Geraldine Mock and the Spirit of Columbus

Jerrie Mock and the Spirit of Columbus
Jerrie Mock in the Spirit of Columbus, her airplane for the around-the-world flight.

Ask the average person on the street, “Who was the first woman to fly around the world solo?” and you’ll likely hear, “Amelia Earhart.” Of course, they would be wrong. Ask that same question of a pilot and you’ll get a blank stare. That’s because most pilots know that someone must have done it, but they aren’t sure who.

So who was the first woman to accomplish such a feat? The answer will surprise you. It was a very unassuming housewife and mother of three children from Columbus, Ohio, named Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock.

History has only given a slight nod to Mrs. Mock’s accomplishments and that is all right with her. Geraldine never set out to do something so incredible for the publicity; she did it to satisfy her sense of adventure and a yearning to go and do what others have only dreamed of doing. In 1964, her achievement was somehow overshadowed, by the civil rights movement, the invasion of the Beatles, and the space race.

Geraldine Mock was born in 1925 in the small town of Newark, Ohio. She never really liked girly trappings, although she is certainly a lady; she was more inclined to build stuff and learn how things worked. She attended The Ohio State University where she was the only woman in her aeronautical engineering class. Jerrie has loved airplanes since her first ride as young girl in a Ford Trimotor.

In 1945 she married Russell Mock and they settled into the Bexley area of Columbus. As a stay-at-home mom, Jerrie was not the kind of woman who was satisfied by tea parties and playing cards. She needed to pursue her passions. She took up flying and jumped in with both feet.

By 1962, she needed to stretch her goals further. Her husband suggested she fly around the world. This was likely a flippant comment, but it resonated with Jerrie. She started planning. Amazingly, she discovered that no woman had ever flown around the world solo!

The Columbus Dispatch was the lead sponsor of her epic flight along with a host of others. Her steed would be a used 1953 Cessna 180 (N1538C), named Spirit of Columbus, purchased by her husband and a friend. Three-eight Charlie was modified to carry 178 gallons of fuel and fly 25 hours without stopping.

With a fresh instrument rating and less than 800 hours total time, she left Columbus on Thursday, March 19, 1964, to fly solo around the world from West to East.

Jerrie Mock with LBJ
President Johnson presents Mock with the Federal Aviation Award.

Her first stop was Bermuda and then on to the Azores, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, Wake, and Hawaii.

She flew 23,206 miles through severe weather, over vast deserts and lonely oceans — all in an era predating GPS. The trip took 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes, returning back to Columbus on Friday, April 17, the same day “Can’t Buy Me Love,” by the Beatles, went #1 on the pop charts.

Appropriately, Jerrie has dozens of records and awards; foremost she is the first woman to fly around the world solo as recognized by the National Aeronautic Association.

The book she wrote about her adventure, Three-eight Charlie, is long out of print and there is at least one screenplay being shopped around, but there are no plans to make a film as of this writing. I know it would make an incredible motion picture; too bad Hollywood would rather spend millions on movies like FLIGHT.

Jerrie Mock represents what America is all about: an ordinary person has an extraordinary dream and makes it come true! In Jerrie’s case, a middle-aged, suburban housewife from the Midwest is juxtaposed against a record-setting flight that was not only dangerous, but took a great deal of skill and daring to accomplish.

The next time you run into someone interested in flying who says they can’t do it; tell them about Jerrie Mock.

32 Comments

  • Thanks for that.

    I’ve been flying since 1956 to now, and seemingly read just about everything about personal flying. However, I don’t recall this feat.

    Thx,

  • Edd,

    I have thought that if this would have occurred today with all of our internet and social media connections, it would be a huge world event. Look at how much attention the Redbull Stratos skydive got….it was certainly a different time.
    Brent

  • I remember reading about her flight in 1964 – likely in aviation publications, but also AP dispatches – while working at Cape Canaveral for Boeing. It was a thrilling time to be involved in the space programs, but her achievement sure resonated with me!

  • I lived in Circleville, Ohio at the time Jerrie flew around the world. I was fascinated about the detailed preparation she invested in her flight. One item I remember was that she installed an overhauled engine and put 200 hours on the engine before starting her great adventure.

  • Thanks for the memory. I began flying in 1963. Purchased a Cherokee 180 and used it mostly for business flying between Wayne County Airport (now Detroit Metro) and various points in northern Ohio – Cleveland, Ashtabula, Youngstown and several others. By flying across Lake Erie I could cut the travel time from 3 to 5 hours by car to less than an hour by Cherokee. I always had a life vest on the passenger seat but was still always quite uneasy during the short duration over the water. Then I read about Jerrie Mock! Did I feel like a pansy! She was (is) some gal. By the way – an experienced pilot friend of mine gave me a subscription to AIR FACTS when I got my license and told me it was the best reading a pilot could have. He was right, I kept it up.

