Famed aviatrix touched down at Amity Field

HUGHESVILLE — Three years before her first trans-Atlantic flight, the pioneer of women’s aeronautics, Amelia Earhart, made an emergency landing at the Amity Flying Field at Hughesville.

Earhart had been flying to Bellefonte in May 1929 when she opted to make use of the airstrip near the Lycoming County Fairgrounds, although it did not officially open until almost a year later.

“The Amity Flying Field was located at the present site of the parking lot at the fairgrounds,” according to an account at the East Lycoming Historical Society in Hughesville. “It was popular with private small plane operators during the 1920s and 1930s. There was a ticket office, a hangar and gas tank. There was a wind sock on the roof of the hangar. During World War II, the federal government installed a number of tie-downs along the western boundary of the air field.”

Its main claim to fame was Earhart’s visit.

“Mrs. Haas (a local resident who lived near the airstrip) saw or heard the plane land and went out to meet (the pilot) … I don’t know how she figured out it was Amelia Earhart, but she did. One story says that Mrs. Haas had Amelia Earhart over to her house for dinner. Another said she directed her to a restaurant in town. She spent the night here and resumed her flight back to Bellefonte in the morning,” according to Rob Mueller, head of the historical society.

Earhart’s landing was written up in the Gazette and Bulletin, the forerunner of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

“According to the article, she was on her way to Bellefonte,” Mueller said. “It doesn’t say where she had taken off from. It was getting late in the day and she was running low on fuel and she wasn’t quite sure where she was, so she thought, ‘I’d better land here where it’s my idea rather than who knows where.’ “

“When people come in, my question is always this, why would someone who couldn’t find her way to Bellefonte, try to cross the Pacific?” Mueller said.

Construction of hangars and a 1,700-foot runway were finally completed and the official opening and dedication took place on Sept. 3-5, 1930, over a year after Earhart had landed at the field.

The Amity Air Field was considered an important refueling stop on a direct route between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio.

“Many of these airfields originated as a result of the airmail system created in the United States just after World War I,” according to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. “As postal officials laid plans for a transcontinental airmail system between New York and San Francisco via Chicago in 1921, they persuaded many local communities to build the necessary facilities for the service in what became a ‘triumphal procession’ across the country.

“The business communities and ordinary citizens of Cheyenne, Wyoming; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Reno, Nevada, for example, all contributed thousands of dollars to build airfields, hangars, and repair, office, and storage buildings. James Clark Edgerton, an employee of the Air Mail Service, found that ‘each success induced others’ to support the development of airfields. Only through these efforts was the linkage of the route to San Francisco complete before the end of 1920,” the commission reported.

The years following World War II brought several changes in operation, according to an article on Wikipedia, and the airport was abandoned. “Soon the hangars were removed and the area was used for a variety of purposes, including a parking area for fair patrons.”

A May 1959 aerial photograph did not show any recognizable evidence of Amity Airfield.

Earhart also is credited with making another trip to Lycoming County for the dedication of the regional airport at Montoursville in 1929.

According to an account from the Sunday Grit, Earhart said, “I’m sorry I’m late … but I flew here to Williamsport from New York to pay my respects to a city which I hear has one of the most modern airports in the East.”

Amelia Earhart’s interest in aviation was sparked by a December 1920 visit to an airfield in Long Beach, California, where she was given a ride in a plane by air racer Frank Hawks, according to accounts online.

“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground,” she is quoted as saying, “I knew I had to fly.” The 10-minute flight changed the trajectory of her life forever.