50th Anniversary of Ann Pellegreno’s Earhart Flight

50th Anniversary of Ann Pellegreno’s Earhart Flight

Pioneer for women aviators, Ann Holtgren Pellegreno, EAA Lifetime 11853, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of her round-the-world flight that retraced Amelia Earhart’s path at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017.

Ann made her successful flight in July 1967, passing over Howland Island in the Pacific 30 years to the day after Amelia Earhart disappeared, before continuing on to fly the remainder of Amelia’s planned route. Though Ann’s name is recognized in the public spotlight, she said the flight was a team effort involving Lee Koepke, owner and restorer of the Lockheed 10 Electra Ann flew; Bill Polhemus, Ann’s navigator; and Ann’s copilot, Air Force Col. Bill Payne.

Her team faced challenges from the get go, from securing funding and sponsorship to finding a hangar where they could prepare the airplane in the chilly, Michigan spring leading up to the flight. However, she said every time a hurdle presented itself just the right solution would fall into place.

Things continued to come together right up to July 2, 1967, when Ann and her team made their flight to Howland Island, the same leg of the trip on which Amelia had disappeared. Ann brought a small flower wreath with her to leave at Howland Island as a memorial to Amelia, but Ann was flying through an unexpected squall and was told if the island wasn’t found within 20 minutes, the crew would have to continue on for fuel. Then she spotted the island through a break in the clouds.

“We had time to circle the island a couple of times,” Ann said. “Bill Payne took over. He flew low, and Lee — back at the door — he held the door open with his foot and held me in a bear grip, and I tossed the wreath out the door, and hopefully it landed where another pair of Lockheed 10 wheels should have touched 30 years earlier. We were there the exact morning she had flight-planned to be there, and we just don’t know how we did it.”

Fifty years after her flight, Ann continues to inspire the aviation world with her story, has published a book and several articles about her experience, and is a staunch advocate for women in aviation.

“When you do something like that I think you have a responsibility, and we really wanted to share our flight, because we had the privilege of doing it. How many people can do something like that? Not very many. … When I talk to girls I always tell them the airplane doesn’t know if it’s a man or a woman flying it.”

As she looks back on her aviation accomplishments, Ann said she wishes she could have done more, and that’s why she encourages other women — young and old — to forge ahead with their flying dreams. She’s an active member of Ladies Love Taildraggers, and Ann said she continues to draw inspiration from the achievements of other women, since when she was learning to fly, the only woman pilot in the airlines was a part of the Flying Tigers in Texas.

“I never had the chance that these women have [now] because of other women who have pioneered,” Ann said. “I’m in utter amazement at some of these girls. They’re mechanics. They just do everything. They fly airliners. I tell these girls, ‘I take my hat off to them.’”

See Ann speak Thursday at 11 a.m. during Vintage in Review at the VAA Red Barn, and at the Ladies Love Taildraggers presentation Friday at 10 a.m. at Forum Stage 4. Read more about Ann’s historic flight in the June 2017 issue of EAA’s Sport Aviation magazine.

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Megan, EAA 1171719, is EAA’s staff writer, regularly contributing to both print and digital publications. She’s an aspiring pilot, a passionate aviation enthusiast, and an avid learner of just about everything. E-mail Megan at mesau@eaa.org.