5 January 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia,¹ at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937.
George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Mrs. Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. (See This Day in Aviation, 17–18 June 1928) They were married 7 February 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Connecticut.
Judge Craig appointed Mr. Putnam as the executor of Earhart’s estate, which contemporary news reports said was “estimated at more than $10,000.”
Less than five months later, on 21 May 1939, Mr. Putnam married Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James, an author, at Boulder City, Nevada. This was Putnam’s third marriage. It would end in divorce in 1945.
¹ Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, Probate Case File 181709
24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart was born at Atchison, Kansas. She was the older of two daughters of Edwin Stanton Earhart, an attorney, and Amelia Otis Earhart.
Amelia attended Hyde Park School in Chicago, Illinois, graduating in 1916. In 1917, she trained as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross. While helping victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic, she herself contracted the disease and was hospitalized for approximately two months. In 1919 Earhart entered Columbia University studying medicine, but left after about one year.
Amelia first rode in an airplane at Long Beach, California with pilot Frank Monroe Hawks, 28 December 1920. The ten-minute flight began her life long pursuit of aviation. She trained under Mary Anita Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California.
Earhart was the sixteenth woman to become a licensed pilot when she received her certificate from the National Aeronautic Association on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 16 May 1923.
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied pilot Wilmer Lower Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard the Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NX4204, Friendship, 17–18 June 1928. The orange and gold, float-equipped, three-engine monoplane had departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and arrived at Burry Port on the southwest coast of Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later. (Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience at this time, she did not serve as one of the pilots on this flight.)
On 1 May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, issued Transport Pilot’s License No. 5716 to Amelia Mary Earhart. On 25 June 1930, the newly-licensed commercial pilot set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers With a 500 Kilogram Payload, averaging 275.90 kilometers per hour (171.44 miles per hour) with her Lockheed Vega.¹ That same day, she set another World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers of 281.47 kilometers per hour (174.90 miles per hour).² About two weeks later, Earhart increased her Vega’s speed across a shorter, 3 kilometer course, with an average 291.55 kilometers per hour (181.16 miles per hour).³
Amelia Earhart was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization of licensed women pilots. She served as their first president, 1931–1933.
On 7 February 1931, Miss Earhart married George Palmer Putnam in a civil ceremony at Noank, Connecticut. Judge Arthur P. Anderson presided. In a written prenuptial agreement, Miss Earhart expressed serious misgivings about marrying Mr. Putnam, and wrote, “. . . I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.”
Earhart had her own line of women’s fashions, made from wrinkle-free fabrics. She modeled for her own advertisements. In November 1931, Earhart was the subject of a series of photographs by Edward Steichen for Vogue, an American fashion magazine.
At Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931, Amelia Earhart (now, Mrs. George P. Putnam) flew a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro to an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet). Although a sealed barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association for certification of a record, NAA does not presently have any documentation that the record was actually homologated.
On the night of 20–21 May 1932, Amelia Earhart flew her Vega 5B from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, solo and non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean to Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes. On 18 July 1932, Earhart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Herbert Hoover, for “extraordinary achievement in aviation.”
Earhart next flew her Vega non-stop from Los Angeles, California, to New York City, New York, 24–25 August 1932, setting an FAI record for distance without landing of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles).⁴ Her Lockheed Vega 5B, which she called her “little red bus,” is displayed in the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
At 4:40 p.m., local time, 11 January 1935, Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for Oakland Municipal Airport at Oakland, California, in her Lockheed Vega 5C Special, NR965Y. She arrived 18 hours, 15 minutes later. Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the Mainland.
Amelia Earhart is best known for her attempt to fly around the world with navigator Frederick J. Noonan in her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, in 1937. She disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937. The massive search effort for her and her navigator failed, and what happened to her and Noonan remains a mystery.
Although the exact date of her death is not known, Amelia Mary Earhart (Mrs. George Palmer Putnam) was declared dead in absentia by the Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, 5 January 1939. (Probate file 181709)
1 June 1937: After a takeoff accident at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, on 20 March 1937 ended Amelia Earhart’s first attempt to fly around the world, her damaged Lockheed Electra 10E was shipped to Lockheed at Burbank, California, for extensive repairs.
When the airplane was once again ready, she and her husband, George Palmer Putnam, navigator Fred Noonan and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKinney had flown the Electra from Burbank to Oakland to restart the around-the-world flight, this time heading eastward because of seasonal changes in worldwide weather patterns.
With overnight stops at Burbank, Tucson, and New Orleans, they arrived at Miami, Florida on 24 May. The cross-country flight was not publicly announced, and considered a “shake down” following the repairs.
