As a little girl growing up, flying around the world as a female pilot never felt like a career option. Far away and exotic destinations with cultural traditions so very different from my own, created a fascination to know and experience more – what would it be like to walk on a black sand beach, or stand under the massive ruins of the Rome Coliseum?
During my youth, most young ladies with a desire to see the world chose a career as a flight attendant and did not consider the out–of-reach career of a pilot.
Reading and learning about Amelia Earhart and her journey was intriguing and shaped images of a strong, adventurous woman, taking off and cruising high above clouds of limitations. She set out to change the view of woman pilots and open doors for adolescent females to see the world from the pilot’s seat.
On May 20th, 1932 Amelia Earhart took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland heading to Paris and into the history books as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. In 1937, another first was in her sights – to fly around the world. Although she was unsuccessful, she created the possibility for girls to not only dream of flying but soar into reality and opportunities in the left seat of an airplane.
Fast forward to 2014 and meet– Amelia Rose Earhart as part of the Amelia Project to reenacted the 1937 flight of her namesake she successfully flew around the world. On July 11, 2014, landing at the Oakland International Airport Amelia Rose closed the flight plan of the original Amelia Mary Earhart. She became the youngest woman to fly around the world in a single-engine aircraft.
Her foundation- Fly With Amelia provides grants for young girls 16-18 years old learn more about aviation, encouraging them to pursue a career above the clouds.
I had an opportunity to talk with her about her trip. Our conversation is below:
ANNITA: Congratulations on your very successful, and fascinating flight. What an adventure.
AMELIA: Thank you. You know it was a great adventure. It was beautiful. The places we traveled – through fourteen countries, 28,000 miles and we had beautiful, safe weather the entire time and a great aircraft – and so many stories to tell now that we are back.
ANNITA: We want to hear all of those fascinating stories. Your flight retraced the route of the famed aviator, and your namesake, Amelia Earhart, who set out in 1937 on this very same route. So when and where did you actually start? And how long was the total flight?
AMELIA: We started on June 26 in Oakland, California because that’s where Amelia began her flight in 1937. And I wanted to recreate that flight as closely as I possibly could. So I was able to match 10 of her stops, out of the 16 stops we made on our flight. Choosing that route was so critical to geopolitical situations; heading through Africa as well as the Middle East, we had to divert in a couple of locations. But all in all, the trip, took 18 days to complete. We flew every day with the exception of two days. And when we made our way through Darwin, we did an engine check before we crossed the South Pacific. We wanted to work with our Pratt & Whitney team and just get one more look at the engine before we made that huge ocean crossing.
ANNITA: What type airplane did you fly?
AMELIA: We flew the Pilatus PC-12 NG, which is a single-engine turbo crop and it has an incredibly reliable airframe and also engine. We were running the PC-6 engine which has a great track record in terms of ocean flying and in terms of flying all over the globe. And the avionics in the airplane were also completely state of the art.
And when I thought about recreating the flight, we knew we could go one of two routes. You can go with older technology to get closer to what Amelia flew, or you could use today’s technology – GPS, embedded vision, all the radios and all the equipment that we have. And I really wanted to use today’s technology to complete the flight because we wanted to do it safely, we wanted to honor Amelia by recreating that route but bringing her legacy home safely, so that’s what we did.
ANNITA: She used the stars and maps as her navigation on that route.
AMELIA: She did. She used celestial navigation and very limited forms of access to radio communication and also knowing where she was – with research they had done on the ground and then translating that to what she and her navigator Fred Noonan were able to do in the cockpit. So, definitely we have a lot more useful technology today, and boy do we use it!
We had weight points set up all across the globe, and we did check-ins with air traffic control with controllers from around the world. It was really encouraging as we were flying over areas like Brazil and Africa, you know people that I would never meet were checking in on the radio saying, “Amelia, we heard about your trip. Good luck. We love what you’re doing.” So, it was just so encouraging to get those messages.
ANNITA: How were you received in each of your stops? Were there crowds and media along the way on your actual stops?
AMELIA: There really were, and you know every stop was different. Every stop felt very unique in terms of the way we were welcomed. And then a few stops were totally quiet where no one knew we were there. And we had a great reception in Dakar, Senegal. That was one spot in particular where there was a beautiful reception. A women’s leadership organization came out and they were about six women, all in beautiful white gowns and they brought a small child with them, a little girl who will most likely grow up with some pretty amazing leaders seeing how she was surrounded by those types of women already. And she was carrying a big bouquet of flowers, and she walked right up to me and gave me a big hug.
