“KHAQQ, where are you?”
Why does Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s overdue flight stir such fascination? Is it one little mystery in the great mystery which inevitably and incessantly plagues our souls? We think the answer must to be out there, contained in shards of metal, shreds of shoe leather, and withered and whitened teeth and bones. We may be human because of an opposable thumb, our ability to talk, or the fact that we walk upright. But we’re really sentient beings because we are driven to recognize and try to solve the great mystery.Where did we come from? Where are we going? How do we fit in? It’s about purposes. Amelia and Fred were trying to complete and close the circle as well. They just got lost and ran out of gas. They tried to find the others of their kind looking for them, but couldn’t.
Similar things can and still do happen. Getting lost, miscommunication, fatigue, running out of fuel are still common enough. Despite the dangers, or perhaps because of them, they embody the pioneering spirit. Pioneers are searchers. They open the way and prepare others to follow They have a vision, firm commitment to a goal, an ability to improvise along the way, a guarded self-confidence, and they reflect through trial and error. It doesn’t matter whether it is catapulting into near orbit or successfully completing the next $100 hamburger cross country. To add to the characteristics of a pioneer, it’s important to be engaged, challenged, passionate, and have a sense of romance and mystery. The key is to hold on to these attributes while being professional. Know, respect, and follow the accepted norms. In fact, in terms of crisis, one must have the SOP ingrained and ready to use instinctively.
Beyond taking inspiration you can learn from pioneers. In fact that’s clearly one of their purposes. Second guess/arm chair yourself. Don’t leave off a possibly essential piece of equipment; pay attention when you’re getting instruction in correct communication technique; when taking off stay centered on the runway and observe the limits of care with the use of alcohol and prescription drugs. Amelia, I’m sure, would agree.
As wonderers we often think about where the center of things is. Not surprisingly we can look as far inward as we can outward and perceive ourselves at the center. In this world sometimes the center shifts, to lower Manhattan in 2001, to Dealey Plaza, Dallas, to Pearl Harbor, Honolulu. On July 2, 1937, and for some weeks afterward, the center was somewhere near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. Aviation’s Golden Age wasdrawing to a close. As a consequence, two lost souls were about to become immortalized.
As with the moving source of power, time can wax and wane and wear down our sense of memory as the evidence washes away. A classic movie, book or event may sustain nourished by a sense of magic touching at the indefinable core of meaning. Amelia was already headed, after this final long-distance flight, into the pantheon of legends. Legendary blunder? Secret mission? Dupe of publicity and marketing? Record and standard setter? Victim of unkindly luck? One or more of these maybe. Yet after 75 years Amelia’s still on our minds.
In fact there are a plethora of books seeking and several supposedly espousing the truth about what happened to Amelia and Fred. A few titles, mostly non-fiction, include Lost Star, East To The Dawn, Finding Amelia, The Sound of Wings, The Thrill of It, The Search For Amelia, The Final Story, Amelia Earhart: A Biography, Our Flight In The Friendship, Amelia Earhart, The Mystery Solved, Amelia Earhart’s Shoes, With Our Eyes, Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Amelia Earhart: Last Flight, Breathe The Sky, Letters From Amelia. Of course there is the film, Amelia, with Hillary Swank and Richard Gere.
One remarkable tale that I feel comes closest to touching the essence of the story is a little book of fiction, Jane Mendelsohn’s I Was Amelia Earhart. Risk, destiny, fate, memory, love, and dream come together in a fine homage to Amelia’s life and times.
Here are a couple of images from her compelling book:
“Planes used to be vehicles for dreaming. They were strong and curvaceous, manly and womanly at the same time, simple, almost old-fashioned mechanical toys and vessels for carrying the future. As soon as you saw a plane you started dreaming. It was a thrill just to catch a glimpse of one.”
“… wondering which of us was more forsaken: The navigator who didn’t care where we were going, or the pilot who didn’t care if we ever got there…we shared something, a secret craving for oblivion.”
We anticipate what, if any, hard evidence the TIGHAR Earhart Project will turn up on the 75th anniversary of the flight.
Let’s face it, in twenty or thirty years we’ll be considered the pioneers. We’ll be perceived, comparatively, as flying around in bi-wings, listening to the dit dah – dah dits of low frequency ranges, and maybe, even an equivalent of barnstorming and wing walking. With innovations such as the NexGen GPS-based system, UAV drones, and commercial space flight, the old trusty standbys like pilotage and dead reckoning may become relics of the past.
Amelia wrote separately to her mother and father prior to the 1937 flight: “Hooray for the last grand adventure! I wish I had won but it was worth while anyway … .” So when those engines finally quit, and KHAQQ was silently gliding down between air and sea, I hope there were no thoughts of regret. Amelia, wherever you are, thanks for the inspiration, improvisation, and vision that one shouldn’t be embarrassed to aspire to.
Itasca’s smoke, KHAQQ -
radio calls; where are you?
lonely, sputtering, Asleep in the deep -
lost. circle incomplete.
Electra – Seventy-five years …
thing of the sky; since Amelia left;
wallowing, leaking, sinking – I hear you still,
short of its goal. completing the circle.
By Howard Fisher