|The life story
of Amelia Earhart has been told many times. Our biographical treatment
of Earhart will be confined to those issues which have a direct bearing
on attempts to discover her fate. These include:
background and physical characteristics
– useful in identifying human remains.
Education – useful in speculation about her
Aviation accomplishments and expertise – useful
in speculation about her performance during the final flight.
information in this section has been compiled from secondary sources
Sound of Wings – The Life of Amelia Earhart by
Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
East to the Dawn – The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler,
Revolution in the Sky – The Lockheeds of Aviation’s Golden Age
by Richard S. Allen, Orion Books, 1988.
Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913 by René Francillon, Naval Institute
Primary sources include:
Magazine, August 31, 1929.
Aero Digest October 1936.
Amelia Earhart was of predominantly Prussian/English ancestry. On her
father’s side, she was descended from a Prussian immigrant named Johann
Earhardt who settled in York County, Pennsylvania sometime before the
American Revolution. Her father, Edwin Stanton Earhart, was born in 1867
and, as a 28 year old attorney, married the 26 year old Amelia Otis (always
known as Amy) of Atchison, Kansas on October 16, 1895. The Otis family
had come to America from England in 1635. Both Amy and her daughter were
named for Amy’s mother Amelia Harres Otis, who was of Prussian and English
Amelia Mary Earhart was born in her Otis grandparents’ house in Atchison,
Kansas on July 24, 1897. A sister, Grace Muriel, was born on December
29, 1899 in Kansas City. There were no other children.
Documented physical descriptions of Amelia Earhart are rare. The only
source known at present is Transport Pilot’s License No. 5716 granted by
the U.S. Department of Commerce on May 1, 1930 to “Amelia M. Earhart.”
The certificate describes the recipient’s age as 31, “weight 118 lbs.,
height 5 feet 8 inches, hair blond, eyes grey [sic].” It is not known
whether this information was provided by an independent source (such
as a physician) or by the applicant. If the latter, its precision is somewhat
suspect. Generally both men and women tend to understate their weight and
overstate their height.
Photographs of Amelia Earhart are, of course, abundant. They show a
woman of lanky build with proportionate features. Because the fragmented
remains of shoes have been found which are suspected of having been those
worn by Earhart on her final flight, the issue of Amelia’s shoe size has
received considerable attention.
Brocade dancing slippers in a Kansas museum are said to have belonged
to Earhart in her youth and are marked size 6 and a half.
A pair of high-heeled dress shoes in TIGHAR’s possession are said to
have been purchased by Earhart in Europe in 1932 and later given to a
friend because they hurt Amelia’s feet. No size is marked but the shoes
are 26.5 cm in length. A photo of Earhart’s foot as she stood on the wing
of her aircraft five years later, and ten days before she disappeared,
shows her wearing a blucher-oxford style shoe measuring 27.8 cm in length
(as calculated from the known rivet spacing on the wing).
|Note: A study of shoe length as measured in centimeters versus
published standards for shoe size versus actual measurement of various
shoes of both present-day and 1930s manufacture makes it clear that
any attempt to equate a particular measured length to a particular
size is an exercise in futility. As anyone who has ever bought a pair
of shoes knows, there is no consistently observed industry standard
for the actual dimensions of any given shoe size.
How big, or small, were Amelia’s feet? TIGHAR asked
forensic anthropologist Dr. Richard L. Jantz of the University of
Tennessee at Knoxville what size her feet should have been if she
was normally proportioned for a woman of her height. He replied:
The correlation between
foot size and stature is not great, but it is good enough to narrow
the range. As a preliminary attempt along these lines I took the
female military data on stature, foot length and their correlation
to estimate foot size from Earhart’s stature. The military data
are not the best since they contain the various ethnicities in
the U.S. Like the U.S. however, they will be predominately white.
