Although Deborah Fallows, co-author of the fine book Our Towns, accompanied her husband James on many cross-country flights, she admitted about half-way through Our Towns that she knew nothing about Jerrie Mock. Me too. I had never heard of this woman who should be as famous as Amelia Earhart.
Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly around the world by herself. This happened 54 years ago when she piloted a single-engine, 4-seater Cessna 180 from Columbus, Ohio to Columbus, Ohio, in 29 days. Almost no one knows about her feat, which turned into a race.
Fallows judged Earhart to be “fit, dashing, adventurous, and modern” while Mock was self-effacing and “never developed an appetite for the limelight. She called herself a ‘flying housewife and a lady pilot’ “. She was also somewhat inexperienced, getting her pilot’s license when she was already 33 only 5 years before her around-the-world adventure. She earned her instrument rating just before her globe-circling departure on March 19, 1964. Her initial leg, a flight to Bermuda, was “her first over-water flight ever”. She arrived on the island in hurricane-strength winds and had to spend a week there. Ice formed on her wings as she flew from Bermuda to Africa alone. Crossing that continent, she experienced sandstorms and failing brakes. She met all challenges, like “a faulty tail wheel that caused the entire tail section of her plane to vibrate roughly” with a cool, practical head.
Her rival was Joan Merriam Smith, a far more experienced pilot. Smith took off from Oakland, California, a few days before Mock left from Columbus. Smith’s goal was to follow Earhart’s route and fly around the world, but Mock finished 1st. Smith had more weather delays and “mechanical issues” that slowed down her circumnavigation of the globe. She did make it, however, but died about one year later while flying a small plane in California. She’s another mostly unknown hero.
Mock lived to be 88 and died in 2014. There’s a statue of her in the John Glenn Columbus International Airport, but national fame eluded her. Fallows concluded, “I still think of Jerrie Mock as one who slipped away from us before we really knew her”. It seems like every day I hear about someone like Mock who deserved recognition but never achieved it.
ps. Not having a photo of Mock, I used the one that accompanied her Wikipedia profile.