It’s unfortunate that Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) is best remembered for the mystery surrounding her final ill-fated flight, because she lived an extraordinary life, full of accomplishment.. On Monday, February 22nd at 9:00 pm, PBS examines the story of America’s most celebrated female aviator on “American Experience: Amelia Earhart.” The 2009 documentary is written and directed by Nancy Porter, and narrated by Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates.
While attending an air show in 1920, 23 year-old Amelia paid five dollars for a ride on a biplane, an experience that convinced her that she had found her life’s passion. Earhart started taking flying lessons at a Los Angeles airfield and, after gaining her pilots license in December of 1921, worked a wide variety of jobs to raise the funds to purchase her first plane, “The Canary.” She first attracted national attention in 1928 when she was selected by publicist George Putnam to join a crew on a cross Atlantic flight as a passenger, probably chosen as much for her all-American looks and persona as for her experience as a flyer. The success of the flight made Amelia world renown as the “first woman to fly the Atlantic,” and Putnam, who became her manager as well as her husband, promoted her as the “Lady Lindy,” an inevitable comparison to Charles Lindberg. In May of 1932, Earhart completed her own solo Atlantic crossing, flying from Newfoundland to Ireland, the first female to do so.
The next five years were busy ones for Amelia, as she became a popular lecturer, a writer of books, and a avid advocate for commercial air travel while continuing to set flying records, and aviation firsts, including a Oakland to Honolulu solo trip that set a mark for speed. Throughout the middle 1930’s Earhart was a familiar figure to movie-goers, as her photogenic looks and engaging personality made her a favorite of the newsreels of the day. In 1937, she embarked on her greatest challenge, attempting to fly around the world at the equator, starting her west to east journey from Florida. Earhart, along with her navigator Fred Noonan, completed 22,000 of the 29,000 mile journey, making it to New Guinea, but on July 2, 1937, all radio contact with the pair was lost, and Amelia Earhart was gone without a trace.
To this day, questions, speculations and even some urban legends continue to surround Earhart’s disappearance, and although the real truth of her fate may never be learned, her legacy as a promoter of commercial aviation and the advancement of women is a lasting one.