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‘Afraid? No, I wish I had been. I didn’t think of it. Obviously, I faced the possibility of not returning when first I considered going. Once faced and settled there really wasn’t any good reason to refer to it again. After all, even when driving, one admits tactilely there is danger, but one doesn’t dwell on the result of losing the front wheels or having the rear end fall out on a mountain.” This was Amelia Earhart’s answer to questions about fears faced during her first flight across the Atlantic in 1928. The trailblazing aviatrix had very little regard for the fear and hesitation many expected her to experience to during her adventurous career. Her anticipation and excitement for embarking on a journey outweighed the possibility of not returning to her home. This daring attitude led Amelia Earhart to attempt the ambitious task of circumnavigating the globe through flight.
In 1935, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University, where she counseled women on possible career choices and served as a technical advisor in their Department of Aeronautics. Earhart then began planning a world flight early in 1936, receiving financing from Purdue for the endeavor. Her planned route was roughly equatorial, and would be the longest of anyone to attempt world flight, at 29,000 miles. On February 11, 1936, Earhart announced for the first time that she planned to aerially circumnavigate the world. On March 17th of the same year, that flight began, when Earhart and her three-person crew departed from Oakland, California. Unexpectedly, their aircraft required servicing in Hawaii and ended up landing at the United States Navy Luke’s Field in Pearl Harbor. Three days later, an effort was made to leave Pearl Harbor and go to Howland Island. However, during takeoff, the tail of the plane lost directional stability, causing the forward landing gear to collapse, the airplane skidded on its belly and the runway sustained considerable damage. Due to impairment of both the runway and the plane, Earhart was unable to continue the long flight.
While her aircraft, the Electra, was being repaired, Earhart and her husband secured additional funds and began to prepare for a second flight. The decision was made to navigate from west to east, opposite of the previous approach, due to wind and weather patterns. Earhart’s second, and final, attempt at world flight began on May 21, 1937, when she flew from Oakland, California to Tucson, Arizona. Her intentions of global flight were not yet known; therefore, this first leg of her journey was unpublicized. On May 23, 1937, Earhart publically announced her plans of circumnavigating the globe in Miami, Florida. She departed from Miami for Puerto Rico, along with her one crew mate and navigator, Fred Noonan, on June 1, 1937. On June 7, 1937, Earhart completed her second transatlantic flight, from Brazil to Senegal. Soon after, on June 15, 1937, Earhart traveled from Italian East Africa to British India, completing the first non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India.
Earhart flew from Darwin, Australia to Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. This was the last confirmed and successfully completed leg of her flight. Arriving in New Guinea signified that Earhart had flown 22,000 miles of the intended route. She planned to continue on to Hawaii, but the distance from Lae to Honolulu was too far to travel without stopping in between. Howland Island, a microscopic island in the middle of the Pacific, was chosen as a servicing location. Earhart and Noonan were expected to travel from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island on July 2, 1937. The U.S. had placed a weather observation station, landing strip, and crew on the island to help Earhart refuel and gather additional supplies. The United States Coastguard deployed three ships to guide the Electra. One of these ships, the Itasca was tasked with communicating with Earhart and Noonan through their aircraft’s radio system. However, the Electra failed to establish very consistent communication with the Itasca.
During the plane’s approach to the island, radio navigation to locate the Itasca was not successful. Earhart and Noonan’s last confirmed communication to the boat was a confusing “we are running north and south.” They never arrived on Howland Island. Once the U.S. Coast Guard was alerted that the aviators had not reached their destination, they began to conduct an initial search north and west of the island. The United States Navy then joined the effort and, over the subsequent three days, began to send available resources to search the area surrounding the island. On July, 6 1937 the United States Fourteenth Naval District took over command of all coast guard and naval units to conduct search efforts. With a final cost of about four million dollars, the search coordinated in attempt to find Earhart and Noonan was the most extensive and costly in United States history at the time. The official investigation ended on July 19, 1937. Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, requested that the “declared death in absentia” seven year waiting period waived so that he could manage Earhart’s estate and finances. Due to this appeal, Amelia Earhart was officially declared dead on January 5, 1939.
Amelia Earhart’s life was one of a pioneer. The same can be said of her final flying endeavor. The events of her last flight were those of enterprise and determination. She followed her hopes with incredible resolve and action, and viewed adventure as something to be bravely pursued, simply for its own sake. In her own words, “…fears are paper tigers…” Earhart’s outlook led her to conquer feats like transcontinental and transatlantic flight and to strive for what she saw as the crowning jewel of her career- a flight around the globe. Though her final undertaking was technically unsuccessful, her legacy as an unafraid, thrill-seeking, innovator in her field remains.
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