Past Times

Amelia Earhart’s NC visits always generated excitement

Orville Wright, holding hat, joins U.S. Sen. Hiram Bingham of Connecticut and aviator Amelia Earhart in 1928 at the unveiling of the First Flight marker at Kitty Hawk.
Orville Wright, holding hat, joins U.S. Sen. Hiram Bingham of Connecticut and aviator Amelia Earhart in 1928 at the unveiling of the First Flight marker at Kitty Hawk. WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY

Raleigh citizens, who in 1931 had not yet seen a helicopter and were only a few years removed from the Wright Brothers’ first flight, were fascinated when the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart “dropped in.”

Arriving in an autogiro, the first aircraft of the sort to be seen in Raleigh, Miss Earhart literally dropped down on the field. Other planes may hover and swoop and glide over the field, but the autogiro with a whirl of its propeller, made a vertical descent and came to rest close by the airport hangar, a strange looking air visitor. ...

It would be hard to say which was the bigger attraction, Miss Earhart or the autogiro, and during the three days that they are in Raleigh the city will have opportunity to see both a number of times.

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... Miss Earhart will give a demonstration flight at the Curtiss-Wright Airport. The general public is invited to attend this demonstration. Saturday evening Miss Earhart will deliver a fifteen-minute talk over Radio Station WPTF.

At the Saturday demonstration, Miss Earhart will show all the remarkable possibilities of this newest type of aircraft. The flying features of the autogiro are most spectacular. It makes short take-offs, steep climbs, stands still in the air, flies backwards and makes vertical descents with little or no runs. Many aviation authorities consider that the new type plane will be safe, practical and popular aircraft of the future. The N&O Nov. 7, 1931

This was not Earhart’s first visit to North Carolina. Three years before she had attended unveiling of the First Flight marker at Kitty Hawk and briefly made a name for herself as a horse thief. In the days following her 1937 disappearance, writer Ben Dixon MacNeill recalled the story.

Through these last three days Dare County has been a little more hopeful of the eventual safety of Amelia Earhart than anybody else has had the occasion to be. Dare County, maintaining its tradition of seeing the beginning of things, has especial reason to be hopeful about Miss Earhart. It has faith in her resourcefulness.

It was here that Miss Earhart launched herself temporarily upon a career of horse stealing and it will but confirm Dare County’s confidence in her when she emerges from the oblivion that has held her captive these past three days. Dare believes that she will, as she did here nearly nine years ago, seize upon any means at hand and come on back home.…

The celebrated theft took place on the day they laid the corner stone of the Wright Memorial, when some hundreds of uncommonly distinguished visitors found themselves confronted by a two-mile walk from Kitty Hawk to the hill upon which the great monument now stands. Then there were no bridges and no roads. Miss Earhart had no notion of walking.

Miss Earhart didn’t walk. Not one step. Hitched nearby was a team of two big horses. She had ridden as far as riding was possible with The News and Observer’s then staff correspondent, along with Capt. Reed Landis, himself famous as victor in 18 air combats with German pilots.

Only very timidly abetted by Captain Landis and the newspaper writer, Miss Earhart calmly appropriated the team and wagon. The horses were ignorant of aeronautical terms, but they understood them when she applied them. Or at any rate they set out toward Kill Devil Hill at a notable gallop, with her piloting.

Passengers accrued. Igor Sikorsky, who built the China Clipper, made a flying leap and landed sprawling in the bottom of the wagon with no dignity whatever.

A brief landing was made while portly Dr. Hugo Junkers, then and now head of the German Lufthansa puffed aboard. Lord Thomson, British air minister who perished aboard Britain’s last dirigible a little later, leaped agilely aboard. Ten others, no doubt prominent, whose names nobody knew then or remembers now, got aboard somehow, and Kill Devil Hill was achieved. The N&O July 6, 1937

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Teresa Leonard: 919-829-4866, @lizardlodge

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