Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the United States. The first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. The first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. And the first woman to fly around the world – almost.
In 1920, Amelia’s father took her to an airfield, where a pilot took her up for a ten-minute flight for $10. And she was hooked. She worked a variety of odd jobs to earn the $1000 she needed for flying lessons, after which she became the sixteenth woman to be issued a pilot’s license by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Her first flight across the Atlantic, a year following Charles Lindbergh’s remarkable feat, was as a passenger. She dismissed her accomplishment, saying “I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” Even so, she and the two-man crew were given a ticker-tape parade in New York and met with President Coolidge.
For her own solo attempt, Earhart intended to emulate Lindbergh by flying from Newfoundland to Paris. But due to strong winds, she landed instead in Northern Ireland. For her accomplishment she received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society.
Of course, we all remember Earhart due to her mysterious disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world. She flew west to east, and successfully went from California to Florida, down to South America, across to Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea. On July 2, 1937, she took off with the destination of Howland Island, a tiny, flat stretch that was adequate for a landing and subsequent takeoff. She never made it.
There is endless speculation about what happened. Some of it is technical (radios on the wrong frequency, incorrect navigation), some of it is conspiratorial (Earhart was actually spying on the Japanese for President Roosevelt, or she lived and assumed another identity), some of it is just logical (the aircraft ran out of fuel, she crashed into a lagoon on another island). Everyone has a theory. But no one is likely to ever know the truth about what happened to Amelia Earhart.
Even so, she remains a transcendent symbol of the adventurous American spirit, and particularly of the unlimited horizons available to determined women.