And so, you know things like that really stuck in my mind. The way people took time out of their day to come and join us on our journey was really special. And we were sharing the pictures and videos and images as we went on social media to keep everybody back home on the adventure with us, and knowing where we were at what time and what everything was like. So it was so encouraging.
ANNITA: That’s amazing you could do that with social media, and have everyone come along with you as part of the journey.
AMELIA: It was so much fun. We created the hashtag #FlyWithAmelia, and I wanted to give people an opportunity to inspire their own adventures by watching us fly around the world. And it’s not necessarily about making sure everybody gets into an airplane. Flying is fun, and I do run a foundation that puts women through flight school, so I want to encourage those types, but I think personal adventure for anybody, whether it’s something as simple as getting out of the house and making a few new friends or possibly going back to school or starting a business. Adventure is what you make it, and we’ve had a lot of really positive notes come through on social media about people saying, “We’re watching the flight. We’re really inspired, and we’re going to get out and take those first few steps.”
ANNITA: Did you take anything along with you for Amelia, a photograph or quote or anything with you as inspiration since you were retracing her route?
AMELIA: Absolutely, we did. In fact, we took several things along that were special to me and were commemorative of Amelia’s flight. The first thing, a lot of people saw it because they took pictures of it on social media, was a little black and white photograph of Amelia in her leather flight cap. And when you think about old-school aviation, you picture the circular dials in the cockpit of an airplane. The old soldiers, they tucked their wife or their sweetheart’s picture into those dials and kept them as they flew to remember them while they were flying, also to know what they were coming back to. So kind of an honor to that, we kept Amelia’s picture in the cockpit in different spots across the avionics. She was always floating around somewhere in the airplane. There were times when that picture was back in the cabin, there were times when it was up front, there were times it was kind of tucked into a windowpane, but that was one of the things that really kept us on track with why we were doing this mission.
Another thing that I took along was basically a piece of a seat, a leather aircraft seat that was donated to a museum years ago. It was from one of Amelia’s planes, a lucky Lockheed Vega plane and it wasn’t the plane she flew around the world, but it was a Lockheed Vega plane. It was re-skinned, and it’s got a canvas cover on it and when it was re-skinned they cut that canvas part into tiny little squares, and they sold them as commemorative pieces of Amelia’s plane. So one of those was sent to me, and I took it around the world with me. I actually had a piece of Amelia’s plane inside of our Pilatus.
ANNITA: That is so touching. I think she was right there, encouraging you on the journey.
AMELIA: Well thank you. I’d like to think that if in some way Amelia knew about our trip that she really would look down and say go for it. This is exactly what we wanted to do – inspire other women to get out and fly. There’s a really famous quote from Amelia from back in the 1930s where she basically said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You know the reason I’m doing this trip and making these record setting attempts is to encourage the women of tomorrow to fly tomorrow’s aircrafts.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing. I’m inspired by her 77 years later. And now there’s a whole new group of young women that are getting out there and taking their first flight lessons and leaning towards a life of adventure and really true passion.
ANNITA: As a travel consultant I am often asked “How do I pack and how much should I take on my trip”. So how do you pack for a trip like this? Aircraft weight had to play a part in your trip.
AMELIA: That is such a good question. When were looking at the breakdown of what we could take on the aircraft, we had a lot to consider before we even talked about clothing and food, because we had to pack a fuel tank in the back of the plane. So we had this 200-gallon extra fuel tank there, we had our survival gear which included a 40-pound raft. We had a survival kit just in case anything were to happen there. We had a number of flight manuals to take along, paper work, computers and cameras. So basically we did a weight and balance for the entire aircraft and what I said was, “Well, whatever is left over after that, that’s how we’ll make our decisions for what to pack.” And when I was planning for this trip, I kept it very simple clothing-wise. I just wanted to be comfortable on the airplane, and we had made some team shirts that said The Amelia Project on them. So I kept it simple in that sense, but really it came down to packing only the necessities for this because I knew it wasn’t about being dolled up and dressed up and glamorous. It was about safely packing for a trip that you needed to be mostly covered because of all the different regions we were going through. There were a lot of bugs, so we needed to be careful not to get too many bug bites, which I managed to make it home with only about 50 or so on my legs. And then my co-pilot Shane Jordan also packed very similarly, just light shorts, light t-shirts that he could be very comfortable in but at the same time we still had to pack our food. And for me, that was very important because I knew we weren’t going to be eating a lot of local cuisines as we traveled because we didn’t want to get any sort of food borne illness or throw our bodies off too much from our normal routine. So we ate a lot of protein bars and a lot of really the nutrient-dense food that was also very lightweight because we could only take about a case of water on with us as well. We had to bring a water purification system, so the packing was complicated and when I came home, I thought, “I never want to wear that t-shirt again.” Because I dressed pretty much the same for 18 days.
