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Amelia Earhart

Amelia Mary Earhart (July 24, 1897 – disappeared July 2, 1937) was an American aviationpioneer and author. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this record. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. Earhart joined the faculty of the Purdue University aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and help inspire others with her love for aviation. She was also a member of the National Woman's Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10 Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

Childhood

Amelia Mary Earhart, daughter of Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart (1867-1930) and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart (1869–1962), was born in Atchison, Kansas, in the home of her maternal grandfather, Alfred Gideon Otis (1827–1912), a former federal judge, president of the Atchison Savings Bank and a leading citizen in the town. Amelia was the second child of the marriage, after an infant stillborn in August 1896. She was of part German descent. Alfred Otis had not initially favored the marriage and was not satisfied with Edwin's progress as a lawyer.

Earhart was named, according to family custom, after her two grandmothers (Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton). From an early age Earhart, nicknamed "Meeley" (sometimes "Millie") was the ringleader while her younger sister (two years her junior), Grace Muriel Earhart (1899–1998), nicknamed "Pidge", acted the dutiful follower. Both girls continued to answer to their childhood nicknames well into adulthood. Their upbringing was unconventional since Amy Earhart did not believe in molding her children into "nice little girls." Meanwhile their maternal grandmother disapproved of the "bloomers" worn by Amy's children and although Earhart liked the freedom they provided, she was aware other girls in the neighborhood did not wear them.

Early influence

A spirit of adventure seemed to abide in the Earhart children with the pair setting off daily to explore their neighborhood. As a child, Earhart spent long hours playing with Pidge, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle and "belly-slamming" her sled downhill. Although this love of the outdoors and "rough-and-tumble" play was common to many youngsters, some biographers have characterized the young Earhart as a tomboy. The girls kept "worms, moths, katydids and a tree toad" in a growing collection gathered in their outings. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, she cobbled together a home-made ramp fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen on a trip to St. Louis and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Earhart's well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a bruised lip, torn dress and a "sensation of exhilaration." She exclaimed, "Oh, Pidge, it's just like flying!"

Although there had been some missteps in his career up to that point, in 1907 Edwin Earhart's job as a claims officer for the Rock Island Railroad led to a transfer to Des Moines, Iowa. The next year, at the age of 10, Earhart saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Her father tried to interest her and her sister in taking a flight. One look at the rickety "flivver" was enough for Earhart, who promptly asked if they could go back to the merry-go-round. She later described the biplane as "a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting."

Education

The two sisters, Amelia and Muriel (she went by her middle name from her teens on), remained with their grandparents in Atchison, while their parents moved into new, smaller quarters in Des Moines. During this period, Earhart received a form of home-schooling together with her sister, from her mother and a governess. She later recounted that she was "exceedingly fond of reading" and spent countless hours in the large family library. In 1909, when the family was finally reunited in Des Moines, the Earhart children were enrolled in public school for the first time with Amelia Earhart entering the seventh grade at the age of 12 years.

Family fortunes

While the family's finances seemingly improved with the acquisition of a new house and even the hiring of two servants, it soon became apparent Edwin was an alcoholic. Five years later (in 1914), he was forced to retire and although he attempted to rehabilitate himself through treatment, he was never reinstated at the Rock Island Railroad. At about this time, Earhart's grandmother Amelia Otis died suddenly, leaving a substantial estate that placed her daughter's share in trust, fearing that Edwin's drinking would drain the funds. The Otis house, and all of its contents, was auctioned; Earhart was heartbroken and later described it as the end of her childhood.

In 1915, after a long search, Earhart's father found work as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Earhart enteredCentral High School as a junior. Edwin applied for a transfer to Springfield, Missouri, in 1915 but the current claims officer reconsidered his retirement and demanded his job back, leaving the elder Earhart with nowhere to go. Facing another calamitous move, Amy Earhart took her children to Chicago where they lived with friends. Earhart made an unusual condition in the choice of her next schooling; she canvassed nearby high schools in Chicago to find the best science program. She rejected the high school nearest her home when she complained that the chemistry lab was "just like a kitchen sink." She eventually was enrolled in Hyde Park High School but spent a miserable semester where a yearbook caption captured the essence of her unhappiness, "A.E. – the girl in brown who walks alone."

Earhart graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916. Throughout her troubled childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering. She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania but did not complete her program.

During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in TorontoWorld War I had been raging and Earhart saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a nurse's aide from the Red Cross, she began work with the Volunteer Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital's dispensary.

Early flying experiences

At about that time, with a young woman friend, Earhart visited an air fair held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto. One of the highlights of the day was a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ace. The pilot overhead spotted Earhart and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dived at them. "I am sure he said to himself, 'Watch me make them scamper,'" she said. Earhart stood her ground as the aircraft came close. "I did not understand it at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by."

By 1919 Earhart prepared to enter Smith College but changed her mind and enrolled at Columbia University, in a course in medical studies among other programs. She quit a year later to be with her parents, who had reunited in California.

Boston

Throughout this period, her grandmother's inheritance, which was now administered by her mother, was constantly depleted until it finally ran out following a disastrous investment in a failed gypsum mine. Consequently, with no immediate prospects for recouping her investment in flying, Earhart sold the "Canary" as well as a second Kinner and bought a yellow Kissel "Speedster" two-passenger automobile, which she named the "Yellow Peril." Simultaneously, Earhart experienced an exacerbation of her old sinus problem as her pain worsened and in early 1924, she was hospitalized for another sinus operation, which was again unsuccessful. After trying her hand at a number of unusual ventures including setting up a photography company, Earhart set out in a new direction. Following her parents' divorce in 1924, she drove her mother in the "Yellow Peril" on a transcontinental trip from California with stops throughout the West and even a jaunt up to Calgary, Alberta. The meandering tour eventually brought the pair to BostonMassachusetts, where Earhart underwent another sinus procedure, this operation being more successful. After recuperation, she returned for several months to Columbia University but was forced to abandon her studies and any further plans for enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because her mother could no longer afford the tuition fees and associated costs. Soon after, she found employment first as a teacher, then as a social worker in 1925 at Denison House, living in Medford, Massachusetts.

