Earhart's Pacific Flight Marks 75th Anniversary

At the lookout on Diamond Head Road, where, to the east, it's endless ocean all the way to the mainland, there's a memorial marker in the corner. The bronze plaque shows a tiny airplane flying lonely over a heaving sea, the metal around the airplane bright and polished from the frequent touch of visitors. The rest of the plaque remains tarnished. At the bottom, the legend reads:

AMELIA EARHART

First person to fly alone

From Hawaii to North America

January 11, 1935.

Today is the 75th anniversary of that flight, the first solo long-distance flight over the Pacific, flying from Wheeler Field in central Oahu to Oakland in the Bay Area.

Flying to the east, Earhart was unlikely to miss North America -- as it turned out, she was only a couple of miles off on her dead-reckoning navigation -- but the flight turned out to be hazardous as she fought winter storms a few feet above the whitecaps in her tiny red-and-gold Lockheed Vega, a wooden plane she dubbed "old Bessie, the fire horse."

The flight helped cement Earhart's reputation as a pioneer both in the field of aviation and women's rights. She quickly followed the Hawaii flight with two more solo jaunts: Los Angeles to Mexico City, and then Mexico City to Newark, N.J. Two years later, she returned to Hawaii on the first leg of an around-the-world flight, but cracked up on Ford Island. Later, attempting the same flight, but in the opposite direction, Earhart disappeared over the Pacific.

This date is not slipping by the 99s, the society of female aviators Earhart helped found.

"I learned about Amelia Earhart when I was 6 years old and had my first set of luggage," said Evelyn Greene, a member of the 99s and a pilot/mechanic and aircraft maintenance instructor at Honolulu Community College. "My mother explained who this person was that my bags were named after, and from that day on it never occurred to me that there was anything at all that I could not do!"

The plaque was designed by artist Kate Kelly, her last major commission. Other Kelly works have been displayed at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

It was unveiled March 14, 1937, an event featuring the Royal Hawaiian Band and a speech by Kauai Judge Carrick Buck, the only female judge in the Territory of Hawaii. The plaque was funded by a women's group headed by feminist Benigna Green to recognize inroads into male-dominated career paths.

The plinth upon which the plaque boulder rests contains a time capsule buried in 1937. A quarter-century ago, a request by the Pacific Aerospace Museum to open it on the 50th anniversary of Earhart's flight was turned down by the city.

Next time you happen by, give it a touch.

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