Sunday, 30 November 2014

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937) - American pilot and writer - VAD in WW1

Amelia Mary Earhard was born in Atchison, Kansas, the elder of two daughters born to a German American - Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart, a lawyer – and his wife “Amy” Otis Earhart, whose father was a Federal Judge. 

When she was ten years old, Amelia’s father tried to take his daughters for a ride in an aircraft but they declined.  Amelia kept a scrapbook with press cuttings of women who had successful careers in a world dominated by men.

Educated at home initially, Amelia enrolled in Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania but during the Christmas holidays in 1917 she visited her sister Grace Muriel in Toronto and saw some of the wounded Canadian soldiers returning from the war in Europe.  Amelia immediately volunteered to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment and after initial training from the Red Cross worked at the Spadina Mlitary Hospital in Toronto.

In November 1918 Amelia became ill with Spanish Flu and had to convalesce for a year before regaining her health.  During that time she lived in Massachusetts at her sister’s home where she read poetry, learnt to play the Banjo and studied mechanical engineering.

Amelia went to live with her parents in California in 1921 and during a visit to an airfield she had a ten minute flight in an aircraft which made her determined to learn to fly.   Her teacher was Netta Snook, the American woman pioneer aviator.

Following the solo flight of Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Phipps Guest wanted to try a similar solo flight but needed an experienced woman pilot to join her team.  Amelia was invited to go along as a passenger with the responsibility for keeping the flight log.  That flight propelled Amelia into the limelight and from then on, she continued to build on her flying experiences and also began promoting the emerging commercial air travel industry, becoming Vice President of National Airways.  In 1928, she was the first woman to fly solo across North America and back.

Amelia married George P. Putnam in 1931 and in 1932 she flew solo across the Atlantic.   In 1935 she became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu to Caifornia.  

After a fire in their home, George and Amelia moved to California and George became the head of the board of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.

Amelia began planning a solo flight around the world in 1936 and in 1937, after a false start, accompanied by her navigator Fred Noonan, who was a Master Mariner as well as being an experienced flight navigator, she took off on 1st June from Oakland, heading initially for Miami.   They reached Lae in New Guinea on 29th June 1937.   They set off on 2nd July at midnight to fly across the Pacific Ocean, heading for Howland Island but they never arrived.  In spite of extensive searches no traces of the aircraft or of Amelia and Fred were found until a British pilot – Gerald Gallagher – found a skeleton in 1940 on the island.  Gallagher was convinced that it was Amelia.  The remains were sent to Fiji but were lost.

Until recently, there were many theories about the plane’s disappearance but the discovery of a metal panel on an uninhabited Pacific Island could provide a valuable clue to what happened.   The 3ft square metal panel was found in 1991 by a group of American aviation enthusiasts who recently made an exciting discovery.  Amelia’s aircraft was apparently modified before take off and an aluminium panel was fitted over a fuselage window.  Members of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery have matched the dimensions of the panel to the window on Earhart’s plane. Members of the Group plan to return to the island in 2015 to continue their search.

Sources:  Wikipedia and “The Times”, Friday, October 31st 2014 pp 36 – 37.
Photo of Amelia Earhart in her VAD uniform - Google Images

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Neta Snook(1896 - 1991) - American woman pilot

Neta Snook Southern was born on 14th February 1896 in Illinois, America.   Neta’s interest in machinery began with her father’s encouragement to learn about the workings of his cars and how to drive them.   When her family moved to Iowa in 1915, Neta went to the State College to study mechanical drawing and farm machinery repair.   She wanted to learn to fly but her application to join the Curtiss Aviation School was turned down because, at that time, women were not admitted, so Netta joined the Davenport Flying School in Iowa.

During the First World War, civilian flights were banned in America and Neta worked for a time at the British Air Ministry in Elmira, New York, inspecting and testing aircraft before they were sent to the war zones of Europe.

IN 1920, Neta went to work as a flying instructor at the Kinner Airfield in Los Angeles, where she became the first woman to run a commercial airfield.

In 1921, Amelia Earhart and her father visited the airfield and, after a flight which inspired Amelia they asked Neta to teach Amelia to fly, which is how their friendship began.   Neta gave up flying to marry and have a family but after her famous pupil’s disappearance in 1937, she took up lecturing and wrote and published her autobiography.   In 1977 Neta flew a replica plane of Charles Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis and in 1981 she was acclaimed as the oldest woman pilot in America.   Neta died on 23rd March 1991 at her home on a ranch in California.