Being Amelia

Who is Amelia Earhart?

November 2013

Three years ago, she returned to her adopted home and to 9News, where she now does traffic and weather. In many ways, it was Earhart’s second rebirth. Earhart finally seemed ready to accept who she was—which also meant deciding who she wanted to become. She spoke about the original Amelia and aviation in general to children, to historians, to anyone who wanted to know more. But she also was determined to set a parallel course, one in which she would allow herself to become the central character. She joined the board of directors at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver. This year—as she was making initial preparations for her world flight—she started a foundation and planned to give flight scholarships to 16- to 18-year-old young women who had dreams of becoming pilots. When she talked to large groups, to potential sponsors, she discussed inspiration and passion. Earhart talked about surviving as a female in the male-dominated aviation world, about being a role model. When she spoke, it was with such conviction that her audiences were left with, as she’d say, “nothing but positive energy.”

Her early morning schedule at the television station these days has given her more time to train and to plan. It’s the same freedom that allowed Earhart to prepare for a cross-country flight in 2011, which followed a route similar to the first leg of the around-the-world flight the original Amelia took in 1937. As part of that project, she met a then-26-year-old former Cessna test pilot named Patrick Carter. A slight man with a head of stubble and an imperturbable demeanor, Carter owns an aviation photography business in northwest Arkansas and is an adventurer at heart. (During his short life, he’s been a bush pilot in Kenya and was once kidnapped in southern Egypt.) He outfitted Earhart’s plane with video equipment, and the pair stayed in touch after the trip.

Earhart, who was then 29, intended to replicate the original Earhart’s 1932 trans-Atlantic flight sometime in 2012, but she broke her hand when she fell during a jog. She’d always envisioned flying around the world before she was 39 (the age at which the original Amelia made her attempted flight), which would make Amelia Rose the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft. But she knew the extensive planning would consume her for years, which wouldn’t leave time for her to chase another goal: getting married and raising children. “I wasn’t getting younger,” she says now. “So I thought, ‘Why wait to fly when I can do it now?’ ” 

Once Earhart got to thinking about the around-the-world trip in June 2012, she called Carter. Besides his work with small aircraft, he had experience with larger private planes like the ones needed for such an ambitious project. Earhart told Carter how she wanted the flight to inspire young women, but she needed help to make it happen.

Carter agreed immediately and the two soon were spending up to 15 hours a week talking logistics and working on landing sponsorships. Jeppesen, the navigation company based in Arapahoe County, was among the first to sign on. By late spring this year, the Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. agreed to modify a 1,200-horsepower PC-12 NG business aircraft for Earhart and to do the finish work at its hangar in Broomfield. The plane will be nearly bare when Earhart and Carter step foot in it—there won’t even be carpet or a bathroom—which will keep the plane’s weight down and allow Earhart to carry more fuel. “This isn’t going to be cushy air travel,” Earhart says. “It’s going to be stripped down as far as we can go.”

The pair already has spent a week at a Pilatus training center in Florida and has undergone water-survival training; Earhart and Carter will also do maintenance and recurrent training over the next seven months. Earhart, meanwhile, has burned through certification tests and is working with Carter to set a course that will keep them close to the equator but away from countries with iffy geopolitical environments. The generally good weather in June will allow the team to keep as close as possible to the original Earhart’s flight path, which includes stops in India and in Australia, on the continent’s northern tip. The shortest leg of the trip, from Christmas Island to Maui, will take about four hours to complete. One of the longest, from Maui to Oakland, will take up to eight. When Earhart flies over Howland Island near the end of the journey, she plans to make a low pass to commemorate the first Amelia.