20 May 1932: Amelia Earhart’s Solo Flight across the Atlantic

Amelia Earhart quote: "Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it."

Amelia Earhart, the pioneering female pilot, achieved enduring fame with the many aviation records she set during the 1920s and ’30s. Early in her career she achieved an impressive feat when she became the first woman to receive a pilot’s license from the distinguished National Aeronautic Association, on 16 May 1923. In 1928 she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane when she flew as part of the crew (her duty was to keep the flight log) with Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon.

photo of Amelia Earhart, c. 1928

Photo: Amelia Earhart, c. 1928. Source: Los Angeles Daily News; Wikimedia Commons.

That successful airplane flight (and the fame it achieved—including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a White House reception with President Calvin Coolidge) obviously whetted her appetite for aviation, and four years later Earhart made a bold attempt to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. This daring flight feat had only been accomplished once before, by Charles Lindbergh in 1927.

On 20 May 1932, the fifth anniversary of Lindberg’s famous flight, Earhart departed Newfoundland in her 600-horsepower Lockheed Vega to cross the vast ocean with 420 gallons of gasoline and a quart of chicken soup. Her goal destination was Paris, but after 14 hours and 56 minutes of fighting strong winds and some slight mechanical problems, she settled for landing her plane in Northern Ireland. She had done it—the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic! For this 15-hour feat of endurance and pluck she became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the flight cemented her fame.

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Earhart’s departure for her historic cross-Atlantic flight 1n 1932 was reported on the front page of this Georgia newspaper.

article about Amelia Earhart flying solo across the Atlantic, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 21 May 1932

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 21 May 1932, page 1

This old newspaper article reported:

Harbor Grace, N.F., May 20 (AP)—Amelia Earhart Putnam, smiling and confident, took off from Harbor Grace tonight in her crimson, gold-striped plane, with Paris her destination.

Five years to the day after Col. Charles A. Lindbergh sped out from New York on the first solo flight to Europe, Mrs. Putnam took off at 4:51 p.m., eastern standard time, determined to be the first woman to fly over the Atlantic alone.

A message of confidence for her friends was left by Mrs. Putnam as she stepped, cool and composed, into the cockpit of her plane.

“To all my friends, far and near, you will hear from me in 15 hours,” she said. “I have sufficient fuel for 20 hours and I will go further if my gas holds out and I find I am not too fatigued.”

Weather Favorable

Her decision to start today came suddenly, influenced by favorable weather reports. Arriving here from St. John, N.B., at 11:31 a.m., eastern standard time, she previously had retired, announcing she hoped to leave early tomorrow.

The plane was warming up as she arrived at the airport. Bernt Balchen, famed flier and explorer, and Eddie Gorski, mechanic, who accompanied her from St. John, were working on it.

She was laughing excitedly as Balchen and Gorski made a rapid but thorough inspection of the craft, [but then] her attitude changed to that of grave silence.

Satisfied that the ship was fit, Balchen and Gorski joined Mrs. Putnam for a final conference before the takeoff. She gave them each a hearty handshake, said “I am confident of success,” and stepped into the plane.

Paris Is Goal

She made a perfect takeoff. Paris was her goal.

Her destination was not announced until just before the start. No reason was given for its choice.

Her plane is a 600-horsepower Wasp motored craft with a cruising speed of 140 miles an hour, a maximum speed of 180 and a cruising radius of 3,200 miles. It carried a fuel supply of 420 gallons of gasoline and 20 gallons of oil, sufficient, she was confident, to keep her aloft for fully 20 hours.

For herself, she carried a quart of chicken soup and nothing more.

A light southwest wind was blowing and the sky was cloudy as Mrs. Putnam sped eastward toward her goal, but she had the cheering promise of clear skies and friendly winds along the way.

New York, May 20 (AP)—George Palmer Putnam, husband of Amelia Earhart, tonight expressed complete confidence his wife would successfully complete her solo flight across to Paris.

Reached a few minutes after the hop-off at the United States weather bureau, where he remained much of the day checking weather reports, Putnam said briefly: “I have complete confidence in her. What else can I say?”

