Jacqueline Cochran

By Peggy Macdonald

Aviator, entrepreneur (Muskogee)

Years: 1906–1980

Remembered for: She was the top woman pilot of the 20th century.

Why you should know her:

Jacqueline Cochran accomplished more female aviator “firsts” than Amelia Earhart, according to her biographer, Rhonda Smith-Daugherty. In 1937 alone, Cochran established three national records, set a new women’s world speed record of almost 300 miles per hour, and flew nonstop from New York to Miami in a record four hours.

An orphan whose birth year is unknown, Cochran grew up in north Florida sawmill towns. Raised by her foster parents as Bessie Pittman, Cochran forged a new identity after an austere childhood. She developed a work ethic that helped her become the top woman aviator of the 20th century and married an equally driven individual, Floyd Odlum, a self-made millionaire who helped fund the production of the Atlas missile through his company, the Atlas Corporation.

Cochran’s most important accomplishment was establishing and leading the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II. Barred from flying combat missions, WASPs performed tasks such as testing and delivering airplanes, paving the way for future female pilots in the military.

In 1953, Cochran became the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier and was voted Woman of the Year in Business due to the success of her cosmetics company. In 1961, she set an altitude record of 53,253 feet and in 1964, she set a world speed record of 1,429 miles per hour. Cochran retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1970 with the rank of colonel. At the time of her death in 1980, Cochran held more airplane speed, distance and altitude records than any other pilot.

Featured imageJacqueline Cochran