March 13, 2014
Quick, name the most famous female aviator of all time? Of course your answer was Amelia Earhart, a revolutionary figure in aviation with a tragic story to boot. However, I contend that Jerrie Mock should have been in your decision set. Wait ... Jerrie Who?
In 1962 Mock, an airport manager in Columbus, OH, and a 500-hour private pilot, was looking for a challenge. Her husband suggested, "Why don't you fly around the world?" and her dream was born. Two years, 250 hours in the logbook, and an instrument rating and Jerrie Mock was ready to make history. She was not alone, however as she was racing against time and competitor Joan Merrian Smith to become the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.
During her 22,860-mile journey Mock battled fatigue, equipment problems including radio malfunctions, rough engines, and electrical fires. The weather was another complication with legs flown through icing conditions, sandstorms, thunderstorms, and excessive heat all adding to her challenges. There were also moments of pilot error; on March 31, 1964 while enroute from Algeria to Cairo she misidentified an airport, accidentally landing at a secret military airport resulting in hours of interrogation before she could continue her journey.
March 19, 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of her historic flight. Over the next 29 1/2 days, she logged 158 hours in her 1953 Cessna 180 Skywagon nicknamed "The Spirit of Columbus" enroute to the record books. Upon returning to Columbus on April 17 she had set two official records according to the International Air Sports Federation (FAI): Female record and speed around the world.
Unofficially she set five additional records:
- First woman to fly solo entirely around the world
- First woman to fly from the US to Africa via the North Atlantic
- First woman to fly across the Pacific in a single engine aircraft
- First woman to fly the Pacific from west to east
- First woman to fly both the Atlantic and the Pacific
The story of Jerrie Mock, Three Eight Charlie, was originally published in 1970 but had since gone out of print and was very difficult to find. As part of the 50th celebration of this flight, Phoenix Graphix Publishing Services has released a new, colorful edition of Three Eight Charlie and it can be purchased on their website. I originally read her book in 2006 and look forward to re-reading her historic tale. I highly recommend her story, not only a tale of an amazing aviation accomplishment but balanced with interesting stores of her time on the ground at each checkpoint.
Asked now about her accomplishment Mock humbly commented, "I was just having fun, it was no big deal." Shortly after completing her flight she had stated, "I hope...that somewhere here and there my just doing something that hadn't been done will encourage someone else who wants to do something very much and hadn't quite had the heart to try it." I sure hope revisiting this accomplishment will help inspire a whole new generation!
Amelia Rose Earhart (no relation to the famous Amelia Mary Earhart who disappeared July 2, 1937) is part of this new generation of inspired aviators. She will be attempting a flight around the world in a Pilatus PC-12NG later this year. I asked her about her inspirations and she commented, "Jerrie was clearly ahead of her time when it came to her adventurous spirit and passion for flight, and she serves as the perfect example for young women looking forward to a future in aviation. Unfortunately, we are still right around 6% when it comes to the amount of pilots that are women, but I am confident that we can increase those numbers over time. Jerrie led by example, not only telling others to go out and seek their strongest passions, rather she lead by showing us what a life filled with flight can lend toward adventure. Jerry is a true pioneer and it is an honor to have her as a role model."
I am hopeful the 50th anniversary of Mock's flight and Earhart's 2014 adventure will inspire more aviation adventurers and increase interest in aviation for girls around the world.
Be sure to check out this Jerrie Mock photo gallery from the Columbus Dispatch and the official Three Eight Charlie website. Also follow Amelia Rose Earhart's around-the-world flight at FlyWithAmelia.org.