I get the following:
What size shoes might she have worn? The exterior
dimension of a shoe sole is typically about 3.5 cm greater than foot
length. Based upon Dr. Jantz’s figures we would therefore anticipate
that Earhart might wear shoes anywhere from 27.9 cm to 30 cm.
||Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School, Chicago.
That summer, her mother came into a substantial inheritance which
enabled Amelia to attend the Ogontz School, an exclusive finishing
school near Philadelphia. She did well in her studies, especially
literature, and became vice president of her class.
||After the United States entered World War One in April,
Amelia became active in volunteer work with the school’s Red Cross
chapter. During the Christmas holiday of 1917, while visiting her
sister who was attending school in Toronto, Amelia was appalled by
the number of wounded soldiers in need of nursing care. She abruptly
decided not to return to school but to stay on in Canada to enroll
in a first aid course and was soon doing volunteer work at Spadina
Of her time at Ogontz, the 1993 PBS documentary
“The American Experience, Amelia Earhart: The Price of Courage,”
states that “Amelia didn’t fit the mold and was kicked out for
stunts like walking on the roof in her nightgown.” The allegation
is utterly groundless and grossly misrepresents Earhart’s
character and the reason for her departure.
||Amelia continued her work at the hospital through the
great influenza epidemic of the summer of 1918 until she contracted
a pneumonococcal bacterial infection of her frontal antrum (sinus).
The only available remedy was surgery which involved opening and draining
the cavity. This painful and lengthy procedure incapacitated Amelia
throughout the fall of 1918, which she spent in Northampton, Massachusetts
where her sister was taking courses in preparation for the entrance
examinations to Smith College. During her convalescence, she learned
to play the banjo and took a course in automobile maintenance.
||In the fall of 1919 Amelia, then 22, enrolled in a pre-med
course of studies with the Columbia University Extension Program in
New York City. She carried a very heavy course load and maintained
a B+ average for the entire year.
||At the end of the spring 1920 semester she left school
to live in California with her parents. Amelia later explained that
she had changed her mind about wanting to be a doctor. During the
next four years Amelia began her flying career and gained some measure
of fame in that capacity (see Aviation Accomplishments and Expertise
below) before returning to the east coast in 1924 in the wake of her
Following another bout of sinus infection necessitating more surgery,
draining, and recovery, Amelia returned to Columbia for the spring
semester of 1925 with the intention of earning a degree in engineering.
Now short of money, she registered for only two courses, elementary
physics and intermediate algebra. The algebra proved to be a problem.
Her acceptance as a degree candidate at Columbia had been conditional
upon completing that course but Amelia had had no math since high
school. She received a C- which meant that she did not receive credit
for the course. In an attempt to save the situation, she enrolled
in summer school at Harvard University but instead of taking remedial
instruction in algebra she signed up for a trigonometry course which
assumed a thorough grounding in algebra. She worked hard and came
away with an A, effectively erasing the stain on her academic record.
Rather than return to Columbia, she applied for admission to the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) because they accepted
women on an equal basis with men and because they offered a degree
in aeronautical engineering. Her financial situation was such that
she could only attend if awarded a scholarship, but none was awarded.
Her formal education at an end, Amelia took up residence in West
Medford, Massachusetts where her sister was teaching junior high
|Although she never completed any program of higher education,
Amelia Earhart was a good student and her schooling left her well
versed in the liberal arts. She had an unusually fine knowledge of
the classics, wrote well, and enjoyed music and poetry. She was also
interested in science and had a fundamental grasp of biology, zoology,
chemistry and physics.
