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Fred Noonan

(1893 to 1937)

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Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan (Wikipedia Commons)

“Amelia is a grand person for such a trip. She is the only woman flyer I would care to make such an expedition with. Because in addition to being a fine companion and pilot, she can take hardship as well as a man—and work like one.”
~ Fred Noonan, Amelia Earhart’s navigator on the World Flight

Fred Noonan9 was one of the most experienced aerial navigators in the world and a pioneer in opening up the Pacific Ocean to commercial aviation. Born in Cook County, Illinois, Noonan began his navigation career at sea. Between 1910 and 1915, he worked on over a dozen ships, rising to the ratings of Quartermaster and Bosun’s Mate. He worked on merchant ships throughout the First World War and by 1919 had become a ship’s officer, eventually gaining his Master’s license.

Noonan earned a limited commercial pilot’s license in 1930, and began applying his maritime navigation skills to aviation. He worked as an airport manager for Pan American World Airways in Port‐Au‐Prince, Haiti, and brought the first Pan Am clipper to San Francisco in March 1935. That same year, he navigated a notable round‐trip flight between San Francisco and Honolulu on the China Clipper, piloted by Ed Musick.

He subsequently became chief navigator for Pan Am, charting all of its Clipper routes across the Pacific and taking part in historic survey flights to Midway and Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines and Hong Kong. During these flights, the veteran sea captain was known to carry a ship’s sextant along with more conventional aviator’s navigation tools.

By 1937, Noonan had resigned from Pan Am with plans to start a navigation school. He came to Earhart’s attention through mutual friends within the Los Angeles aviation community, and she persuaded him to join her on the round‐the‐world flight.