Two years ago Indiana Jones Myth, Reality, and 21st Century Archaeology interviewed Dr. Tom King about the famed Amelia Earhart. We discussed the research of the historically captivating mystery of her disappearance over the Pacific in 1937. This fall it was made known that a piece of aluminum aircraft debris found on a remote, uninhabited South Pacific atoll came from Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft. We take off with her story again with Mr. Richard Gillespie, Executive Director of International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), and discuss the newest developments in her saga. Amelia’s story is gaining altitude thanks to the ongoing interdisciplinary efforts of TIGHAR and revitalized attention from the media. In addition to sharing new data, we touch on role of the media and the use of famous tales in archaeology, and how that colors the public’s understanding and appreciation of archaeology.
Our interviewee this week is none other than Mr. Richard E. Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR, pronounced tiger)!
The son of a decorated World War Two pilot, Mr. Gillespie grew up around airplanes and learned to fly while he was still in high school. He worked his way through college ferrying airplanes and flying charters for his hometown airport in upstate New York. Graduating from the State University of New York with a BA in History in 1969, Ric enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an officer with the First Cavalry Division. In 1973 he began a twelve-year career as an aviation accident investigator and risk manager in the aviation insurance industry.
In 1985, with his wife Pat Thrasher, he founded TIGHAR, the nonprofit foundation has an international membership of scholars, scientists and enthusiasts whose volunteer expertise and financial contributions support the organization’s mission to promote responsible aviation archaeology and historic preservation.
Mr. Gillespie has led over three dozen aviation archaeological expeditions to remote areas of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Micronesia and New Guinea. He has also conducted dozens of educational seminars at air museums around the U.S. and has organized and moderated conferences of air museum professionals in Britain and Europe.
TIGHAR’s best known historical investigation is the Earhart Project – a comprehensive, science-based inquiry into the iconic mystery of Amelia Earhart’s 1937 disappearance. Since launching TIGHAR’s investigation in 1988, Ric has led eleven expeditions – most recently in July of 2012 – to the remote uninhabited South Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro where a large and growing preponderance of evidence suggests Earhart died as a castaway.
Mr. Gillespie’s writings on the Earhart disappearance have appeared in the organization’s journal TIGHAR Tracks and in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings and Naval History and in LIFE Magazine. The organization’s Earhart expeditions have been the subject documentaries produced by NBC News, ABC News, and the Discovery Channel.
His book, Finding Amelia – the True Story of the Earhart Disappearance was published in September 2006 by the Naval Institute Press and is considered the most authoritative work on the subject.