Amelia and Eleanor on night flight to Baltimore

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  • Amelia Earhart greets Glenn L. Martin in 1930. The pioneering female aviator, who disappeared with her navigator on an around-the-world flight in 1937, as an occasional visitor to Baltimore.
Amelia Earhart greets Glenn L. Martin in 1930. The pioneering… (BALTIMORE SUN STAFF FILE…)
November 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Amelia Earhart's name is back in the news these days with the recent release of the Hollywood biopic "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank as the ill-fated flier, and Richard Gere as George Putnam, her husband, publisher and public relations executive.

Critics have not exactly given soaring reviews to this film treatment of the pioneering aviator's life and accomplishments.

"The filmmakers spend so much time turning her into a dopey romantic figure that they never give her the animating, vital will or even much of a personality that might explain how a Kansas tomboy turned Boston social worker took to the skies and then, through her deeds and words, encouraged other women to chart their own courses," Manohla Dargis wrote last month in The New York Times.

Dargis gets in a final dig when, because of the "infernal smiling" of Swank and Gere, she writes, the film really is a "more effective treatment to the triumph of American dentistry than to Earhart or aviation."

In a flying career that lasted less than 20 years, Earhart accomplished a great deal.

She made her first flight in 1920 in Long Beach, Calif., when she went aloft with barnstormer Frank Hawks, who later became a noted air racer.

"By the time I had got 200 or 300 feet off the ground," Earhart said, "I knew I had to fly."

Two years later, she flew a Kinner Airster biplane to 14,000 feet, establishing a world record for female pilots.

In 1928, Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane when she flew aboard a Fokker F-7 trimotor piloted by Wilmer Stultz from Newfoundland to Wales.

When interviewed after the flight, Earhart, who had done none of the flying on the journey, told reporters, "Stultz did all of the flying - had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes."

She added: "Maybe someday I'll try it alone."

On a March 4, 1930, visit to Baltimore, where she was greeted by Glenn L. Martin, Earhart told The Evening Sun, "The number of women flyers has increased from 12 in January 1929 to 200 today. I see a big future for women in this work."

In the interview, she predicted that women would have a major role in aviation in the next war.

"I hate to think about another. There probably will be one, however, and women undoubtedly will be of service in carrying planes to the flyers who will actually use them in combat," she said.

At a dinner in her honor that evening at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, Earhart explained that female fliers are more cautious than men because they have been "bred to humility."

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic alone, in a Lockheed Vega 5B from Newfoundland to a pasture near Derry, Ireland, on a flight that lasted 14 hours and 56 minutes.

During the flight, she encountered strong winds, icing and mechanical problems.

As she bounced to a stop, a farmer asked, "Have you flown far?"

"From America," she replied.

When asked why she took such risks, Earhart replied: "It's for the fun of it."

Earhart broke up a White House dinner party on April 20, 1933, when she invited Eleanor Roosevelt to go on a flight to Baltimore and back.

The president was away, but dinner guests who abandoned the table included Hall Roosevelt, the first lady's brother; Thomas Wardwell Doe, president of Eastern Air Transport; and Eugene Luther "Gene" Vidal, head of the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce, and his wife - the parents of author Gore Vidal.

Dressed in their evening clothes, the party went to Hoover Field in Arlington, Va., the first airport to open in the area, and climbed aboard an Eastern Air Transport twin-engine Curtis Condor.

Earhart, dressed in a white silk gown and wearing white kid gloves, was at the controls of the plane for most of the flight.

Mrs. Roosevelt, who had just received her student pilot's license, was by Earhart's side.

"I'd love to do it myself. I make no bones about it," Roosevelt told The Sun. "It does mark an epoch, doesn't it, when a girl in an evening dress and slippers can pilot a plane at night."

Earhart made history again on Jan. 11, 1935, when she completed a solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland, Calif., aboard her trustworthy Vega, which she named "Old Bessie, the fire horse."

Her last local appearance was in November 1936, when she was invited by David Foote Sellers, the Naval Academy superintendent, to attend the Navy-Notre Dame game that was played at Baltimore Stadium.

She made history again when she became the first woman to address a Naval Academy class during her visit.

She explained to the midshipmen that she had undertaken the Pacific flight for no real reason "except my own wish to do so," adding that the hazards of flying over the Pacific were less than those of the Atlantic.

"Pacific flight usually is over well- traveled steamer lanes," she said.

Before leaving Baltimore, she addressed the Goucher College Alumnae Association at the Lyric Opera House.

Eight months later, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan perished on their 1937 around-the-world attempt aboard her Lockheed L-10E Electra somewhere between Lee, New Guinea, and Howland Island.

The Electra and its occupants were never found, and their disappearance continues to intrigue conspiracy theorists.

Locally, Earhart Road in Essex honors Amelia Earhart and her many achievements.

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