"WINGS OF DREAMS"
MAY 28, 1997
With the help of a $4.5 million grant, veteran pilot Linda Finch made a replica of Amelia Earhart's plane, then flew it around the globe to finish the mission Earhart began 60 years ago. A background report is followed by analysis by the NewsHour's regular panel of historians.
JIM LEHRER: The flight and the mysteries of Amelia Earhart. Texas businesswoman Linda Finch landed at Oakland International Airport today, successfully completing the journey Earhart left unfinished 60 years ago. After her landing, Finch spoke to reporters, supporters, and well-wishers at the airport.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
May 28, 1997:
The NewsHour's historians analyze the significance of the Earhart legacy.
World Flight, the official homepage of Linda Finch's flight around the world
A online look at the life of Amelia Earhart
LINDA FINCH: Now that I'm home I can confidently say that Amelia Earhart's message is as alive and vibrant today as it was 60 years ago. She is the guiding spirit behind this project. We saw many of the same things, inquisitive faces of children in Africa, eager to learn about the life of a woman pilot and the extraordinary freedoms that we have in the United States. It's been a wonderful ride, filled with memories I will never forget for as long as I live.
But the world truly is getting smaller and smarter. And my wish is that good work carries on. I also want every one of the students to remember that you too can soar on the wings of your own dreams and how wonderful those dreams are. I will continue to spread that message to anyone who will listen, just as Amelia did in her lifetime.
JIM LEHRER: I talked with our NewsHour panel of historians and authors about the Earhart story. They come after Kwame Holman backgrounds the Finch trip and the woman who inspired it.
KWAME HOLMAN: In May 1937, Amelia Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, departed from Oakland aboard her Lockheed Electra, beginning an historic and fateful attempt to become the first pilot to fly around the world at its widest point, some 29,000 miles. Earhart's all-metal, twin-engine plane was built especially for her trip with funding from the Purdue Research Foundation. Earhart had joined Purdue University as a career counselor for women students in 1935.
During a 10-day transcontinental flight, Earhart tested the plane, making final mechanical adjustments as she flew to Florida. From there, she set out for San Juan, Puerto Rico, then over the Eastern edge of South America and across nearly two thousand miles of the Atlantic Ocean, across Africa, and on to the Red Sea. She continued over India, Asia, and Indonesia. Twenty-eight days and 22,000 miles after leaving California, Earhart reached the island of new Guinea in the Pacific. Now she faced the last 7,000 miles all over the Pacific Ocean.
On July 2nd, Earhart departed New Guinea bound for tiny Howland Island. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter--the Itasca--stood by to act as a radio contact to guide her plane in for landing. But 20 hours out of New Guinea came the first warning of trouble. The Itasca received this transmission from Earhart: "KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you--gas is running low." Half an hour later the Coast Guard cutter received one last voice transmission from Earhart. She only gave her position. According to that transmission, Earhart was as much as 100 miles off course for making Howland Island. Nothing more was heard.
NEWSREEL SPOKESMAN: The United States immediately organized a huge search. The battleship--
KWAME HOLMAN: The crew of the Itasca undertook a search, believing Earhart and Noonan had ditched at sea. President Franklin Roosevelt authorized nine Naval ships and sixty-six aircraft to help search the area. The effort was abandoned after 16 days of searching turned up no trace of the Electra. Forty-six-year-old Linda Finch came up with the idea of recreating Earhart's flight three years ago. A successful business woman and seasoned pilot with 21 years of experience restoring and flying historic aircraft, Finch found the remains of one of only two Electra 10E's in existence.
She came upon it in a hangar in Wisconsin where it had been sitting for years. The wings were off, the engines had been sold, and various other parts were missing. Finch spent nearly every penny she had to haul the plane back to her native Texas. She set about restoring it with the help of a four and a half million dollar donation from aircraft maker Pratt and Whitney, the company that designed and built the original wasp radial engines that power the Electra.
Though others have recreated Earhart's flight, Finch is the first to use the same make and model plane as Earhart and to make the attempt with only a pilot and navigator. But some things are quite different. Finch's plane is equipped with a video camera supplied by the National Geographic Society. And also unlike Earhart, Finch had a chase plane, radar, and modern navigational and communication equipment. But since the Electra's cabin is not pressurized and the plane does not carry oxygen, Finch had to fly below 10,000 feet for much of the trip just as Earhart did. Finch tied her flight to an educational program called You Can Soar.
LINDA FINCH: I want to talk a little bit about the project because all of you don't know what we do. I know--
KWAME HOLMAN: She met with groups of school children at all her U.S. stops and many stops overseas. The high-tech equipment in her airplane also allowed children in some 200,000 classrooms around the world to chart Finch's progress via the Internet.
SPOKESPERSON: I would ask her what inspired her to do this.
SPOKESPERSON: Good idea.
KWAME HOLMAN: The students even were able to have Finch answer their E-mail questions. In all, Finch covered 20 countries on five continents and mirrored Earhart's route and stops as best she could. She was unable to secure permission to overfly Libya and made more stops while crossing the Pacific than were planned by Earhart because some cities did not have the right fuel for the restored 1935 Electra. When Finch reached Howland Island, where Earhart disappeared, she dropped three wreaths from her plane in honor of the pioneering aviator.
Then Finch went on--completing the final leg of Earhart's mission. A set of letters Amelia Earhart regularly sent to her husband during her flight is memorialized in a book titled "Last Flight." One of her last entries read: "Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." Amelia Earhart was 39 when she disappeared.