The Truth About Amelia Earhart And Fred Noonan's Relationship

Legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart disappeared with only one companion, Fred Noonan, on her fateful last flight in 1937. Earhart didn't really know Noonan well before he signed on to be Earhart's navigator for her first attempt to fly around the world earlier that year. They took off from Oakland, California, on March 17, 1937 (via PBS). For that flight, Earhart's crew also included Harry Manning and Paul Mantz. Earhart picked Noonan to be a relief navigator to help Manning, who was the radio operator and navigator, according to Susan Butler's book "East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart." Noonan was to stay on the trip until they reached Howland Island.

Noonan came to this daring adventure with a lot of experience. He joined the merchant marines as a teenager and spent two decades at sea before turning to the skies (via History). During his time with Pan Am airlines, he became a skilled long-distance navigator and pilot. Earhart clearly came to value his skills, writing, "Fred Noonan's navigation proved all one could expect," (via "Last Flight" by Amelia Earhart). "Throughout the night the stars told him (via his bubble octant) where we were."

While Earhart and her crew made it to Hawaii from Oakland safely, the first attempt of this dangerous journey ended in a crash shortly after taking off from Honolulu. For her second try, Earhart decided to change direction, starting in Miami, Florida, and flying east. She also chose to take Noonan along as her only crew member this time.

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan made good traveling companions

Earhart and Noonan departed from Miami on June 1, 1937. They were both married to other people. Earhart wed publisher George Palmer Putnam in 1931, describing their union as a true and equal "partnership" (via PBS). By this time, Noonan was on his second marriage, having tied the knot with Mary Beatrice Martinelli shortly before embarking on this journey. He expressed his admiration for Earhart in a letter to his wife, writing, "she is the only woman flyer I would care to make such an expedition with" (via "Last Flight"). "In addition to being a fine companion and pilot, she can take hardship as well as a man." Earhart also held him in high esteem, writing, "I had come to have implicit faith in my shipmate's powers of divination."

During this final journey, Noonan and Earhart seemed to become friends. They took some time on their travels to see some of the different countries they landed in. In Rangoon, in what was then called Burma (now Myanmar), Noonan and Earhart went sightseeing. She wrote, "for the first time on the trip Fred Noonan failed me" when he refused to take off his shoes to visit a local temple. Their time together was soon cut short, however. The pair departed Lae, New Guinea, on July 2, with the intention of landing on Howland Island. A Coast Guard ship heard a message from them indicating that they were lost. That was the last time anyone heard from Earhart or Noonan.