With most of the problems that came up resolved, Earhart and Noonan were finally ready to go. The press was notified, the Electra refueled, and they departed Miami for Isla Grande Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 903 nautical miles (1,039 miles/1,673 kilometers) across the Caribbean Sea, and their Flight Into History.
“I closed and fastened the hatch . . . Then I started the motors. The engines had already been well warmed so now after appraising for a moment their full-throated smooth song, I signaled to have the wheel chocks removed and we taxied to the end of the runway in the far southeast corner of the field. Thirty seconds later, with comforting ease, we were in the air and on our way.”
For her around-the-world flight, the airplane that Amelia Earhart chose was a Lockheed Electra 10E, manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California. The Electra Model 10 was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner. In the standard configuration it carried a crew of 2 and up to 10 passengers. The Model 10 was produced in five variants with a total of 149 airplanes built between August 1934 and July 1941. Lockheed built fifteen Model 10Es. Earhart’s was serial number 1055.
$80,000 to buy the Electra was provided by the Purdue Research Foundation from donations made by several individuals. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband, made the arrangements to order the airplane and in March 1936 gave Lockheed the authorization to proceed, with delivery requested in June. The modifications included four auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, a navigator’s station to the rear of that, elimination of passenger windows, installation of a Sperry autopilot and various radio and navigation equipment and additional batteries. The Electra was not ready until mid-July.
Amelia Earhart test flew the new airplane at Burbank on 21 July with Lockheed test pilot Elmer C. McLeod. She accepted the Electra on her 39th birthday, 24 July 1936. It received civil certification NR16020. (The letter “R” indicates that because of modifications from the standard configuration, the airplane was restricted to carrying only members of the flight crew, although Earhart and her advisor, Paul Mantz, frequently violated this restriction.)
The Electra 10E was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.074 meters). The standard Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms) and a gross weight of 10,500 pounds (4,762.7 kilograms). NR16020 had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3295.4 kilograms). Lockheed’s performance data was calculated using 16,500 pounds (7,484.3 kilograms) as the Maximum Takeoff Weight.
NR16020 had a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage. 80 gallons (302.8 liters) of lubricating oil for the engines was carried in four tanks.
Earhart’s Electra 10E Special was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial engines, with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage centrifugal supercharger and were rated at 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for take off. The direct-drive engines turned 9 foot, 7/8-inch (3.010 meters) diameter, two-bladed, Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers. The Wasp S3H1 is 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter and 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.093 meters) long. It weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
A detailed engineering report was prepared by a young Lockheed engineer named Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson to provide data for the best takeoff, climb and cruise performance with the very heavily loaded airplane. The maximum speed for the Model 10E Special at Sea Level and maximum takeoff weight was 177 miles per hour (284.9 kilometers per hour), a reduction of 25 miles per hour (40.2 kilometers per hour) over the standard airplane. The maximum range was calculated to be 4,500 miles (7,242.1 kilometers) using 1,200 gallons (4,542.5 liters) of fuel.
Johnson would later design many of Lockheed’s most famous aircraft, such as the SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance airplane. As a student at the University of Michigan, he worked on the wind tunnel testing of the Lockheed Electra Model 10 and made recommendations that were incorporated into the production airplane.
The Electra was heavily damaged when it crashed on takeoff at Luke Field (NAS Ford Island), Honolulu, Hawaii, on the morning of 20 March 1937. It was shipped back to Lockheed for extensive repairs. An investigating board of U.S. Army officers did not report a specific cause for the accident, but there was no evidence of a “blown tire” as had been reported in the newspapers. The repairs were completed by Lockheed and the aircraft certified as airworthy by a Bureau of Commerce inspector, 19 May 1937. The airplane had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes since it was built.
Earhart’s Electra was equipped with a Western Electric Model 13C radio transmitter and Model 20B receiver for radio communication. It used a Sperry GyroPilot gyroscopic automatic pilot.
23 May 1937: Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, her husband, George Palmer Putnam, and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKinney, arrive at Miami, Florida, aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020. This completed the fourth leg of her second attempt to fly around the world.
“. . . on Sunday morning, May 23, headed on southeastward for Miami. From New Orleans we laid a straight course across the north-easterly “corner” of the Gulf of Mexico to Tampa, a matter of about 400 miles. It was Bo’s first considerable over-water flying and I am not sure he was very enthusiastic about it. That Sunday afternoon we reached Miami, and dug in for a week of final preparation, with the generous aid of Pan American personnel.”