Jacqueline Cochran

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran c. 1943
Born May 11, 1906(1906-05-11)
Muscogee, Florida
Died August 9, 1980 (aged 74)
Indio, California
Occupation Aviator, test pilot, spokesperson, and businessperson
Spouse(s) Jack Cochran
Floyd Bostwick Odlum

Jacqueline Cochran (May 11, 1906 - August 9, 1980) was a pioneer American aviator, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. She was an important contributor to the formation of the wartime Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Contents

[hide]

Early life

Jackie as a child c. 1908

Bessie Lee Pittman was born near Mobile, Alabama, the youngest of the five children of Mary (Grant) and Ira Pittman, a skilled millwright who moved from town to town setting up and reworking saw mills. While not rich, Jackie's childhood living in small-town Florida was similar to most other families of that time and place. Contrary to some accounts, there was always food on the table and she was not adopted, as she often claimed.[1]

Jackie married Robert Cochran, a young aircraft mechanic from the nearby naval base at Pensacola, at a young age. They were married in Blakeley, Georgia on November 13, 1920. Jackie gave birth to Robert Cochran Jr. four months later. The couple and child moved to Miami where they lived for four years. Filing for divorce, Jackie moved back to northwest Florida, settling in DeFuniak Springs, where her parents were then living. Not quite five years old, Robert Cochran Jr. died a tragic death after he set his clothes on fire while playing alone in the backyard.

Jackie (Bessie Lee) then became a hairdresser and got a job in Pensacola, eventually winding up in New York City. There, she used her looks and driving personality to get a job at a prestigious salon at Saks Fifth Avenue. Somewhere along the line, she chose to change her name from Mrs Bessie Cochran to Miss Jackie Cochran.

Although Jackie denied her family and her past, she remained in touch with her family and provided for them over the years. Some of her family even moved to her ranch in California after she remarried. However, they were instructed to always say they were her adopted family. Jackie apparently wanted to hide from the public the early chapters of her life and was successful in doing so until after her death.

Only later did she meet Floyd Bostwick Odlum, middle-aged founder of Atlas Corp. and CEO of RKO in Hollywood. Widely reputed to be one of the ten richest men in the world, Odlum quickly became enamored with Jackie and offered to help her establish a cosmetics business.

After a friend offered her a ride in an aircraft, a thrilled Jackie Cochran began taking flying lessons at Roosevelt Airfield, Long Island in the early 1930s. She learned to fly an airplane in just three weeks. A natural, she quickly soloed and within two years obtained her commercial pilot's license. Odlum, whom she married in 1936 after his divorce, was an astute financier and savvy marketer who recognized the value of publicity for her business. Calling her line of cosmetics "Wings," she flew her own aircraft around the country promoting her products. Years later, Odlum used his Hollywood connections to get Marilyn Monroe to endorse her line of lipstick.[2]

Contributions to aviation

1938 Bendix Race.

Known by her friends as "Jackie," and maintaining the Cochran name, she flew her first major race in 1934. In 1937, she was the only woman to compete in the Bendix race. She worked with Amelia Earhart to open the race for women.[3] That year, she also set a new woman's national speed record. By 1938, she was considered the best female pilot in the United States. She had won the Bendix and set a new transcontinental speed record as well as altitude records (by this time she was no longer just breaking woman's records but was setting overall records).[4] She was the first woman to break the sound barrier (with Chuck Yeager right on her wing), the first woman to fly a jet across the ocean, and the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic. She won five Harmon Trophies as the outstanding woman pilot in the world. Sometimes called the "Speed Queen," at the time of her death, no pilot, man or woman, held more speed, distance or altitude records in aviation history, than Jackie Cochran.[5]

Before the United States joined World War II, she was part of "Wings for Britain" that delivered American built aircraft to Britain and she became the first woman to fly a bomber (a Lockheed Hudson V) across the Atlantic. In Britain, she volunteered her services to the Royal Air Force. For several months she worked for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), recruiting qualified women pilots in the United States and taking them to England where they joined the Air Transport Auxiliary.[6] In September 1940, with the war raging throughout Europe, Jackie Cochran wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to introduce the proposal of starting a women's flying division in the Army Air Forces. She felt that qualified women pilots could do all of the domestic, noncombat aviation jobs necessary in order to release more male pilots for combat. She pictured herself in command of these women, with the same standings as Oveta Culp Hobby, who was then in charge of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). (The WAAC was given full military status on July 1, 1943, thus making them part of the Army. At the same time, the unit was renamed Women's Army Corps [WAC].)

