Some time back, I was boarding a small airplane for the short run to Cincinnati and noted that the baggage handler bore a striking resemblance to Amelia Earhart, the famous American pilot and explorer.
Taking my seat, and awaiting the start of the engines, I was startled to see that same young woman enter the cockpit and take her seat on the right-hand side, indicating that she would be the copilot for the trip. It was not so much that she was a very young woman, but that she loaded baggage that caused my fascination.
In those days, prior to 9/11, the cockpit door was often left open, and since I like to watch pilots at work, I took great pleasure in a clear view of the excellent co-pilot managing the take-off, and then the landings at Parkersburg and Cincinnati. I am sure that in the intervening 20 years, she has been a fine pilot, and I would fly with this woman any time.
Would I fly with such confidence if Amelia Earhart were at the controls?
Perhaps Earhart is now largely unknown to the American public. She should be known, and Susan Wels, the author of “Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It,” should also be known to a wide public. Susan Wels has given us a well written and beautifully illustrated story of Amelia, her husband and others who were part of her many adventures.
In the 1930s she set many records for long-distance flights. Amelia was making an around the world trip when she and her Lockheed Electra were lost in the Pacific in 1937 and was widely known, praised, and sometimes scorned.
As one with a particular interest in the history of transportation, I picked up this book from the new books section of the South Charleston Public Library, with a thought that its 200 illustrations, consisting of photographs, copies of documents, and reproductions of personal letters would be a quick read, requiring little time. I would look at the pictures, and put this slightly oversized book on the “finished” stack.
But, no. Susan Wels’ text is exciting and reasonably comprehensive enough to gain personal insight into the life of a woman who not only was her own person, but also pressed by her husband George Putnam (of the publishing house G. P. Putnam’s Sons) to take more and more risks. Flying is an expensive venture. Amelia Earhart needed money. The way to make money was to take risky flights and then to give public lectures about her adventures. She was billed as the Lady Lindy, even taking some fashion cues from the uniforms worn by trans Atlantic air hero Charles A. Lindbergh.
One could gather from Wels that Earhart was perhaps not always well prepared for her risky trips. She had limited training in flying by reference to instruments only, which in the ’30s was a relatively new art. Her navigator on her last trip, Fred Noonan, was one of the best in the world, but often negatively affected by heavy use of alcohol. She did not know Morse code, needed in those days for accurate long distance radio reception.
This book belongs in all libraries, including ones related to schools. One need not take Earhart’s risks, but certainly young women and men can gain inspiration from this volume.
Would I fly with Amelia? My answer is that I would, if the trip was not across great oceans, or over high mountain peaks. On my many trips by air in the past, I always looked for a place the plane might land.