Cochran, Jacqueline


1940 TLS from the pioneer woman aviator, 1st to break the sound barrier, gives recommendations for 1940 Collier Trophy aviation award



Type: Letter
Description:  (b. Bessie Lee Pitman, 1906-1980) Pilot and business executive, pioneered women’s aviation, one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation, 1st woman to break the sound barrier in 1953. She set many records and led the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) 1943–44, which employed about 1000 civilian women to ferry planes from factories to ports. She married Robert Cochran ca. 1920 and after divorce kept “Cochran” and used Jacqueline or “Jackie” as her given name.

She took flying lessons at Long Island’s Roosevelt Field in the early 30s, learned to fly in 3 weeks and within 2 years got her commercial pilot’s license. Floyd Odlum, 14 years her senior and one of the richest men in the world, founder of Atlas Corp. and CEO of RKO in Hollywood married her in 1936. He set her up in a cosmetics business and calling her cosmetics line Wings to Beauty, flew her own plane around the US promoting her products. Years later, Odlum got Marilyn Monroe to endorse her lipstick. 

Cochran was one of 3 women competing in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race, and in 1937, was the only woman in the Bendix Race and with Amelia Earhart opened the race to women. In 1937 she set a women’s world speed record. By 1938, considered the best US female pilot, she won the Bendix, set a transcontinental speed and altitude records, and won 5 Harmon Trophies. At her death, no other pilot held more speed, distance, or altitude records in aviation history than her. 

Before the US entered WW II, she was part of “Wings for Britain” ferrying US-built aircraft to Britain, 1st woman to fly a Lockheed Hudson V bomber across the Atlantic, and volunteered with the RAF. For several months she worked for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), recruiting US women pilots and taking them to England to join the ATA, given rank of Flight Captain (equivalent to RAF Squadron Leader or USAAF Major). In Sept. 1939, Cochran wrote Eleanor Roosevelt proposing a women’s flying division in the Army Air Forces, believing women pilots could do domestic, noncombat aviation jobs to release more male pilots for combat. Cochran wrote Lt. Col. Robert Olds, who was helping organize the Air Corps Ferrying Command (later the USAAF Air Transport Command) suggesting women pilots fly non-combat missions. In early 1941, Olds asked her to find out how many US women pilots there were, their flying times, skills, interest in flying for the country, and personal information about them. Chief of the Army Air Corps Lieut. General “Hap” Arnold had to be convinced women pilots were the solution to his staffing problems. Arnold knew women were successful in the ATA in England and suggested she take qualified female pilots to see how the British were doing. Cochran got 76 most qualified female pilots to fly for the ATA and in March 1942 they went to Britain with Cochran.  

In Sept. 1942, while she was in England, Arnold authorized the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under Nancy Harkness Love. Cochran immediately returned from England to lobby him for more flying opportunities for female pilots. He sanctioned creation of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) led by Cochran. In Aug. 1943, the WAFS and the WFTD merged to create the WASP, Cochran as director, Love as head of the ferrying division. Cochran supervised training of hundreds of women in Sweetwater, Texas Aug. 1943-Dec. 1944 and received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) in 1945, highest non-combat award then presented by the government.

In 1948, she joined the US Air Force Reserve as Lieut. Colonel, Colonel 1969, retiring 1970. During her Reserve career, she received 3 Distinguished Flying Cross awards.

Postwar, she flew jet aircraft, set numerous records, 1st woman to “go supersonic”. In 1952, Cochran sought to best the world speed record for women. Unable to borrow a USAF F-86, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canada’s Minister of Defence let her borrow their sole Sabre 3. On 18 May 1953, Cochran set a 100km speed record of 652.5 mph; on 3 June, she set a 15 km closed circuit record of 670 mph. Encouraged by life-long friend Chuck Yeager, on May 18, 1953, she flew the Sabre 3 averaging 652.337 mph, the Sabre went supersonic, and she was the 1st woman to break the sound barrier.

As a consultant to Northrop Corp. Aug.-Oct. 1961, Cochran set several speed, distance and altitude records. On the last day of the record series, she set 2 FAI world records, taking the T-38 to 55,252.625’ in horizontal flight with peak altitude of 56,072.835’. She was the 1st woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier, to fly a jet aircraft on a transatlantic flight, to make a blind (instrument) landing, only woman to be FAI president (1958–61), 1st pilot to fly above 20,000’ with an oxygen mask, and 1st woman to enter the Bendix Transcontinental Race. She holds more distance and speed records than any male or female pilot living or dead. 

