On June 18, 1928, women throughout the world watched a new female role model unleash new potential for women. Her name was Amelia Earhart and on that June day, she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from America to Europe.
Earhart was an instant heroine–named by the public “Lady Lindy,” the female equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, the first person who had flown solo across the Atlantic the year before. Even though she was an experienced pilot, she did not fly the plane, but was part of the crew, keeping a log of the flight. It didn’t make any difference in the public mind – a woman had done what a woman had never done before – showing that women could do anything!
After the successful flight, Earhart, together with co-pilots Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon, was given a ticker tape parade in New York and was welcomed to the White House. The event made newspaper headlines all over the world.
So, considering the importance of the flight, whatever happened to the plane that had carried Earhart to world prominence? What happened to “The Friendship?” I tried to find out.
“The Friendship “ was a tri-motor airliner used in many countries. It could carry up to twelve passengers plus a 2-person crew. This version was outfitted with pontoons instead of wheels, so it could take off and land on the water. The plane also had extra fuel tanks, which allowed for a longer flight, but which weighted it down and made the flight more risky.
I discovered that Admiral Richard Byrd had purchased the plane for a South Pole expedition, but had changed his mind when he realized part of his funding came from the Ford Motor Company, which would furnish their own plane.
So, Admiral Byrd sold “The Friendship” for $62,000 to Donald Woodward, a wealthy aviation enthusiast, and son of the founder of what is today the Jell-O Corporation. The price in today’s dollars would be around $949,000.00.
Mrs. Amy Guess, a wealthy socialite, visualized herself as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and decided to lease the plane from Woodward. After Mrs. Guess’ family argued her out of taking the risky flight herself, Mrs. Guess chose Amelia Earhart, an experienced pilot and well-known aviation enthusiast, to fly in her place.
With the outstanding success of the flight, “The Friendship,” became world famous. It was still owned by Donald Woodward and, considering its fame and his enthusiasm for aviation, I would have thought he might have wanted to preserve the plane or give it special treatment.
So where is it today? What aviation museum proudly displays this historic plane?
For some reason, unfortunately, Donald Woodward ignored the plane’s significance. He sold “The Friendship.” The purchaser was not even from the United States. It was Jose Roger Balet of Argentina, who renamed it “12 de October,” after a national Argentinian holiday honoring Columbus, but which has recently changed to a celebration of cultural diversity.
On June 21, 1931, after making an “emergency landing,” the plane was “acquired” by General Enrique Bravo for the Fuerz Aerea Nacional, the Columbian National Air Force.
The few records I could find show the plane was removed from service in 1932 and was destroyed by accident or fire in 1934. “The Friendship” is no more. It is only a memory. Happily, we have many pictures and films to document its importance.
But the woman, who flew on that historic 1928 flight, Amelia Earhart, remains to this day a symbol of female independence and bravery. She spent a large portion of her life supporting women’s rights. She was the first President of the Ninety-Nines, an organization founded to support women in aviation.
Amelia Earhart wrote a book about her flight, “20Hrs. 40Mins.,” in which she quotes from the flight log. She describes how she learned to fly and opportunities for women, expressing her hopes and dreams for women in aviation.
I published an audiobook of Amelia Earhart’s book, read by Leslie Walden, so you can hear for yourself her vivid description of her adventure. “20Hrs. 40Mins.” is available wherever audiobooks are downloaded or sold.
If you would like to see the actual “take off” over water of “The Friendship,” the newsreel footage is part of a promotional video I produced. I was able to locate and license the newsreel footage. You can see it here: https://listen2read.com/20-hrs-40-mins/
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“20Hrs. 40Mins.” by Amelia Earhart
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