Lost Pilots by
Corey Mead combines an adventure story, a tragic love story,
and a crime story into one narrative. It has it all: a fascinating
look back into the early days of aviation, a love triangle,
bringing back to prominence to Jessie Keith-Miller, a female
pioneer pilot, and a murder trial.
The story begins in 1927, when World War I pilot, Captain
William Lancaster and Jessie Keith-Miller take off from London,
aspiring to complete a record-breaking flight to Australia,
the first in a light plane. Although they were basically strangers,
they bonded over their desire for adventure, fame, and escape
from unhappy marriages. There are many scenes that underscore
the dangers of flying during those early days. Having crashed
numerous times it became obvious that weather was a character,
an enemy with its slashing rain and battering crosswinds,
sleet, and fog that could easily bring down these light planes.
After successfully completing the flight, they found they
were international celebrities, but also deeply in love. The
spotlight takes them from Australia to New York to Hollywood.
Their celebrity status is exploited, yet as lovers, they must
fall under the radar since both are still married.
Their lives were influenced by the era, having lived through
World War I, the Roaring 20s, and the Great Depression. Mead
believes the effect of “WWI taught that generation how
to cheat death. They became free-spirits, wanting to escape
the Victorian upbringing. I also wanted to show how there
was huge bias against female flyers. Jessie was probably a
better pilot than Lancaster. But living in the Roaring Twenties
also helped her because it was a time where women became more
independent and started to enter the male-dominated world.”
Since the depression dried up any commercial flying possibilities,
Jessie participates in the Women’s Air Derby, rooming
with Amelia Earhart, while Lancaster seeks other flying adventures.
Still, in need of money, Jessie decides to write her autobiography
with Haden Clark as her ghostwriter. Having been granted a
divorce she accepts Clark’s marriage proposal. After
returning to Miami where Jessie and Clark lived, Lancaster
became devastated when told of the couple’s plans. That
night Clark is found dead of a gunshot wound. Was it murder
or suicide? A riveting and scandalous trial ensues that ultimately
costs Jessie her fame as she stands by Lancaster.
Mead noted, “The entire court room case was presented
verbatim in the Miami newspapers. It covered not only the
trial but also Jessie’s and Lancaster’s background.
I was able to draw a pretty complete picture of their lives
from the newspapers at the time, their diaries/writings, and
talking with his great nephew. What I discovered was that
it was similar to today’s sensational court cases where
tragedy and misfortune are exploited for entertainment as
the public’s hunger is fed.”
This book combines the daring days of the early aviators with
a passionate love story. A true story of adventure, forbidden
love, fame, fortune, tragedy, scandal, and loyalty.