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Courage in the sky: Amelia Earhart (disappeared 2 July 1937)

To celebrate the life and pioneering spirit of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

by Tim and Vicky Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To celebrate the life and pioneering spirit of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Preparation and materials

  • Download pictures of aviation pioneers – the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright (Wilbur made the first controlled, sustained, powered flight, 1903); Charles Lindbergh (the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, New York to Paris, 1927); and Amelia Earhart (first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, 1932).
  • A blow-up globe or map to show Amelia Earhart’s final flight or just the sheer distance of equatorial circumnavigation and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean where she eventually mysteriously disappeared.
  • For information about Amelia Earhart, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart
  • For a list of aviation pioneers, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aviation_pioneers
  • The quotation by Hilary Clinton (in section 7) is in the Washington Times, 20 March 2012 (search ‘Amelia Earhart, Clinton and Ballard’ and follow the prompts).

Assembly

  1. Project pictures of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and ask if students know what these people have in common. (They were all pioneers and they were all aeroplane pilots.) Explain their achievements (see ‘Preparation and materials’ above).

    What qualities are needed to be a pioneer? (You need courage, determination, persistence, faith, strong willpower, confidence, curiosity, an adventurous spirit.)
  2. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Seventy-five years ago, on 2 July 1937, she and her co-pilot mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world.

    She set many records for her pioneering flights in the early years of powered flight. Her books describing her experiences made her a best-selling author.
  3. Amelia was born on 24 July 1897 in Kansas, USA. She and her younger sister Grace were very adventurous, exploring their local area, tree-climbing, hunting and sledging. The idea of flying fascinated Amelia from a very young age but it wasn’t until she was 10 that she saw her first plane.

    Amelia’s father worked on the railways. He became an alcoholic and her parents’ marriage was often very strained. Eventually, when she was in her twenties, her parents divorced. Throughout the troubles of her childhood, she dreamed of a successful future career. She was inspired by newspaper cuttings of women doing well in traditionally male-dominated careers such as engineering, law, management and film direction and production.

    During the First World War, she worked as a nurse and was a nurse during the world-wide flu pandemic that followed the war. She caught pneumonia and suffered from severe sinusitis (inflammation in the nasal passages, causing, among other things, pain and pressure round one or both eyes, and headache attacks). Her flying and other activities later in life would continue to be hampered by chronic sinusitis.
  4. So how did Amelia Earhart become ‘one of the best women pilots in the United States’, according to the Boston Globe newspaper?

    In 1920, at the age of 23, her life was to change for ever when she visited an airfield with her father and flew with Frank Hawks, an air racer. From that moment she knew that she had to fly. She began to save up for flying lessons, which she eventually started in 1921, telling her instructor, ‘I want to fly. Will you teach me?’

    She demonstrated great commitment to learning to fly, buying a second-hand biplane in 1922. In 1923, she became only the sixteenth woman to be granted a pilot’s licence.

    As her hours of solo flying increased, her expertise grew, despite some serious mistakes and near misses. To keep on flying, she had to take a variety of jobs, working as a teacher, social worker, sales representative and writer.

    Her celebrity status grew following her first transatlantic flight (as a female passenger), which took place in 1928. The flight, from Newfoundland to Wales, lasted almost 21 hours. On her return to the US, she was invited to meet the President. Follow-on lecture tours and marketing of products made her a household name.

    In all this, she advanced the cause both of women in aviation and of commercial air travel.
  5. Amelia Earhart’s world records and achievements include:

    –  highest altitude flight for a female pilot: 14,000 feet (1922)
    –  first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic (1932)
    –  first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)
    –  first woman to fly non-stop, coast to coast across the US (1933).
  6. In 1936, Amelia Earhart began preparations for a round-the-world flight, taking the equatorial route. In 1937 she and her navigator Fred Noonan flew 22,000 miles, departing from Miami on 1 June and arriving at Lae, New Guinea, in South East Asia, on 29 June. The remaining 7,000 miles would be over the vast Pacific Ocean.

    They set off from Lae for Howland Island, 2,556 miles away, on 2 July. Here they planned to refuel before their final leg to the US, but they never made it to their destination.

    There have been many theories about what could have caused their disappearance, but despite exhaustive searches of the area, no trace has been found of their plane and it is assumed they crashed into the ocean. To find the wreckage has been described by explorers as ‘like finding a needle in a haystack’.

    The mystery surrounding their disappearance has intrigued and fascinated people for decades. Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Amelia Earhart was a spy and was captured by the Japanese before the outbreak of the Second World War.

    This summer a group of historians and scientists, led by Titanic wreck finder Robert Ballard, launch a new exploration to find the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s plane in the deep waters off Gardner Island. This follows study of the recent enhancement of a photograph originally taken only three months after the disappearance of the plane. It is said that this newly enhanced photo offers a possible clue to the location of the wrecked plane.
  7. Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, recently praised Amelia Earhart as a woman who ‘when it was really hard, decided she was going to break all kinds of limits – social limits, gravity limits, distance limits’. Hilary Clinton said of Amelia’s legacy that it ‘resonates today for anyone, boys and girls, who dream of the stars . . . we need to keep our eyes on the stars and to keep our minds set on what we are able to do that keeps pushing the boundaries of human experience’.

Time for reflection

Amelia Earhart embodies the spirit of a true pioneer – courage.

She did something that at the time seemed quite impossible.

She overcame huge problems to achieve her ambition in life.

What is your ambition? What seems to be stopping you from getting there?

What steps can you begin to take, today, to reach that place where you would like to be?

Prayer

Dear Lord,

thank you for courageous pioneers such as Amelia Earhart

who pushed the boundaries of human experience

and inspired many people.

In her journey of life and her flying adventures,

she endured and overcame many troubles and hardships.

Help us to be courageous people of faith in our journey with you from here to eternity.
Amen.

Music

‘Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart’

Publication date: July 2012   (Vol.14 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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