In early 1936, Amelia Earhart began planning an around-the-world flight. While others had already accomplished the mission, hers would be the longest. Financed by the University of Purdue (Earhart was a Department of Aeronautics visiting faculty member), a Lockheed Electra 10E was built to her specifications. The aircraft was a twin-engine, all-metal monoplane with the most important modifications being additional fuel tanks for this particular journey.
Earhart and her crew flew the first leg on March 17, 1937, from Oakland, Calif., to Honolulu, Hawaii. Mechanical problems en route resulted in servicing in Hawaii. The flight resumed on March 20, from the U.S. Navy’s Luke Field in Pearl Harbor. The team, consisting of Earhart, Fred Noonan, and Harry Manning, departed for Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific. Unfortunately, the team never left Luke Field. During takeoff, the landing gear collapsed, and both propellers hit the ground. The plane skidded on its belly, damaging a portion of the runway. Too damaged to carry on, the aircraft was shipped to the Lockheed Burbank, Calif. facility for repairs.
The cause was controversial, with journalists saying they saw a tire blow, the possibility of collapsed landing gear, and others citing pilot error. Regardless, it did not deter Earhart as she and Noonan (a very successful Pan America navigator) took to the skies once more on her second attempt to circumnavigate the globe three months later.
While the eventual disappearance of Earhart and Noonan is a well-documented and unsolved case, the first attempt was also a pivotal moment in the pilot’s historical and brave decision to complete her ambitious goal.