Obit of the Day: The First Woman to Fly Solo Around the World
On March 19, 1964 Jerrie Mock boarded her Cessa 180 Skywagon in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe on her own. The 38-year-old housewife from Newark Ohio had only had her pilot’s license for seven years and never flown farther than the Bahamas. When she took off from the Columbus, Ohio airport she heard the control tower say, “Well, I guess that’s the last we’ll hear from her.” How wrong they were.
Mrs. Mock had learned only two years earlier that since Amelia Earhart’s tragically failed attempt to fly around the world in 1939, no woman had accomplished the feat. “When I discovered no one had, I was rather disgusted that women were so backward.”
In her single-engine Cessna, dubbed ”Spirit of Columbus,” (an obvious homage to Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”), Mrs. Mock flew south towards Bermuda and then east to Africa. She flew the entire distance in a skirt and blouse and occasionally her housecoat, believing that in certain countries she could avoid culture clashes if she dressed more traditionally.
It only took 29 days to circle the Earth and with relatively few problems. She accidentally landed at a military base in Egypt, which caused her to be detained for the day. In Saudi Arabia, officials searched her plane looking for a man. When they learned that she was on her own the crowd of observers applauded her achievement.
She returned to Columbus on April 17, 1964. And although she was briefly honored, including a visit to the White House and an appearance on the Today show, Mrs. Mock was quickly forgotten. As one of her mechanics said, “Amelia Earhart was lost, and that was news. Jerrie Mock wasn’t lost, and that wasn’t news.”
The flight set nine records including first woman to fly the Pacific from West to East, first woman to fly from the U.S. to Africa via the North Atlantic, and first woman to fly both the Atlantic and the Pacific. She also set a Cessna speed record.
Mrs. Mock would fly for several more years, continuing to set speed records but had to give up flying due to the expense. She later moved to Florida where she and friends would visit airports to celebrate events and occasionally head to the skies.
In honor of her achievement, a statue of Mrs. Mock was unveiled at Port Columbus in September 2013. She remained humble about the experience and in a recording played at the ceremony said, “All I did was have some fun. Statues are for generals, or Lincoln.” The “Spirit of Columbus” also hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center of the Air and Space Museum.
Jerrie Mock, who majored in aeronautical engineerng at The Ohio State University, died on September 30, 2014 at the age of 88.
Sources: Columbus Dispatch, LA Times, and Wikipedia
(Jerrie Mock standing next to the “Spirit of Columbus” just moments before she took off on March 19, 1964 to circumnavigate the globe. “The Flying Housewife,” wore the blue outfit for the entire month-long journey. Copyright Sheldon Ross/Columbus Dispatch and courtesy of Air and Space Magazine.)
More aviatrices featured on Obit of the Day:
Violet Cowden - Member of the WASPs
Barbara Harmer - Only woman to pilot the Concorde
Evelyn Bryan Johnson - Most flight hours of any woman in history
Sally Ride - First female astronaut in U.S. history
Nadehzda Popova - One of the Soviet Union’s “Night Witches”
Betty Skelton - “The Fastest Woman on Earth”
Patricia Wilson - Flew for the Civil Air Defense during WWII