Ameilia Earhart – Aviation Legend
Although she remains one of the most celebrated aviators in history, the number of airplanes flown by Amelia Earhart is relatively small. This noted American author and pioneer of the skies was the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which she received for becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932.
Besides setting aviation records, Earhart wrote best-selling books and was a strong promoter of women in aviation, at one time joining the Purdue University faculty for the purpose of counseling women on careers. She is, sadly, most famous for her unsuccessful attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, during which her Lockheed Model 10 Electra disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near her designated landing stop of Howland Island. Fascination with Earhart, including speculation about her death and remains, continues even in 2010.
The first of the airplanes flown by Amelia Earhart was the one in which she took her first flying lesson in 1920, a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. This plane was arguably the most famous North American World War I aircraft, during which it was used for military pilot training. In this twin-seat plane, the student sat in front of the instructor. The Jenny was powered by a 90 HP Curtiss OX-5 V8 that topped out at 75 mph.
Earhart soon bought and flew a yellow Kinner Airster biplane that she called The Canary. It had a three cylinder, 66 HP radial engine and the model became famous once associated with the famed aviator.
By 1927, the airplanes flown by Amelia Earhart were limited in number, but she had recorded almost 500 hours of solo flying, which was a respectable accomplishment for aviators of either gender in that era.
First Aviation Records
In early 1928 Earhart flew across the Atlantic as a passenger in a Fokker F. VIIb/3m, a flight in which she was assigned to keep the flight log.
Later that year, she set off in an Avro 594 Avian III for her first solo flight, crossing the American continent and back. She bought this plane from famous Irish aviator Lady Mary Heath after her earlier transatlantic flight and had it shipped to the US. Powered by a Cirrus engine, these were good aircraft, but were overshadowed in the marketplace by the more popular de Haviland Moth.
One of the airplanes flown by Amelia Earhart was actually an autogyro, a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, in which she flew to 18,415 feet in 1931, setting a world altitude record. The craft had an airplane style fuselage and two tandem open cockpits. The engine was nose-mounted. Lift from the four-blade main rotor was supplemented by its short monoplane wings, which carried the control surfaces.
Crossing the Atlantic
In 1932, Earhart’s fame reached a new level entirely when she flew a Lockheed Vega 5b non-stop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean, landing in Ireland. For being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo, she received not only the Distinguished Flying Cross, but numerous other honors. The Vega held six passengers and was popular with long-distance pilots for its rugged design and long range.
The Last Flight
The last of the airplanes flown by Amelia Earhart was the Lockheed Electra 10E, the plane she attempted to fly around the world in 1937. This twin-engine metal monoplane was designed to compete with Boeing’s 247 and the Douglas DC-2. Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E had most cabin windows blanked and was equipped with specially fitted fuel tanks on the fuselage. After radio contact was lost as she neared Howland Island, a tiny island in the central Pacific Ocean, neither the plane nor any pieces or remains have ever been found.