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Jacqueline Cochran: Speed Queen, Record Breaker and Pioneer

Born: May 11, 1906

Muscogee, FL

Died: Aug. 9, 1980

Earned Pilot’s License: 1932

Became the First Woman to Fly in the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race: 1935

Became the First Woman to Break the Sound Barrier: 1953

Jacqueline Cochran, originally named Bessie Lee Pitman, grew up in extreme poverty. As a child, Jacqueline had to work a variety of jobs in order to combat her financial struggles. This included working on a cotton mill, cleaning, working with midwives and other odds and ends jobs. This also lead her to have little to no formal education as a child. Despite these struggles, Jacqueline persevered and held a strong determination to turn her life around.

During her teenage years, Jacqueline entered the beauty world and became a hairdresser. She quickly picked up techniques and was able to make a name for herself in the beauty world by the early 1930’s. Through her connections in the beauty industry, Jacqueline was introduced to Floyd Oldam at a dinner party, who inspired her to enter the field of aviation. This moment would prove to be the pivotal turning point in her life, and lead Jacqueline to become one of the most influential figures in aviation history.

In 1932, Jacqueline Cochran began taking flight lessons and earned her wings in three short weeks. From there, she began to expand her training and gained a great deal of experience. She was determined to prove those who doubted her wrong, and become the best pilot she could be. This is when Jacqueline broke the barrier in aviation and started crushing numerous records.

Her accomplishments and records include:

First woman to fly in the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race, 1935

First woman to complete a blind instrument landing, 1937

Won the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race, 1938

First woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean

First woman civilian to win the Distinguished Service Medal, 1945

First Woman to Break the Sound Barrier, 1953

Held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other pilot in the world (until the 1980’s)

One of the most notable things that Jacqueline Cochran was involved with was the formation and advancement of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Just before World War II, Jacqueline was part of the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The British ATA recruited and trained female pilots to ferry aircraft as part of a war transport service. She soon returned to the US and proposed a similar program that could aid the US war efforts, WASP. WASP supplied upwards of a thousand auxiliary pilots, and helped expand opportunities for women during the war. Jacqueline Cochran acted as the director and leader of WASP until it was disbanded at the end of the war.

Jacqueline was a force in the aviation world. She fought to expand opportunities for women and didn’t let her struggles define her. Her tenacity and conviction throughout her career sets her apart from other pilots and makes her a true inspiration to many around the world.




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