Women must pay for everything. They do get more glory than men for comparable feats, but, they also get more notoriety when they crash. —Amelia Earhart
By Laurie Bogart Wiles
ON JULY 2, 1937, AT 10 A.M., Lockheed Electra 10-E Special, serial number 1055, U.S. civil certification registration NR16020, took off from Lae Airfield in Papua New Guinea, 1,468 miles north of Australia. Called the “Flying Laboratory,” this aircraft was the most technologically advanced and costly of its day. Originally designed as a passenger plane; this one-of-a-kind aircraft was specially designed to fly as far and as long as possible before refueling. To that end, the passenger seats were removed, and two 118-gallon tanks were installed forward of the Main Beam, three 149-gallon tanks and one 70-gallon tank behind the Main Beam. The auxiliary tanks enabled the Electra to fly 2,565-miles nonstop to its destination: a tiny, remote atoll called Howland Island, approximately 1,700 nautical miles south/southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Every instrument, every reading, every projection had to be exact because the real difficulty was not only finding Howland in the vast Pacific, but seeing it. This would be the second to last, longest and most dangerous leg of the historic second attempt by Amelia Earhart, the most famous female aviator in history, to circumnavigate the earth as close to the Equator as possible.
The roar of the engines drowned out the buzz of excitement that emanated from a group of awestruck natives that mingled among a few British officials on the edge of the airfield to watch the heavily laden aircraft lift off before the dirt runway dropped into the Huon Gulf. No one—not even Earhart nor her sole crew member, navigator Fred Noonan—realized that fate had just dealt them the hand that would play out in tragedy. The antenna mast attached to the rear belly of the aircraft snapped off when the tail whipped back as Amelia swung the plane sharply onto the runway. Grainy footage shows the antenna hit the ground as Amelia revved the engines for a fast takeoff down the short airstrip. Without its main receiving antenna, the Lockheed Electra 10-E Special was now unable to receive radio transmissions. Earhart and Noonan were doomed to fly in silence over the vast Pacific—into oblivion.
WHO WAS THIS WOMAN WHOSE FATE REMAINS CLOAKED IN MYSTERY? Amelia Mary “Millie” Earhart was born in Achison, Kansas on July 24, 1897. She was the eldest child of Amelia “Amy” Otis and Edwin Stanton Earhart, a mediocre lawyer with an alcohol problem that would eventually destroy his family. Her sister and only sibling, Grace Muriel “Pidge” Earhart, was three years younger. Her parents’ separated when she was twelve. Soon after, Millie and Pidge were separated from both parents. The girls remained in Atchison to live with their wealthy maternal grandparents, Alfred and Amelia Harres Otis, while Amy followed Edwin to find work, in an attempt to save the marriage.