||Amelia Earhart took her first flying lesson from Neta
Snook, at that time the only female flying instructor in southern
California, on January 3, 1921. The aircraft was a rebuilt “Canuck,”
a Canadian version of the Curtiss JN4 “Jenny.” That summer, dissatisfied
with the lumbering performance of the Curtiss, Amelia persuaded her
parents to buy her a new Kinner “Airster” as a present for her twenty-fourth
birthday. She continued to take instruction from Snook and, on two
occasions, had minor crashes. After nearly five hours in the Canuck
and fifteen in the Kinner, Neta felt that Earhart was ready to solo,
but Amelia refused, insisting that she have instruction in “stunting”
before taking the machine aloft alone. An ex-army pilot, John Montijo,
provided several months of additional training and by the time Amelia
consented to solo the Airster (sometime in late 1921) she had learned
to do loops, spins, and barrel rolls. At this time there was no requirement
that a pilot obtain a federally issued license to fly and Earhart
immediately began participating in public aerial demonstrations and
Earhart’s pattern of flight instruction was a departure
from that followed by most students who solo after approximately
ten hours of basic instruction and later go on to learn more
advanced maneuvers. Amelia’s insistence upon what some would
consider excessive training before embarking upon her first
solo flight is very much at odds with the boldness she displayed
later in her flying career.
||Sometime (probably October) in 1922 Earhart set an altitude
record for women of 14,000 feet. The record was unofficial but it
did bring Earhart a measure of notoriety. (On September 28, 1921 Lt.
John Macready had flown a supercharged Army Le Pere biplane to 34,508
||On March 17th Amelia had top billing among the female
pilots performing for the opening of the new Glendale, California
airport. On May 16th she passed her test to obtain a pilot’s license
endorsed by the National Aeronautic Association, the newly-created
American arm of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).
Amelia was awarded Certificate Number 6017 after demonstrating a series
of precision figures, and executing a power-off descent from 4,921
feet (1,500 meters) to land within 492 feet (150 meters) of a predetermined
spot. The license was not required by any U.S. authority but was a
pre-requisite for any attempt on an official FAI record. In June,
her family’s financial reversals forced her to sell her airplane and
a recurrence of her sinus condition, and more money problems, kept
her grounded for the rest of the year.
|| It has been said that Earhart briefly owned another
Airster (Lovell, page 47) but there seems to be no contemporaneous
evidence that the allegation is true. In any event, by late spring
continued financial troubles and her parents’ decision to finally
divorce resulted in Amelia buying a car in which she, her sister and
their mother returned to the Boston area. For the next three years
Earhart had little active contact with aviation as her attempt to
complete her education fizzled and she wandered into a career of social
work. In 1927 she was able to resume some flying in association with
the new Dennison Airport near Quincy, Massachusetts.
||Earhart’s participation as a passenger in the transatlantic
flight of Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon catapulted her to world fame
but did not add to her piloting experience except as an observer.
Her new-found celebrity did, however, enable her to purchase an airplane
– a British-built Avro Avian which was similar to her earlier Kinner
Airster in size and performance. At this point in her career, Amelia
Earhart is alleged to have had 500 hours of piloting experience (Butler,
page 214) but no documentation is provided. On August 31 she undertook
to fly the Avian from New York to California, her first long distance
flight as a pilot. She got as far as Pittsburgh where, upon landing,
she hit a ditch with one wheel and groundlooped the airplane, wrecking
the landing gear and shattering the propeller. After the airplane
was repaired she continued her trip. She reached Los Angeles on September
14 during the National Air Races, but she was not a participant. On
September 30, enroute back to the east coast, she made a forced landing
in a ploughed field near Tintic, Utah resulting in a nose-over and
a broken propeller.
||Hoping to compete in the first Women’s Air Derby, a
Los Angeles to Cleveland race which was to be the opening event of
the National Air Races in August, Earhart sought to upgrade her credentials
and her equipment. On March 29 she obtained her Department of Commerce
Transport Pilot’s License which required that the holder have at least
250 hours total time. Earlier that month she had tried to purchase
an airplane from designer Giuseppe Bellanca, but after her poor performance
during a demonstration flight the sale was refused. On July 20 Earhart
started a new logbook and carried forward 559 hours and 46 minutes.
