By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A 19-year-old could become the youngest woman to fly around Earth solo. The teen pilot is expected to complete her journey in November after taking off from Belgium on August 18. Amelia Earheart sought the same goal in 1937.
A Belgian teen is on the way to becoming the youngest woman ever to circumnavigate the globe solo via airplane. Zara Rutherford began her trip from Belgium on August 18 and will stop in more than 50 countries on her 32,000-mile journey. If she maintains the route before her, she will return to Belgium in November. Both of Rutherford’s parents are pilots and she began flying when she was 14.
The most famous female pilot on Earth is Amelia Earheart, who attempted a similar trip in 1937. In his video series Experiencing America: A Smithsonian Tour through American History, Dr. Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, explained Earheart’s love of aviation and her eventful life.
Amelia Takes Off
“Growing up in Kansas in the wake of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Earheart exhibited no shortage of independence,” Dr. Kurin said. “She learned auto repair and attended college; she worked a variety of jobs, including nurse, social worker, telephone company clerk, truck driver, [and] photographer.
“She took her first flight as a passenger in California in December 1920 and afterward declared, ‘As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly.'”
After receiving flight instruction from a female pilot, Earheart then purchased a plane and began flying in competitions with other female pilots. George Putnam, a publisher, became Earheart’s manager and companion, and eventually her husband. Dr. Kurin said that Putnam promoted her heavily in the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, which was the world’s first all-female transcontinental competition. Amelia finished third and subsequently founded the Women Pilots Association.
Earheart bought a Vega 5B airplane and called it her “Little Red Bus.”
“On May 20 to the 21, 1932, Earheart took off alone from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, in this Vega heading for France,” Dr. Kurin said. “She fought fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling. Ice formed on the Vega’s wings and caused a sudden 3,000-foot descent to just above the waves.
“Realizing she was on a course far north of France, she landed in a farmer’s field in Northern Ireland.”
Amelia’s Final Flight
Later in the same year, Amelia Earheart made the first solo nonstop flight by a woman across the United States in the same airplane. According to Dr. Kurin, Earheart flew her Little Red Bus from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. The trip was 2,447 miles and took 19 hours and five minutes.
Five years later, she decided to attempt an around-the-world flight.
“On May 20, 1937, she took off from Oakland, California, in a new twin-engine Lockheed 10E Electra,” he said. “This time, she brought a navigator, Fred Noonan. By June 29, they had flown across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Australia to a landing in New Guinea.”
However, Amelia never made it around the world. On July 2, Earheart and Noonan headed for a tiny island, Howland Island, to refuel. Dr. Kurin said that a U.S. Coast Guard cutter heard Earheart’s radio transmissions as she approached the area, yet her plane never arrived. An incredibly large search was conducted, yet neither the Lockheed nor its passengers were ever found, eventually being declared lost at sea.
However, as Earheart took to the skies for the last time, an 11-year-old girl named Geraldine Mock heard about Earheart’s around-the-world flight and got inspired to see the world. In 1964, “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to complete an around-the-world flight.