Heirhart

Paying tribute to her hero, a San Antonio aviatrix recreates a fabled flight.

AT AN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, airfield on March 17, on the sixtieth anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated flight, San Antonian Linda Finch will climb into the cramped cockpit of her vintage Lockheed Electra 10E—the same kind of plane Earhart flew—and embark on a historic aviation tribute. Buoyed by the courage of her hero, who was born a century ago this year, Finch will fly eastward, circumnavigating the earth at the equator. Passing over five continents, she will touch down in some twenty countries. Near the end of her 29,000 miles in the air, she will fly over tiny Howland Island and drop a wreath in memory of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan.

What would possess a 46-year-old single mother to do such a thing? Finch says she has been an aviation buff for most of her adult life. For years she worked as a bookkeeper, all the while dreaming of her own high-flying adventures; saving her modest lunch allowance for one hour of flight instruction a week, she eventually earned her wings. Today she’s a successful businesswoman—she owns several nursing homes—and has logged more than eight thousand hours flying during the past twenty years, including nearly six thousand in vintage aircraft.

The idea for recreating Earhart’s epochal journey came to Finch three years ago. “I’ve always been focused on World War II fighters,” she says, “and I was looking for something different, a new challenge. Knowing there were only two Electra 10Es left in the world, I began to research the challenge of restoring one.” She found the silver plane she will fly in a hangar in Wisconsin, where it had been sitting idle for years: The wings were off, the engines had been sold, and various parts were strewn about dusty boxes. Determined to have the dilapidated hulk, Finch spent nearly every penny she had to haul it back to Texas. Thanks to a $1.5 million donation from Pratt and Whitney, which manufactured the engines in Earhart’s and Finch’s planes, the Electra has been restored and is ready for takeoff.

When Earhart announced her round-the-world intentions in 1936, she referred to her Electra as a “flying laboratory” in which she would observe the effects of flight on the human body. Finch sees her plane as a laboratory of the human spirit. The National Geographic Society will have a camera aboard, and more than 200,000 classrooms will be able to chart Finch’s progress on the Internet (http:// www.worldflight.org). Unlike Earhart, she will have a chase plane and probably a tagalong crew, plus radar and modern navigational and communication equipment. But since the Electra isn’t pressurized and doesn’t carry oxygen, Finch will be flying below 10,000 feet for much of the trip.

I knew there was more fun and excitement in life than I would have time to enjoy,” Amelia Earhart once mused. Sixty years after the famed pilot’s mysterious disappearance, San Antonio’s own Earhart is poised to inspire a new generation with a life fully lived.

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