Meet: Jerrie Cobb, First woman to undergo the testing developed for the selection of the Mercury Astronauts
"I have this feeling that life is a spiritual adventure, and I want to make mine in the sky."
Jerrie's life is a true love story; the story of a woman and the world into which she quite literally plunges, a world that swirls around her and beneath her, that loves her, ignores her, breaks her heart and honors her.
Jerrie was born to fly! From the time she first climbed into a cockpit of a 1936 Waco bi-wing airplane at the age of 12, she fell in love with flying and never looked back. By age 16, Jerrie was barnstorming around the Great Plains in a Piper J-3 Cub, dropping leaflets over small towns announcing the arrival of an on-elephant circus. She slept under the Cub's wing at night and scraped together the gas money to practice her flying by giving rides.
On her 18th birthday, Jerrie received her Commercial Pilot's license and began looking for a flying job. Ironically, the freedom Jerrie experienced in the sky did not did not match her experience on the ground. With the many male pilots available after WW II, no one wanted to hire a girl pilot. She took on the tough, less desirable flying jobs, like crop-dusting and pipeline patrol. She went on to earn her Multi-Engine, Instrument, Flight Instructor and Ground Instructor ratings as well as her Airline Transport license. By age 19, Jerry was teaching men to fly, and by 21, she was delivering sleek military fighters and four-engine bombers to foreign Air Forces around the world, well on her way to becoming one of the world's top pilots.
Following a three-year romance with another pilot, which ended tragically with an explosion of his airplane over the Pacific, Jerrie went on to set new World Aviation records for speed, distance and absolute altitude while she was still in her twenties. When she became the first woman to fly in the world's largest air exposition, the Salon Aeronautique Internacional in Paris, her fellow airmen named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. Life Magazine named her one of the nine women of the "100 most important young people in the United States."
In the infancy of the Space Age, when America began selecting the first astronauts in 1959, Jerrie was picked by the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque to be the first woman to undergo the same physical and psychological fitness testing regimen as the Mercury Astronaut Selection Tests. After weeks of grueling tests, Jerrie passed all three phases with flying colors. Amazed at how well she did in the astronaut tests, Jerrie was asked to recruit 25 other qualified women pilots. Twelve passed the first series of tests, but the American space program did not open the ranks of its astronaut corps to women until 1978
Jerrie was appointed by the Administrator of NASA as consultant to the nation's space program in May 1961, but NASA's requirement that astronauts have military jet test pilot experience eliminated all women since women were not allowed to fly in the military. This was a devastating and unexpected blow as Jerrie was denied the opportunity to be the first woman to fly in space. The 1963 Congressional hearing made it apparent to Jerrie that her dream was lost. A year later, Russia sent the first woman to fly in space, Valentina Tereshkova, a factory worker.
Setting her disappointment aside, Jerrie decided to use her flying talent to serve the primitive people of the Amazon jungle. For 35 years, she has found joy and delight in flying over the enormous uncharted jungle, bringing hope, seeds and help to her primitive friends. She has been honored by the governments of France, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. President Nixon awarded her the Harmon Trophy as the top woman pilot in the world. For her humanitarian work in the Amazon jungle, she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
At age 67, Jerrie is in excellent physical condition and still flies professionally. As Senator Glenn recently returned to space, this courageous woman still hopes to fulfill her lifelong dream of flying in space. As she puts it, "I'd give my life to fly in space. I would have then, and I will now."
A new autobiography, Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot, can be obtained through the
1008 Beach Blvd.
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