Amelia Earhart learns to fly

“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly,” said Amelia Earhart of her first flying experience.

While Amelia fell in love with flying at that first ride, flying had been an interest from her late teenage years. Her first experience with aviation came shortly after high school when during World War I she went to work in a Canadian military hospital where she met aviators.

Amelia Earhart portrait
Amelia Earhart

Soon, however, Amelia was a college student at Columbia, intending to go to medical school. Despite doing well in her classes, she spent a lot of her time adventuring. “I was familiar with all the forbidden underground passageways which connected the different buildings of the University. I think I explored every nook and cranny possible. I have sat in the lap of the gilded statue which decorates the library steps, and I was probably the most frequent visitor on the top of the library dome. I mean the top,” she said.

She didn’t stay long at Columbia. Shortly after, she dropped out to join her parents, who had moved to California.

Later that year came the day when Amelia got her first taste of flying. At an airfield in Long Beach, with her father providing the $10 fee (about $127 today), Amelia climbed into the airplane for a ten-minute flight that would change her life.

She was now determined to become a pilot. She cropped her hair short, bought a leather jacket that she slept in for three days to make it look more worn out, and she took a bus, only to then walk four more miles to get to the flight school.

The flight school was run by Anita “Neta” Snook, a pioneer female aviator who was the first woman to run her own aviation business. When Amelia arrived for her first flying lesson, she had just one question for Neta, “I want to fly. Will you teach me?”

Amelia and Neta
Amelia Earhart and Anita “Neta” Snook, 1921

Neta took Amelia on as a student. “I’ll never forget the day she and her father came to the field. I liked her on sight,” Neta would later say of her first time meeting Amelia.

Amelia purchased her first plane six months after her first lesson. And within a couple of years, she set the world altitude record for women at 14,000 feet.

“Amelia Earhart learns to fly” sources:

Amelia Earhart biography –, Amelia Earhart – Aviation History / Photograph of Amelia taken in 1937 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George R. Rinhart, in memory of Joan Rinhart / Photograph of Amelia and Anita “Neta” Snook taken in 1921 – National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.


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For another snapshot biography of an aviator, please click here to read the story of Bessie Coleman.