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Amelia Earhart: Life and Disappearance

VO: Rebecca Brayton
One of the world’s most notable early female pilots, Amelia Earhart was a celebrity in her time. She was famed the world over for her record-breaking flights and her work as a pioneer for women’s issues. This is one reason that her disappearance in 1937 has been such an enduring mystery. On a round-the-world flight, contact with the pilot was lost. Even after a thorough search of the area, she remained missing and has for the decades that followed. A number of conspiracy theorists have suggested various hypotheses as to her fate, but she may remain vanished for the ages. In this video, learns more about the life and accomplishments of Amelia Earhart.

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The Life and Accomplishments of Amelia Earhart

Born July 24th, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, Earhart first became interested in air travel after witnessing a flying exhibition by an ace pilot in her late teens. In 1920, she and her father took a trip to an airfield for a 10-minute flight. Following this, she took odd jobs to earn the money for flying lessons, which she finally began on January 3rd, 1921.

Setting Records

To fit in with other female pilots, Earhart chopped off her hair and donned a worn leather jacket which fit her tomboy image. Within six months she had bought her own plane, a yellow vessel which she called “The Canary.” By October of 1922, she was already setting records, becoming the first woman to fly to fourteen thousand feet. Finally on May 15th, 1923, she was issued her pilot’s license, making her only the sixteenth woman to have one.

A Famed Female Pilot

While she was admired by some as a preeminent female pilot, others merely qualified her skill as adequate. Either way, she had amassed an impressive 500 unaccompanied flying hours by 1927.

Bringing Air Travel Into the Public Eye

After Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Earhart was approached to be the first woman to do so. Though she did not actually pilot the plane, her trip was successful and she and her team were greeted with great fanfare upon their return to the United States. Following this triumph, Earhart’s celebrity grew, and she signed on to write a book, go on speaking tours and endorse various products. She even became associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, using it to promote the sport and the inclusion of women, as well as commercial air travel.

First Woman to Fly Across North America

In August of 1928, she became the first woman to fly across North America and back. It was also around this time Earhart was proposed to by George P. Putnam, who had helped plan and promote her trans-Atlantic flight. The two were finally married on February 7th, 1931.

Round-the-World Flight

It was the next year at the age of 34 that she successfully flew solo non-stop across the Atlantic. She set a number of other records, both as a woman and as a pilot. But her biggest triumph was to be a flight across the world in 1937. After a first attempt in March failed, a second attempt was planned for June. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan departed on the first of the month, finally arriving in New Guinea on June 29th. Seven thousand miles remained on the flight, all of it over the Pacific Ocean.

Earhart is Lost

Departing from New Guinea three days later, the aviators planned to land on Howland Island. However upon their approach, the pair was unable to locate the island and was running low on gas. After a number of voice transmissions from the aircraft, contact was eventually lost. An official search began almost immediately, and Putnam also funded a search of the area, but ultimately she remained lost. On January 5th, 1939 Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead.

Myth, Legend, Legacy

For years, mystery has surrounded Earhart’s disappearance. Conspiracy theorists have suggested the possibility that she was a spy, or assumed a new identity. She may have crashed in the ocean, or she may have landed on a different island and ultimately perished. No matter what her fate, her legacy lives on as a central figure in the effort to bring air travel into the public consciousness, and as a pioneer for women’s issues.

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