When Earhart lived in Medford, she maintained her interest in aviation, becoming a member of the American Aeronautical Society's Boston chapter and was eventually elected its vice president. She flew out of Dennison Airport (later the Naval Air Station Squantum) in Quincy, Massachusetts, and helped finance its operation by investing a small sum of money. Earhart also flew the first official flight out of Dennison Airport in 1927. As well as acting as a sales representative for Kinner aircraft in the Boston area, Earhart wrote local newspaper columns promoting flying and as her local celebrity grew, she laid out the plans for an organization devoted to female flyers.

1928 transatlantic flight

After Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Phipps Guest, (1873–1959), expressed interest in being the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic Ocean. After deciding the trip was too perilous for her to undertake, she offered to sponsor the project, suggesting they find "another girl with the right image." While at work one afternoon in April 1928, Earhart got a phone call from Capt. Hilton H. Railey, who asked her, "Would you like to fly the Atlantic?"

The project coordinators (including book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam) interviewed Earhart and asked her to accompany pilot Wilmer Stultz and copilot/mechanic Louis Gordon on the flight, nominally as a passenger, but with the added duty of keeping the flight log. The team departedTrepassey HarborNewfoundland in a Fokker F.VIIb/3m on June 17, 1928, landing at Burry Port (near Llanelli), Wales, United Kingdom, exactly 20 hours and 40 minutes later. Since most of the flight was on "instruments" and Earhart had no training for this type of flying, she did not pilot the aircraft. When interviewed after landing, she said, "Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes." She added, "...maybe someday I'll try it alone."

While in England, Earhart is reported as receiving a rousing welcome on June 19, 1928, when landing at Woolston in Southampton, England. She flew the Avro Avian 594 Avian III, SN: R3/AV/101 owned by Lady Mary Heath and later purchased the aircraft and had it shipped back to the United States (where it was assigned "unlicensed aircraft identification mark" 7083).

When the Stultz, Gordon and Earhart flight crew returned to the United States, they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York followed by a reception with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

Competitive flying

Although Earhart had gained fame for her transatlantic flight, she endeavored to set an "untarnished" record of her own. Shortly after her return, piloting Avian 7083, she set off on her first long solo flight which occurred just as her name was coming into the national spotlight. By making the trip in August 1928, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. Gradually her piloting skills and professionalism grew, as acknowledged by experienced professional pilots who flew with her. General Leigh Wade flew with Earhart in 1929: "She was a born flier, with a delicate touch on the stick."

Earhart subsequently made her first attempt at competitive air racing in 1929 during the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women's Air Derby (later nicknamed the "Powder Puff Derby" by Will Rogers). During the race, at the last intermediate stop before the finish in Cleveland, Earhart and her friend Ruth Nichols were tied for first place. Nichols was to take off right before Earhart, but her aircraft hit a tractor at the end of the runway and flipped over. Instead of taking off, Earhart ran to the wrecked aircraft and dragged her friend out. Only when she was sure that Nichols was uninjured did Earhart take off for Cleveland but due to the time lost, she finished third. Her courageous act was symbolic of Earhart's selflessness; typically, she rarely referred to the incident in later years.

In 1930, Earhart became an official of the National Aeronautic Association where she actively promoted the establishment of separate women's records and was instrumental in the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) accepting a similar international standard. In 1931, flying aPitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, she set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet (5,613 m) in a borrowed company machine. While to a reader today it might seem that Earhart was engaged in flying "stunts," she was, with other female flyers, crucial to making the American public "air minded" and convincing them that "aviation was no longer just for daredevils and supermen."

During this period, Earhart became involved with The Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots providing moral support and advancing the cause of women in aviation. She had called a meeting of female pilots in 1929 following the Women's Air Derby. She suggested the name based on the number of the charter members; she later became the organization's first president in 1930. Earhart was a vigorous advocate for female pilots and when the 1934 Bendix Trophy Race banned women, she openly refused to fly screen actress Mary Pickford to Cleveland to open the races.

1937 world flight

Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank. Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her "flying laboratory" and hangared it at Mantz's United Air Services located just across the airfield from Lockheed's Burbank, California plant in which it had been built.

Although the Electra was publicized as a "flying laboratory", little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart's intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.

Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator because there were significant additional factors which had to be dealt with while using celestial navigation for aircraft. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed ship's captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company's China Clipperseaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American's navigators for the route between San Franciscoand Manila. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

Legacy

Earhart was a widely known international celebrity during her lifetime. Her shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, courage and goal-oriented career along with the circumstances of her disappearance at a comparatively early age have driven her lastingfame in popular culture. Hundreds of articles and scores of books have been written about her life which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for girls. Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon.

Earhart's accomplishments in aviation inspired a generation of female aviators, including the more than 1,000 women pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who ferried military aircraft, towed gliders, flew target practice aircraft, and served as transport pilots during World War II.

The home where Earhart was born is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and is maintained by The Ninety-Nines, an international group of female pilots of whom Earhart was the first elected president.

A small section of Earhart's Lockheed Electra starboard engine nacelle recovered in the aftermath of the Hawaii crash has been confirmed as authentic and is now regarded as a control piece that will help to authenticate possible future discoveries. The evaluation of the scrap of metal was featured on an episode of History Detectives on Season 7 in 2009.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart

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