On July 30 Amelia sold her Avian and purchased Lockheed Vega constructor’s
number (c/n) 10, registered NC6911. The aircraft was a used five place
Vega 1 equipped with a 225 hp Wright J5A Whirlwind engine. Empty weight
1,650 lbs. Maximum speed 135 mph. The next day Earhart departed for
California with Army pilot Lt. Orville Stephens, intending to have
Lockheed fine-tune the airplane prior to the race which was scheduled
to begin on August 18. Upon arrival in Burbank, Lockheed found the
airplane to be in poor condition and very difficult to fly. Impressed
that Amelia had flown the aircraft across the country, the company
traded her a new Vega 1, c/n 36 registered NC31E.
Who was it that flew NC6911 across the country? A Vega
was a major step up from the docile lightweight types Earhart
had been flying. Is it reasonable to believe that the same
pilot who fared so poorly in the Bellanca in March could handle
the higher speeds, heavier weight, and trickier landing characteristics
of a Vega (let alone an out-of-rig Vega)? The big Lockheed
was a single pilot airplane with no provision for dual instruction.
There is no record of Earhart taking instruction in some other
type in preparation for flying the Vega. It would seem reasonable
to speculate that it was Lt. Stephens who did most of the
flying during the cross-country flight.
||On August 18 the Women’s Air Derby, christened the “Powder
Puff Derby” by Will Rogers, started from Santa Monica. There were
nineteen entrants for the race to Cleveland which would be run in
nine stages over several days. Earhart’s was the only Lockheed and
was, by far, the largest, heaviest, and fastest aircraft in the race.
During a refueling stop at Yuma, Arizona Amelia ran off the end of
the runway on landing and upended the Vega, bending the propeller.
A new prop was flown in from Burbank and she continued on her way.
The race was plagued by several other mishaps including one fatality.
Of nineteen starters, sixteen reached Cleveland. The winner, Louise
Thaden flying a Travel Air, had an elapsed time of 20:19:02. Second
place went to Gladys O’Donnell’s Waco with a time of 21:21:41. Earhart
finished two hours behind Thaden to claim third place with an embarrassingly
poor landing before the crowd in Cleveland. She won $875. (The cross-country
race for men had only four entrants, all flying Lockheeds. It was
won with a non-stop L.A. to Cleveland dash by Henry J. “Brownie” Brown
with a time of 13 hours and 15 minutes.) In the fall of that year,
Amelia returned to California where Lockheed offered her an opportunity
to set a women’s speed record in a new Vega 5A Executive. This aircraft,
NC538M (c/n 107), was equipped with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp of 425
hp. On November 22 Earhart flew it over a 3 kilometer course at Los
Angeles Metropolitan Airport at a clocked speed of 184.17 mph.
||On March 17 Amelia traded in her 225 hp Wright-powered
Vega 1 for a 425 h.p. P&W-powered Vega 5 NC7952 (c/n 22). In June
she was also loaned the first metal-fuselage Vega DL-1 NC497H (c/n
135) and set three more speed records for women in various load categories
for Lockheed. On September 25 she wrecked her own new Vega in a nose-over
landing accident at Norfolk, Virginia which left the airplane flat
on its back, fuselage broken. Earhart received a laceration to her
scalp and her passenger broke a finger. It was nearly a year before
Lockheed rebuilt the machine using the fuselage of another Vega (c/n
68) and upgraded it to a 5B with the installation of a Pratt & Whitney
Wasp C engine of 450 hp. Without her Vega, Earhart began an association
with the Pitcairn company of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania to promote
their new PCA-2 autogiro which she soloed on December 19.
