The Museum of Flight will unveil its newest addition Saturday at the debut of an exhibit honoring Amelia Earhart, perhaps the nation’s best known female aviator.
The 1935 Lockheed Model 10-E Electra airliner, with an extensive history of its own, was restored in the mid-1990s to mimic the plane Earhart flew on her fateful attempt in 1937 to fly around the world.
“We’re not trying to tout it as Amelia’s airplane, because it is not. But this is as close as you can get,” said Dan Hagedorn, the museum’s senior curator and director of collections.
There is only one other Model 10-E Electra in existence.
The purpose of bringing the plane to the museum is multifold, beyond its connection to Earhart, Hagedorn said.
The plane adds to the Lockheed portion of the collection, a manufacturer Hagedorn feels is under-represented in the nation’s aviation museums. It also is the first major project on which famed aircraft designer Kelly Johnson worked. After wind tunnel tests on the original design, Johnson came up with the idea of the plane’s twin tails — a design element that became a signature on some of his best known designs, including the P-38 fighter and SR-71 spy plane.
Then there is the history of aircraft NC-14900.
The Electra was built for Northwest Airlines and began passenger service in 1935, flying the Minneapolis-Billings-Spokane-Seattle route. It served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. After the war, it was sold to the Brazilian air force, but it flew for the Brazilian national airline as well. Following one last stint flying passengers in the U.S., the plane was put in storage. The aircraft was restored to replicate Earhart’s modified Electra in 1996. In 1997 Linda Finch flew it around the world, re-enacting Earhart’s last flight.
“We’ve always taken a special pride here at the museum on collecting objects that can’t be found at other museum settings and yet have a compelling story and historic significance,” Hagedorn said.
Much of the money to buy the plane came from a fundraiser led by the museum’s “Amelia Loves her Lockheed” Ladies Guild. In fact, 70 percent of the more than $1.2 million raised came from women and girls, museum promotions manager Ted Huetter said.
The Earhart exhibit includes original photographs, newspapers, newsreel footage and some Earhart’s personal belongings including her pilot’s helmet and goggles and one of her signature scarves.
It also includes the only known surviving piece of the Electra Earhart flew in 1937. In 2009, the museum obtained a part of the plane’s landing gear fairing that broke off in Hawaii.
In 1936, Earhart made her first attempt to fly around the world. When taking off from Luke Field in Hawaii on the second leg of her journey, in which she was flying east to west, the plane crashed and the piece came off. A young airman at the airfield kept the piece.
A year later, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean while looking for Howland Island, 7,000 miles short of completing the 29,000-mile journey.
“It doesn’t look like much, just a twisted shard of aluminum,” Hagedorn said. “But it’s our direct connection to her aircraft. To our knowledge, it’s the only fragment of the aircraft except for what sits at the bottom of the (Pacific Ocean).”
More than 75 years after she disappeared, Earhart remains part of the nation’s aviation lexicon.
“She’s almost a household name, even today. You can say ‘Amelia Earhart,’ and most people will say ‘Wasn’t she a flyer back in the ’20s and ’30s?’” Hagedorn said. “They might not know much about the details, but they knew she was a pilot.”
Amelia Earhart exhibit
Moving Day: The museum will move the Lockheed Electra into place in the Great Gallery on Saturday. Museum officials are calling it “moving day” as they move a number of aircraft to accommodate the Electra. The action will take place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
A World War II-era Super Corsair fighter will be moved out of its corner location in the gallery to the museum’s Restoration Center. In its place will go the Electra transport. Joining the Electra in the gallery’s row of Golden Age of Aviation aircraft will be the world’s only Stinson Model O.
At least four aircraft will have to be moved outdoors temporarily while the new planes are moved indoors.
While full access to the gallery will be restricted during the day, all of the aircraft and activity will be on view for museum visitors.
The exhibit: “In Search of Amelia Earhart” will run through April 28 and is free with museum admission.
Where: 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle
Museum hours: 10 a.m-5 p.m. every day. On the first Thursday of the month, the museum is open until 9 p.m. (admission is free after 5 p.m.)
Admission: Adults $18, seniors (65 and older) and active military $15, youth (ages 5-17) $10 and children (4 and younger) free.
Information: 206-764-5720, museumofflight.orgthenewstribune.com/outdoors