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Tweets Heard Round the World

By Nan Siegel
9/3/2014 • Aviation History, Aviation History Briefing

Amelia Rose Earhart arrives at Oakland after her 24,300-mile journey. AP Photo/Oakland Tribune
Amelia Rose Earhart arrives at Oakland after her 24,300-mile journey. AP Photo/Oakland Tribune

During Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated 1937 round-the-world attempt, the famed Golden Age flier dubbed “Lady Lindy” relied on the press to keep her in the public eye. Before that last flight, she was quoted as referring to her Lockheed 10E Electra—funded by Purdue University, where she taught—as a “flying laboratory.” But her globe-girdling attempt had less to do with science than self-promotion—not surprising, since Earhart was married to, and touted by, publicist George Putnam.

Today aviators with round-the-world ambitions are much more intimately involved in keeping followers abreast of their progress. For example, Lady Lindy’s modern-day namesake, Amelia Rose Earhart, a photogenic 31-year-old former TV reporter, set up a Twitter account with the hashtag “flywithAmelia” before beginning her public quest to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the earth in a single-engine airplane. Her 24,300-mile journey with co-pilot Shane Jordan in a Pilatus PC-12 ended on July 29. During the 17-day trip, fans could easily track this latter-day Earhart via Twitter and her Facebook page, and in the process they were also encouraged to contribute to the Fly With Amelia Foundation founded by the pilot, which provides scholarships to young women interested in flying.

When Matt Guthmiller set out in a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 on May 31 from El Cahon, Calif., the 19-year-old MIT student was aiming to set a new record for the youngest person to fly solo around the world. He flew 29,000 miles, finishing his journey on July 14 and earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Guthmiller, who started writing code in the fifth grade, was also raising funds for, a nonprofit website that educates would-be coders, and he updated followers around the world through Twitter and Facebook postings. As Guthmiller noted after his journey, “My real goal is to inspire other young people to attempt things of a similar magnitude.”

But the tragic story of 17-year-old Indianan Haris Suleman, who died with his father near Pago Pago in American Samoa in July, reminds us that globe-girdling flights are still inherently dangerous. Like Guthmiller, Haris had hoped to break a record—for the fastest circumnavigation in a single-engine plane with the youngest pilot in command. He and his dad Babar had launched a blog, including a GPS map that enabled followers to track their progress. Their trip also aimed to raise funds for a charity, Citizens Foundation, which has built hundreds of schools in Pakistan. According to a newspaper account, Haris’ last tweet, posted only a few hours before the Hawker Beechcraft he was piloting crashed into the ocean, included a photo of a sunset at Pago Pago, referring to it as one of the “top 5 places I’ve been this summer.” A memorial service was held at sea for father and son on July 27.

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