Going it Alone

Belstaff's iconic jackets were worn by Amelia Earhart, and now she inspires a short Belstaff film to honour the bravery and determination of history's most legendary aviatOR.

Amelia Earhart. REX/Shutterstock
Amelia Earhart. REX/Shutterstock

When, in 1928, 30-year-old Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, she was presented with sudden global celebrity, but no sense of satisfaction. She was only a passenger on the Fokker Trimotor seaplane 'Friendship', and did not take the controls until the day after the aircraft had touched down off the coast of Wales, for the onward flight to the adulation waiting for her in Southampton. Furthermore, it had been a tricky crossing, not helped by the fact that the actual pilot, Bill Stultz, was an alcoholic. In interviews, Earhart said: 'I was merely baggage.' But in private, America's newest sweetheart and favourite aviator resolved that, one day, she would cross the Atlantic her way - alone.

Although Amelia achieved astonishing levels of fame, she was no publicity hound. She kept details of her upcoming transatlantic attempt secret from all but a few trusted intimates. Her Lockheed Vega was quietly fitted with extra fuel tanks, navigation equipment and a more powerful engine. When she left from Teterboro, New Jersey, for the departure point in Newfoundland, she reportedly carried only her flying clothes, a flask of soup and a tin of tomato juice with a straw. Now that's travelling light.

She took off for Europe on 20 May 1932 and soon hit a severe storm. Her altimeter broke, so she had no idea of the Vega's height above the sea. Trying to rise above the buffeting winds, the plane iced up. Amelia realised that a weld on the exhaust manifold was burning through and, once cracked, it would set up a vibration that might shake the engine to death. She flew on through a long, turbulent night.

Daylight brought little relief. She was trapped between two layers of cloud, unsure of her position or height. The manifold was rattling, the cockpit filling with fumes from a leaking fuel tank that was also dripping down the back of her neck. She had hoped to reach Paris. Right at that moment, any land would do.

Amelia Earhart in Belstaff. Getty Images
Amelia Earhart in Belstaff. Getty Images

Eventually, she dropped below the clouds and spotted a boat, then a fishing fleet and finally the coast, and followed a railway line inland before setting down in a field. Amelia had landed in Londonderry. After 14 hours and 56 minutes, she had made it.

Belstaff topped off the famous Earhart 'look' of boots, britches and a silk blouse with its iconic jackets, and celebrate Amelia's groundbreaking achievement in a new film entitled Falling Up, with actor Liv Tyler in the aviator role. Through striking imagery, the film suggests the spirit of curiosity, adventure and the sheer pluck needed for a young woman to tackle one of the great aerial sea crossings at a time when others had foundered and often died in the attempt.

Tyler is the perfect choice for Earhart. Not only do both women share a restless quest for perfection in their careers, they also display an effortless, natural style. Sources of the era commented on Amelia's boyish good looks, slim body, strong jaw, high forehead, direct gaze, sense of suppressed energy and winning smile. Amelia, the newspapers noted, was also a strong, feminist-minded advocate of the freedom for women to take control of their own lives. It could have been Ms Tyler - who is an active supporter of UNICEF and women's cancer research - they were describing. And it is no accident she rocks a Belstaff jacket every bit as hard as Amelia did.

The film is not a documentary about the crossing, but an impressionistic narrative that uses powerfully dramatic sequences and flashbacks to capture the tensions and challenges, both human and elemental, facing Earhart, and the independent, pioneering spirit that drove her onwards as she strove to take her place in the record books and broaden the role of women in this world.