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Jackie Cochrane

During her aviation career, Jackie Cochran set more speed and altitude records than any other man or woman

Jackie Cochran grew up in rural Florida and began her career as a beautician.  She moved to New York City where she eventually wanted to enhance her career by starting her own line of cosmetics.  She was hired on at the prestigious Saks Fifth Avenue and made excellent money. In 1932 she met and later married millionaire Floyd Bostwick Odlum.  He introduced Jackie Cochran to flying saying that she needed an airplane to cover the cosmetic business territory.  She received her pilot’s license after only three weeks of instruction.  She loved competition and became interested in air racing.  In 1937, while flying in the National Bendix Air Race, she won first in the women’s division and third overall against some very strong competition. Jackie also set numerous speed records and over her career, won the coveted Harmon Trophy a total of 15 times for the most outstanding woman pilot. In 1938 she won the Bendix Race outright beating all of the men and women pilots. 

When World War II broke out, Jackie formed an organization of women pilots that eventually became known as the WASPs.  This acronym stands for Women’s Air Force Service Pilots.  The WASPs did a great service for the war effort and during its existence over 1000 women pilots enlisted in the program.  Approximately 12,600 planes were ferried to points being used as bases or staging areas for combat in Europe .  Unfortunately, in 1944, Congress disbanded them because a strong male lobby said they were being put out of work by the women.  

After WWII, Cochran returned to air racing and record breaking.  In 1953, special arrangements were made for Jackie to fly a North American F-86 Saber faster than the speed of sound.  If Congress had approved, there is a good possibility that Jackie Cochran may have become the world’s first woman astronaut.  In 1964, she flew a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter at a speed of 1,429 miles per hour, making her the fastest woman alive. 

Younger youth.  Jackie was successful at everything she did, and there are very few people who could equal her multitude of accomplishments.  She excelled in the business world at a time when women did not dabble in industry of any kind.  Not satisfied with her success in cosmetics, she advanced to pilot when flying was still in its infancy.  She proved a most adept pilot and was most successful in flying competitively.   She was invaluable in developing and supporting an indispensable war effort with the WASP Program, and then she excelled as the fastest woman alive.  Even though unable to fly in space, she remained positive throughout her life, and never abused drugs or alcohol.  Her enviable record of achievements is significant for anyone—man or woman, and she still served as a great role model for both boys and girls today.   Jackie didn’t smoke pot or abuse any substances—she got high on life!  She certainly realized  that   to achieve her many goals, she needed to remain drug-free.  Way to be!                  

Older youth.   Do you suppose Jackie Cochran might have encountered harassment as a woman pilot?  After all, at that time in our history, women weren’t expected to perform such roles.  It was a man’s place to play a leading role in the business world.  Certainly it was expected that only men would fly in air races.  After all, men had flown in combat in World War One.  Jackie Cochran never let this bother her in the least.  If anything, it may have fueled her appetite to set new records and win in air race competitions.  In retrospect, these accomplishments really served to prepare her for perhaps her most important role, and that was to organize a much needed women’s air force auxiliary that could help fly and deliver critically needed combat aircraft in support of the war effort.  Who else but Jackie Cochran had the combination of business leadership, the spirit of can-do competitiveness, the flying expertise, and the courage to organize and run the WASPS.  Of course, she could never have accomplished any of this, had she elected instead to indulge in substance abuse.   Fly a plane, much less in competition while drunk?  Hardly—that’s a recipe for a disaster in the making.  Organize a wartime organization to fly and deliver combat aircraft?   No way, not if you’re spending your time getting high on marijuana.  You couldn’t do it even if you wanted to, and smoking marijuana would just about guarantee that you couldn’t even think about it, much less try.  Jackie Cochran knew better, and she lived her life drug-free. She knew that life was simply too important to waste it on such dangerous and self-destructive behaviors.  She lived drug-free.  Way to be! 

          During her lifetime, Jackie Cochran set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot, male or female.  She made an incredible mark on the history of aviation and she truly was one of the greatest pilots of all time.

Imagery Courtesy of EAA / David Higdon Photo
The North American F-86 Sabrejet is similar to the aircraft that Jacquline Cochran flew faster than the speed of sound.

This curriculum is sponsored by the Drug Demand Reduction
Program of the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

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