46 pages 1 hour read

Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1979

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Chapters 1-3Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 1 Summary: “The Angels”

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the dangerous, high-stakes life of a military test pilot through the eyes of Pete (a Princeton graduate) and Jane Conrad. The angels referred to in the chapter title are what Wolfe calls the “death angels,” namely, the wives of test pilots like Pete who must cope with the fact that men in this line of work die on a weekly basis (2, 3, 6).

The book opens with a vivid account of the events of an unnamed day in 1955 in Jacksonville, Florida. News of a flight test accident has spread throughout the community of death angels. Jane Conrad nervously waits for an update about her husband, Pete. As the day proceeds, it becomes clear that Pete is one of two pilots unaccounted for. Jane assumes that her husband has died (7). In fact, Pete is on duty as the squadron safety officer for the day. He is one of the first people to track down the fallen aircraft and find its deceased pilot, Bud Jennings, whose charred body has been decapitated by the impact of the crash (5-6). This affair starts a grim, unrelenting cycle for the Conrads: an accident, Jane’s uncertainty over whether it involves her husband, the identification of the victim, a funeral for a friend and fellow pilot, repeat.