Born into desperate conditions in the early 1900s, Jackie Cochran became the world’s most decorated airwoman, breaking all altitude, speed and endurance records in a field overwhelmingly dominated by men. She retains the distinction of having more speed and altitude records than any man or women – ever.
Jackie arrived into this world sometime in 1906 in a small, non-descript sawmill town in northwest Florida. Given up for adoption, she was called “Jackie” by her foster parents. When she got older, she took her last name from a telephone book, thinking Cochran sounded sophisticated and elegant.
Jackie escaped the itinerant life of sawmills and began working in a beauty salon at age 15. A chance meeting in Miami gave her introduction to a Floyd Odlum (who eventually controlled Convair, builder of the B-36 Peacemajer).whom she would eventually marry. Odlum was a corporate attorney-turned-in-dustrialist.
When she revealed her plans to him about travelling the county to sell beauty products, Odlum offered to “help” her in distribution by using an airplane. Jackie learned to fly (and passed her pilot test verbally, because she could not read or write well enough) and the passion blossomed. Her cosmetic products were called Wings to Beauty and were successful for the next 3 decades.
Floyd financed Jackie’s growing enthusiasm for flight, and they married in 1936. She won the Bendix trophy in 1938, and began a series of goal-setting records in over. Cochran’s records although plentiful yet she never received equal attention.
When WWII threatened global peace, Jackie petitioned Henry “Hap” Arnold to support a women’s auxiliary flying corps to ferry aircraft to and from the European theater to free up men to do the fighting the combat flying. Her persistence formed the Women’s Air Force Service Pilot Program (WASP) and she was drafted to become and officer. She successfully lobbied that women could fly equally as well as men, and despite some severe opposition from regular airmen, her girls ferried thousands of aircraft with almost no loss of life and a remarkable safety record. Jackie later joined the USAF Reserves, and retired in 1970 as a full-bird colonel. She received the Distinguished Service Medal as Colonel in 1945, and 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses for various other accomplishments.
Jackie was the first women to: fly supersonic (F-104); land on an aircraft carrier; enter a Bendix race (and win in 1938); win a Harmon trophy in 1952; serve as President of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (and the only female); promote women to serve in NASA on the Mercury program in the early 1960s.
Jackie passed away in 1980 at her home in Indio, California. Jackie’s accomplishments should remind everyone that determination, skill and some old-fashioned luck can produce extraordinary results. Our industry is fortunate to have had such a person in Jackie Cochran.
Article by – David Bjellos
ATP/ Helo. Gulfstream IV, Sikorsky $76, Bell 407
Pro Pilot Senior Contributor