|11 May 1906
|9 Aug 1980
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseJacqueline "Jackie" Cochran was born as Bessie Lee Pittman in Muscogee, Florida, United States, the youngest of five children of Ira and Mary Pittman. She left her poor family at age 15 to work as a hair dresser, and worked her way up to a prestigious hair salon at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. She was reportedly married to Jack Cochran at the time, but Pittman, now known as Jacqueline Cochran, insisted that she chose that name to sound more glamorous. In the early 1930s she rode in an aircraft and became interested in aviation. She began taking lessons at Roosevelt Airfield, Long Island, New York, and was flying within three weeks. Two years later, she obtained a commercial pilot's license. In 1934, she flew her first major air race. In 1936, she married the wealthy businessman Floyd Bostwick Odlum, who funded Cochran's cosmetic business. Odlum used her interest in aviation to market the cosmetics, branding the cosmetics "Wings" and advised her to fly in her own aircraft around the country to product the products. In 1937, she was the only woman to compete in the Bendix air race, and later worked with fellow female aviator Amelia Earhart to promote more female aviators for that race. By 1938, she was considered the best female pilot in the United States.
ww2dbaseWhen WW2 began in Europe, Cochran was a part of "Wings for Britain" that delivered American built aircraft to Britain. In 1939, she became the first woman to fly a bomber, a Hudson V bomber made by Lockheed, across the Atlantic Ocean. Remaining in Britain, she joined the British Air Transport Auxiliary to help recruit qualified American female pilots for volunteer service in Britain. In Sep 1940, she wrote Eleanor Roosevelt and Colonel Robert Olds, proposing a women's division in the US Army Air Forces that would pick up the domestic aviation jobs so that there would be more male pilots to fill front line combat positions. Olds responded to her in early 1941, asking her to find out the number of female pilots in the United States, their skill levels, and their willingness to serve. In Jun 1941, General "Hap" Arnold asked her to take a group of qualified female pilots to Britain to learn more from the Air Transport Auxiliary. Out of the 76 women chosen by Cochran, only 25 passed qualification test due to various reasons, and in Mar 1942 they left for Britain, becoming the first American women to fly military aircraft. When the United States entered the war in Dec 1941, the demand for pilots suddenly increased. In 1942, the Women Airforce Service Pilots program was formed by the US Army, and she was placed at the head of it. Between 1942 and 1945, she supervised the training of more than 1,000 female pilots for the WASP program. Her efforts were recognized with the Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Cochran was hired by a magazine to report on global postwar events. In this role, she witnessed General Tomoyuki Yamashita's surrender in the Philippines, became the first non-Japanese woman to enter Japan after the war, and attended the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. In 1948, she joined the United States Air Force Reserve, eventually achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. With the advent of jets, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier on 18 May 1953, the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, the first woman to enter the Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, and many others. Beyond the records for women, she also began breaking records without regard to gender. At the time of her death in 1980, she held more speed, distance, or altitude records than any pilot in the world. Shed died in Indio, California, and was buried at the Coachella Valley Cemetery.
Last Major Revision: Jul 2007
Jacqueline Cochran Interactive Map
Jacqueline Cochran Timeline
|11 May 1906
|Jacqueline Cochran was born.
|9 Aug 1980
|Jacqueline Cochran passed away.
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