Remembering Amelia Earhart on her special day
July 24 marks the birth date of legendary aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart as well as National Amelia Earhart Day.
Miami Municipal Airport (now known as Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport) was the starting point for Earhart’s second, fateful attempt to become the first woman to fly around the globe in 1937, so she will always have a special place in Miami aviation history. On this 124th anniversary of her birth, we’re looking back at the life of this trailblazing aviator.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897. She defied traditional gender roles from a young age. Earhart played basketball, took an auto repair course, and briefly attended college.
During World War I, she served as a Red Cross nurse’s aide in Toronto, Canada. Earhart began to spend time watching pilots in the Royal Flying Corps train at a local airfield while in Toronto. After the war, she returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University in New York as a pre-med student. Earhart took her first airplane ride in California in December 1920 with famed World War I pilot Frank Hawks.
In January 1921, she started flying lessons with female flight instructor Neta Snook. To help pay for those lessons, Earhart worked as a filing clerk at the Los Angeles Telephone Company. Later that year, she purchased her first airplane, a secondhand Kinner Airster. She nicknamed the yellow airplane “the Canary.”
Earhart passed her flight test in December 1921, earning a National Aeronautics Association license. Two days later, she participated in her first flight exhibition at the Sierra Airdrome in Pasadena, California.
Earhart set several aviation records in her short career. Her first record came in 1922 when she became the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet. In 1932, Earhart became the first woman (and second person after Charles Lindbergh) to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She left Newfoundland, Canada, on May 20 in a red Lockheed Vega 5B and arrived a day later, landing in a cow field near Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Upon returning to the United States, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross—a military decoration awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” She was the first woman to receive the honor. Later that year, Earhart made the first solo, nonstop flight across the United States by a woman. She started in Los Angeles and landed 19 hours later in Newark, New Jersey. She also became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the United States mainland in 1935.
Earhart consistently worked to promote opportunities for women in aviation. In 1929, after placing third in the All-Women’s Air Derby - the first transcontinental air race for women - Earhart helped to form the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots. She became the first president of the organization of licensed pilots, which still exists today and represents women flyers from 44 countries.
One June 1, 1937, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lifted off from Miami Municipal and soared at 3,500 feet with air speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. The first stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. From that time on for a month, the flight remained on schedule. On July 2, 1937, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae airstrip in Papua New Guinea at 1:30 a.m. and would never be seen again.
The subsequent search for the two aviators led to a 15-day effort, led by the aircraft carrier Lexington. This was the largest search ever at that time. It involved 3,000 men, 10 ships and 102 fighter planes, and covered about 250,000 square miles of sea. To this day, no conclusive trace of her and navigator Noonan have been found.
Her memory lives on through countless memorials and landmarks across the U.S., including Amelia Earhart Park just south of Miami-Opa Locka Executive.