Behavioral and psychological analyses of Amelia Earhart’s final flight

J. G. Ford, B. Brandenburg, R. Gillespie, John Leach

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed Lae, New Guinea, bound for Howland Island, the first stop on the Pacific leg of Earhart’s around-the-world flight. The plan was to fly from Howland to Hawaii, and then on to Oakland, the starting point of the flight. The completion of this highly publicized aerial journey – first woman pilot to circumnavigate and first person to do so close to the equator – would open new life vistas for both flyers.

All things changed when Earhart’s silver and orange trimmed Lockheed Electra failed to land on the specially installed Howland Island runway. Indeed, this flight has been examined in some depth: Randall Jacobson compiled a four-part study,1 and Ric Gillespie devoted almost a quarter of his Finding Amelia book2 to the flight’s apparent duration of about twenty-two hours–per TIGHAR’s Niku Hypothesis3 that the plane landed on Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro.

This paper continues scholarship on the Howland flight by examining records of Earhart’s behavior – her language – that she transmitted by voice radio during the flight. The authors also offer psychological hypotheses for some of Earhart’s language and some of the decisions she made before and during the flight.
This paper is presented in sections that reflect the progression of the Howland flight. “Before the Flight” considers developments that occurred during the Lae layover. “Lae to Howland” addresses Earhart’s radio transmissions after takeoff and up to her first transmissions to the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, standing off Howland to assist Earhart in finding the island. And the “Howland Island” section focuses on the crucial transmissions from Earhart to Itasca.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford PA, USA
PublisherThe International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


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