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Found at Last?

A company believes it has found the wreckage of famed pilot Amelia Earhart’s plane. Does the evidence hold up?

Amelia Earhart poses in front of her plane.

NASA

Amelia Earhart poses in front of her Lockheed Electra airplane.

A U.S. company believes it has located the wreckage of famed aviator Amelia Earhart’s plane, more than 86 years after it disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. Is one of history’s biggest mysteries about to be solved?

Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were last heard from on July 2, 1937, when they sent several radio transmissions while trying to land on Howland Island in the Pacific. They planned to refuel on Howland and then continue Earhart’s attempt to become the first woman to fly solo around the world. Since the pair disappeared, many individuals and organizations have searched the area. So far, no one has been able to find any surefire evidence that can be traced to Earhart’s flight.

A map showing the location of Howland Island along with photos of Earhart and the submersible operated by Deep Sea Vision.

Deep Sea Vision; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Earhart intended to land on Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.

But recently, marine robotic company Deep Sea Vision captured a blurry image of an undersea object that could be the wreckage of Earhart’s plane. The company used sonar technology, which uses sound waves to map the ocean floor, in the area around Howland Island. 

“Deep Sea Vision scanned more than 5,200 square miles of ocean floor with a 16-person crew and the Kongsberg Discovery HUGIN 6000, the most advanced unmanned underwater drone,” the company posted on Instagram.

The newly found object, which is located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) from the island, appears to be the shape of a Lockheed 10-E Electra, the plane Earhart was piloting. The object is about 16,400 feet (4,999 meters) underwater.

Deep Sea Vision

A sonar image captured by Deep Sea Vision is shown alongside an illustration of Amelia Earhart’s plane.

But some people say it’s too early to conclude that Earhart’s plane has been found because there’s no proof. Deep Sea Vision is planning to investigate further. In the meantime, Dorothy Cochrane of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum says it’s best to wait before deciding the case is closed.

“Another [Deep Sea Vision] expedition will hopefully result in photographic images with more clarifying details as to [the object’s] identity,” Cochrane wrote on CNN.com.

Did You Know?

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (sn83045462)

Published in 1935, this newspaper page reveals Amelia Earhart’s superstar status.

Amelia Earhart achieved many flying “firsts,” including becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in 1932. Her success made her a superstar. Earhart wrote books and articles about her flights and helped support the training of female pilots. And like today’s celebrities, she had her picture taken with movie stars and even became a fashion icon.

Flying High

Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous aviators of her day. But woman pilots took to the skies long before she did—and she inspired many more to follow in her footsteps. Here are just a few of them.

Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby became the first U.S. woman to earn a pilot’s license (1911) and the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel (1912).

Harriet Quimby smiles while sitting in an airplane cockpit.

George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-USZ62-35551)

Jeanne-Genevieve Labrosse

In 1798, Jeanne-Genevieve Labrosse of France became the first woman to fly solo in a hot air balloon. Labrosse would go on to make several more flights.

 

Bessie Coleman

In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Unable to get a license in the United States due to racism, she earned it in France. In 1922, Coleman completed the first public flight by a Black American woman.

Portrait of Bessie Coleman wearing a pilot helmet with goggles on her head.

NASA

Bessica Raiche

In 1910, Bessica Raiche became the first U.S. woman credited with flying an airplane solo. Raiche and her husband later started an airplane manufacturing company. After she stopped flying, Raiche became a doctor of medicine.

 

Elinor Smith

In 1927, Elinor Smith became the youngest licensed pilot in the world. She was 16. Smith would go on to set several aviation records.

Elinor Smith wears an aviator jacket with goggles on her head as she smiles and waves from an airplane cockpit.

Smith Archive/Alamy

Katherine Sui Fun Cheung

In 1932, Katherine Sui Fun Cheung became the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. Cheung made a living as a stunt pilot, performing loops, barrel rolls, and other tricks at air shows.

 

Willa Brown

Willa Brown became the first Black American woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States (1938) and the first to earn a commercial license (1939). She was also the first Black woman to become an officer in the Illinois Civil Air Patrol, an organization that supported the U.S. Air Force during World War II by performing homefront services that freed up eligible pilots so they could serve in the war overseas.

Willa Brown wearing a Civil Air Patrol uniform

Records of the Office of War Information/National Archives and Records Administration

Women’s History Month

Photo collage showing accomplished women in many fields from the past to the present.

seraficus—iStock, David Hume Kennerly, James D. Morgan, Jonas Gratzer, Azael Rodriguez, JP Yim, Space Frontiers—Archive Photos, Addison N. Scurlock—Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, U.S. Department of the Interior, Cia Pak/UN Photo; Photo composite Encycopædia Britannica, Inc.

March is Women’s History Month in the United States. You can learn about women who have made important contributions in many fields at Britannica.

WORD OF THE DAY

aeronautics

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: a science that deals with airplanes and flying

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