Amelia Earhart, the aviation pioneer and author, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean today in 1937.
Nearing the end of the third to last leg of an attempt to fly around the world, contact was lost with her Lockheed Electra plane. Despite many attempts to find and recover the wreckage, Earhart was formerly pronounced dead in January 1939, some18 months after her disappearance.
Born into relative privilege and comfort in July 1897, Amelia was a strong willed child and something of a tomboy. Her maternal grandparents were well to do and her father was a lawyer by trade. He worked throughout most of Amelia's childhood for the Rock Island Railroad, but he battled with alcoholism, which resulted in some forced moves around the country, and a somewhat troubled upbringing for Amelia and her sister, Grace.
Amelia was always keen to champion women in professions normally associated with men. Throughout her childhood she kept newspaper clippings and pictures of women she admired in a scrapbook, and she aspired to be seen and dealt with as an equal.
On December 28th 1920, she had her first flight for $10 at an airfield in Long Beach, California. The flight lasted 10 minutes. She knew from that moment that her destiny was to fly, and managed to raise $1000 to take lessons. Over the next decade she built a reputation as a no-nonsense woman in the male dominated field of aviation. She became a licensed pilot (only the 16th woman to do so in the US), and in 1928, became the first woman to fly (albeit as a passenger) across the Atlantic Ocean.
Embracing her notoriety, she gathered a few more firsts. She broke speed records and altitude records. She was the first woman to fly the US coast to coast, the first to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and the first woman to fly from Mexico City to Newark. She is perhaps best remembered though as the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo, which she did in 14 hours and 56 minutes in May 1932.
In 1937, along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, she was attempting to circumnavigate the globe, flying broadly around the equator. They had completed nearly 22,000 nautical miles, with just over 4,000 remaining when they disappeared. During this adventure they had completed the first ever non-stop flight between the Red Sea and India, and just two legs prior to their final flight, they had their parachutes removed and sent home as their direction finder had been repaired.
While most believe that the plane simply crashed into the sea, probably after running out of fuel, a number of alternative theories exist. Was she spying for the president? Did they miss the intended destination of Howland Island, and land elsewhere, perishing before being discovered?
If you'd like to see one of the remaining 12 Lockheed Electra planes in existence, there is one on display
at the Science Museum in London, which is free to enter. You can see more about the museum here.
If you'd like to learn more about Amelia Earhart's inspirational life, you can buy a cracking read here.
Thanks for reading.