Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous aviators in history. Her daring feats in the cockpit captured the imagination of people worldwide in the early 20th century. But her most groundbreaking accomplishment was becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. This pioneering flight cemented her place as a feminist icon and courageous trailblazer in aviation.
So when exactly did Earhart make history by crossing the Atlantic alone? Let’s take a closer look at the lesser-known details of her landmark journey from Newfoundland to Ireland.
The Lone Eagle Sets Out Across the Big Blue
On May 20, 1932, Earhart climbed into the cockpit of her Lockheed Vega 5B in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. The plane was bright red and affectionately known by Earhart as her “little red bus.” She loaded the Vega with 340 gallons of fuel, hoping it would be enough for the nearly 2,000 mile journey. Her destination was Paris, but as Earhart quipped, “ Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Reaching the continent of Europe itself would be achievement enough.
As she fired up the Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, the tension and excitement was palpable. A huge crowd gathered to see Earhart off, dazzled by the sight of “Lady Lindy”, as the press had dubbed her. What fate awaited her across the cold, harsh North Atlantic?
Earhart admitted she was “a little scared, [but] had too much pride to back out.” After all, five aviators had already lost their lives trying to cross the Atlantic solo. Her courage in venturing what many called “flying suicide” was admirable.
At 7:12 PM local time, Earhart took off into the Newfoundland dusk. The red Vega rose slowly and soon disappeared into grey mist. And just like that, Earhart was on her way into the history books. Or infamy, as some papers boldly predicted.
14 Grueling Hours Over the Atlantic
As Earhart entered the open skies over the Atlantic Ocean, she faced two major challenges: staying awake for nearly 15 hours of flying, and accurately navigating without modern instruments.
To fight fatigue, Earhart took scheduled naps and kept her cockpit frigid for stimulation. As for navigation, she could only use basic tools like a magnetic compass and sextant. Flying at 10,000 feet, Earhart also had to rely on dead reckoning to estimate wind effects.
Ice plagued the journey, especially around her carburetor intake. As Earhart later described it:
“The air was so cold and damp that ice formed on the wings and propeller…For fourteen hours I struggled to keep my plane aloft over the biting cold Atlantic while fighting the urgent desire to sleep.”
Earhart did not make the flight completely alone, however. Below her aircraft, the American destroyer USS Faribault tracked her progress and radioed updates. Despite heavy static, Faribault confirmed she was on course.
All seemed to be going well until hour eleven, when Earhart realized she had overshot her mark. Ireland was behind her! Quickly correcting course, she then battled worsening mechanical issues. The left exhaust manifold began leaking and needed to be closed off. Fuel pressure also started to drop rapidly.
Earhart anxiously watched the sun rise after an “eternity of flying.” How much longer could she and the plane hold out?
Landing in a Pasture in Northern Ireland
Finally, after 14 grueling hours and 56 minutes in the air, Earhart descended through the clouds. Below her was green farmland dotted with white cottages – Ireland! She had found terra firma at last.
Spotting a pasture near Londonderry, Earhart glided the sputtering Vega to a bumpy landing. She had overshot Paris by hundreds of miles, but successfully crossed the Atlantic nonetheless. Touching the damp soil of Ireland herself, Earhart exclaimed “Whew! That was a rough old ride!”
Farmers came running from a cottage to investigate the strange aircraft that had plopped into their field. A boy cycling down the road was startled by the woman pilot who popped out of the cockpit. Earhart asked him where she was exactly, and the stunned lad replied “In Gallagher’s pasture!”
Safe on the ground after 15 hours, a relieved and joyous Earhart was swarmed by curious locals. While she didn’t quite make Paris as planned, Earhart had decisively made history. The headlines tells the tale:
“MISS EARHART FIRST WOMAN TO FLY THE ATLANTIC ALONE.”
Fame, Glory, and Inspiring Women
Upon her return to the United States, Earhart received a hero’s welcome in New York. She was inundated with ticker tape parades, speaking engagements, and product endorsements. And most significantly, President Herbert Hoover awarded Earhart the Distinguished Flying Cross – the first ever granted to a woman.
Earhart’s solo flight had a tremendous impact on perceptions of female aviators as competent pilots. As she declared:
“After circling over Ireland for more than an hour, I landed in an open field…Enthusiastic farmers lifted me from the plane and proclaiming I was ‘a wee bit of a girl to be flying the Atlantic all alone.’”
Earhart had proven that with courage and perseverance, women could accomplish just as much as men in aviation. Her achievement opened the door for generations of women to enter the once male-dominated field.
Thanks to Earhart’s headline-grabbing adventure, female aviators like Jackie Cochran, Bessie Coleman, and Willa Brown gained prominence in the 1930s and 40s. As Jackie Cochran put it: “I’m grateful for Amelia, the example she set for all women pilots.”
Earhart inspired women worldwide to reach for the sky, concluding:
“I want to do it because I want to do it. If you adopt that attitude in life, you will be very happy.”
And reach for the sky she did, setting more long-distance flying records until her fateful final flight in 1937. But by becoming the first woman to conquer the Atlantic solo, Amelia Earhart had already secured her place among the immortals of aviation.
Key Facts About Earhart’s Flight:
- Date: May 20, 1932
- Departure: Harbour Grace, Newfoundland
- Destination: Paris, France
- Actual Landing Site: Culmore, North Ireland
- Time in Air: 14 hours, 56 minutes
- Distance: ~2,000 miles
- Aircraft: Lockheed Vega 5B “Little Red Bus”
Why Earhart’s Solo Flight Was Historic:
- First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic
- Second person ever to fly solo transatlantic
- Proved women were capable pilots on par with men
- Broke long-distance flying records
- Received the Distinguished Flying Cross
- Inspired generations of women in aviation
- Cemented her status as a feminist pioneer and American icon
On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart made history by becoming the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic. Departing Newfoundland in her Lockheed Vega, she endured a grueling 15 hour journey battling icy conditions and mechanical issues. Earhart demonstrated remarkable courage, determination and piloting skill. Her accomplishment shattered perceptions about women in aviation and paved the way for generations of female pilots. Though she tragically vanished in 1937, Amelia Earhart continues to be an enduring inspiration over 80 years after her defining solo transatlantic flight.