Amelia Earhart was 23 when she flew in an airplane for the first time, as a passenger. Six months later, she was taking flying lessons, and within a year had bought herself a yellow biplane she named The Canary. Then came the records: Even before she had a pilot’s license, she became the first woman to reach 14,000 feet, and shortly after, the first person to fly solo across North America. Amidst a raging battle for equal rights for women, Earhart chugged along in the shadow of her male counterparts, while quietly eclipsing them. In the 1930s alone she set a half dozen more speed and distance records. By age 40, she decided to test the outer limits of aviation with the journey of a lifetime: 1937’s solo flight around the world. The stakes could not have been higher, and Earhart paid the ultimate price: Just a few thousand miles short of her goal, Earhart’s plane disappeared from radar in the South Pacific and she was never seen again.
• In 1928, she became the first women to fly across the Atlantic.
• In 1932, she few alone across the Atlantic — the second person ever to do so.
• She was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific in 1935.
The Last Word: The speed, distance, and solo records of the 1920s and 1930s may seem tame when measured against the military test fights of the '50s and '60s. But Earhart’s accomplishments were the milestones that made commercial air travel possible.