Friday, February 15, 2008

Off we go, into the Wild Blue Yonder...

Anyone want to go up into the Wild Blue Yonder?
I'd love to have this woman as my personal pilot.
Meet Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran.

Her early childhood is a mystery. She said she was orphaned, and there is no exact record of her birth. However, there are some sources that say she was born as Bessie Lee Pittman, and raised in her family. (Same sources say she was married, and had a child, got divorced, and the child died tragically. She never substantiated this, though). She grew up, n poverty, in the rural Panhandle of Florida. At some point in her later childhood, she began working as a beautician at a local hairdressers. In 1929, she moved to New York City to work there, and try to realize her dream to become a cosmetics manufacturer. She got a job in a salon in Saks, Fifth Avenue, and her customers loved her. She had some that even paid for her to travel with them. In Miami, of 1932, she met a millionaire named Floyd Bostwick Odium. He was the one that first interested her in learning how to fly. He told her that if she were to have a successful business in cosmetics, she would need wings to cover her territory. She took his advice, and got her pilot's license after only three weeks of instruction. She also eventually married Floyd.
She then went to a flight school in California to obtain more skills, and from there entered a major aviation contest, the 1934 MacRobertson race from London, to Melborne, Australia. She and her co pilot had to abandon the race, however, due to wing flap problems. Not willing to let this stop her, she entered more contests. She also did manage to open her cosmetics company in 1935.
1937 was a banner year for her. She finished first in the women's division of the Bendix cross country race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, and third over all. She also set a national speed record from New York, to Miami, in 4 hours, 12 minutes, and 27 seconds. And she set yet another record (National Woman's record for speed) by flying at 203.895 mph. Because of all this, she received the Clifford Harmon Trophy for the most outstanding woman pilot of the year. By the end of her career, she would have 15 of those trophy's.
In 1938, she won the Bendix competition outright, beating the women, and the men. She also broke a multitude of altitude and speed records.
With the beginnings of WW II, Jackie went overseas to England to see how the female pilots were helping with the war effort. She'd been thinking about developing a fleet of women aviators who could fly support aircraft, freeing up the men to fly in the actual war. In 1942, she was asked to organize the "Woman's Flying Training Detachment" by the Army Air Force. The following year, she was appointed to lead the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). The WASPs were invaluable to the war effort. They transported planes overseas, tested various aircraft, taught aerial navigation, and towed targets. They grew to well over 1000 members. However, in 1944 congress disbanded them, because the male pilots were complaining that they were out of work. But during their existence, they delivered over 12,000 planes, and flew more than 60 million miles! In recognition for her leadership, Jackie received the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal, the first civilian woman to ever do so.
Since the war was over, she she returned to racing, and setting records. in 1953, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier. In the 1950's, she was among 13 women who lobbied to become a member of the space program. Their petition never came to fruition. She continued flying, and setting records. She spent the 60's as a test pilot for Northrop, and Lockheed. They provided her with many planes to set many speed records.
She had to slow down during the 1970's, as she was diagnosed with a severe heart condition which required her to get a pacemaker. She died in August of 1980, in Indio, California, where her and her husband had lived for many years. The airport out there is now named after her, and an airshow named in her honor, as well.


holly said...

another great post about another great woman!

Daryl said...

I see a book here!