The first woman pilot to break the sound barrier, Jacqueline
Cochran was born Bessie Pittman in Muscogee, Florida in l906. As a child
she moved from town to town in the Panhandle of Florida where her father
was a lumberman and her mother cooked in the mess hall. At eight she
left school to work on the night shift in a Columbus, Georgia, textile
factory. Two years later she was hired as a maid by the owners of a
beauty shop in Columbus where she learned the beauty trade. During the
following l5 years the bright, ambitious woman - a self-taught reader
- trained as a nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, working briefly for a doctor
in Bonifay, Florida, before returning to beauty salons in Mobile, Pensacola
In l928 Bessie with the new name, Jacqueline Cochran, moved to New York
City, working for a famous hairdresser with a second salon in Miami.
There she met her future husband, lawyer-financier Floyd Odlum. In l932,
after six weeks of flying lessons she was licensed, beginning a lifetime
career as a record-breaking pilot. She also founded her business, Jacqueline
Cochran Cosmetics Company.
During the Second World War she recruited 24 American women pilots to
ferry planes in England. Returning to the U.S. in l942 she became commander
of the WASPs, (Women's Air Force Service Pilots) until they were disbanded
after Congress refused them membership in the Army Air Force.
A Lt. Col. in the Air Force Reserve, Cochran traveled the post-war world
building her business and meeting with presidents, kings and prime ministers.
In l952 she turned to politics, running for Congress but lost.
A year later in l953 at the age of 47 she flew faster than sound reaching
Mach One with Chuck Yeager as her wingman. A decade later she doubled
that speed in a Lockheed Starfighter TF l04G.
At their ranch in Indio, California Cochran and Odlum entertained business
leaders, generals and admirals, pilots, movie stars and two presidents,
Eisenhower and Johnson, on one occasion both on the same afternoon.
When Cochran died in l980 she held more speed records than any other
pilot in the world. Among the honors given her were the Distinguished
Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion of
Honor, and medals or wings of Belgium, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and Romania.