On this day in 1954, Jackie Cochran became the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier. Jackie is known for breaking numerous records as a pilot. She was the only woman to compete in both the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934, and the Bendix race in 1937– which she won, and later worked with Amelia Earhart to open officially to women. After setting a national speed record for women pilots, a transcontinental speed record, and several altitude records, Jackie was considered the United States’ best female pilot. On top of all that Jackie– often called the “Speed Queen”– won five Harmon trophies, was the first woman to fly a bomber plane across the Atlantic, was the first woman to take off and land from an aircraft carrier, the first pilot to make a blind landing, the first pilot to fly without an oxygen mask above 20,000 ft., and more.
Jackie Cochran was also involved in attempts to start flying divisions for women in the Army Air Forces, writing to several people to attempt to get women pilots employed to fly non-combat missions. Finally, in 1941, Lt. Col. Robert Olds responded to her, asking her to compile a list of women pilots and their skills, flying times, etc. She compiled a list and, at the request of General Henry Arnold, brought a group of 76 qualified female pilots (later whittled down to 25 after training) with her to England, to work with the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).
Jackie’s efforts, in part, eventually lead to the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Convinced from her time with the ATA that women could do more than just ferry military craft, she convinced General Arnold to create the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which later merged with WAFS to form the Women Airforce Pilots Service (WASPS), with Jackie Cochran as the Director. Jackie trained hundreds of women pilots in her time as Director, won three Distinguished Flying Cross awards, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, for her service in the war.
To this day, she still holds more speed and distance records than any pilot alive or deceased, female or male.