Jackie Cochran: one of history’s most accomplished {female} aviators

Patty Wagstaff dreams of the day we hear a woman is one of the world’s greatest aviators. Period. Do we speak of great “male”pilots,  dentists, doctors, lawyers? (“Fire and Air: A Life on the Edge, Chicago Review Press, 1997). In America, men compete against women in the world’s most demanding and precise sport, aerobatics, while in other countries, women compete only against women.

Patty is one of many women inspired by the accomplishments of Jackie Cochran, but how many people know of accomplished aviators, male or female? “Competition aerobatics, the sport of champions, has a long way to go before it will draw huge crowds, an outpouring of monetary support, and inevitable hordes of media reporters that follow other competitive sports,” Patty write (“Fire and Air”, p. 271). “Although sport aerobatics attracts athletes of great skill with leading edge equipment in a most beautiful activity, it is still basically a ‘club’ sport, run primarily by volunteers and lacking the infrastructure and leadership to make a significant different to our press opportunities.”

So who was Jackie Cochran? Was she ever on a postage stamp? 

“Jackie Cochran was one of the prettiest women I ever saw,” recalled journalist Adela Rogers St. John. “I doubt if her pictures ever did her justice, because pictures can’t reproduce those big, soft brown eyes, the shimmering hair or the lovely clear skin.”

Women could compete with and often surpass men, but being ladylike also was a Cochran priority. Before stepping from the cockpit, she usually paused to apply lipstick.   http://biography.yourdictionary.com/jacqueline-cochran

Like other women pilots (namely Patty Wagstaff and Julie Clark), Jackie was said to be “a strange amalgam of cocky bravado, passionate intensity, and childlike innocence. She was tough and determined, yet oddly vulnerable. And this whirling dervish of contrasts was wrapped in a stunning package.” http://www.nationalaviation.org/cochran-jacqueline/

The barefoot girl from the backwoods of Georgia flew higher, faster, and farther than she ever dreamed possible. And when she died in 1980, she held more speed, altitude and distance records than anyone in the world, male or female:

    – flew in the London to Melbourne race in 1934
    -first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Race (1935)and won in 1938
    – first woman to make a blind instrument landing in 1937
    – set new women’s records during 1939-40, in altitude and open class speed
    –  first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean (in WWII), leading to the formation of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program
    – received the Distinguished Service Medal as a WASP
    – won the Harmon Trophy in 1950 as the Aviatrix of the Decade.
    –  first woman to exceed the speed of sound(1953)
    – set 73 records in three years (and exceeded Mach 2 in 1964)

“Jackie was an irresistible force…Generous, egotistical, compassionate, sensitive, aggressive – indeed an explosive study in contradictions – Jackie was consistent only in the overflowing energy with which she attacked the challenge of being alive. Always passionately convinced of any viewpoint she happened to hold (Jackie did nothing by halves), she raced through life, making lifelong friends and unforgetting enemies…” Maryann Bucknum Brinley, biographer

Born into abject poverty and raised by a detached and destitute foster family, Jackie Cochran refused to allow her bad experiences in youth define her. Rather, she set out to mold an identity that was both flexible and unforgettable … Keenly aware that evolution is essential to survival, Jackie recognized that every person and every experience that touched her life could, and should, change her. And she enjoyed that change, never fearing that she would lose herself. Cochran was always eager to discover the person evolving just below the surface. 

Although Jackie’s ultimate success in life was surely aided greatly by her marriage to a man of wealth and influence, her determination to leave poverty began years before fate seated her next to the wealthy Floyd Odlum at a Miami dinner party. 

... She was, and would forever be, a force to be reckoned with. Volatile, emotional, sensitive, stubborn, relentless and always, always fascinating, Jackie Cochran would have to wait until 1977 to see her hard-won WASPs gain true military status. 


As a child, Cochran was forced to give a cherished doll, her only doll, to a younger sister in her foster family. As adults, the younger sister sought Cochran’s aid in New York City. Cochran gave it but demanded her childhood doll as payment. At Cochran’s insistence, she was buried with that doll following her death in 1980.

For more information on Jackie Cochran, try these websites:

Centennial of Flight

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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2 Responses to Jackie Cochran: one of history’s most accomplished {female} aviators

  1. Pingback: Pilot Patty Wagstaff aka “Aerobatic Savant” – Once strapped in,the tigress comes out to play | carolkean

  2. What a strong will Jackie had. She was some woman…some human being.


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