Ruth Nichols, society aviatrix who had hoped to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, also expressed confidence Miss Earhart would reach her goal.

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21 May 1927: Charles Lindbergh’s Daring Solo Plane Flight

The “Roaring ’20s” was a fast-paced, dizzying time of excitement and possibilities. Peace and prosperity had returned after the devastation of WWI, and new inventions and machinery were pushing frontiers and expanding former boundaries. A bold young pilot named Charles Lindbergh epitomized the spirit of the times, and he dazzled the world when he landed his plane in Paris after completing history’s first solo trans-Atlantic flight on 21 May 1927.

photo of Charles Lindbergh standing in front of his plane “Spirit of St. Louis”

Photo: Charles Lindbergh standing in front of his plane “Spirit of St. Louis.” Credit: Library of Congress.

The 25-year-old airmail pilot was unknown when he flew his now-famous airplane Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York, to Le Bourget Field outside of Paris, France, in 33½ hours on 20-21 May 1927. He was after the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 reward that had been available since 1919 to the first pilot to fly nonstop between New York and Paris.

In the intervening years several attempts had been made, all unsuccessful, and six famous pilots had died. Just 12 days before Lindbergh took off on his successful flight, two French war heroes—pilot Charles Nungesser and navigator Francois Coli—departed Paris in pursuit of the Orteig Prize, but they and their plane disappeared forever after flying over the coast of Ireland.

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The whole world seemed to embrace Lindbergh’s amazing aeronautical feat, and his daring and confidence were praised and rewarded. As a reserve Army officer he was awarded the Medal of Honor, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross from President Coolidge. He achieved wealth and lasting fame, and the unknown airmail pilot was obscure no longer.

frront-page news about Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 22 May 1927

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 22 May 1927, page 1

This historical newspaper reported:

A new epoch in aviation has been inaugurated.

Charlie Lindbergh, of Little Falls, Minn., landed at Le Bourget, France, at 5:15 p.m. eastern daylight time yesterday, in one record-smashing jump from Roosevelt Field, New York.

“Well, here we are” was his greeting to the enthusiasm-maddened crowd.

Unaccompanied, Lindbergh drove his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, over the nearly four thousand mile air track, clipping about two hours and a half off the most optimistic time allowance.

The world’s imagination was fired by his exploit.

Spontaneous celebrations in scores of cities both here and abroad lasted far into the night; President Coolidge and executives of other nations flashed their congratulations and these were supplemented by the thousands from other individuals publicly prominent.

At Detroit, Charles’ mother relaxed her steadily maintained attitude of silent confidence and through tears of joy declared his victory “was all that mattered.”

photo of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum

Photo: Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Credit: Ad Meskens; Wikipedia.

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The old newspaper also reported Lindbergh’s reception when he landed in France:

To the young American it was seemingly merely the achievement of an ambition. To Paris, to France, to America, to the world, his landing tonight made him the greatest of heroes mankind had produced since the air became a means of travel.

A crowd of at least 25,000 surrounded his plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” when it came to earth after its epochal voyage from the new world to the old. The airman was lifted from the seat, where for two days and a night he sat fixed, guiding his plane over land and sea, and for 40 minutes he was hardly able to talk or do anything else, except let himself be carried along by a mass of men made delirious with joy at his achievement.

Never has an aviator of any nation, even king or ruler, had a greater or more spontaneous welcome from the hearts of the common people of France. The very recklessness of his endeavor, as it appeared, appealed to the quick emotional imagination of Frenchmen, and they were quick to respond with everything their own hearts could give.

All ties of nationalism were forgotten by the Le Bourget throng. They saw in Lindbergh only a man who had brilliantly gambled with death and won. There was regret, for Nungesser and Coli, and regret, too, that the daring Frenchmen had not been the first. But there was no bitterness in their greeting of the American winner.

GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are a great way to discover the details of your ancestors’ lives—as well as learn about the times they lived in. Come search today and see what amazing feats your ancestors accomplished during their lifetimes!

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