AIAA

The World's Forum for Aerospace Leadership

  • MY AIAA
  • Donate
  • Press Room
  • Renew
  • View Cart
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

is the world's largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession.

    • ARC
    • AIAA Foundation
    • Industry Guide

    Pioneer Profile

    Jacqueline Cochran (1908-1980)

    Jacqueline-Cochran Born near Pensacola, FL, 11 May 1908 (estimated)
    Died 7 August 1980.

    Because Jacqueline Cochran was orphaned at an early age, an exact date of birth is unknown. She grew up in poverty in a foster home, and reportedly selected her name from a telephone book. At eight she went to work in a cotton mill in Georgia, later was trained as a beautician and pursued that career in Alabama, Florida, and New York City.

    Her most distinguished aviation career began in 1932 when she obtained her pilot's license at Long Island's Roosevelt Field with only three weeks of instruction. From that time, her life was one of total dedication to aviation. In 1935, Cochran became the first woman to enter the Bendix Trophy Race, but her Northrop Gamma was plagued with engine problems. She married millionaire Floyd Odlum, and in 1937 again entered the Bendix race in a Beechcraft 17, taking first place in the Women's Division and third overall flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland, also winning the Harmon Trophy for Outstanding Female Pilot for that year. In 1938 she won the Bendix flying a Seversky P-35, becoming respected by all for her competitive spirit and high skill. Among her last flying activities was the establishment in 1964 of a record of 1,429mph in the F-104, prior to which she was the first woman to break the sound barrier, flying an F-86.

    At the beginning of WW2, she became a Wing Commander in the British Auxiliary Transport Service, ferrying US-built Hudson bombers to England, becoming the first female pilot to ferry a bomber across the Atlantic. At the United States entry into the war, she offered her services to the USAAC and formed the famed Women's Air Force Service Pilots, and was appointed to the USAAF General Staff as director of the WASPs. This more than 1000-strong group played a major role in delivering of aircraft to the combat areas throughout the world. For her service, Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and USAF Legion of Merit, and became the first civilian female to be commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the USAF Reserves. In 1958, she also became the first woman president of Federation Aeronautique International.

    Some of the honors she has been accorded include the Harmon Trophy, the General William E. Mitchell Award, Federation Aeronautique Gold Medal, and decorations from numerous countries. She was enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame 1971 and invested in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1965.

    Visit the United States Profile for more information on American pioneers.

    Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.

    Biography Courtesy of AeroFiles.

    Photo Courtesy of International Women's Air and Space Museum.