18 March 1937, 5:40 a.m.: Amelia Earhart and her crew sighted Diamond Head on the island of Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. The Electra landed at Wheeler Army Airfield, Honolulu, after an overnight flight from Oakland, California, completing the first leg of a planned around-the-world flight in 15 hours, 47 minutes.
Also aboard were Paul Mantz, Amelia’s friend and adviser, as co-pilot, navigator Captain Frederick Joseph Noonan, formerly of Pan American Airways, and Captain Harry Manning of United States Lines, acting as radio operator and navigator. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, registration NR16020.
About an hour after takeoff from Oakland, California, the Electra overtook the Pan American Airways Hawaii Clipper, which had departed San Francisco Bay an hour-and-a-half before Earhart. She took photographs of the Martin M-130 flying boat.
In her log, Amelia Earhart described the sunset over the Pacific Ocean:
“. . . golden edged clouds ahead, then the golden nothingness of sunset beyond. . . The aft cabin is lighted with a weird green blue light, Our instruments show pink. The sky rose yellow. . . Night has come. The sea is lovely. Venus is setting ahead to the right. The moon is a life-saver. It gives us a horizon to fly by. . . .”
— Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer, by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Wahington and London, 1997, Chapter 18 at Page 171.
On arrival at Hawaii, Earhart, saying that she was very tired, asked Paul Mantz to make the landing at Wheeler Field.
17 March 1937, 4:37 p.m.: Amelia Mary Earhart departed Oakland Municipal Airport, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, starting the first leg of her around-the-world flight. Also aboard were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020.
Captain Frederick J. Noonan was formerly the Chief Navigator of Pan American Airways, and had extensive experience in transoceanic flight. Captain Harry Manning commanded ocean liners. He would later serve as captain of SS United States, the flagship of America’s Merchant Marine, and Commodore of United States Lines.
Amelia Earhart’s 1936 Electra 10E Special was the fifth of fifteen built by Lockheed. Designed to carry as many as ten passengers, NR16020 had been modified to carry fuel for 20 hours of flight. Amelia first flew the Electra with a Lockheed test pilot, Elmer C. McLeod, 21 July 1936, and took delivery on her 39th birthday, 24 July. The airplane cost $80,000.
The Lockheed Electra 10 was designed by Hall Hibbard, and was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s first assignment when he went to work at Lockheed. It was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.074 meters). While the basic Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms), Amelia Earhart’s modified Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3,458.6 kilograms), partly as a result of the additional fuel tanks which had been installed. Fully fueled, NR16020 carried 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) of gasoline.
NR19020 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage supercharger. The S3H1 had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m for Takeoff, using 80/87 aviation gasoline. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 9 feet, 7/8-inch (2.675 meters). The Wasp S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.092 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
11 November 1935: During a record-setting flight from England to Brazil, Jean Gardner Batten became the first woman to fly solo across the South Atlantic Ocean, flying her Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADPR, from Dakar to Natal. Her elapsed time of 13¼ hours was the fastest for the Atlantic crossing up to that time.
On 7 May 1935, Jean Batten was honored with the distinction of Chevalier de la légion d’honneur at Paris, France. At Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 November 1935, Getúlio Dornelles Varga, the President of the Republic of Brazil, conferred upon her its Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul (Order of the Southern Cross). The following year, Jean Gardner Batten of the Dominion of New Zealand was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 19 June 1936, for general services to aviation. Twice Batten was awarded the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club, and three times she won the Harmon Trophy of the International League of Aviators. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) awarded her its Gold Medal.
“This young woman, gifted with the finest of qualities, has made a great contribution, both through her daring and her patience, to the progress of aviation in the world. This year, she is worthy of receiving the Gold Medal, very few holders of which are still alive,” said George Valentin, Prince Bibescu, president and one of the founders of the FAI, when awarding Jean Batten the medal.
Batten’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D55, was a a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, built primarily of wood and covered by doped fabric. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers.On 29 August 1935, the airplane was assigned Great Britain civil registration G-APDR (Certificate of Registartion 6242).
The airplane was 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 2 inches (11.024 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4½ inches (2.248 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,170 pounds (530.7 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,050 pounds (929.9 kilograms).
The Gull Six was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.186 liter (560.57-cubic-inch-displacement) air-cooled de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder engine which produced 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller via direct drive. The engine weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).
The Gull Six was capable of reaching 178 miles per hour (286.5 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,876.8 meters) and range was 700 miles (1,126.5 kilometers).
On 17 July 1940, Batten’s Percival Gull was impressed into military service and assigned a military identification of AX866. The airplane was returned to the civil register in 1946. It is now on display at the Jean Batten International Terminal, Auckland Airport, New Zealand.
4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue-and-silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.
The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.
Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters). The Vega Gull was powered by a 560.6-cubic-inch-displacement (9.19 liter) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an air-cooled, inverted, inline six-cylinder engine which produced 200 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. and drove a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).
John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.
Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”
Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run. Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).
From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.
During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.
“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .
“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’
“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.
“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”
—Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morning, by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.
The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.
Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.
Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.
Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.
24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart was born at Atchison, Kansas.
Amelia first rode in an airplane at Long Beach, California with pilot Frank Monroe Hawks, 28 December 1920. The ten-minute flight began her life long pursuit of aviation.
Earhart became the sixteenth woman to become a licensed pilot when she received her license from the National Aeronautic Association on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 16 May 1923. She set various speed, distance and altitude records. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger aboard Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship. She later flew solo across the Atlantic from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland to Culmore, Northern Ireland in her own Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, in an elapsed time of 14 hours, 56 minutes. She also flew solo from Hawaii to California in another Lockheed Vega, a Model 5C, NR965Y, setting a record of 18 hours, 15 minutes.
Amelia Earhart is best known for her attempt to fly around the world with navigator Frederick J. Noonan in a Lockheed Electra 10E Special in 1937. She disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937. The search for her failed and what happened to her and Noonan remains a mystery.
Amelia Mary Earhart (Mrs. George Palmer Putnam) was declared dead in absentia by the Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, 5 January 1939. (Probate file 181709)