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Named after the famed aviator who disappeared in the South Pacific in July 1937, Amelia Earhart in 2014 flew 28,000 nautical miles around the world using roughly the same route as her namesake.
Earhart, 38, is co-writing a book about the experience with Great Falls Writers Group founder and facilitator Kristin Clark Taylor. The book, which has a working title of “The Ups and Downs of Turbulence,” does not yet have a publication date.
The pair, who only had worked together only via telephone and e-mail, saw each other’s visages for the first time June 3 during a “virtual” meeting with the writing group’s members. Earhart originally had planned to have Taylor ghost-write the book – something she often has done before – but later realized their partnership was more substantial.
Taylor, who has authored several books and served as communications director for President George H.W. Bush, pressed Earhart to deepen the work. They completed the manuscript in a brisk two months.
“Long before I even wrote the first word of this powerful manuscript, I was drawn to Amelia’s pioneering, can-do spirit,” Taylor said. “I love to write books for and about strong women who break barriers and traverse boundaries because I am one of those women myself.”
Earhart likened Taylor to two kinds of flying machines: an F-16 fighter plane, for her willingness to explore uncomfortable topics, and a hot-air balloon, from which she provided a far-reaching perspective.
A Downey, Calif., native who now lives in Denver, Earhart has the same name spelling as the late Amelia Mary Earhart, but her middle name is Rose and the pair are not related.
“I’m glad I was given her name specifically, because she led a complex life and pursued multiple passions – not only flying, but also designing and as a social worker,” Earhart said.
Earhart began her flight training during her sophomore year at the University of Colorado at Boulder and worked multiple jobs to cover the cost. Now the holder of private, instrument and commercial flight licenses, Earhart first took to the skies in a Cessna 172 in Boulder.
“Right after I landed and got back in my car, I called my dad and told him it felt like I was flying with Amelia,” she said. “Everything that I had read about what she loved about flying matched up. It was thrilling and manageable and new all at the same time.”
Earhart found making split-second piloting decisions sharpened her mind.
“Becoming a pilot has made me the type of person who rarely lingers over any decision for very long,” she said. “I tend to take a look at all facts available to me, assess multiple solutions and pick the best for me in my individual situation. Just as each pilot in command has ultimate say over their decisions in flight, I try not to let others’ opinions influence my decisions.”
To prepare for her 2014 flight, Earhart raised nearly $2 million from 28 corporations and went to Switzerland to pick up the $4.5 million Pilatus PC-12 NG she would fly. The plane had only three flight hours on its engine when she took possession, and she outfitted it with 200-gallon fuel tanks for extra range.
Earhart received inoculations for 14 countries and obtained temporary approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to take the single-engine plane on the trip. She brought along a co-pilot, Shane Jordan, for safety’s sake.
“People who downplay working as a team should be kept at arm’s length,” she said.
The pair completed survival training at Survival Systems Inc. in Groton, Conn., and took open-water survival gear on their journey, including a raft, flares, desalination kits and survival suits. She now often wears her survival kit’s compass as a brooch.
Earhart usually flew eight to 10 hours per day, mostly at 27,000 feet, and did pre-flight work each night to enable an early takeoff the next morning.
She and her co-pilot made their voyage between June 26 and July 11, 2014, beginning and ending the trip in Oakland, Calif. They flew from west to east, crossing the United States and stopping in the Caribbean, Brazil, several locations in Africa, islands in the Indian Ocean, Singapore, Australia and several Pacific islands (including in Hawaii) before returning to Oakland.
The most harrowing part of Earhart’s flight came in Papua New Guinea, where soldiers carrying mismatched weapons and chewing betel nuts with psychoactive properties deigned to speak only with her male co-pilot.
The pair had to use $3,500 hidden in the plane to buy permission to take off again, and cannot return to Papua New Guinea, she said.
Earhart and her co-pilot received a raucous welcome in Dakar, Senegal, where the first Earhart also had a celebratory landing in 1937.
The author’s trip had plenty of other highlights, too. Earhart founded and runs the Fly With Amelia Foundation, which has sent teenage girls to flight school.
“I intentionally announced the [first] recipients of our scholarships over Howland Island, where Amelia wanted to land after departing from Papua New Guinea,” Earhart said. “This part of the South Pacific felt lonely and challenging and in a way, matched Amelia’s spirit – she was known for being tenacious.”
The foundation soon will give its remaining funds to another charity that supports women in aviation.
Earhart over the years has encountered gender bias in aviation, but combats it by adhering to high standards.
“The aircraft doesn’t know it’s being controlled by a man or a woman, it only knows it’s being controlled correctly,” she said. “I’ve flown with timid male pilots and aggressive female pilots, and myself, have exhibited both traits in flight.”
Earhart since 2018 has made abstract paintings based on her aerial photos.
She left her television career in October 2020 and now does speaking engagements. She hopes the upcoming book will sell well and enable her to buy a small aircraft and “find new ways to push my limits as a pilot and a person.”
Taylor strongly suspects she and Earhart will collaborate again.
“Our combined energy is a force to be reckoned with!” she said.