recommended this in July on
rec.aviation.student, so I borrowed it from the public library
and then ordered it from a locally owned bookstore.
Kessler draws on all of the previous books directly about Pancho,
though not on secondary books, such as Bob Hoover's autobiography
which has some "Pancho" material in it. The author also dug into
other archives, for instance from the schools Pancho attended as
a girl, and Pancho's own pilot's logbooks.
Pancho's grandfather, Thaddeus Sobieski Lowe, influenced her
early life -- and therefore her later life, since she never
really grew up. Lowe made a fortune in applied science. During
the Civil War, he ascended in balloons for reconnaissance.
Pancho learned to fly in the summer of 1928 and soloed in
September of that year. The intersection of Hollywood and Flying
put her in the center of movies such as Wings, Test Pilot, and
Dawn Patrol. (Last month, I watched Test Pilot. Pancho did not
get a credit, but she did get a cameo, standing behind Clark
Gable.) The Depression ultimately took her large houses and other
property. However, she knew about an oasis in the high desert
where you could take off and land in any direction. During World
War II, Pancho supplied meat and milk to Muroc before it was
Edwards. By the time Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover showed up, she
was well established.
Pancho never learned to manage money. She survived totally on
cash flow. Part of this attitude, perhaps a foundation of it, was
her generosity. Pancho's "club" was her home. Pilots came over,
helped themselves to steaks from her fridge and cooked them on
her stove and ate them at her table. It would be a few years
before consumer demand forced Pancho to formalize the setting.
Even so, her home was always open to Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover,
and the elect.
The Happy Bottom was in the way and Edwards condemned it. Pancho
was out on her own and it took a toll on her. Ten years she lived
in exile, isolated and lonely. Then, she was rediscovered by
people to whom she was a legend. She ended her life giving
speeches at test pilot dinners.
Lauren Kessler obviously threw herself into the work. Pancho
captivated her, the way Pancho drew everyone. Kessler is not a
pilot, but she was able to get pilots to talk about flying and
she transmits the emotions behind the words. Some of the words
came from Pancho herself.
Pancho Barnes was not reflective, insightful or introverted in
any way. She never completed any project that required sustained
effort. If not for Kessler and other biographers nothing Barnes
wrote or did would have come to us.
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