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101-Year-Old Woman Who Flew With Amelia Earhart Takes to Sky Again

With help from Wish of a Lifetime from AARP, centenarian gets wish to relive flight with historic aviator

Anne Fiyalka, aged 101, in front of a Lockheed Electra at the New England Air Museum in April 2022
Anne Fiyalka, 101, in front of a Lockheed Electra at the New England Air Museum in April 2022.
Wish of a Lifetime from AARP (Keith Claytor – Time Frozen Photography)

On Nov. 5, 1936, Anne Fiyalka was a sophomore at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when Amelia Earhart came to the school to talk to a student assembly. Fiyalka didn’t know it, but her life was about to take a very unexpected turn.

Earhart, the renowned aviator, was arguably one of the most famous women in the world at the time. Her exploits in the sky were the stuff of legends: She had become the first woman to fly a plane solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, and subsequently set numerous women’s aviation records for speed and distance. Earhart was in the midst of planning an unprecedented flight around the world, and even her personal life was the subject of countless newspaper headlines and newsreel stories. She also was a well-known speaker, appearing at many public events to talk about her adventures.

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In addition to talking about her experiences, Earhart spoke to the girls-only assembly about serving as a role model. “She said it’s not only a man’s world — it’s a woman’s world as well,” Fiyalka, now 101, recalled.

The sudden turn for Fiyalka came after the assembly, when she was told she was one of three female honor students chosen to take a flight with Earhart from a local airport. Fiyalka said she had never flown in a plane, which would hardly be unexpected since commercial flights were expensive luxuries at the time.

Her recollections of that event are still clear: The flight occurred almost immediately after the assembly. Fiyalka and her fellow students crawled inside a Lockheed Electra with Earhart, and comfort was not the plane’s first priority.

“It was so noisy that you couldn’t talk in the airplane,” Fiyalka said. “I’ll never forget taxiing in the airplane, and then the wheels left the earth.”

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The flight was short, circling a few local landmarks before returning to the airport. Then Fiyalka and her fellow students said their goodbyes to Earhart. Less than eight months later, on July 2, 1937, Earhart’s plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an around-the-world flight attempt, with Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan on board. It has never been found.

An intense search for the plane went on for weeks and was the subject of worldwide news coverage. But Fiyalka didn’t hear about Earhart’s disappearance right away.

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“In those days, we didn’t have a newspaper,” Fiyalka said. Days passed before she learned the news. “Once I found out about it, I was very anxious to find out more about the expedition,” she said.

Earhart and her navigator were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937, and she was officially declared dead Jan. 5, 1939. The 125th anniversary of Earhart’s birth was July 24, 2022, and her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, hosts a festival in her honor around her birthday every year.

Anne Fiyalka, aged 101, sits in a Lockheed Electra at the New England Air Museum in April 2022
Anne Fiyalka, 101, sits in a Lockheed Electra at the New England Air Museum in April 2022.
Wish of a Lifetime from AARP (Keith Claytor – Time Frozen Photography)

Centenarian gets wish to fly again

Through the decades that followed, Fiyalka never forgot her trip with the famous aviator, occasionally recalling the story to friends and at social events. Last year, Fiyalka’s neighbor and longtime friend Cheryl Constand saw an item in AARP The Magazine that made her think immediately of Fiyalka.

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Wish of a Lifetime From AARP, a group dedicated to shifting how society views older generations, was seeking nominations to fulfill the wishes of centenarians. Constand went through the process to nominate Fiyalka. Wish of a Lifetime granted the request to re-create the Earhart flight for Fiyalka, and also arranged for her to receive a guided tour of the New England Air Museum in East Granby, Connecticut.

“I just thought it was more than deserved, and I knew how much it would please her,” Constand said of Fiyalka’s wish. “She’s 101 and has such a unique personality. Young and old love her and like to be with her.”

On June 24, Fiyalka got into a turboprop plane at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Connecticut, and flew once more, covering some of the same territory she saw on the Earhart flight. “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the recent flight,” she said. “We were flying at only 3,000 feet, and so the pilot could point out special places of interest in Easton.” That included schools, a reservoir and the nearby coastline.

“I found it really interesting to see the land from the plane again,” she said. And she remembered Earhart’s words to her high school assembly, which were a direct challenge to the norms of the time — that it was a woman’s world as well as a man’s.​

​One incredible story at a time, Wish of a Lifetime From AARP is changing the perception of aging — not just how we view older adults, but also how we see and value ourselves as we age. Follow @wishofalifetime on Facebook for more inspiring stories like Anne’s.​

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

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