Jacqueline Cochran (May 11, 1906 – August 9, 1980) was a pioneer United States aviatrix.
Bessie Lee Pittman was born in Muscogee, Florida, the youngest of the five children of Mary (Grant) and Ira Pittman, a poor mill worker who moved from town to town in search of work. As a child, Bessie possessed an unusual amount of drive and ambition and at age 15 left her home in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, working as a hairdresser until she wound up in New York City. There, she used her looks and driving personality to obtain a job at a prestigious salon in Saks Fifth Avenue department store.
The impoverished Bessie Pittman became the beautiful and talented Jacqueline Cochran who met Floyd Bostwick Odlum, the middle-aged founder of Atlas Corp. and CEO of RKO in Hollywood. Widely reputed to be one of the 10 richest men in the world, Floyd Odlum quickly became enamored and offered to help her establish a cosmetics business. Despite her lack of education, Ms. Cochran had a quick mind and an affinity for business and the investment proved a lucrative one. Later, in 1951, she would be voted one of the 25 outstanding businesswomen in America by the Boston Chamber of Commerce. In 1953 and 1954 the Associated Press named her "Woman of the Year in Business."
After a friend offered her a ride in an aircraft, a thrilled Jacqueline Cochran began taking flying lessons at Roosevelt Airfield on Long Island. A natural, she was quickly flying solo and within two years obtained her commercial pilot's license. Her companion, Floyd 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, her husband used his Hollywood connections to get Marilyn Monroe to endorse her line of lipstick.
Contributions to aviation
Known by her friends as "Jackie," and maintaining the Cochran name, she began competing in both American and international air races, at first being denied entry at home in the Bendix trophy Los Angeles, California to Cleveland, Ohio race because officials restricted entrants to men only. Cochran pressed the issue until officials relented and allowed her and fellow aviatrix Amelia Earhart to participate. Cochran would go on to win the event. With her growing fame, and association with the wealthy elite, she was frequently interviewed by the press and she made up a story about being adopted to avoid dealing with the reality of her estranged and impoverished family.
In 1939, she set a new altitude and international speed record, receiving the Clifford Burke Harmon Trophy as the outstanding woman flier in the world five times. Before the U.S. 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 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, recruiting qualified women pilots in the United States and taking them to England where they joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. Following America's entry into the War, in 1942 she was made director of women's flight training for the United States. As head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) she supervised the training of more than a thousand women pilots. For her war efforts, she received the Distinguished Service Medal (USA).
At war's end, she was hired by a magazine to report on global post-war events. In this role, she witnessed Japanese 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. Following the end of the War, she pursued flying the new jet engine aircraft going on to set numerous records. 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 Colonel.
From numerous countries around the world, she was given citations and decorations. 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 Federation Aeronautique 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 (USA) and the Legion of Merit.
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 F86 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. She was also the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, the first woman to reach Mach number 2, the first woman to pilot a bomber across the North Atlantic (in 1941), the first woman enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, the first pilot to make blind (instrument) landing, the ONLY woman to ever be President of the Federation Aeronautique lnt'l (58-61), 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.
Politically ambitious, she ran for Congress in her California home district as the candidate for the United States Republican Party. Although she defeated a field of five male opponents to win the Republican nomination, in the general election she lost to the United States Democratic Party candidate and first Asian-American Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund. Her political setback was one of the few failures she ever experienced and never attempted another run. It has been said by those who knew Jacqueline Cochran that the loss bothered her for the rest of her life. However, as a result of her involvement in politics and the military, she would become close friends with Dwight D. 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. 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.
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.
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 airshow 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.
In 1971 she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She became the first woman to be honored with a permanent display of her achievements at the United States Air Force Academy. In 1996, the United States Post Office honored her with a postage stamp. She was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993. She is one of the 2006 inductees into the Lancaster, California Aerospace Walk of Honor
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/