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.
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.