On this day 88 years ago, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly non-stop solo across America. She flew a Lockheed Vega 5B from Los Angeles to Newark, NJ, in 19 hours, 5 minutes. This trip was a record for a female pilot, both in terms of distance and speed. Hard to imagine that a flight of 19 hours was once considered a quick one. (And she had no wifi to boot.)
Just a few months earlier, on May 20, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Braving a leaky fuel tank, flaming engine, and iced wings, she aborted her plan to land in Paris and instead landed in an Irish farmer’s backyard, “scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood” (in her own words).
Earhart was only the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license and over the years, she continuously promoted aviation. In 1929 she helped form the Ninety-Nines, an organization dedicated to supporting female aviators and the advancement of aviation. She became the group’s first president, a position she held for two years. It’s now an international organization that provides networking, mentoring, and flight scholarship opportunities to recreational and professional female pilots, with 155 chapters across the globe.
Not satisfied with breaking two records, she aimed for yet another one – the longest around-the-world flight, roughly following the equator. We all know how tragically that ended. And yet her legend lives on, because heroic individuals like her — endowed with the single-minded focus of breaking aviation barriers — are credited for engendering our current era of globalization, with all of its blessings and curses. And for women, she is a hero not only for her record-breaking endeavors, but also for her unabashed feminism and her ardent support of the Equal Rights Amendment. She redefined a woman's place in society.
Human flight is a marvel of ingenuity, bravery, and ambition. Today we celebrate Earhart and her accomplishments that changed aviation forever. Through her actions and the actions of those before her, Earhart cleared a path for aviation and women around the world.