ANNITA: And what about the protein bars? Are you off those as well?
AMELIA: I never want to see one of those again. Yeah towards the end of the flight it was kind of cute because Shane and I were up front flying the plane back into Oakland and I said, “Alright what’s your first meal going to be when you get back down?” And he said, “I just want Mexican food. It sounds so good.” So we’re sitting up there daydreaming about what our first meal would be.
ANNITA: And what was your first meal?
AMELIA: Well I wanted my first meal to be sushi and French toast. I have no idea why I was craving those two things but, believe it or not, I got both of those things in the first few days when I made it back.
ANNITA: Oh, great. Well, this type of journey doesn’t just happen so how did you prepare for this? I’m sure you were preparing for a while. The technical side would mean routing, flight plans and preparing your plane but also there had to be an emotional side as well in preparation for the journey.
AMELIA: There definitely was. That’s a very good point. And I spoke with Barrington Irving, who was the youngest man ever to fly around the world several years back, and I asked him for his advice. I said, “Barrington I’m thinking about doing a flight around the world.” He said, “My advice is this – give yourself twice as long to plan the journey and also make your budget twice as large as you think it should be.” And that was pretty daunting when he said that. And so I really took that to heart, gave myself a year and a half to fund the trip and luckily we had lots of support from great partners all over the world in fact. But then when it came down to planning there were a couple of different categories we had to think about. Number one was route planning and figuring out where exactly we wanted to go. And then the next was getting permission to go there. So, getting visas for 14 different countries was particularly tough because you have to send your passport to the consulate before you get your visa back. And when you think about the cost behind that as well it can get pretty pricey for two people, so that was another challenge there. We had to go to open water survival school, both Shane and myself, where you get tossed into the ocean, and you’re taught how to use your life raft and your survival kit if you were to have an emergency over water in a single engine plane. Outside of the survival training, you just have to go to straight training to learn how to really understand and operate the aircraft in the best way possible. So I went to engine maintenance school. I learned how to fly the aircraft specifically and then eventually I was able to ferry a plane back from Switzerland, and I picked it up and took it across the Atlantic after the plane had only three hours on it. So it was brand new, we flew it back to Denver, and that’s when fuel-tanking configuration started. So, yes, there was a lot to coordinate, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. And it became so overwhelming towards the end of the flight that I actually left my job in TV broadcasting to pursue the flight full time. And I was a newscaster in Denver working at the local TV station doing traffic and weather, and so I left that job to fly around the world.
ANNITA: All of the planning makes it, even more, amazing to hear how successful your journey was. Were there any naysayers who were saying you can’t do this? And if there were, how did you stay focused on that little voice in your head that says I can do this?
AMELIA: There absolutely were. And it’s a funny thing because when you put yourself out there, and you go for a big adventure, and you make it public that you want to do something big, there’s always going to be people that say that it shouldn’t be done, or you can’t do it or here’s my opinion – and it’s usually not very positive. We had so much support, though, on the opposite side that it pretty much drowned out the negativity. But a few of the naysaying comments would be, ‘Well, this trip shouldn’t be done because you’re not using the same aircraft that Amelia flew in.’ My response to that is, number one, Amelia disappeared on her flight around the world, using the technology of yesterday. My goal was not to prove that I could fly an old aircraft or I could fly it solo. My goal was to prove that aviation can take you around the world safely with today’s technology. Because we’re not going in that direction, we’re not going back in time. We can honor and respect and adore aviation of yesterday but in terms of the safest way to fly it’s all about using the technology that we have to determine that we’re safe and know exactly where we’re headed. And then the other big concern and comment from naysayers out there was, ‘Well, you’re not doing this journey alone, so it doesn’t count.’ And I thought, for me, it’s not about proving that I can do it solo around the world, but there was so much to do on that aircraft between the extra fuel tank, the social media, the flying, the technology that we had on board and also the camaraderie. It was so long to be able to connect with someone else on that flight and have that shared experience. So, for me, I would say to those naysayers, you’re really good at sitting at home on the coach making negative comments but we got out, and we flew all the way around the world.
ANNITA: Absolutely and I will agree with you on that. What did you love most about the trip? Were there any favorite moments?
