When Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas on this day in 1897, no one dreamed that someday trans-Atlantic flight would be not just possible, but a commonplace activity. During Amelia’s childhood, the Wright Brothers made their historic powered flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, and soon after, aviation grew through the use of planes in World War I.
The young Amelia, with a tomboy’s heart, was no stranger to challenging conventions on how a lady ought to behave. She was known for climbing trees, “belly-slamming” her sled on a snowy hill and hunting vermin with a .22 rifle. She even kept a scrapbook of newspaper stories about successful women in male-oriented fields, including engineering, law and management.
Nevertheless, she initially chose a traditional woman’s career of the day, working as a nurse’s aide in a military hospital in Toronto. During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic she contracted a severe case of pneumonia and chronic sinusitis, spending nearly a year recovering. It was during this time that she attended a flying exhibition. When a WWI flying ace put his plane in a dive from the sky toward Earhart and her friend, Amelia stood her ground. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”
Two years later, Earhart took her first flight and it changed her life forever. Almost immediately, she started taking flying lessons and within six months saved enough money to buy her first plane.
Knowing that as a female, other aviators would be judging her, she also purchased a leather bomber jacket so that her appearance would suit the role. Feeling the new jacket needed to look well-worn, she slept in it a number of nights to more quickly break it in.
We’ve replicated The Amelia Earhart Flight Jacket in every detail. Made by the same company that supplies leather jackets to the U.S. Air Force, this coat is a variation of the classic A-1 jacket made famous by pilots in the era of open-air cockpits. Many A-1s had collars that buttoned around the neck, but Earhart’s version introduced a brass-zippered, full-neck collar with knit trim, and added a side entry pocket to the two traditional button-up patch pockets. The outer shell of supple lambskin leather has been vegetable-tanned to reveal its natural grain, while the wrists and waist are soft knit. This is no ordinary women’s bomber jacket…it celebrates an American heroine, too.
As Earhart became further renown as an accomplished aviator, she set many records and firsts, not the least of which was to be the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic in 1928, and the first woman to do so on a solo flight in 1932.
Tragically, her career and her life came to an end in 1937 near the end of her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. On July 2 of that year, she and her navigator were due to land on Howland Island when overcast skies and intermittent rain showers made celestial navigation difficult. It is known that Earhart’s plane was running low on fuel. The U.S. Coast Guard ship supporting her flight was able to hear her radio transmissions, but apparently the pilot could not hear the ship. After one last transmission, Earhart was never heard from again, though it was not until January 5, 1939, that she officially was declared dead.
Recently, photos taken of Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the mid-Pacific, suggested that Earhart and her navigator may not have crashed into the ocean, but instead made an emergency landing on the flat coral atoll. A group of researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery continues to search for clues that could reveal Earhart’s final resting place. Was she wearing her beautiful bomber jacket on that final flight? That’s a mystery the world may never know.