I might have been born in a hovel
but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars.
— Jackie Cochran
Born Bessie Lee Pittman in Pensacola, FL in 1906, Jackie Cochran, was the youngest of five children. She rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to become one of history’s most accomplished female aviators. She worked in a cotton mill at the age of six, and labored at a series of jobs before answering her call to the air. She married Robert Cochran in 1920, and after the marriage ended with the death of Robert in 1925, she retained the name of Cochran and began using Jacqueline or Jackie as her name.
She learned to fly in 1932 at the Roosevelt Flying School in Long Island and pursued advanced flight instruction at Ryan School of Aeronautics going on to get her instrument, commercial and air transport pilot ratings. Some of her achievements included:
- In 1934, she flew in the London, England to Melbourne, Australia race.
- In 1935, she became the first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Race, which she won in 1938.
- In 1937 she became the first woman to make a blind instrument landing.
- In 1939-40 she set new women’s records in altitude and open class speed.
- She was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean during World War II, leading to the formation of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program.
- In 1950, she received the Harmon Trophy as the Aviatrix of the Decade.
- In 1953, she became the first woman to break the speed barrier.
- In 1962, she subsequently set 73 records in three years.
- In 1964, she exceeded Mach 2.
- She was also the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier
She was a sponsor of the Mercury 13 program, an early effort to test the ability of women to be astronauts. She served as the President of the Ninety Nines for two terms. She received the Distinguished Service Medal for her leadership of the WASP and three Distinguished Flying Cross awards for other records. She was also a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Jackie Cochran also authored two autobiographies —The Stars at Noon and, with Mary Ann Bucknam Brinley, Jackie Cochran.
Jackie Cochran pioneered women’s aviation as one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation.