In the spring of 1997, Linda Finch recreated an historic flight that brought aviation “alive” for millions of school children around the world. Finch, born in 1951, grew up in San Antonio, Texas. As a teenager, she began to dream about flying and set a goal to fly the Vought F4U Corsair. Finch did not plan to pursue a career in aviation, but as a young single mother in San Antonio, Texas, she continued to pursue her dream. She saved her lunch money, $20 a week, which was just enough for a one-hour flying lesson.
Finch first soloed in the Grumman trainer in 1972. At age 29, she bought a Piper Arrow and flew regularly to nursing homes that she managed throughout Texas. In her thirties, she bought a North American T-6 Texan. Finch flew it constantly and loved it, but, her real purpose was to prepare to fly the Corsair . In the mid-1980s Finch joined the Confederate Air Force (CAF). As a CAF airshow pilot, she began to experience aviation in a new way. Airshows brought wonder to the eyes of children-and tears to the eyes of veterans. Finch took on new challenges when she modified her Texan for racing and for several years participated in the Reno Air Races.
In the CAF, she flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. It was a big step at the time for a female pilot in the CAF. In 1990, Finch was looking for a new and unique airplane project. She located a 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E like the one Amelia Earhart had flown on her pioneering around-the-world attempt in 1937. She learned more about Earhart and soon recognized that her many records and accomplishments could teach a new generation to live extraordinary lives. After several years, Finch got the Electra’s owners to sell. It was rusted, corroded and in pieces and parts. In March 1995, Finch began to rebuild the plane. It first flew again in July 1996, but ultimately the restoration took two years.
In a bold expansion of the original concept, Finch developed the idea of World Flight 1997. She would retrace Earhart’s flight of 60 years before, complete it, and inspire young people of today that there are no limits, only possibilities. As a part of the program, the “You Can Soar” interactive education program was designed for middle school students. Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies built two new “Wasp” engines for the Electra and became the major sponsor for the flight. On 17 March 1997, Finch and her navigator lifted off from the airport in Oakland, California, and began a series of flights that were followed by students around the world on the Internet. She crossed the United States and headed toward the equator. In 73 days, she flew 225 hours, made 34 landings, and visited 18 countries. On 28 May 1997, she returned triumphantly to Oakland having covered just over 26,000 miles.