exclusive finishing school outside of Philadelphia. She volunteered for wounded World War I soldiers as a nurse. During 1919-1920, Amelia continued her study through the pre-med program at Columbia University, leaving soon-after to re-join her parents in Los Angeles.

Taking to the sky

In order to pay for expensive flight course fees, the young lady tried all kinds of work, including truck driving, photography, and even stenography. Finally, after saving enough money, she took her first flying lesson with pilot Neta Snook. Six months later, she bought her first plane, a yellow Kinner Airster biplane, and named it Canary. Amelia successfully passed the flying license tests organised by the National Aeronautic Association on 15 December 1921. One year later, on October 22, she flew the Canary to 14,000 feet and created the highest unofficial altitude record as a female pilot. She soon obtained an international pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in 1923, as the 16th woman ever to achieve this tremendous honour.

Earhart quickly became internationally renowned as a bold and daring pilot. Photo: AP
Earhart quickly became internationally renowned as a bold and daring pilot. Photo: AP

In June 1928, Amelia became famous overnight when she took off from Newfoundland in a tri-motor seaplane named 'Friendship' with pilot Wilmer Stultz, and co-pilot and mechanic Louis Gordon. They arrived in Wales after a 20-hour flight. Crowds and cheers surrounded Amelia, but she did not immerse herself in joy. Instead, she did not think that she deserved any credit for being the first woman on a trans-Atlantic flight. "Stultz did all the flying, had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes, maybe someday I will try it alone," she said.

During the summer, she wrote 20 Hrs, 40 Min, a book detailing the 'Friendship' flight. Her career took off like a plane, she sponsored her flights as a writer and lecturer and even designed a womenswear fashion collection. She also got paid to be the first person to fly from Hawaii to the mainland U.S. in 1935. TIME magazine dubbed her "easily the world's No.1 airwoman."

The fall of a legend

When Amelia was 39, she announced her final flight around the world as she prepared for the ambitious endeavour. She wanted to fulfil her lifelong dream to circumnavigate the globe by air. With the cheers from the crowd, she took off on June 1, 1937. She shared her stories and experiences to the American media along the journey. However, tragedy struck when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were flying to Howland Island. They disappeared in the central Pacific Ocean, along with her dream of becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the globe as a solo pilot.

This is the last known still pic of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, taken at Lae, New Guinea after leaving Darwin, never to be seen again. Picture: Courtesy of Remember Amelia, the Larry C. Inman Historical Collection on Amelia Earhart
This is the last known still pic of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, taken at Lae, New Guinea after leaving Darwin, never to be seen again. Picture: Courtesy of Remember Amelia, the Larry C. Inman Historical Collection on Amelia Earhart

On 5 January 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead in a court in Los Angeles. To this day, the circumstances of her disappearance and the location of her remains is a mystery. Being the first female to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean was worth more to Amelia than her own life. The legendary life of Amelia Earhart was memorialised in that moment, as she was most likely laid to rest in the Pacific Ocean, and will be remembered in the hearts of people as a trailblazer for women in aviation and one of the most profound mysteries of all time.

"Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?" - Amelia Earhart

Rest in Peace, Amelia Earhart.

By Caitlin Duan

Sources:

  • BBC. (2018). Amelia Earhart: Island bones 'likely' belonged to famed pilot. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada- 4332...
  • Eltagouri, M. (2018). Bones discovered on a Pacific island belong to Amelia Earhart, a new forensic analysis claims. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/03/07/bones-discovered-on-a-pacific-island-belong-to-amelia-earhart-a-new-forensic-analysis-shows/
  • PBS. (2020). Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937, Timeline. Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/earhart-timeline/
  • The Family of Amelia Earhart. (2020). Timeline. Retrieved from: https://www.ameliaearhart.com/achievements/
  • Waxman, O.B. (2019). Amelia Earhart Was Declared Dead 80 Years Ago. Here's What to Know About What Actually Happened to Her. Retrieved from:https://time.com/5486999/amelia-earhart-disappearance-theories/