Jacqueline Cochran’s life was about risk and about triumph. A successful businesswoman and director of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots in World War II, at the time of her death Cochran held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other pilot, female or male.
Orphaned early in life and with almost no formal education, Cochran learned to fly at age 22, and it became a lifetime passion. The first woman to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race (l938), she established a woman’s altitude record (1939) and broke speed records, as well. After the United States entered World War II, she became director of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, teaching 1,200 women to fly transports and becoming the first woman to pilot a bomber across the North Atlantic. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. In 1953, Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier and published her book, The Stars at Noon. She became the Chair of the National Aeronautic Commission and was enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame in l971, the first living woman so honored.