  • I’m one of the few pilots who know about Jerrie. I read Five Eight Charlie when I was a kid, either elementary or junior high age, years before I started taking lessons. It was an inspiration to me and I still remember bits of the book. Jerrie is a true adventurer and a fine pilot.

  • Boy, we dropped the ball on that one! I never heard of her and I was living in western PA back then. You know what’s cool? That she just did it, just to do it, not because she was going to be a Celebrated Event. Way to go, girl!

  • I was fortunate enough to have had one of Jerry’s daughters in my class at Bexley. Having a famous Mom like this meant we all got to meet Jerry on more than one occasion when she would come in and tell her tale.

    Quite a woman for her time and for the present!

  • I first heard of Mrs. Mock while browsing in a library. A book showing photos of various aircraft instrument panels features her panel. I don’t remember the name of the book or the author. That flight was a combination of two greats. (Not to mention her husband who encouraged her) Firstly, a great lady pilot. Secondly, a great airplane, the Cessna 180. I have been flying a 1966 Cessna 180H since 1976. It has taken me far afield and brought me back home too. In my case however, there was more involved than a good airplane. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Captain, I’m just the co-pilot.

    • That’s a fair question. Amelia was renowned mostly because she was doing record setting flights in aviation’s infancy. She set numerous records and helped put flying on the map, not just for women, but also men. She was very much in the public eye.

      Earhart was unfortunately lost along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, attempting to circumnavigate the world in 1937 in a Lockheed Electra – a full 27 years before Jerrie did in a single engine airplane with no navigator…

  • Jerrie Mock is still alive and lives in FL. A few years back she attended a Skywagons (180/185) Convention. She was a hit! She did this flight while my mom was actually taking flying lessons in the 180 I still own, so it was big news for us. I visit Jerrie’s airplane at Udvar Hazy every chance I get.

  • I am delighted to share with this group that Three Eight Charlie is being republished and will be available again in April 2012. I became involved in the project after meeting Jerrie’s sister, Susan Reid, who spearheaded fundraising to place a bronze statue of Ms. Mock in her home town of Newark, OH. I then had the great good fortune to spend time with Jerrie in FL, photographing all her awards and memorabilia, and to receive her permission to republish the book. I am proud to be working with her now to accomplish this!

  • Yet another of the epic achievements that get overshadowed by trivia. I would love a copy of Three-Eight Charlie. Anyone know if it will be reprinted. Great achievement by a great lady.
    Tony in the UK

  • Tony, see earlier comments, apparently Wendy is aware of work in progress to republish. I for one would certainly welcome this.

  • I am pleased to make you aware that a 50th Anniversary edition of Jerrie’s book, Three-Eight Charlie, is now available for purchase at http://www.38Charlie.com. It is a full color, serial numbered limited edition, with a gold embossed cover. We have included many of Jerrie’s maps, weather charts, and photos which embellish the story.
    A statue of Jerrie will be unveiled in her home town of Newark, OH on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 2:00 at The Works. EAA 402 will provide shuttle service for anyone who flies into KVTA.
    We have a stamp campaign in process, and we are now raising money through the Jerrie Mock Pilot Fund at the Columbus Foundation to place a sculpture in the Columbus airport. We hope to have that statue installed ON the 50th anniversary of her return to CMH (April 17, 2014.)
    For information about The Works, visit: http://www.attheworks.org
    For information about the sculptor, visit: http://www.chrysalissculpturestudio.com
    To donate to the CMH sculpture fund, visit: https://tcfapp.org/donation?f=2699
    To purchase the book, and for information about upcoming events and ways you can support these efforts, periodically visit: http://www.38Charlie.com
    We will be in the Author’s Corner at Oshkosh Fri and Sat, and I will be speaking about Jerrie in the Forum on Saturday afternoon. The book will be available in the warehouse, and in booth 827.
    I am passionate about getting Jerrie’s story out, and serving as a nexus for events and information about her. Please feel free to contact me directly at 740-587-3659 or wendy@phoenixgraphix.us
    Wendy Hollinger, Phoenix Graphix Publishing Services
    Student pilot, Cherokee 180 owner, WAI and EAA member, and general Jerrie Mock cheerleader

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