AMELIA: Thousands of favorite moments and I love going back through my phone to look back at the pictures and just soak it all in. It went by so quickly, and we knew that it would. Planning something for that long and then having 18 days to live it out, I think it would fly by for anybody. But when you think about the favorite moments form the trip that really, really resonate with me – one of those would be flying over Howland Island. That’s because that’s where Amelia intended to land after she left Papua New Guinea. And that is a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific. We put a waypoint on our route to fly directly over the island. And what was neat about that morning was that it was a really cloudy day and then, until about 10 miles out from Howland Island, there was no visibility to look down and see that island. But when we got up to about 10 miles away, there it was. Clear as day. Beautiful blue skies. We looked down, and we just saw what Amelia wanted to see more than anything when she was flying and searching for that runway. And to see that was so special for me because up until that point it was Amelia’s flight that we were recreating and retracing. But as we passed over that island in the South Pacific, it became my flight with Amelia’s spirit on board. And it was something I’ll never forget because I felt like we were taking her home. We were completing that flight for her that she never had a chance to complete.
ANNITA: That is awesome. Did you do anything to celebrate that moment?
AMELIA: We absolutely did. Thanks for asking. I run the Fly with Amelia Foundation, which is a non-profit that allows young women to pursue their flight goals, to go through flight school. And as we passed over Howland Island we wanted to honor Amelia and also honor the past of flight with her 1937 voyage, the present of aviation which is our flight around the world today but also the future of aviation. The next generation of women that will build our aircrafts and fly our aircrafts and will design planes that will take us all around the globe. So we awarded 10 flight scholarships from that point in space over Howland Island where Amelia wanted to land. And we did on Twitter. And it was such an amazing thing to be at 27,000 feet, you know we safely had the auto-pilot on once we got past Howland Island after I had circled around the island a few times. But we turned the auto-pilot on, and I sent those messages out, and my heart was just about to explode. It was so happy. It was such a joyful moment to know those girls were just finding out that they get to learn to fly.
ANNITA: That was really a great way to celebrate that moment of flying over Howland Island. Tell us a little bit more about your foundation. You award grants for flight training?
AMELIA: We do. And I choose the girls not necessarily based on financial need because there are so many different circumstances that can lead to needing extra money to pursue a passion and I can definitely relate to that. How I choose the girls is, we have an essay submission contest on our website, which is flywithamelia.org. And girls from the ages of 16 to 18, and I know it’s a very narrow age range for girls, but you can get your license at 17. So I want to start them at 16, leading towards that goal and carry them through on their process of getting into college. And basically, the girls write an essay talking about the passionate pursuit for flight and why they want to get into the cockpit. They also have to provide a reference of someone like a role model or someone in their life who really can speak to their character. And so once I talk to those people, we read over the essays. My Board of Directors, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum here in Denver, which I’m a member of. We look at the essays, and we choose together, and we say, sounds like this girl has a bright future and the right head on her shoulders to make this goal happen. And it’s fun because I get to talk to the girls through the process and mentor them all along the way.
ANNITA: How can people find out more information if they’d like to donate, participate or actually apply for one of the grants?
AMELIA: Absolutely. Flywithamelia.org is our website, and it’s a really great interactive place where kids can watch the videos about the flight, get really inspired about what the trip was like. They can check out all the photos and learn more about the process. But while they’re there, the email address for more information is listed right there on the website. And another way is for kids just to latch right on to our social media connection. So if you go on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and search the hashtag #FlyWithAmelia, you’ll be able to find all sorts of ways to connect. And I love social media so much. I’ve grown up with it and I’ve used it throughout my broadcasting career and now for the flight around the world, so I really try to make it a point to respond individually to every person that connects with me on social media.
ANNITA: What’s the next thing for you?
AMELIA: You know I’m very lucky in that, now that the flight is over, lots of folks want to hear about it. So we’re able to travel around and do a bit of a lecture series to talk about the passion of aviation and what it’s like to pursue a goal and follow it through all the way to completion. And so I’m speaking a lot, I’m working on a book about the flight, I’m also working on a children’s book that will be about a little girl that flies all around the world. And the reason for that is to get kids interested at a very young age and have it in the back of their mind as they get older that flying could be an option for them, because it really adds so much to your life. It’s all about responsibility and self-confidence and determination. And there’s so many metaphors for the rest of life that you’ll gain from flying, especially a small airplane in my opinion, that you can get out there and see the world from above. It absolutely changes your perspective. So, speaking, writing, and, of course, running the foundation and if people want to donate, we’ve made it very easy. They can text the word Amelia to 71777, and they can contribute any amount from something as small as a dollar all the way to as much as they’d like.
ANNITA: Well that sounds great. You are a very fascinating young lady, and we wish you a much success in your next endeavors and thank you so much for sharing your experience. We really loved hearing about it.
AMELIA: Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. And, I can’t wait to tell you more about my next adventures as they come.
ANNITA: Well we’d love to hear about those as well. Thank you, Amelia.
AMELIA: Thank you.