||On April 8 Earhart set an unofficial altitude record
of 18,415 ft in the Pitcairn autogiro. She was about to buy Pitcairn
PCA-2 NC10780 with the intent of becoming the first person to fly
an autogiro from coast to coast when the Beech-Nut company offered
to buy the machine and sponsor the flight. She departed Newark, New
Jersey on May 29 and arrived in Oakland June 6 only to discover that
another pilot had completed the same trip a week before in an identical
aircraft. Deciding to go for the first transcontinental round-trip
in an autogiro, she departed for the return to the east coast but
crashed after a rotor-strike on takeoff at Abilene, Texas. She received
an official reprimand for negligence from Clarence Young, Assistant
Secretary of Commerce for Aviation. A replacement aircraft was dispatched
immediately and she continued her flight, arriving back in Newark
on June 22 having covered roughly 11,000 miles in 150 hours of flying.
Shortly after her return (the date is uncertain) Amelia had another
mishap with the autogiro in Camden, New Jersey in which the aircraft
landed on a fence. In September, during a demonstration at the Michigan
State Fair grounds in Detroit, Amelia botched a landing and dropped
the machine in from about 20 feet, wrecking the aircraft but escaping
uninjured. This seems to have been the end of her adventures with
||Early in 1932 Earhart decided to attempt a transatlantic
flight to Paris in her rebuilt Vega on the fifth anniversary of Lindbergh’s
crossing. In preparation for the project, Amelia took instruction
in instrument flying and studied Atlantic weather patterns. Meanwhile,
the airplane was prepared for the flight by experienced long-distance
pilot Bernt Balchen and mechanic Ed Gorski. A new P&W Wasp C engine
of 450 hp and fuel tanks totaling 420 gallons were installed. On the
afternoon of May 19 Earhart, Balchen, and Gorski departed Teterboro,
New Jersey aboard NC7952. Balchen flew the airplane while Earhart
and Gorski rode as passengers. They stayed the night in St. John,
New Brunswick and the following day Balchen flew them to Harbour Grace,
Newfoundland, arriving at 2:01 p.m. After a nap, Earhart took off
on her solo transatlantic flight at 7:12 p.m. local time. After a
night of bad weather, she reached the coast of Ireland 200 miles north
of her intended course, with a malfunctioning altimeter, a cracked
exhaust manifold and a leaking fuel gauge. Electing to end the flight,
she landed in Gallagher’s field at Culmore near Londonderry in County
Donegal at 1:46 p.m. local time May 21 having flown 2,026 miles in
15 hours and 18 minutes. She had 70 gallons of fuel remaining.
The numbers indicate that Earhart had averaged 132 mph
burning 22.9 gallons per hour (gph). Assuming that, at a much
lighter weight late in the flight, she could reduce fuel consumption
to roughly 18 gph, she had another 3.8 hours of fuel remaining
when she landed. Had she elected to continue on toward Paris
and been able to maintain 132 mph, she could have flown another
502 miles. Paris is more than 600 miles from Londonderry.
In order to reach Paris she would have had to reduce her fuel
consumption to 15.5 gph.
||On July 10 she departed Los Angeles in NC7952 in an
attempt to become the first woman to fly coast to coast nonstop, but
made a brief stop in Columbus, Ohio to clear a clogged fuel line before
continuing on to Newark. She tried again on August 24 and this time
made the trip without incident in 19 hours, 7 minutes and 56 seconds.
||The National Air Races for the first time were to allow
women to compete with men and Earhart was one of two women (the other
was Ruth Nichols) entered against five men for the Cleveland to Los
Angeles Bendix race. Earhart’s hatch cover broke loose forcing her
to stop for repairs and putting her across the finish line six hours
behind the men. She made the return flight to the east coast nonstop,
bettering her previous record by two hours.
|| In June, Earhart sold NC7952, minus engine, to the
Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and, purchased yet another Vega.
