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Jackie Cochran: Pilot in the Fastest Lane

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Born in 1906 in Muskogee, Florida, Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran was America’s greatest woman pilot: the first to break the sound barrier, first to fly a bomber across the Atlantic, possessor of more than 200 aviation records and the commander of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. Born in 1906 in Muskogee, Florida, Cochran left school when she was eight to work in a textile factory, became a beautician then a salon owner before she was twenty, moved to New York four years later and earned her pilot’s license, becoming a flying saleswoman for her own cosmetics company. Some 25 years later, Cochran reached Mach 2--twice the speed of sound--in a Lockheed F-104, having already become a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Intelligent, brash, determined, courageous, and ambitious, she counted presidents Eisenhower and Johnson among her friends, as well as national leaders in business, Congress, and military and commercial aviation.

Drawing upon previously unpublished information about Cochran’s early years and her first marriage, and on her extensive correspondence with U.S. presidents, Air Force generals, aircraft designers, test pilots, and business tycoons, Rich shows Cochran’s many contrasts. Seen by enemies as an egotistical master of self-promotion, she was nevertheless capable of loyal and abiding friendships. And although her personality was sometimes abrasive, she used it to accomplish impressive results, including her work on behalf of an independent Air Force. She actively opposed early feminists and, though she was responsible for the groundbreaking formation of the WASP, she was instrumental in delaying the acceptance of women as astronauts.

Rich brings clarity, detail, and objectivity to a life story that had until now remained vague, contrived from hearsay and controversy. This first extensive critical biography puts Cochran’s great talents and achievements in the context of her turbulent personal life to create a portrait of a remarkable, complicated woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

When asked by Amelia Earhart's husband what her ambitions were, Jackie Cochran sneered, "To put your wife in the shade." Cochran succeeded. History has proven Earhart to be the favorite, but Cochran undoubtedly was the superior pilot: determined to be not just the best woman pilot but to be the best pilot, period, she broke countless aviation records for speed, altitude and distance. In this biography, Rich (Amelia Earhart) documents the life of the first woman to break the sound barrier and who was instrumental in creating a fleet of female pilots (which she helmed) in World War II. Along the way, she also created a cosmetics company for which the motto was "Wings to Beauty." That's not to say that Cochran was always likable. She was scheming, manipulative and known to bend the truth so it would work to her advantage. Rich thoroughly researched Cochran's life, a challenge given that Cochran frequently created facts to best suit her needs (she said, for instance, that she was an orphan, a claim that has been disputed by her family). Aeronautics buffs will appreciate the details of the aircraft Cochran flew, and while the drama of Cochran's many harrowing flights and near-miss accidents is never fully realized, Rich gives Cochran her rightful place in aviation history. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

At the time of her death on August 9, 1980, Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran—recipient of America's Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Legion of Merit—held more speed, altitude, and distance records (200-plus) than any other pilot, male or female, in the history of aviation. Journalist Rich's (The Magnificent Moisants: Champions of Early Flight) balanced appraisal of Cochran's early life and career relies heavily on its subject's voluminous papers (collected at the Eisenhower Presidential Library) and first-time interviews with Cochran's surviving siblings. Rich admits that Cochran's reputation as an arrogant, impatient, and demanding person is richly deserved, citing her abrasiveness as the undoing of several of her pet projects (e.g., her opposition to women's rights and to NASA's acceptance of female astronauts cost her many supporters). In the end, however, Rich reminds us that this remarkable lady, despite her shortcomings, reached Mach 2—twice the speed of sound—piloting a Lockheed F-104 at the tender age of 58. Her craftsmanlike biography of an altogether complex and controversial personality is highly recommended for women's studies and aeronautical collections and appropriate for all libraries.
—John Carver Edwards

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813035062
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 5/22/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,030,703
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Doris Rich was the author of Amelia Earhart: A Biography, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, and The Magnificent Moisants: Champions of Early Flight.

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