On this day in 2014, aviation pioneer Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock passes away. She is best known for her 1964 solo trip around the world—the first time a woman had accomplished such a feat.
Would you believe that Mock undertook the challenge with only 750 hours of flying time under her belt? Perhaps more astonishingly, she was newly instrument rated and had never flown over water when she departed for her record-setting trip on March 19, 1964.
She was called the “flying housewife” at first, but she soon had the world breathlessly awaiting updates on her journey.
Mock had been fascinated by aviation since she was 7 years old. She’d even studied aeronautical engineering at Ohio State, long before women were “supposed” to do that. Yet she didn’t learn to fly a plane until she was 32 years old and the mother of three.
Mock spent months preparing for her trip, but what must she have thought when she learned that another woman was attempting the same feat? Joan Merriman Smith began her trip on March 17, 1964—two days before Mock.
Who would win?
The first leg of Mock’s flight ran from Columbus, Ohio, to Bermuda. Mock was flying a 1953 Cessna single-engine monoplane, which she’d nicknamed Charlie. The trip itself was fairly uneventful (if you don’t count radio problems), but the moments after landing were what Mock really remembered.
“I looked around and realized that the terminal building was about two miles away,” she described. “I’d have to taxi the plane about a mile just to turn off the runway-in-use. . . . I turned the plane crosswind, toward the civilian part of the field, and the forty knots slamming into the side of the big tail kept trying to turn the Cessna back into the wind.”
Charlie started to slowly turn in circles. Naturally, a television crew watched this drama unfold. “I wondered how many of the TV viewers and sponsors back home thought I’d make it around the world,” Mock chuckled.
The next leg of her trip would take her over the Atlantic to the Azores. It was the first time she’d flown under true instrument conditions, alone—and then she found that she was developing ice on her wings! But Mock kept her cool.
“Scared? Let’s not use the word scared,” Mock later said of the trip. “Airplanes are meant to fly. I was completely confident in my plane; I trusted it completely. I had plenty of gas, a good engine. You just kind of used your head.”
Another interesting moment came when Mock accidentally landed at an Egyptian military base. “[T]hree trucks full of soldiers careened around a corner from another taxiway,” Mock said, “raced toward me and slammed to a stop within inches of Charlie.”
Fortunately, a news crew was at her intended destination, Cairo International. Mock couldn’t be detained for too long without raising eyebrows.
Mock finally arrived back in Columbus on April 17. She’d flown 23,103 miles in 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes. Joan Merriman Smith was still stuck in Australia. The “flying housewife” would be the first woman to complete a trip around the world.
As Mock began her descent, she realized that an NAA observer was clocking her official time. “Once my flight was listed in the official record book, never, ever, could another woman try to be the first to fly around the world solo,” she later wrote. “I felt strange. Excited. Humble. Proud. Bewildered.”
Mock was greeted by a massive, cheering crowd. “[T]hey were yelling and shouting. Someone opened the airplane door, and the din was like that of a football stadium.”
Of course they were. She was yet another American pioneer tackling the impossible—and making it possible.