Dispatches, March 1997
"I just left her out there, somewhere near Howland Island," admits businesswoman-cum-pilot-cum-author Linda Finch. "Lost and running out of fuel." Finch is discussing No Limits, her 1996 biography of fabled aviator Amelia Earhart, and it seems she's proud of the book's one glaring omission: It contains no discussion of Earhart's disappearance. "People are so stuck on what she didn't do and what happened to her," grumbles Finch, "that they ignore her incredible accomplishments."
Finch is so intent on reshaping Earhart's memory that she feels compelled to do the one thing the groundbreaking pilot couldn't: She will attempt to finish Earhart's global circumnavigation for her. On the 17th of this month, Finch--who owns a string of nursing homes in San Antonio, Texas, and has restored and flown historic planes for 20 years--will depart from Oakland, California, and head east, retracing Earhart's equatorial route. She plans to make 26 stops in 20 countries, completing the 24,557-mile journey sometime around May 20.
Of course, since Earhart disappeared over the Pacific on July 2, 1937, many have completed around-the-world flights. But they've all done it in modern aircraft. Finch, striving for historical accuracy, will be taking off in a Lockheed Electra 10E, the same model Earhart flew and one of only two such planes left in the world. As a result, the trip will be decidedly uncomfortable. The 46-year-old pilot will be wedged into a cockpit roughly the size of a broom closet and perched on a nonadjustable metal seat for at least eight hours a day. A navigator will sit next to her during takeoffs and landings, but he'll have to snake around eight giant fuel tanks in the passenger area to spread out his charts and maps. And, Finch admits, the thundering noise from the two antique Wasp R-1340 engines will be "painful." Her only concessions to modernity, she says, will be a GPS unit, a parachute, and a life raft.
Nonetheless, such conveniences can't make the journey worry-free. "The Pacific is still 12,000 miles wide," says Dorothy Cochrane, a curator of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. "And ultimately she's relying on 1930s technology." Finch, of course, says she's not the least bit concerned. "I've got all the survival gear I need. But," she says, true to form, "that's
the one aspect of the flight I really don't like talking about."