‘Look to the Sky’ for the story of a high-flying mother-daughter relationship

  • A vintage photo of ‘Frannie Nolde,’ 1940s female aviation pioneer. In ‘She Looked to the Sky,’ author Frances Dean Nolde recounts her mother’s illustrious flying career and the affect it had on her family. Courtesy

Published: 9/18/2023 11:00:01 AM

She dreamed of being an opera star. She performed in a Gershwin musical with Fred Astaire, and became the star of a 1930s radio serial. But after she married and became the mother of seven children, she looked to the sky.

Frances Dean Wilcox Nolde became a pioneer pilot and a World War II commander of the Reading Courier Station in the Pennsylvania Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). After the war, ‘Frannie’ was winner of the Powder Puff Derby, an early transcontinental all-women’s air race.

She eventually became a full colonel in the CAP in charge of the Women’s program. After moving to Washington, she became responsible for planning how America’s civilian airplanes would defend the country should the Cold War become hot.

A glamorous, ambitious proponent of women aviators, Frances Nolde challenged male dominance at a time when home, career, motherhood and personal success created both joy and trials in her life and the lives of those she loved. Her public life demonstrated her capabilities while her personal life revealed her flaws.

In ‘She Looked to the Sky,’ her youngest child, Frances Dean Nolde, tells her mother’s story — and her own.

Author Nolde will give a talk about her mother’s life in aviation as well as sign copies of her book on Thursday, Sept. 21 at the Aviation Museum of N.H. The program is at 7 p.m.

The museum is located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H. The program is $10 per person; free to Aviation Museum members. Books retail at $24. Tickets available at the door or can be reserved in advance by calling (603) 669-4877.

Her daughter explains in ‘She Looked to the Sky’ that Frances didn’t purposefully set out to find aviation; rather by chance, she fell into it in midlife. After Frances married a wealthy textile manufacturer with a curiosity for aviation, she began to look towards the sky for her next stage in life.

She began her flying lessons at the age of 39 and by the end of her career, newspapers claimed she had clocked over 10,000 solo hours. This number may have been an exaggeration by the press, but her passion for flying couldn’t be overstated.

Frances Dean Nolde is a resident of Massachusetts, who tells her own story and that of her mother through the eyes of the youngest of the seven siblings. While the author never learned to fly herself, her mother’s influence has motivated her to share the memories and stories of her mother’s life to inspire others to take to the sky.

All proceeds support the non-profit museum’s youth aviation education outreach, including its ‘Flights of Discovery’ summer camp and a high school student plane-building program.

For more information, visit aviationmuseumofnh.org or call (603) 669-4820. Follow the Aviation Museum on social media at facebook.com/nhahs.

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