As a physical education teacher at Turner Ashby High School for more than 20 years, Cindy Ferek of Broadway watched and taught high schoolers to run laps.
Now, as a certified flight instructor, Ferek teaches flying students to lap airports and everything else involved in the skill of controlling an aircraft.
“Teaching was the only thing that was my passion, and now I’m teaching at 5,000 feet,” Ferek said.
Ferek is the vice chair of the Shenandoah chapter of The Ninety-Nines, a women pilots organization that was partially founded by aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.
“Pretty much everybody has heard of Amelia Earhart, whether they know much about her backstory or not,” Ferek said.
Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan attempted to circle the globe in the 1930s, but went missing in 1937 while traveling from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Howland Island farther west in the Pacific Ocean. They were declared dead after two fruitless years of searching.
Ferek said Earhart had an important impact on humanity’s story in the sky.
“Just to see how brave and courageous they were to do what they did and [for Earhart] to break out of stereotypes in a field where a lot of people weren’t expecting women to fly,” Ferek said.
Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance has fueled interest for decades, with various expeditions and conspiracy theories surrounding the aviation duo’s fate.
Yet experts, such as Tom Vinson, 68, of Chatfield, Minnesota, continue to seek concrete answers.
Vinson, with Collins Radio Engineers, an aviation technology firm, and members of Nauticos LLC, a deep-sea research firm, have been working for 20 years in a project that has evolved heavily to try and locate the final resting place of Earhart and Noonan.
Now, Bridgewater-based Dynamic Aviation has joined the effort.
Using “engineering CSI,” the joint team will be using 84-year-old radios paired with modern GPS and other software to measure signal strengths, Vinson said.
In a little over a week, the tests will be conducted from 200 miles in the air off Charles City to simulate the efforts by Earhart and Noonan to contact the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca at Howland.
The data collected will be leveraged to decrease the size of the search area for Earhart and Noonan’s craft, according to Vinson.
And flying the Beechcraft Model 18 aircraft for the project will be Dynamic Aviation employee Rod Moyer, 49, of Fort Defiance, who normally takes craft into the sky for mosquito spraying, maintenance flights and helping deploy rabies vaccinations.
“At this point, we’re just focused on the project, but if this were to give ‘em the clues they need to find [Earhart and Noonan’s] final resting place, it would be such an incredible honor,” Moyer said. “If this works, what a neat, neat honor the company would be able to share in that.”
Moyer said many people he has talked to about the project are plenty aware of the various conspiracy theories surrounding Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance, such Earhart faking her own death or the pair being captured by the Japanese.
“These guys with Nauticos and these engineers that are volunteering with Nauticos have been able to do this from the most scientific and believable approach from anybody out there,” Moyer said.
Moyer’s own interest in flying began at a young age.
“I used to watch birds and just wanted to do what they do,” he said.
And finding Earhart and Noonan’s final resting place would spark more interest in the science and math involved in the wonder of aviation, according to Moyer, Vinson and Ferek.
“If they can narrow down where she went down, her and Fred [Noonan] both, I think it’d bring some closure, but I think it’d [also] bring some good exposure to aviation in a positive light,” Ferek said.
Deep-sea searches to find massive battleships have been difficult, and Earhart and Noonan’s aircraft only had a 55-foot wingspan, Vinson said.
“We like to say the sea does not give up its secrets easily,” he said.
“It is a big ocean, but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was solvable,” he said.