Thursday, June 16, 2011

Booklist: Callsign Revlon

Call Sign Revlon: The Life and Death of Navy Fighter Pilot Kara Hultgreen, by Sally Spears

In October 1994 Navy Lt. Kara Hultgreen died when her F-14 fighter jet crashed into the ocean during an attempt to land aboard an aircraft carrier. As the first woman to fly the high-powered Tomcat in a fighter squadron, Hultgreen was already a visible figure in the debate over whether women should serve in combat, and her death only intensified that debate. After her crash, sources within the Navy released documents to show that Hultgreen was an unqualified pilot who got through training because she was a woman. Hultgreen's supporters countered that the documents were incomplete and grossly misleading. Four years after the tragic mishap, Hultgreen's mother, a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, presents this work not as a tool of persuasion, but as the biography of a young pioneer. In many ways, it is a deeply engaging portrait. Drawing extensively from her daughter's letters and diaries, Spears shows the intense motivation and high energy of a young woman whose life was geared toward her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. A swaggering hell-raiser with a wicked sense of humor, Hultgreen pummeled her drunken assailant when groped at Tailhook. But Spears also includes considerable fluff: one chapter titled "Pamela" seems designed to settle a score with a friend who inexplicably dropped Hultgreen when her career declined. Ultimately, the most interesting chapters are those addressing the question of whether Hultgreen was truly qualified to be flying the F-14. With more substantive reporting, Spear might have offered a persuasive case on her daughter's behalf. 29 illustrations.

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