Mid-Columbia 99s say Earhart film lacked flying

By Dalina Castellanos, Herald staff writer December 7, 2009 

PASCO -- For decades, Amelia Earhart's memory has evoked the ideals of feminism, freedom and flying among many, but the new movie based on her life focuses too little on the latter, according to some local women pilots.

The movie was too much about romance and not enough flying for members of the Mid-Columbia chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots. But they admit they might be a little biased.

Many women in the group have read Earhart's books and are familiar with her biography, allowing them to notice the liberties Hollywood took with her story.

"I think once you learn to fly, you become interested in your predecessors," said Zona Lenhart of Pasco, who's read anything dealing with flying after she began taking lessons.

A group of the Ninety-Nines went to watch the movie in November, and Marjy Leggett of Pasco whispered to friends factual errors she noted during a scene in which Earhart's first attempt at a round-the-world flight in 1937 kicked off with a controversial ground-loop in Honolulu.

Leggett's uncle was stationed in Hawaii when Earhart flew in, later telling her about the incident. Though the reason for the maneuver remains unknown, Leggett's uncle, a former pilot in the Air Force, said it could have been a combination of pressure for her to land in a certain direction to please the photographers waiting on the landing strip, and the unfavorable winds in that direction.

When she landed, "he saw her open the cockpit, throw down her hat and start swearing like a sailor," Leggett laughed, recalling her uncle's story.

In the scene, Earhart, played by Hilary Swank, barely shows her temper, and "that's not how it really happened," Leggett said.

Hollywood interpretation aside, the local Ninety-Nines were disappointed the movie glossed over Earhart's role in establishing the organization and didn't focus more on why she wanted to become a pilot.

The movie could have done more to inspire women to fly, they said at their monthly meeting, as only 6 percent of pilots are women.

Yet, the Mid-Columbia group has a diverse group of women who got involved with flying at different times in their lives and for different reasons.

Maria Braman of Richland received her pilot's license last year when she was pregnant with her second child, unlike Karin Rodland, also of Richland, who waited until her children went off to college.

Still, their love for flight is undeniable -- a disease, they call it --and it's a passion the women all share.

"It's an ethereal feeling," said Leggett, who is governor of the Ninety-Nines' Northwest section.

Chapter President Elayne Brower of Richland echoed the sentiment, saying she "loved the freedom of being in the air and leaving all the mess down below."

"It's a mental retreat," said Rodland. "Once I push in the throttle and take off, the fear, the stress, it all goes away."

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