A22353-P25-L10ERed Tail

Amelia was not a classic beauty— reed-thin Kansas lass, short, gap-toothed, with an overbite, flaxen blond hair shorn short in the style of the aviatrix, wearing long pants fitted tightly across her shapely bottom, and a man’s aviator-style leather jacket— slept in for weeks to give it authenticity; she was however a real celebrity, one who was dubbed “America’s Sweetheart”, who was carefully managed as spokesperson for AE clothing, AE luggage, AE kitchen designs, breakfast cereal, and Lucky Strikes.

Odd that Hollywood, always sniffing the wind for the stuff of legend, for heroics, for tales of mystery, took forty years to bring her story to the screen; in the form of an alright 1976 TV movie starring Susan Clark & John Forsythe. Two decades later, in 1994, Diane Keaton donned the Earhart pants and the leather jacket, assisted by Bruce Dern, in a poorly punctuated loosely-directed Ted Turner opus for television. Last year the perky Amy Adams did her blond bobbed best to impersonate Lady Lindy in a lame Ben Stiller comedy; the laughs and acting stilted and strained. And now, in the waning months of 2009, we are privy to a feature film Earhart fans have waited so very long for; AMELIA has sprung full-fleshed, high tech, exciting, freckles, overbite and all onto the big screen, portrayed by the talented Hilary Swank, who was able to completely inhabit the Goddess of Light, while keeping her eyes peeled for her next Oscar nomination.

But for me the real star of all these films was that shining silver bird, the Lockheed L-10 Electra, with its flamboyant twin red tails, and those racy red stripes on the front of its 55 foot wing span. The very moment that plane is presented on the wide screen, 38 feet long and sleek, perching 10 feet above the tarmac, rolling majestically as one of only 149 built— our hearts beat more rapidly, pulsated with huge machine passion, and we are in love; easily stimulated by huge planes and ships as the camera lens pans their sleek length, smooth shoulders, and mechanical muscle.

And then God help me, when the Electra is airborne, and we watch the sun shining on its polished aluminum skin, watch the sultry twitching of its twin ochre tails, the sheer majesty of it hanging proud in the infinite blueness, and follow it into a tall white tower of clouds, as it playfully plunges through the cumulus like a great red-tailed hawk; diving, soaring, climbing, then gliding at 19,800 feet; we think surely it must be invincible— and it will become our hubris, as it was Amelia’s.

When looking at the particulars of her life, I cannot help but believe that she failed because she refused to heed the angel’s alacrity, failed to bend to the synchronicity of spirit; for during that first attempt to get her Electra off the ground; overloaded and cranky, it got squirrely, causing her to panic with poor judgment, resulting in several heavy bounces, a wing tipping, skidding, and the tearing off of the landing gear—with her escaping alive; this was nothing more than the gods of the air sending her a message: Stay on the ground this time, Amelia. You are 40 years old— do not tempt the fates yet again. The Atlantic was a lark for you. The Pacific will snare your soul, steal your breath, crush your spirit! There is a demon who awaits you, a rainbow dragon hovering in the darkness over the South Pacific.

She awoke from her nightmares, angry, defiant, eager to prove the voices wrong, anxious to show her detractors that she had the right stuff to complete her mission; soon her silver hawk was launched straight southeast out over her sweet Atlantic, sliding down over South America, and across Africa, head-long into the maelstrom over the Pacific— hell-bent for a series of unfortunate events that would catapult her and Fred Noonan, plunging them deep and cold 18.000 feet below the waves, into mythos and oblivion.

They say though on some hot July nights off the western reef of Howland Island, sometimes one can hear the strong purr of twin Pratt & Whitney 450hp engines, drawing ever closer, and then snap, swish—silence reigns, and the ghost plane slips back into legend.

Glenn Buttkus November 2009


One thought on “Red Tail

  1. Interesting. This piece is originally a poem I wrote; yet it transfered to Word Press as prose, and when I endeavored to provide the line breaks, it began to double space. So now the piece exists as a duality, a poem, a bit of prose, and possibly a prose poem. Anyway, suffice it to say, the film(s) did spark off some creative response from me.


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