This was a “Hi-Speed Special 5C” registered as NR965Y (c/n 171) upon
which she installed the same Wasp C she had used for the Atlantic
and cross-country record flights and adding a new Hamilton Standard
adjustable-pitch propeller. Despite the new purchase, Earhart seems
to have done little flying in 1934, instead working for the first
time with Hollywood stunt pilot and technical advisor Paul Mantz to
prepare for a new record flight early the next year. On November 21
FCC approval was received to install a two-way radio in the Vega,
call sign KHABQ, transmitting on 3105 and 6210 kilocycles using a
trailing wire antenna. No direction finding equipment was included.
On December 22 the S.S. Lurline sailed for Honolulu with NR965Y
as deck cargo.
||On January 11 NR965Y took off from Wheeler Army Airfield
near Honolulu and headed for Oakland loaded with 520 gallons of fuel.
The flight was roundly condemned from many quarters as pointless and
dangerous. On December 3, British aviator Charles Ulm and two crew
members had disappeared during an attempt to fly a twin-engined Airspeed
Envoy from Oakland to Hawaii. An exhaustive and expensive search by
naval ships and aircraft, including the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca,
had failed to find any trace of the lost aircraft. Earhart’s flight,
however, was uneventful. She reached the California coast twenty miles
south of her intended landfall and set down at Oakland after 18 hours
and 16 minutes in the air. Seeking still another record, on April
19 Amelia flew took off from Burbank hoping to fly nonstop to Mexico
City, but she got lost and had to land to ask directions just 60 miles
short of her destination. Leaving Mexico on May 8, she flew nonstop
to Newark, New Jersey in 14 hours and 18 minutes. In August she flew
the Bendix race again, this time accompanied by Paul Mantz. They placed
fifth and won $500.
On March 20 Earhart placed an order with Lockheed for the construction
of an Electra Model 10E Special. Amelia’s first flight seems to
have been on July 21 with Lockheed test pilot Elmer McLeod while
the airplane, c/n 1055, then registered as X16020, still belonged
to the company. It was officially delivered on Earhart’s thirty-ninth
birthday, July 24. In late August Amelia, Paul Mantz, and mechanic
Ruckins “Bo” McKneely flew the airplane from Burbank to Floyd Bennett
Field, New York for the start of the Bendix Trophy race back to
Los Angeles. On September 4 Earhart, accompanied by former airline
pilot Helen Richey, began the dash westward, but problems with the
cockpit hatch and cabin door caused delays which resulted in them
finishing fifth. First place and $7,000 went to Louise Thaden and
Blanche Noyes in a new Beech C17R Staggerwing – time 14:55:01.
Second was Laura Ingalls, winning $2,500 in a Lockheed Orion with
a time of 15:39:38. Bill Gulick received $1,500 for a close third
in a Wright-powered Vultee at 15:45:25. George Pomeroy flew a Douglas
DC-2 to fourth place and $1,000 with a time of 16:16:51. Amelia
and Helen landed a few minutes later with a time of 16:34:52. They
In late September Earhart flew the Electra from California to
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband George
Putnam and mechanic Bo McKneely as passengers. This is the first
time Amelia is known to have flown the airplane without another,
more qualified, pilot with her. The Electra was the first multi-engine
and the first retractable landing gear aircraft that Earhart had
ever owned. Landings required the use of wing flaps, another first
for Amelia. The airplane’s empty weight was nearly three times that
of her heaviest Vega, yet it had the same high (65 mph) landing
speed. To make matters worse, the E model Electra had larger, heavier,
more powerful engines than the airframe was originally designed
to accommodate and, predictably, the handling characteristics of
the machine suffered for it. By comparison to other Electras, the
10E was ponderous, nose heavy and noisy.
In October she flew to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio for radio installation
and again, in November, to Hadley Field, New Jersey for more radio
work. Late that month she began a week-long trip back to California,
sharing the cockpit with Jacqueline Cochran.
On February 8 Earhart left Burbank to fly the Electra to New York
for a press event to announce the upcoming world flight. She arrived
at Teterboro, New Jersey on February 11 and the announcement was
made at the Barclay Hotel in New York the next day. In late February
she returned to California with Putnam, McKneely, and Harry Manning
who was to be the navigator for the first part of the world flight.
