Jackie's successes allowed her to become an accomplished test pilot setting many more firsts. Among these was the first pilot to ever fly an airplane fitted with a turbo-supercharger in 1934, the first to fly an aircraft with wing fuel tanks in 1938, and the first to fly above 20,000 ft (6,100 m) while wearing an oxygen mask. Cochran was also employed by the Sperry Corporation between 1935 and 1942 to conduct test flights of gyro instruments that would soon become vital in navigation equipment.
As World War II approached, Cochran worked to encourage more women to join the war effort. The British Ferry Command hired Cochran to recruit women to fly planes from factories in the US to bases the UK, and she became the first woman to fly a military bomber on a transatlantic flight in 1941. Jackie also convinced Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, to support efforts encouraging greater participation of women in defense positions. In 1943, Cochran was named director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). WASPs proved vital to the war effort, and Cochran helped to train over a thousand auxiliary pilots for the military services. After the war, Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her contributions.
Jackie remained committed to the defense effort after the war and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. She continued to pursue her passion for flying and became a close friend of Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier. Yeager helped Cochran make the transition to jet-powered aircraft, and she wasted little time setting new records. In 1953, Jackie flew an F-86 Sabre past Mach 1 becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier. She went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph (2,300 km/h) in 1964 and no fewer than eight speed records in 1967 when she was over 60 years old!
Unfortunately, Jackie began suffering heart problems at the age of 70 and was forced to end her high-speed flying
career. Jackie Cochran passed away in 1980 at the age of 74. Over the course of her life, Jackie won the Harmon
Trophy for best female pilot of the year fourteen times and had earned more speed and altitude records than any
other pilot in the world. Cochran was also named an Honorary Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and
inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.
- answer by Molly Swanson, 27 February 2005
My father always claimed to have been the second person (after Chuck Yeager) to have broken the sound barrier. We never knew for sure if he really did or if he was pulling our leg. Is there any way to find out?
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