Jackie with General Hap Arnold.

Also in 1940, Cochran wrote a letter to Colonel Robert Olds, who was helping to organize the Ferrying Command for the Air Corps at the time. (Ferrying Command was the air-transport service of the Army Air Corps; the command was renamed Air Transport Command in June 1942). In the letter, Cochran suggested that women pilots be employed to fly noncombat missions for the new command. In early 1941, Colonel Olds asked Cochran to find out how many women pilots there were in the United States, what their flying times were, their skills, their interest in flying for the country, and personal information about them. She used records from the Civil Aeronautics Administration to gather the data.

Jackie (center) with WASP trainees.

In spite of pilot shortages, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold was the person who needed to be convinced that women pilots were the solution to his staffing problems. Arnold was placed in command of the US Army Air Forces when it was created from the US Army Air Corps in June 1941. He knew that women were being used successfully in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in England. Also in June 1941, Arnold suggested that Cochran take a group of qualified female pilots to see how the British were doing. He promised her that no decisions regarding women flying for the USAAF would be made until she returned.

When General Arnold asked Cochran to go to Britain to study the ATA, she asked seventy-six of the most qualified female pilots - identified during the research she had done earlier for Colonel Robert Olds - to come along and fly for the ATA. Qualifications for these women were high - at least 300 hours of flying time, but most of the women pilots had over 1,000 hours. Their dedication was high as well, they had to foot the bill for travel from New York for an interview and to Montreal for a physical exam and flight check. Those that made it to Canada found out that the washout rate was also high. Twenty-five women passed the tests, and two months later, in March 1942 they went to Britain with Cochran to join the ATA.

The women who flew in the ATA were a little reluctant to go because they wanted to be flying for (and in) the United States, but those that went became the first American women to fly military aircraft.

Following America's entry into the War, in 1942 she was made director of women's flight training for the United States.[7] As head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) she supervised the training of more than one thousand women pilots at the former Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. For her war efforts, she received the Distinguished Service Medal[8][9] and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre with Chuck Yeager.

At war's end, she was hired by a magazine to report on global postwar events. In this role, she witnessed Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita's surrender in the Philippines, then was the first (non-Japanese) woman to enter Japan after the War and attended the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.

Postwar, she began flying the new jet engine aircraft, going on to set numerous records, most conspicuously, she became the first woman pilot to "go supersonic."

Encouraged by then-Major Chuck Yeager, with whom she shared a lifelong friendship, on May 18, 1953, at Rogers Dry Lake, California, Cochran flew a Canadair F-86 Sabre jet borrowed from the Royal Canadian Air Force at an average speed of 652.337 mph, becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier.[10]

She was also the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, the first woman to reach Mach 2, the first woman to pilot a bomber across the North Atlantic (in 1941), the first pilot to make blind (instrument) landing, the only woman to ever be President of the Federation Aeronautique International (1958-1961), the first woman to fly a fixed-wing, jet aircraft across the Atlantic, the first pilot to fly above 20,000 feet with an oxygen mask and the first woman to enter the Bendix Trans-continental Race. She still holds more distance and speed records than any pilot living or dead, male or female.

In 1948, Cochran joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve where she eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In the 1960s, she was a sponsor of the Mercury 13 program, an early program to test the ability of women to be astronauts. A number of the women passed or exceeded the results of the male astronauts[11][12] before NASA canceled the program. Congress held hearings on the matter, during which John Glenn and Scott Carpenter testified against admitting women to the astronaut program. Cochran herself argued against bringing women into the space program, saying that it was the only way to beat the Soviets in the Space Race. This ended the Mercury 13 program.[13]

Political activities

A life-long Republican, Cochran, as a result of her involvement in politics and the military, would become close friends with General Dwight Eisenhower. In the early part of 1952, she and her husband helped sponsor a large rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City in support of an Eisenhower presidential candidacy.[14][15] The rally was documented on film and Cochran personally flew it to France for a special showing at Eisenhower's headquarters. Her efforts proved a major factor in convincing Eisenhower to run for President of the United States in 1952 and she would play a major role in his successful campaign. Close friends thereafter, Eisenhower frequently visited her and her husband at their California ranch and after leaving office, wrote portions of his memoirs there.[16]

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager being presented with the Harmon International Trophies by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Politically ambitious, she ran for Congress in 1956 from California's 29th Congressional District as the candidate for the Republican Party. Her name appeared throughout the campaign and on the ballot as Jaqueline Cochran-Odlum. Although she defeated a field of five male opponents to win the Republican nomination, in the general election she lost a close election to Democratic candidate and first Asian-American Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund. Saund won with 54,989 votes (51.5%) to Cochran's 51,690 votes (48.5%). Her political setback was one of the few failures she ever experienced and she never attempted another run. Those who knew Jacqueline Cochran have said that the loss bothered her for the rest of her life.

Legacy

Jackie Cochran standing on the wing of her F-86 while talking to Chuck Yeager and Canadair's chief test pilot Bill Longhurst.

Jacqueline Cochran died on August 9, 1980 at her home in Indio, California that she shared with Floyd Odlum. She was a long-time resident of the Coachella Valley, and is buried in Coachella Valley Cemetery. She regularly utilized Thermal Airport over the course of her long aviation career. The airport, which had been renamed Desert Resorts Regional, was again renamed "Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport" in her honor. It also hosts an annual air show named for her.

Her aviation accomplishments never gained the continuing media attention given those of Amelia Earhart, but that can in part be attributed to the public's fascination with those who die young at the peak of their careers. Also, Cochran's use of her husband's immense wealth reduced the rags-to-riches nature of her story. Nonetheless, she deserves a place in the ranks of famous women in history as one of the greatest aviators ever, and a woman who frequently used her influence to advance the cause of women in aviation.

Despite her lack of education, Ms. Cochran had a quick mind and an affinity for business and her investment in the cosmetics field proved a lucrative one. Later, in 1951, the Boston Chamber of Commerce voted her one of the twenty-five outstanding businesswomen in America. In 1953 and 1954, the Associated Press named her "Woman of the Year in Business."

Blessed by fame and wealth, she donated a great deal of time and money to charitable works, especially with those from impoverished backgrounds like her own.

Awards

From many countries around the world, she received citations and awards. In 1949, the government of France recognized her contribution to the war and aviation, awarding her the Legion of Honor and again in 1951 with the French Air Medal. She is the only woman to ever receive the Gold Medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She would go on to be elected to that body's board of directors and director of Northwest Airlines in the U.S. At home, the Air Force awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.

Other honors include:

Jacqueline Cochran in the cockpit of a P-40.

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

A postage stamp honoring Jackie Cochran was issued in 1996.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Ayers, Billy Jean Pittman and Beth Dees. Superwoman Jacqueline Cochran: Family Memories about the Famous Pilot, Patriot, Wife and Businesswoman. Self-published: Authorhouse, 2001. ISBN 0-75966-763-2.
  • Carl, Ann Baumgartner. A WASP Among Eagles. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2000. ISBN 1-56098-870-3.
  • Cochran, Jacqueline. The Stars at Noon. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1954, re-issued in 1979.
  • Cochran, Jacqueline and Maryann Bucknum Brinley. Jackie Cochran: The Autobiography of the Greatest Woman Pilot in Aviation History. New York: Bantam Books, 1987. ISBN 0-553-05211-X.
  • McGuire, Nina and Sandra Wallus Sammons. Jacqueline Cochran: America's Fearless Aviator. Lake Buena Vista, Florida: Tailored Tours Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-96312-416-1.
  • Merryman, Molly. Clipped wings : The Rise and Fall of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II. New York: New York University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-81475-567-4.
  • Nolen, Stephanie. Promised The Moon: The Uuntold Story of the First Women in the Space Race. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Canada, 2002. ISBN 1-56858-275-7.
  • Reminiscences of Jacqueline Cochran. Columbia University Aviation Project. New York: Columbia University Oral History Research Office, 1961.
  • Williams, Vera S. WASPs: Women Air Force Service Pilots of World War II. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1994. ISBN 0-87938-856-0.