Amelia Mary Earhart
Perhaps the most well-known of all female aviators, Amelia Earhart was introduced to aviation history in 1928 as a mere passenger aboard the Friendship, a Fokker tri-motor purchased from Commander Richard E. Byrd by Amy Phipps Guest. Guest had hired Wilmer Stultz to pilot her across the Atlantic, but her family persuaded her to withdraw from the flight due to the dangers involved.
Indeed, the year before nineteen fliers had died trying to cross the stormy Atlantic. Guest gave in only on condition that the flight continue with another American woman as her stand-in. Amelia Earhart was chosen to go, thus becoming the first woman passenger on a transatlantic flight.
Even though Earhart described her contribution to the Friendship flight as “incidental,” she was a celebrity upon her arrival in England. Despite being a licensed pilot, Earhart had not been allowed to take the controls at any time during the voyage. Nevertheless, with her new celebrity status, Earhart was able to earn the financial support she needed for her own long-distance flights later.
After a series of record-breaking flights, Earhart began her long-distance career. In May 1932 she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, and arrived 15 hours and 18 minutes later in a farmer’s field near the town of Londonderry, Ireland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Three years later she flew the first solo flight from Hawaii to the American mainland.
In the summer of 1937 Earhart departed Miami on an equatorial flight around the world with Fred Noonan as her navigator. The Lockheed Electra vanished after taking off from New Guinea headed for Howland Island in the Pacific. Earhart and Noonan were never found, even after one of the largest naval searches in history. Some speculated that the two were captured by the Japanese and taken to Saipan for imprisonment, where they were later killed as “spies.”
Amelia Earhart had one insatiable desire, according to her friend and fellow pilot Louis Thaden, “to get women into the air, and once in the air to have the recognition she felt they deserved.” Earhart championed the right of all women to step outside the conventional roles handed them by society, inspiring them to try anything they dreamed of trying. “When they fail,” she said, “their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
Story courtesy of US Air Force Fact Sheet