Why a city in Northern Ireland is celebrating the 90th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic

May 21, 2022

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Amelia Earhart made world headlines and set three major records 90 years ago. In May 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Five years earlier, Charles Lindbergh was the first man to make that solo trip.

With her solo flight, Earhart also became the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean twice. In 1928, she had traveled as a passenger in a Fokker Trimotor aircraft piloted by two men.

Earhart’s 1932 flight also set a speed record: Her bright red Lockheed Vega crossed the ocean in 15 hours. Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic took 33 hours and 30 minutes, and Earhart’s 1928 transatlantic flight as a passenger took 20 hours and 40 minutes. Today, that journey takes around five hours.

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Earhart’s 1932 flight across the Atlantic Ocean was groundbreaking and headline-grabbing in other ways, too.

(Photo by Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

She had planned to fly from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. However, due to weather and engine problems — including a gas tank leak and a burned-out exhaust manifold — Earhart made an unscheduled landing in a field owned by Robert Gallagher and his family outside Derry in Northern Ireland.

“I cruised inland until I found a suitable pasture. I landed there after frightening all the cows in the neighborhood and rolled up to the farmer’s front door,” Earhart said during a Movietone interview at the American embassy in London not long after the flight. “The owner of the land came out, and I think he was surprised to find an airplane in the front yard.”

 

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Three years later, the BBC interviewed Gallagher’s wife, Isobel, who described how a red airplane circled around the house a couple of times before landing in the field at about 2 p.m. on “one of those lovely hot afternoons you sometimes get in May.”

“The first farmhand that got to the airplane saw that there was a woman in it and asked her where she’d come from,” and the pilot told her “America.”

Earhart had arrived with no change of clothing and just $20 in cash. “I suspected she might be hungry,” Gallagher added, “so I got a meal ready for her. She said she hadn’t had anything but tomato juice since she’d left America.”

(Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The Gallaghers gave Earhart hot tea “and fed her when she had begun to recover from the strain of the flight,” according to a United Press International report written at the time. “Mrs. Gallagher gave her a dress to wear, and it was in their home that she ate breakfast and luncheon before her departure,” the report continued.

Word spread that Earhart was at the farm. Before she left, Earhart posed for photographers and signed autographs. “The crowd grew so rapidly that police were hard-pressed to control it,” UPI reported.

Celebrating Earhart’s arrival 90 years later

“When Amelia landed here, no one had ever seen a woman driving a car, let alone flying an airplane or wearing trousers,” said Nicole McElhinney, co-founder of the Amelia Earhart Legacy Association, which is based in Derry. “Her fearless spirit was revolutionary, particularly for women, and continues to be an inspiration around the world.”

And, of course, in Derry.

The pasture where Earhart landed is now a golf course, and the spot where the plane touched down is the sixth hole. Derry’s Visitor Information Centre theater runs a film about the famous flyer.

Related: Teen pilot becomes youngest woman to fly the world solo

There were events yesterday and today to mark the 90th anniversary of Earhart’s historic landing at Gallagher’s farm.

Highlights of the celebration included flyovers and aeronautical displays, a new Amelia Earhart walking tour, the unveiling of 48-foot-long mural telling the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic flight and a speakeasy event where drinks will feature Earhart Gin and botanicals picked from the field where Amelia landed.

The weekend also included the Amelia Earhart 90th Commemorative World Radio Call, which connected the field where Earhart landed to the Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport in Earhart’s hometown of Atchison, Kansas, and Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, where Earhart started her journey.

(Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The Amelia Earhart STEM challenge is also taking place this weekend. Students from across Northern Ireland can build model airplanes to compete in design challenges; awards will go to the team with the longest flying distance and the best plane aesthetic. The winning team will take a helicopter ride over Derry, along the flight path of Earhart’s landing on Gallagher’s farm.

Representatives from the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum in Atchison, Kansas, were scheduled to be on hand for the festivities as well. “We’re committed to sharing Amelia’s story of tenacity and courage to inspire future generations — in Kansas, in Derry and around the globe,” said Karen Seaberg, the museum’s founder and president.

When the museum opens sometime in 2023, its centerpiece will be Muriel — the world’s last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E. The aircraft is identical to the plane Amelia Earhart flew on her final flight, and it’s named for Earhart’s younger sister.

Featured image by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

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