By Craig Westcott/March 31, 2022
Come Home year celebrations in Harbour Grace are looking to make a flying start in May with the arrival of some 60 members of the Ninety-Nines flying club.
That’s a group co-founded in 1929 by Amelia Earhart and 98 other female aviation pioneers. With a charter membership of 99 women, the name for the group seemed fitting. Since then, chapters have been founded throughout the world. It will be the members of the East Canada Section of the Ninety-Nines, which represents female pilots from Ontario to Newfoundland, who will be holding their annual general meeting in Harbour Grace from May 20 – 22.
Earhart made two transatlantic flights from Newfoundland during the early days of aviation. The first was from Trepassey on 17 June 1928, when she became the first women to fly from North America to Europe, landing in Wales. Earhart was a passenger on a Fokker F7 named Friendship that was piloted by Wilmen Stultz and co-pilot and mechanic Louis Gordon. The flight took nearly 21 hours. The trip made her an international celebrity.
Four years later, on 20 May 1932, Earhart was behind the controls as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo. She flew a red Lockheed Vega from Harbour Grace to Northern Ireland in just under 15 hours.
Both Trepassey and Harbour Grace celebrate their ties to Earhart and early aviation history.
On June 1, 1937, Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, took off from Miami, Florida, vying to become the first woman to fly a plane around the world. With some 11,200 kms to go, her plane lost radio contact near the Howland Islands, supposedly uninhabited tropical atolls located about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. All kinds of theories and conspiracy ideas cropped up in the weeks and decades afterwards as Earhart’s plane was never found. At the time of her disappearance, the Japanese empire was on the march, occupying remote islands as military outposts throughout the Pacific and at least one theory was that she and Noonan had been captured by Japanese soldiers.
The Ninety-Nines are dedicated to advancing the interests and opportunities for female pilots and to celebrating the life and achievements of Earhart, whose many accolades included the American Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Legion of Honour Cross.
Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs said the Ninety-Nines AGM will bring delegates from across Canada and some from the United States.
“Some of them are flying in in their own planes,” he noted. “If the weather is permitting, they will have their planes on the field in Harbour Grace airstrip and they will take some of them up so they can say they actually left the airstrip and flew back and landed on it.”
Coombs said the Harbour Grace airstrip, which is named after Earhart, gets a lot of use.
“There are hangars in there, we held a concert in their last year called ‘Come Fly With Us,’ there was a kite festival and there are planes that come in,” said the mayor. “I was in one day with the dogs for a walk and three planes landed while I was there.”
Among the events the Town’s host committee is planning for the delegates is a ‘Meet & Greet’ at the old courthouse, which is now a restaurant, a lobster boil the following night at the marina, and a performance by a school choir at the airstrip.
“And they want to get Screeched-in, of course,” Coombs said. “The thing about Amelia Earhart is she’s real, you don’t have to make her up. This is the first time the Ninety-Nines are having their AGM in Harbour Grace… It’s a good way to kick-off Come Home Year.”