If behind every great man there’s always a great woman, then behind a great woman there’s often another great woman.
Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and then later the Pacific, bought her first biplane thanks to her mother’s help. She supported and financed her daughter’s dream to learn how to fly in an era when aviation was still considered to be ‘men’s stuff’.
It was 1920, a few years after the First World War, when Amelia got on a biplane for the first time. The experience that changed her life completely was her father Edwin’s idea. He took her with him to Daugherty Field in Long Beach, California to fly over Los Angeles for a little sightseeing tour. It was her mother, however, who believed in Amelia’s ambitious dream to become a pilot.
So it was that the young woman from Kansas quit her job as a nurse at the military hospital in Canada, where she served during the war, and started taking flying lessons. A similar path to the one taken by another great woman in aviation history, Ellen Church, the first female flight attendant.
From the outset, Amelia proved to be a competent and promising pilot and soon enough she was able to break the women’s record, reaching 4,267 metres (14,000 feet) on board the biplane she had bought with her mother’s help. That was to be the first of several records she would go on to set. Eight years after her first flight, Amelia became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (the very first person was Charles Lindbergh, remember?). In 1931, she reached 5613 metres (18,415 feet), breaking the world altitude record, and in 1932 she became the first female aviator to fly over the United States with no stops, from California to New Jersey.
Amelia, with her nickname Lucky Lindy, a name inspired by the aviator Charles Lindbergh, was a role model of courage and obstinacy for women at that time, thanks in part to the media attention she got during her ventures.
Her biggest venture came in 1937, when she set out to circumnavigate the globe on board a Lockheed Model 10 Electra. Unfortunately, during the penultimate leg of the trip, after having travelled 35,000 km (21,750 miles), Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in the sea and they were never found.
After that, Lucky Lindy was renamed Lady Lindy, but the Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell preferred to remember her forever by her original name, Amelia:
A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm…