Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Whether You Think That You Can, or That You Can't, You're Right*

* Attributed to Henry Ford

Superwoman Jacqueline Cochran

The first woman to fly faster than Mach 1 was an aviatrix named Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran, born in 1906. Cochran completed her pilot training in 1932 in just three weeks. She quickly realized that flying was her passion, and set about becoming one of the most accomplished pilots in history.

Cochran set several aviation records before 1940, including three speed records and a world altitude record.

Cochran was also employed by the Sperry Corporation between 1935 and 1942 to conduct test flights of gyro instruments that would soon become vital in navigation equipment.

As World War II approached, Cochran worked to encourage more women to join the war effort. The British Ferry Command hired Cochran to recruit women to fly planes from factories in the US to bases the UK, and she became the first woman to fly a military bomber on a transatlantic flight in 1941. In 1943, Cochran was named director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). WASPs proved vital to the war effort, and Cochran helped to train over a thousand auxiliary pilots for the military services.

Jackie remained committed to the defense effort after the war and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. She continued to pursue her passion for flying and became a close friend of Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier. Yeager helped Cochran make the transition to jet-powered aircraft, and she wasted little time setting new records. In 1953, Jackie flew an F-86 Sabre past Mach 1 becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier. She went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph (2,300 km/h) in 1964 and no fewer than eight speed records in 1967, when she was over 60 years old!

Over the course of her life, Jackie Cochran earned more speed and altitude records than any other pilot in the world. Cochran was also named an Honorary Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.

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