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Celebrating Jerrie Mock: First Woman to Fly Solo Around the World

Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock’s journey stands as a landmark in aviation history.

It was on April 17, 1964, that she landed her Cessna 180 at Port Columbus Airport in Ohio, marking the end of a pioneering solo round-the-world flight.

Her adventure began on March 19 of the same year and spanned 23,103 miles over 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes.

After six decades, this remarkable feat continues to be celebrated.

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, honors her achievement by showcasing her aircraft, the Spirit of Columbus, also known as “Charlie,” in the Thomas W. Haas We All Fly gallery.

This 1953 aircraft, remarkable for its reliability and ruggedness, remains a symbol of pioneering spirit.

To further commemorate her accomplishment, the museum organized an event on April 17, 2024, titled Jerrie Mock: Charting New Horizons in Aviation History for the Next Generation, as part of the Aviation Adventures Lecture Series, sponsored by GE Aerospace.

The event featured two notable women: graphic designer Wendy Hollinger and 2017 solo round-the-world pilot Shaesta Waiz, both of whom had personal connections with Mock.

Wendy Hollinger, who assisted Mock with the illustrated reprint of her 1970 book Three Eight Charlie, and Shaesta Waiz, inspired by Mock’s journey, played significant roles in the event.

Hollinger and her partner, Dale Ratcliff, meticulously curated Mock’s photographs and documents to complement her written work. Meanwhile, Waiz sought Mock’s mentorship for her own solo flight around the world, which she completed in 2017.

The context of Mock’s flight is enhanced by the fact that Amelia Earhart’s failed attempt occurred 27 years prior.

Mock’s success paved the way for other women, with at least 10 completing solo world flights in the last six decades, including Zara Rutherford in 2022.

Mock’s inspiration stemmed from a desire to see the world, a passion ignited by magazines and paper maps rather than modern digital resources.

She defied the gender norm of her time, as most pilots then were men weighing around 180 pounds.

Bored with suburban life, Mock earned her pilot’s license at 32 and accrued 750 hours of flight time.

Her husband’s suggestion of a world flight, meant initially as a joke, became a serious endeavor once they discovered no woman had ever completed a solo round-the-world trip.

Preparation involved earning an instrument flight rating and planning a route that exceeded the official distance required for such a flight.

Things got competitive when they learned Joan Merriam Smith also intended to make the journey in her twin-engine Piper Apache.

Although Smith took off two days before Mock, the National Aviation Association designated Mock as the official pilot because her paperwork was completed first. This created an unintended race between the two.

With a departure kiss to her family, the “flying housewife” embarked on her journey dressed in a practical skirt and sweater, appearing more like someone headed to a social event than an aviation milestone.

From the outset, she faced several challenges including radio issues, ice over the Atlantic, and sandstorms in Africa.

Her unplanned landing at an Egyptian Air Force base and the reception in Saudi Arabia highlighted cultural differences and underscored her pioneering status.

Mock’s encounters during the trip were varied and enlightening.

From diplomatic receptions to navigating local customs, she witnessed firsthand the contrasts between her usual life and the diverse cultures she encountered.

Her flight from Bangkok to Manila brought her directly over Vietnam, a region then at war, yet peaceful from her vantage in the sky.

In Manila, the servicing of Charlie at a Cessna repair shop was a welcome sight.

By this time, it was evident that Smith’s flight was not progressing as planned.

Each woman had very different plans and routes for their flights.

Smith intended to recreate Earhart’s equatorial route, starting from Oakland and flying to Miami, down to Suriname, and east across the South Atlantic to Senegal. Meanwhile, Mock’s path was more direct, designed to meet the NAA’s official distance requirements.

The varied pace and route of each pilot meant delays and different challenges.

Smith’s longer route and repair delays contrasted with Mock’s more steady, if not obstacle-free, pace. By the time Mock left the Philippines for Guam, Smith was navigating the Middle East.

Earhart’s doomed flight over the Pacific was a constant comparative topic despite the vast technological and preparatory improvements since then.

Mock flew on with confidence, arriving safely at each destination, though she missed a celebratory luau in Hawaii due to her husband’s overly cautious planning.

From the beginning to the end of her journey, Mock encapsulated the spirit of aviation and exploration, meeting every challenge head-on with perseverance and skill.

Her legacy, preserved in both her writings and the ongoing celebrations of her achievements, continues to inspire future generations of aviators.

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