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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Pioneer Profile

    Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)

    Amelia-EarhartAmelia Mary was born to Amy and Edwin Earhart in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897. She attended Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Illinois, Ogontz School for Girls in Rydal, Pennsylvania, and Columbia University in New York, New York to prepare for a career in Medicine and Social Science. She served during World War I as a military nurse in Canada where she developed an interest in flying. She pursued this interest in California, receiving her pilot's license in 1922. Though she continued her association with aviation by entering numerous flying meets, she spent several years as a teacher and social worker at Dennison House, in Boston.

    Amelia Earhart gained considerable fame on June 17-18, 1928, as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. The Fokker trimotor piloted by Wilman Stutz and Louis Gordon flew from Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland, to Burry Port, Wales. However, on this flight she would only serve as a passenger. She took the place of Amy Guest, the heir to a Pittsburgh steel fortune. Guest's family had forbidden her to make the trip so she had agreed to give up her seat to a women. Amelia jumped at the chance.

    In 1929 Earhart co-founded the "Ninety-Nines," an international organization of women pilots, which continues today to promote opportunities for women in aviation, and served from 1930 to 1932 as its first president.

    In 1931, Amelia made changes in her personal and professional life. She married publisher George Putnam and went on to set an autogyro altitude record. The following year she again accomplished the Atlantic flight which brought her fame, this time as a solo pilot flying from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Londonberry, Ireland, a first for a women.

    Amelia Earhart took an active role in efforts to open the field of aviation to women and end male dominance in this exciting new field. She served as an officer of the Luddington line, which provided one of the first regular passenger services between New York and Washington, D.C. In January 1935, she outdid her Atlantic solo by making a solo flight from Hawaii to California, a much longer distance than the Canada-England flight. She became the first pilot to successfully fly that route. Her numerous accomplishments earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first women so designated by the United States Congress.

    Amelia Earhart set out in June 1937 to circumnavigate the world. Accompanied by Fred Noonan, her navigator, Amelia Earhart flew her twin engine Lockheed Electra into one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. On the most difficult leg of the trip, Earhart and Noonan vanished near Howland Island in the Pacific. Intense searching by both the American and Japanese forces found no trace of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, or their plane and fueled speculation as to the reason for such a dangerous flight. Many argued that the flight was a reconnaissance flight to gather data on Japan prior to the United States entry into World War II. Many others, especially in the aviation community, held fast that Amelia Earhart was driven by her passion for flying.

    Though few facts are known about the July 2, 1937 disappearance in the central Pacific near the International Date Line, one thing is certain: Amelia Earhart had made a unique and timeless contribution to aviation and to women in aviation which will go unparalleled for decades to come.

    Visit the United States Profile for more information on American pioneers.

    Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.