Amelia Earhart wants nothing more than to finish the doomed flight that claimed the life of Amelia Earhart 77 years ago. At least according to Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Rose Earhart, a 31-year-old pilot from Southern California, is currently in the process of completing the original Earhart’s journey in a round-the-world flight from Oakland to Oakland. In doing so, she will become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine plane — specifically, a Pilatus PC-12 NG.
“I was destined to do this,” said Amelia Rose in an interview prior to her first leg, and it’s very possible she was. While her parents never specifically encouraged Earhart to become an aviator (she says they merely wanted to give her a name that would instill strength and independence), they supported her curiosity from a very young age. Earhart grew up with machines and motorcycles, and eventually attained a career as a traffic and weather reporter working out of a helicopter over the Los Angeles and Denver skies.
So naturally, when Earhart eventually completed her first flying lesson, she fell in love.
Now, Amelia Rose is taking her love of flight to new heights with her ambitions 24,300-mile adventure. She’s also hoping to inspire and raise money for young women through her Fly With Amelia Foundation, which awards scholarships for flight training to aspiring female pilots. (“Girls are signing up like crazy,” she says.)
We reached out to Earhart to find out what inspires her and how she discovered her passion for the skies. Here’s what she had to say:
FNM: With a name like Amelia Earhart, it’s reasonable to assume your parents were aviation buffs. Was this the case?
ARE: Surprisingly enough, my parents weren’t major aviation buffs, but they did want to give me a name that no one would forget and that would hopefully serve as an inspiration — luckily it took. My mom says she loved the way Amelia Rose sounded and she took a risk on making me a namesake. Not so much to inspire me to be a pilot, but to inspire me to become a strong, passionate, independent woman. It worked, but I think she and my dad worry that they forced me into flight. I remind them all the time that I don’t do any of this because I feel obligated. I do it because it feels incredible to fly and helps others do the same.
What was it like to pilot a plane for the first time?
I like to refer to this as my aviation love story. My first discovery flight was in Boulder, Colorado, in a Cessna 172. I flew for about an hour with a cranky old instructor who told me the basics and showed me how to pre-flight. The plane wasn’t beautiful, but it was safe. And as we lifted off the ground, I remember laughing out loud. I didn’t know it at the time, but that laughter on takeoff led me down countless runways, that same elation flowing through my drive to pursue aviation as a passion, not a career. I called my dad after the lesson and when he asked how the flight went, I said, “This might sound silly, but I felt like I was flying with Amelia.” In so many ways, she’s been in the plane with me ever since.
What do you think about when you’re flying?
Flying is the only time in my life I have laser focus. It would be an understatement to say I am in my element. That cockpit is the most engaging place I could imagine because you are physically manipulating a machine into the sky. You are moving in three dimensions, [you are] communicating with air traffic controllers that simply see you as a flashing light on a screen, and you are seeing the Earth from above.
I may be a total sap, but I ponder the big stuff up there. Especially on this trip. I am in the Maldives [during the time of this writing], on the other side of the globe from where I started, and it’s because I took the controls.
Another fun note: As pilots, we use autopilot a lot — it is a safe way to fly a complex aircraft — but as a challenge to myself, I hand-flew the entire span of the Atlantic ocean from Natal, Brazil, to Dakar, Senegal. It was exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. It felt great — 8 hours of flight, completely in the moment.
You’ve called Earhart one of your role models. Who else would you add to that list?
My role models are anyone and everyone who gets off the couch, dismisses naysayers and does exactly what they are driven to do.
Are there any current public figures that you take inspiration from?
Richard Branson. The man is taking people to space, for crying out loud! His entrepreneurial concepts are what I built the business model for [my] flight around. I approached the top aviation and aerospace companies to help support this crazy idea of flying around the world, and with one exception, they all said yes. Pilatus, Jeppesen, Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney — they didn’t need the added task of taking on support of this project, but they saw the fiery passion in my eyes when I told them what I wanted to do.
Branson is always laughing, smiling, and being positive about trying even if you fail. His quote “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living,” is a favorite. When I walked into every sponsor meeting, I told myself to deliver a message like he would.
(I have a jar at home where I keep spare change. I want to be the first person to go to space on spare change. I’ve got a ways to go … )
Can you tell us a little bit about your foundation? How did it come about?
The Fly With Amelia Foundation endeavors to grant flight-training scholarships to young women, ages 16 to 18, and foster aviation and aerospace opportunities for people of all ages through aviation-based educational curriculum. It’s a Colorado-based non-profit organization which works in partnership with Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum to connect the hearts and minds of aspiring adventurers with the general aviation world. I started it because flying is expensive! The reason it took me so long to get my license is because I had to work three or four jobs at a time to save up to fly. I would save, fly, save fly, which led to a lot of repeating what I had already learned.
Yes, the girls are applying like crazy to learn! My first recipient, Destiney, is about to take her private pilot check ride this month, and will head to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall.
It’s been estimated that only around six percent of pilots are female. Why do you think this is?
It starts like anything else, with your first toys. Girls aren’t likely encouraged to play with dump trucks, airplanes or race cars. If they are, the curiosity starts young. My dad bought me a motorcycle when I was 12 and we would go ride together through the desert of Southern California. These dusty treks took that fear of the machine out of my head, and when I took that first flight lesson, I wasn’t afraid to get my nails dirty and jump right in.
That being said, girls are drawn to women that they feel they share something with. Working in TV news for the past eight years, I was given the chance to be the girly girl on the news who just happened to fly airplanes after the morning news. The girls that I speak to and mentor are encouraged to do it all — to get out and learn things. I don’t want them to just be pretty, I want them to be pretty incredible.
Any projects on the horizon for after you complete your trip, flight-wise or otherwise?
The major focus after the around-the-world flight is the Fly With Amelia Foundation. I’m planning to spend a lot of time not only awarding flight-training scholarships, but also mentoring the girls. I am developing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum for teachers to download and use in the classroom. I am also working on a book that tells the story of the planning and execution of the flight.
I know there’s another big flight in my future. I want this love story to continue.
Finally, where’s your favorite place in the world?
Any runway. They can literally take you anywhere.