Flying with Amelia

Published 5:56 pm Saturday, October 24, 2009

This weekend, moviegoers were able to learn more about the historic pilot Amelia Earhart, as the movie “Amelia” opened nationwide.

Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank starred as Earhart and brought to life her story, her work and her desire to fly the skies.

For some, the movie may be the first time they see Earhart as more than just a pilot.

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That is certainly not the case for Amy Wiegand.

Wiegand, who works as the director of custom retail at A.Dodson’s, is a distant relative of Earhart.

Her great-great-grandfather was John Stoner Earhart, Amelia’s cousin.

“It’s just really cool,” Wiegand said. “It’s definitely a cool thing for me.”

While there have been generations between the two women, the cousins share striking similarities.

For example, Amy was Amelia’s mother’s name, which Wiegand’s parents did not know when they named her more than a century after Amelia Earhart was born.

But there is another, more obvious connection between the two: they both love the sky.

“I always wanted to fly since I was little,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand can remember tagging along to airfields with her parents, and becoming fascinated by the pilots, the aircraft and the idea of flying one day.

“I said, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do,’” Wiegand said.

It would take years before she would have her chance to fly, and along the way, Wiegand learned of the aviation history in her bloodlines.

The more she learned of her ancestor, the more inspired she became to chase down her dreams.

“I look at her and I think I don’t ever have any right to withhold my dreams because of people like Amelia Earhart,” Wiegand said. “She had so many obstacles, and she didn’t let fear get in her way. I think that’s something to admire. Get out of my way and don’t be afraid.”

In 2007, Wiegand began taking flight lessons at the Chesapeake Regional Airport Horizon Flight Center.

“Amy’s determined,” said Jim Krebs, Wiegand’s flight instructor and Captain SF-340, IBC Airways. “She checks her ego at the gate and is engaged in creating a fun, safe flying experience. With each lesson, she progresses. She’s a competent student and will become a respected pilot.”

Wiegand is about three-quarters of the way through the training program for a private pilot’s license.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.”

As a student pilot, Wiegand has also joined The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots, of which Earhart was a founding member.

Family members are also excited about having another pilot in the family.

“I’ve had a lot of encouragement,” Wiegand said. “Everybody’s like, ‘You’re the first in our bloodline to fly since Amelia!’ It’s pretty amazing to think of it that way.”

One family member even left Wiegand an original photo of Earhart from her 1937 fight from California to Hawaii.

Wiegand has the photo hung in her wall alongside an old propeller.

“It’s definitely a source of inspiration,” she said. “The more I learn about her, the more I wish I could have her here and we could just talk.”

Wiegand was one of the first in line to see “Amelia” this week. While she was disappointed that major points of Earhart’s life were deleted in favor of more salacious details, she said the movie does hold true to Earhart’s motivation.

“The overall message was to still pursue your dreams,” Wiegand said. “That’s a good thing for all of us to remember.”