Brave, Splendid Fools, by William Bacheler

Brave, Splendid Fools

by William Bacheler

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The autobiography of Captain William L. Bacheler; fighter pilot of WW-II. A personal memoir of wings, war, and more.

Much has been written about The Greatest Generation, those men and women born in the late 'teens and twenties of the last century who experienced searing economic conditions during The Depression, then banded together to defeat fascism across the globe during the Second World War. Stories of sacrifice and adventure abound, and the tales of those individuals who commanded the skies over Europe and Asia offer a compelling read for those of us who love both history and aviation.

Indeed, for pilots everywhere, there's nothing quite like the stories of those present at the creation: who knew aviation in its rag-wing infancy, then progressed through the march of technology—flying faster, higher, more precisely. Those who enjoyed long lustrous careers offer a particularly interesting foundation of knowledge, because along with history of aviation comes a sense for what it takes to fly with focus and discipline, something we all aspire to when we finish our pre-flight and commit to the air.

One of these exceptional people is Captain William L. Bacheler who, as a youngster, strained to catch a glimpse of his hero Charles Lindbergh during a Seattle parade, then had a chance to fly in formation with Lindbergh over the battlegrounds of the South Pacific. As his career in commercial aviation progressed after the war, Bacheler pioneered the polar routes from the west coast of America to Europe aboard ever larger and more capable transport aircraft. “Batch” could trace his career in aviation from Stearman trainers, to the left seat of the mighty Boeing 747, logging more than 150 trips around the world, and more than 250 trips across the Arctic at a time when navigating by sextant and star sights on a strict no-compromises “free gyro” fuel schedule marked the ultimate in personal skill and responsibility. In addition to serving as a navigator and captain for Pan American World Airways for 33 years, Captain Bacheler earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and an Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters.

Brave, Splendid Fools is an aviation memoir like no other. Bacheler writes lucidly and with pinpoint detail through the prism of his last flight. In describing his final lap of the Pacific in 1979, he intersperses chapters of an aviator's life that capture not just aviation's technological march, but also what it takes to be a leader, to exercise responsibility and discipline, to believe in yourself, your equipment, your comrades, to know the pain of loss when accidents happen—above all to know you can't fly all those passenger miles without the support of a wonderful wife and three extraordinary children.

While Brave, Splendid Fools predates the global positioning system that now serves up wonders unheard of in Bacheler's day, his detailed presentation of mid-20th century navigation, from the lowly non-directional beacon to the inertial navigation systems of the sixties and seventies, gives readers a thorough grounding in advancements in navigation. Pilots will enjoy Captain Bacheler's discussions of stick-and-rudder aptitude right along with what it was like to fly the legendary approach to Hong Kong's Kaitak. Here's an excerpt: “Final approach was on a heading about 90 degrees across the runway, descending among sawtooth mountains, then a sharp descending turn while dodging apartment houses, rooftop clotheslines and radio antennae, finally thumping down on a runway whose threshold had to be displaced far down from the actual end because of all the obstacles.”

Pilots who have braved a stiff crosswind, flown to drizzly minimums, experienced clear-air turbulence at night over rough terrain, will feel the beads of sweat. Bacheler was also a regular on the San Francisco-Saigon run, flying into yet another war zone. His initiation to combat began in a Chance Vought F4U over Rabaul and continued through the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.

Having earned a degree in aeronautical engineering, Captain Bacheler is also an extraordinary writer, able to transport the reader through time and space with an engaging, well-structured style that will be difficult to put down.

Read on. Be amazed. And be grateful for pilots like Captain William L. Bacheler, who fought the good fight, remained cool under fire, took command, never faltered and who led by example of an extraordinary life.

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Brave, Splendid Fools Oct 26, 2011 Basil Zavoico McLean VA US
  ...a spectacular memoir by a dedicated pilot and a great American more...