Upon her return to Burbank she made a series of test flights with
Lockheed engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson to work out fuel consumption
and power management tables for the world flight.
In mid-March the airplane was flown to Oakland in preparation for
the world flight departure and on March 13 it was announced that
Fred Noonan would be added to the crew. On March 17 Earhart, Mantz,
Manning and Noonan took off from Oakland and arrived at Wheeler
Field, Honolulu 15 hours and 47 minutes later on the morning of
the 18th, setting a new record for the crossing. Mantz handled the
throttles and landing gear on the takeoff from Oakland and made
the landing in Hawaii. The next day Mantz, who would remain in Hawaii,
flew the airplane to Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor so
that Earhart could use the airfield’s recently paved runway for
her departure on the anticipated 13 hour flight to Howland Island.
On the morning of March 20, during the takeoff run for the flight
to Howland, Earhart lost control of the aircraft and groundlooped,
collapsing the landing gear and severely damaging the aircraft.
The Electra was shipped back to Burbank where repairs were completed
on May 19. Total flight time on the airplane upon completion of
repairs was recorded as 181 hours, 17 minutes. How many of those
hours were Earhart’s is not known.
On May 20 Amelia, accompanied by Noonan, Putnam, and McKneely,
flew the aircraft to Oakland and, on May 21, began her second world
flight attempt in secrecy with a short flight to Tucson, Arizona.
During Earhart’s attempt to start the left engine after refueling,
a fire erupted which was extinguished with some difficulty, necessitating
an overnight stay and minor repairs. The next day they continued
on to New Orleans and, on May 23, arrived in Miami. Announcing that
her second world flight attempt had already begun, Earhart departed
Miami on June 1 accompanied only by Noonan.
In the course of the next month Earhart and Noonan flew the airplane
south to Brazil, across the South Atlantic and North Africa, around
the southern coast of Arabia to India, across the sub-continent
and down through south east Asia to Australia and, ultimately, to
Lae, New Guinea where they arrived on June 29. Most legs of the
trip were under five hours in length with the longest flights being
the South Atlantic crossing of 13 hours 22 minutes and the run from
Assab to Karachi of 13 hours 20 minutes. There were no notable accidents
or serious mishaps. The total time flown since the completion of
repairs has been estimated at 161 hours.
At 10:00 local time on July 2 Earhart and Noonan departed Lae for
the anticipated 19 hour flight to Howland Island. They did not arrive.
There are patterns discernible in Earhart’s flying career. With
the exception of her early hesitancy to solo, Amelia’s appetite
for new aviation laurels consistently outpaced her competence to
achieve them and each move up to a new level was punctuated by accidents.
Even in an era when aviation upsets and catastrophes were relatively
commonplace, Earhart had far too many wrecks. Her mishaps, however,
tended to be relatively minor and appear to be attributable primarily
to a lack of physical skill rather than any wanton disregard for
her own safety. She does not run into hills while trying to push
through in bad weather. She doesn’t get hopelessly lost and wander
around until she runs out of gas. She has no mid-air collisions
or in-flight structural failures. She never has to use a parachute.
And she doesn’t get hurt. The only injury she ever received was
a cut on the scalp when she flipped her Vega onto its back in Norfolk.
After enough hours of flight time, and enough bent metal, she either
learns how to handle the airplane (as she did the Vega and the Electra)
or she walks away (as she did with the Pitcairn).
It might appear that whatever happened in the Central Pacific
did not fit the pattern of Earhart’s previous problems, but perhaps
it did. The fundamental cause of the flight’s failure to reach Howland
seems to be Earhart’s failure to adequately understand the capabilities
and limitations of her radio equipment. In other words, she got
in over her head, except this time the consequences were not a bent
prop and a bruised ego, and this time she couldn’t walk away.