Jacqueline Cochran: Record Breaker

Perhaps the most significant women's collection in the Museum's Archives belonged to Jacqueline Cochran who was instrumental in the success of the WASP.  

Jackie Cochran circa 1940.

Orphaned at an early age, the exact date of “Jackie” Cochran’s birth is unknown. However, we do know that her most distinguished aviation career began in 1932 when she obtained her pilot’s license after only three weeks of instruction. From that point on, she dedicated her life to aviation. Participating in her first air race in 1934, she earned the respect of fellow pilots for her competitive spirit and high skill. Her performance in various aviation events of the 1930s is legendary, including the famed Bendix Trophy Race. Additionally, she set a number of speed and altitude records in the 1930s. Later, her 1964 flight in the F-104 Starfighter, she established a speed record of 1,429 miles per hour.

Cochran and the Seversky in which she won the 1938 Bendix Trophy.

At the beginning of World War II Cochran served in the British Auxiliary Transport Service, ferrying U.S. built Hudson bombers to England. With the U.S. entry into the War, she offered her services to the Army Air Corps and was the driving force behind the formation of the famed Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). This group, over 1,000 strong, played a major role in the delivery of aircraft to combat areas throughout the world. For this service she was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal.

WASPs at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas where Cochran supervised training.

After the war, Jackie continued to set speed and altitude records (she was the first woman to break the sound barrier) and was an advocate for equality in the U.S. Air Force. She was also an advocate for the Mercury 13 Program, which was designed to test and train female astronauts. 

Jackie Cochran with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, one of the several aircraft in which she set records.

Some of the honors she has been accorded include the Harmon Trophy, the General William E. Mitchell Award, Gold Medal of the Federation Aeronauteque, and decorations from numerous other countries.

The Museum's collection covers Jacqueline Cochran’s career as a pilot and record holder, and covers her many valuable contributions to the aviation world. This collection contains certificates, awards and honors she earned throughout her distinguished career, as well as newspaper clippings and photographs. The materials cover Cochran’s career from 1939 until 1978 and consist of a variety of materials relating to the life and achievements of this great aviator.

Jackie Cochran was inducted into our International Air and Space Hall of Fame in 1965.  Find out more here, and scroll to the bottom for a video about her life.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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