America's fascination with legendary pilot Amelia Earhart is never-ending. Her flying accomplishments and her baffling disappearance have intrigued Americans for nearly 80 years.
She was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, a feat she accomplished in 1932 before demolishing other flying records and writing best sellers about her adventures. She was a media darling before the term was even coined. Then, on July 2, 1937, three-quarters of the way through a 29,000-mile around-the-world flight, she and navigator Fred Noonan vanished on approach to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Her plane was never found.
Earhart's namesake and distant relative, Amelia Rose Earhart, is finalizing plans to re-create the legend's final flight.
Next summer, Earhart, 30, a Denver weather and traffic co-anchor, and co-pilot Patrick Carter, a Fayetteville, Ark., businessman and adventurer, will take off from Oakland for a two-week, 100-hour flight that will approximate as closely as possible the original flight. They'll make the trek in a state-of-the-art, $4.6-million, 2014 model PC-12 NG provided by Pilatus Business Aircraft of Broomfield, Colo., one of two principal sponsors.
She is announcing plans for the flight today at the EAA AirVenture 2013 aviation show in Oshkosh, Wis.
Earhart, who took her first flying lesson in June 2004 and earned her instrument rating about two months ago, says she's pumped about the journey – but not nervous. "It's been the most amazing adventure that hasn't even happened yet," says Earhart, who works at the NBC affiliate in Denver, Gannett-owned KUSA 9News. Gannett also owns USA TODAY.
She and Carter — who's 29 and a mountaineer, ultra-marathoner, scuba diver and sailor —just completed eight days of initial training on full-motion simulators in Florida. They trained for everything that could go wrong in flight: engine fire or failure, loss of avionics, control malfunction, loss of pressurization and so on. They simulated landings and takeoffs at airports they'll stop at along the way.
In addition, they have trained on an actual PC-12 NG and will continue to retrain until the flight. "Nothing will be a surprise," Carter says.
The two adventurers say they want to re-create the famous flight as a way to honor and celebrate the legend of Amelia Earhart, to encourage young people – especially girls – to pursue aviation and to inspire people of all ages to pursue their own adventures, whether they're flying-related or not.
"Amelia Earhart said adventure is worthwhile in itself," her namesake says. "I think there's a new focus on adventure that we've only seen in the last five to 10 years. But whatever your version of flying is – it could be starting a business, it could be something entrepreneurial – we want to encourage people to pursue their own adventure."
'MOST FAMOUS WOMAN'
There are several reasons for the famed aviator's enduring popularity, says John Norberg, a writer at Purdue University and author of the bookWings of Our Dreams, a history of aviation pioneers. "First, she was far ahead of her time in talking about the importance of opportunities for women," he says. "She said that women should be able to do whatever they wanted to do. That was the message she carried all around the country.
"It's hard for us to imagine today how famous she was," Norberg says. "She was the first woman, and only the second person, to fly solo across the Atlantic. She was world-famous. She was probably the most famous woman in the world in her time."
Purdue hired Earhart in 1935 as a career counselor for women students and invested $80,000 in her final flight, he says.
Norberg says Earhart's around-the-world attempt – which ended after most of the journey had been completed – is all the more extraordinary considering the navigation equipment of the day. "The navigation techniques were nothing like today," he says. "Amelia Earhart didn't have a GPS. They were reading the stars, like Columbus."
Amelia Rose Earhart's plane will have GPS navigation.
FOLLOWING IN HER FLIGHT PATH
If she's successful, Earhart won't be the first woman to re-create Amelia Earhart's final flight, says Louise Foudray, 84, caretaker and historian at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kan. For instance, Foudray mentions Anne Pellegreno who completed the planned flight July 7, 1967, in a Lockheed 10A Electra, and Gaby Kennard, an Australian, who did it in 1989 in a Piper Saratoga.
She met Amelia Rose Earhart in July, when the young aviator was in Atchison to receive the Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award, which is presented by the community and came with a $10,000 grant. "I was very impressed with Amelia Rose," Foudray says. "She's very young to have accomplished as much as she has. We just hope that she does get to try this around-the-world flight. It's going to be more difficult than in 1937, simply because some of the countries won't let us use their air space. That's going to be the biggest obstacle to her doing it."
Mark Van Tine, CEO of Englewood, Colo.-based Jeppesen, which specializes in navigational information and is Earhart's other principal sponsor, says about a dozen employees of the company will spend three to four months working on overfly and landing permits, ground handlers to fuel and service the plane and other details.
"Our folks will stay in touch with the airplane. If there are any changes, we'll know it," he says. "We're going to flight-follow the airplane."
Thomas Bosshard, president and CEO of Pilatus Business Aircraft, says the PC-12 NG is a single-engine turbine aircraft that's "quite different" from Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra. "The engine manufacturer is the same, Pratt & Whitney," he says. "We like the idea of re-creating this historic flight. We like the concept of bringing women into aviation."
Amelia Rose Earhart, who says her mother "wanted me to have a name nobody would forget," has always been conscious of the national fascination with her namesake. "I grew up hearing about Amelia, not only at home but also in school." And at the grocery store, the bank, wherever she went. "There hasn't been a day in my life that somebody hasn't said something to me about Amelia Earhart. It's a daily connection. … People would always ask, 'Are you a pilot? Are you a pilot?' "
She says that she has traced her roots to the early 1700s and that she and Amelia Earhart, who had no children, "share a common ancestry."
She had long wanted to be a pilot but had to save up to pay for the lessons, she says. The first time she flew solo, "I really understood that I was saving my own life," she says. "It added a different aspect to my life."
She works to help others discover that sense of self-reliance, especially girls. After years of making speeches to tens of thousands of young people in the Denver area and elsewhere, she recently founded the Fly With Amelia Foundation in partnership with Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum and is awaiting non-profit status.
The foundation aims to provide flight training for young women 16-18, she says. At that age, learning to fly is "a confidence builder. It allows you to understand what you're capable of."
Earhart and Carter, who has worked as a test pilot for Cessna Aircraft and as a corporate charter pilot, want their adventure to have a unique aspect: They want it to be the first around-the-world flight that people can track live on social media.
"The goal is to stream it live," says Carter, whose company, NFlightcam.com, manufactures accessories for videoing flying. "We want people to be able to log in online and see what's going on in the cockpit."
For Amelia Rose Earhart, whose passion for and love of aviation seem to make her a worthy namesake, the trip will be an opportunity to spend at least 100 hours in the place where she feels most fulfilled.
"The feeling I have when I get up there in the airplane is unlike anything else," she says.