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Google celebrates 115th birthday of aviation pioneer

Google celebrates the 115th birthday of American Aviation Pioneer Amelia Earhart in its Google Doodle today.

Earhart was the first women aviatrix and the second to to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this record. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.

She set an altitude record for autogyros of 18,415 feet that stood for years. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California. Chilled during the 2,408-mile flight, she unpacked a thermos of hot chocolate. “Indeed,” she said, “that was the most interesting cup of chocolate I have ever had, sitting up eight thousand feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, quite alone.” Later that year she was the first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.

Amelia Mary Earhart, was daughter of German American Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart, was born in Atchison, Kansas. Her upbringing was unconventional since Amy Earhart did not believe in molding her children into “nice little girls.” Her maternal grandmother disapproved of the “bloomers” worn by her.

During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10 Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for a monumental, and final, challenge. She wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that severely damaged her plane, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. “I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it,” she said. On June 1st, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. By June 29, when they landed in Lae, New Guinea, all but 7,000 miles had been completed. Frequently inaccurate maps had made navigation difficult for Noonan, and their next hop–to Howland Island–was by far the most challenging. Located 2,556 miles from Lae in the mid-Pacific, Howland Island is a mile and a half long and a half mile wide. Every unessential item was removed from the plane to make room for additional fuel, which gave Earhart approximately 274 extra miles. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, their radio contact, was stationed just offshore of Howland Island. Two other U.S. ships, ordered to burn every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers. “Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available,” Earhart said.

At 10am local time, zero Greenwich time on July 2, the pair took off. Despite favorable weather reports, they flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made Noonan’s premier method of tracking, celestial navigation, difficult. As dawn neared, Earhart called the ITASCA, reporting “cloudy, weather cloudy.” In later transmissions earhart asked the ITASCA to take bearings on her. The ITASCA sent her a steady stream of transmissions but she could not hear them. Her radio transmissions, irregular through most of the flight, were faint or interrupted with static. At 7:42 A.M. the Itasca picked up the message, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. At 8:45 Earhart reported, “We are running north and south.” Nothing further was heard from Earhart.

A rescue attempt commenced immediately and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history thus far. On July 19, after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government reluctantly called off the operation. In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory. Across the United States there are streets, schools, and airports named after her. Her birthplace, Atchison, Kansas, has been turned into a virtual shrine to her memory. Amelia Earhart awards and scholarships are given out every year.

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