Amelia Earhart is scheduled to land in Miami Friday on the first leg of her planned flight around the world. And put down that telephone — do not call the Herald to complain that your carrier is 77 years behind on deliveries. This is a new Amelia Earhart and a new trip circling the globe.
“I’m not saying my flight will be as difficult as hers, or as much of an achievement,” says Amelia Rose Earhart, a 31-year-old Denver weather-reporter-turned-pilot who shares most of a name if not any bloodlines with Amelia Mary Earhart, the pioneering aviatrix whose disappearance on a 1937 round-the-world flight remains one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
“But Amelia filed a flight plan 77 years ago, and because she didn’t return, it’s still open. I want to symbolically close it.”
Earhart — let’s call her Modern Amelia, as opposed to Pioneer Amelia — was scheduled to leave Denver, early Friday morning and arrive at Miami International Airport in the early afternoon. She began her trip Thursday from Oakland, Calif.
It’s the first hop of an aerial journey that will cover 28,000 miles in two-and-a-half weeks, with 17 stops in 14 countries. Modern Amelia began planning it 10 years when, after a lifetime of fighting off jibes about her name (yes, it’s real, given to her by a mother who wanted to call her baby Amy but have something more sophisticated to fall back on as an adult) she decided to embrace it instead and learn to fly.
“My name is definitely a conversation-starter,” she says, “and it certainly gave me the spark to try flying. But you don’t stick with something 10 years just because of your name. When I tried flying, I loved it.”
Her flight is part commercial enterprise, part media hype and part genuine homage to a feminist icon who was daringly insisting to the world that females could do most anything males could at a time when U.S. women had barely gotten the vote.
Certainly Modern Amelia is proving that women can rake in the corporate sponsorship dollars as effectively as any man. Her sponsors include such big aerospace guns as Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney, Satcom1 and — down on the ground — Target.
What she’s proving in the air is a different matter. The longest leg of her trip is nine hours, shorter than many airline flights from the United States to Europe.
Modern Amelia doesn’t pretend for a minute that her flight is anywhere near as difficult or as dangerous as the 1937 trip that cost Pioneer Amelia her life when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, couldn’t find a little sand spit known as Howland Island — on which no plane has ever landed, before or since — and went down in the middle of the trackless Pacific Ocean.
“No, no, no,” Modern Amelia says. “I’ve got a lot of advantages she couldn’t have dreamed of. “We’re not using 1937 equipment or even replicas of 1937 equipment.... We’re honoring her flight, but we’re not duplicating it.”
Modern Amelia is flying a Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12NG, a state-of-the-art turboprop plane so rugged and powerful that the U.S. Air Force has adapted it for special-operations work. Even more important is her navigation equipment.
Pioneer Amelia flew with a navigator, Noonan, who charted their position by taking readings on the sun and stars. And her balky and confusing radio gear left her unable to contact her ground crew in the final moments of her doomed flight as she frantically searched for Howland Island.
Modern Amelia has dual GPSs, dual radios (including a high-frequency set that’s especially effective over the ocean), satellite phones, two smart phones jammed full of navigation apps and a hand-held device that will allow her to live-Tweet the entire trip from her cockpit.
Perhaps most importantly, she’s got a co-pilot, Shane Jordan, who is 10 years older and has literally thousands more hours of flying a PC-12 than she does. (He’s actually a PC-12 instructor by trade.) “I couldn’t have anybody better in the cockpit with me,” says Modern Amelia.
Some of her critics say Jordan will more like a supervisor than a co-pilot.
“The Pilatus PC-12 is a lot of airplane, and there’s no way in hell she should be flying it,” says Richard Gillespie, a veteran pilot and former aviation insurance risk manager. Gillespie, who has also led several expeditions to the Pacific in search of Pioneer Amelia’s plane, says Modern Amelia doesn’t have nearly enough flying time on the Pilatus to pilot it by herself.
“He can let her handle the controls, but he’s always in command,” he says. “She’s essentially flying around the world as a passenger.”
Certainly there’s a grand tradition of round-the-world flights commemorating Pioneer Amelia by highly publicized female pilots with older, more experienced male co-pilots sitting in the shadows beside them; it was done in both 1967 (on the 30th anniversary of the fateful flight) and 1997 (the 60th.)
But a generous helping of hype may actually make Modern Amelia’s flight closer in spirit to Pioneer Amelia’s, Gillespie admits. Pioneer Amelia was an aviation celebrity who knew how to milk the media.
“Make no mistake about it, she was a brave woman and an important woman and she certainly did her own flying,” he says. “But for all the breathless talk about flying around the world, her trip — except for the last couple of legs, the ones she didn’t complete — was mostly broken into bite-sized chunks. She took four days to fly from Oakland to Miami, for instance, when she could have done it in one.
“The reason for that was that she had a deal with the New York Herald Tribune and its syndicate that she would file a story from every place she landed. A story under her name, every day, in newspapers all over America! That publicity was invaluable.”