In the 60s, Cochran was a sponsor of the “Mercury 13” program to test women’s ability to be astronauts. Thirteen women pilots passed the same preliminary tests as male Mercury astronauts before the program, never a NASA initiative, was cancelled.

International Aerospace Hall of Fame 1967 inductee, in 1985 the International Astronomical Union named a large crater on Venus “Cochran”. In 1993, she was a National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee. The US Post Office honored her with a 1996 50¢ stamp showing her in front of a Bendix Trophy pylon, her P-35 in the background, worded “Jacqueline Cochran Pioneer Pilot”.

TLS on 10 x 8 “435 East Fifty-second Street/New York” letterhead, 2pps (2 sheets), to George W. Lewis, Chairman, Collier’s Trophy Committee, National Aeronautic Association, Washington, August 1 1940. Cochran writes about difficulty in selecting person or group for the 1939 Collier Trophy, looking at safety or national defense. She notes importance of research in altitude flying and use of oxygen. In that regard, she cites the work of Doctors Lovelace and Boothby at the Mayo Clinic and their development of the oxygen mask. In the field of safety, she nominates “a group of Army and airline pilots and doctors for their outstanding work in safe altitude flying and the application of oxygen in that connection, with special citation of Doctors Lovelace and Boothby of the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Armstrong of Wright Field.” She adds that if this does not qualify in field of safety, she nominates “the commercial airlines of the United States for their outstanding record of safe flying during 1939, with special citation…of Doctors Lovelace and Boothby of the Mayo Clinic and Captain Armstrong of Wright Field flor the contribution they have made to safe flying…in the field of pilot fatigue and oxygen deficiency.” In National Defense, she suggests posthumously citing General (Billy) Mitchell, “…the leader and originator of arguments for a strong air power”, although she recognizes “…that he also became the symbol of a political issue as to making the air force a separate branch” and awarding him could have political consequences.

Cochran mentions “the so-called Davis Wing designed…in the N. A. C. A.  [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, dissolved in 1958, assets given to NASA]  but demonstrated in actual practice for the first time in 1939 by Consolidated Aircraft represents a revolutionary advancement…[with] tremendous lifting power and permits of [sic]  greater speed with the same horsepower.” She also cites the “two stage supercharger demonstrated successfully…in 1939 in Army ships and now in the 4 engine pressure cabin Boings [sic] might also be listed as a possibility.” This last part has been bracketed in red pencil on both sides in margins with “22”.

The 1939 Collier Trophy was awarded to US airlines “for their high record of safety in air travel, with special recognition to Drs. Walter M. Boothby and W. Randolph Lovelace, II of the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research and Captain Harry G. Armstrong of the U. S. Army Medical Corps at Wright Field, for their contribution to this safety record through their work in aviation medicine in general and pilot fatigue in particular.”

 George W. Lewis (1882-1948) Cornell University Masters in  Mechanical Engineering 1910, head of research at Clarke Thomson in Philadelphia, private foundation for promotion of aviation and aircraft engines which led to membership on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) Power Plants Subcommittee. NACA’s 1st Executive Officer 1919, Director of Aeronautical Research 1924-47. NACA was an advisory committee of industry and military members, Lewis the liaison between NACA and Langley Laboratory, worked with Congress and with the military. Under him, the NACA made many advances in aeronautics.

In 1934, he was named by former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to the Special Committee on the Army Air Corps (Baker Board). In 1937, he was appointed by FDR to the Inter-American Aviation Conference in Peru, and in 1941 to the US National Commission to deal with Inter-American aviation matters. In WW II, he was a presidential appointee on the National Inventors’ Council.

An NAA life member, served for many years on the Contest Board to ratify aviation performance records, also served on boards or committees to make aeronautical awards incl. the Brewer Trophy, Collier Trophy, Guggenheim Safe Aircraft Competition, Guggenheim Medal, Wright Medal, and Manley Memorial Medal.

In 1936, he was awarded the Daniel Guggenheim Medal “for outstanding success in the direction of aeronautical research”, the Spirit of St. Louis Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1944, chosen by the Royal Aeronautical Society of Great Britain to deliver 1939 Wilbur Wright Lecture in London. Norwich University 1934 Sc.D. (Hon.) and 1944 Ill. Inst. of Technology Eng. D. (Hon.), received US Presidential Medal for Merit & honorary OBE from Great Britain 1948.

Condition: Very good, some pencil notatiions erased, other as noted.

Product Search

Product categories

Quick Links