In 1935, students and graduates of the Kamehameha School in Hawaii began research activities on Howland Island (an uninhabited coral island about 1,700 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii). Intrestingly, they also intended to colonize the island: “The Kamehameha colonists constructed three runways on Howland using WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds as a possible re-fueling station for trans-Pacific flights and for use as a landing site by Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on their round-the-world flight in 1937” (“Pacific Remote Island Area”).
In planning her flight around the globe, Earhart was able to hasten the construction of the landing fields. According to Earhart researcher Ric Gillespie, “On Thursday, January 7 , the White House received a Western Union telegram from Amelia Earhart in Burbank, California, addressed to ‘Honorable Franklin D. Roosevelt.’” The telegram read, in part, “…I hope to land on tiny Howland Island where the government is about to establish an emergency field…Construction party with equipment due to sail from Honolulu next week. Am now informed apparently some question regarding WPA appropriation in amount [of] $3,000 which covers all costs other than those born[e] by me for this mid-Pacific pioneer landing field which [will be] permanently useful and valuable aeronautically and nationally…Under circumstances could you expedite, as immediate action vital…Please forgive this troublesome female flyer for whom this Howland project is key to world flight attempt.” The project was approved shortly thereafter, and by March 13, 1937 two landing fields were completed and the third well on its way – the longest being almost a mile (“Finding Amelia”).
The landing fields—all crossing one another—were named “Kamakaiwi Field,” after one of the colonists. Remnants of the landing field can be seen in a 2008 photo on flickr which appears to have been published in the 2009 book Amelia Earhart: The Thrill Of It by New York Times best selling author Susan Wels (“Howland Island Runway”).
The $3,000 that the WPA contributed to this project equals about $49,000 in 2015 dollars.
(1) “Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA),” Pacific Island Benthic Habitat Mapping Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, https://www.soest.hawaii.edu/pibhmc/pibhmc_pria.htm, accessed March 14, 2015. (2) Ric Gillespie, “Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance,” Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006, pp. 8-18. (3) “Howland island runway,” user joann94024, https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3380880233/, accessed March 15, 2015 (see user’s comment about the photo’s publication).
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on March 16, 2015.
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