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July 24

Amelia Earhart Photo Credit: The Official Website of Amelia Earhart

Today in Science

Amelia Earhart Born

Aviator Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross, is born on this day in 1897.

Earhart took her first flight in 1920 and was so enamored with it that she began taking flying lessons a week later. Within six months she had saved enough money to purchase a second-hand plane, which she named the Canary. In 1922 she flew the Canary to 14,000 feet -- a world record for female pilots at the time. The following year, she became only the 16th woman to receive a pilot's license from the world aviation governing body, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

After several years of teaching and working as a social worker, Earhart was approached to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Three women had already died in an attempt to set that record. On June 17, 1928, she joined pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon in a plane named Friendship. They departed from Newfoundland and landed less than a day later in Wales. Because she was not trained to fly the aircraft, Earhart merely served as a passenger on the flight, but she vowed to make the same crossing on her own in the future.

Later in 1928, Earhart flew across the United States on her own, becoming the first female pilot to accomplish the feat. Catapulted into the spotlight, she helped to raise awareness about aviation and the possibilities the field held both for pilots and for passengers. But she had not forgotten her earlier vow and, in 1932, she became only the second person to make the transatlantic flight solo, flying from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in a plane she called Bessie. The feat would earn her the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Other flights and other records would follow. She and her husband moved from the East Coast to California, where she joined the faculty of Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. She also began training for an attempt at circling the globe. Her route was an ambitious one, and her first attempt ended in a crash in Hawaii. After tinkering with her plans, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed Miami, Florida, on June 1, 1937, on the first leg of what was to be a 29,000 mile journey. The two made several planned stops over the next month, reaching Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. When they took off on July 2, their next planned stop was to be Howland Island, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. They did not make it.

Radio transmissions suggest that the pair had problems due to a combination of bad maps, bad weather, and bad radio reception. An extensive and expensive search was conducted for a downed plane, but the wreckage was not (and still has not been) found.

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