Featured image: United States Library of Congress

5/20/1932: First Female Solo Transatlantic Flight

DALLAS – Today, in 1932, Amelia Earhart took off on her solo, nonstop, flight across the Atlantic, becoming the first woman, and the only person since Charles Lindbergh, to accomplish such a feat.

Earhart took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, and landed 15 hours later near Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in a red Lockheed Vega. Earhart became a worldwide phenomenon as a result of her pioneering achievement, which demonstrated her bravery and ability as a pilot.

Earhart would later fly from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, on the first solo, nonstop flight by a woman across the United States on August 24–25, setting a women’s record of 19 hours and 5 minutes and a distance record of 3,938 kilometers (2,447 miles).

In 1928 Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in the Fokker F.VII Friendship with two male pilots. Photo: United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division

First Transatlantic Flight

By 1928, Earhart was flying at Dennison Airport and had joined the local National Aeronautic Association, when she was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to be the first woman to travel across the Atlantic as a passenger.

Aboard the Fokker F.VII Friendship, Earhart and pilots Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon took off from Trepassey, Newfoundland on June 17, 1928, but despite being guaranteed time at the controls of the trimotor, she was never given the opportunity to pilot the plane during the 20-hour 40-minute flight to Burry Point, Wales. On the final flight to Southampton, England, she sat in the pilot’s seat for a while.

Her dramatic 1928 flight garnered her international recognition and provided her with the opportunity to pursue a career in aviation. Putnam took over as her manager, and she started lecturing and writing about aviation all over the United States.

Amelia Earhart. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

To Prove Oneself

Back in the air, in addition to the group flight across the Atlantic, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogiro, made by Pitcairn and featuring spinning blades to increase lift and enable short takeoffs and landings, after just 15 minutes of training in 1930.

Earhart set the first autogiro altitude record and completed two cross-country autogiro tours, which included three public “crack-ups,” as she later dubbed them.

Despite being the most successful female pilot at the time, Earhart was not the most professional. The pilot wanted to fly the Atlantic Ocean again, this time alone, in order to prove herself. She believed that a transatlantic flight would earn her recognition, something that other women desired as well.

Ruth Nichols attempted a transatlantic flight in 1931 and crashed in Canada. She was contemplating another attempt when Earhart decided to once more cross the pond, this time alone.

The Solo Transatlantic Flight

On May 20-21, 1932, Earhart battled exhaustion, a leaky fuel tank, and a broken manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling during her 3,260-kilometer (2,026-mile) nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. To make matters worse, ice accumulated on the Vega’s wings, causing it to plummet 3,000 feet to just above the waves.

She landed in a farmer’s field in Culmore, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after realizing she was on a path far north of France.

The wonder pilot received a ticker-tape parade in New York City and awards in Washington, D.C. after receiving acclaim in London, Paris, and Rome. Earhart was back in the Vega for her transcontinental flight by July and August.

Photo: Smithsonian National Air ansd Space Museum

Shattering Records and the Glass Ceiling

Amelia Earhart became the first female to travel solo from Hawaii to the United States mainland on January 11–12, 1935, in a Lockheed 5C Vega. While some referred to it as a marketing ploy for Earhart and Hawaiian sugar plantation promoters, it was a risky 3,875-kilometer (2,408-mile) flight that had already claimed the lives of many.

Of that flight, Earhart remarked, “I wanted the flight just to contribute. I could only hope one more passage across that part of the Pacific would mark a little more clearly the pathway over which an air service of the future will inevitably fly.”

Later that year, Earhart set records for flight times between Los Angeles and Mexico City, as well as between Mexico City and Newark, New Jersey. She also finished fifth in the Bendix Race in 1935. Earhart would win the Harmon Trophy twice and be awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross.

Featured image: Amelia Earhart arrives in Culmore, Northern Ireland after her solo flight across the Atlantic after fighting fatigue and aircraft problems. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The featured image shows Amelia Earhart in a Stearman Hammond Y-1. Article sources: Women in Aviation and Space History, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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