Being Amelia

Who is Amelia Earhart?

November 2013

Amelia Earhart drops a blue-and-white Victoria’s Secret bag onto the tarmac at Whittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, grabs a blue pen, and spreads a map of the world across the concrete. It is a humid morning in late July, and the 30-year-old Colorado television personality, pilot, and namesake of the famous aviatrix is wearing white pressed shorts, black Nike running shoes, and a navy polo-style shirt of the kind usually reserved for men trying to close a business deal at the clubhouse bar. Earhart brushes a strand of blond hair from her forehead, leans over the map, and points a manicured nail at a single spot: Oakland, California.

“We start here,” she says.

Although she chose Oshkosh—home of the weeklong Experimental Aviation Association’s annual AirVenture show (essentially Comic-Con for air show nerds)—to formally announce her ambition to fly around the world next summer, Earhart’s plan is among the worst-kept secrets in the aviation world. She’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that she’s been imagining this adventure since she began flying nearly a decade ago—that, in the past year and a half, she’s found a co-pilot for the journey and raised close to $1 million in cash and sponsorships almost entirely on her own. And that doesn’t even count the $4.5 million Pilatus PC-12 NG turboprop plane that’s being modified for her in Switzerland and will include, among other things, a specialized 436-gallon leak-proof fuel tank and enough video equipment and wireless infrastructure to live-broadcast the two- to three-week trek on every social media platform available to the free world.

As she stands over the map, Earhart holds a creased copy of USA Today she’s been carrying around all morning. On Page 3, there’s a story headlined: “TV anchor, namesake to re-create Amelia Earhart flight.” When Amelia Rose Earhart leaves Oakland in June 2014 for her 21,000-mile journey, it will have been almost exactly 77 years since Amelia Mary Earhart slipped into the South Pacific on her own around-the-world attempt. When she disappeared on July 2, 1937, Earhart was perhaps the most famous woman in the United States, if not the world; she was a close friend of American dignitaries, European royalty, Hollywood stars, and New York writers. Long before she was declared legally dead in 1939, she had become part of the country’s collective subconscious and soon would find her way into its history textbooks—into that grainy space between myth and reality.

Amelia Rose uses her newspaper as a straightedge to plot her own course on the paper map. Just like the original Amelia, there’s Oakland and Miami. There’s Australia, the eastern tip of Brazil, the west coast of Africa. The map doesn’t show Howland Island, the infamous South Pacific island near where the first Amelia Earhart is presumed to have disappeared with her navigator, Fred Noonan. Earhart pulls out her phone, does a quick search, and plots Howland’s general area. She draws a blue line on a 45-degree angle northeast to Maui, the last stop before she’ll reach the mainland United States. Earhart leans over the Pacific Ocean, the final 2,350-mile leg the original Amelia didn’t complete. “This,” she says, patting the soft blue with her left hand, “is the most important part.”