Friday, May 17, 2024

Jackie Cochran: Cosmetic Creator, Aviatrix and Sound Barrier Breaker



By Cindy Ervin Huff

Jacqueline Cochran's Air Force Reserve Portrait

Jackie Cochran was born Bessie Lee Pittman in Muscogee, Florida. There are two birth dates recorded for her. Her gravestone 1906 and her Air Force record May 11,1910. She was one of seven children born in poverty. She quit school at nine to work in the cotton mill. At 10 she took a live-in position at a beauty salon and later briefly studied nursing.

When she was 14 (some sources say 13) she married Robert Cochran and had a son. At 15, she left her son with her parents, and moved to Montgomery, Alabama to work in a beauty salon. Her son died three years later, and she divorced her husband, but kept his last name for the rest of her life as she reinvented herself. That began with telling everyone she’d been an orphan that the Pittman’s adopted, even persuading her family to tell the same story.

Her passion for cosmetics led her to New York, where she changed her first name, and she became Jaqueline Cochran. She worked at various Saks Fifth Avenue salons, (the most prestigious in America) from New York to Miami.

In 1932, she met her future husband, Floyd Odlum, a billionaire, who encouraged her desire to start her own cosmetic line. While in New York, she got the flying bug after taking a ride in a plane. She received her pilot’s license in three weeks and went on to get her instrument training license as well. She work furiously adding hours to her flight experience. In 1934, she enters the McRoberts Air Race flying from London, England to Melbourn, Australia. Mechanical problems kept her from completing the race.

In 1935, she established the Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetic company. Floyd encouraged her to fly her products to prospective customers as a marketing stunt. He purchased her first plane and named her cosmetic line Wings of Beauty. She flew sample products around the country, building her distribution and competing easily with Elizabeth Arden and Helen Rubenstein’s beauty products. She developed a lotion for dry skin caused by flying. Jackie always took time after each flight to touch up her make-up and comb her hair. She strove to counteract the non-feminine image the media gave female pilots.

The plane Floyd bought Jackie.The Beechcraft C17L Staggerwing

Jackie wasn’t a casual flyer. She set out to break speed and distance records. In 1938 she won the Bendix Trophy during the annual Bendix Transcontinental Air Race. She’d participated in the three previous years before winning. By 1941 she’d won several speed records, worked as a test pilot, and became part of several flight organizations, including the Ninety-Nines founded by Amelia Earhart.

Her goal was not to be the best female pilot, but the best pilot, period. She spent her life with the encouragement of her husband doing just that.

When World War II broke out, she organized a group of women pilots and they transported bombers to England, then joined the women pilots there to learn how the British facilitated their female pilots to free male pilots for combat missions. Then she returned to the U.S. after Pearl Habor and persuaded Lt. General “Hap” Arnold to facilitate female pilots in the same way. She founded the WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots). Although they served under the Army Air Corps, they were still civilians. The WASP disbanded in 194. These heroic women were finally recognized in 1977 and were finally honored for their service with Congressional Gold Medals in 2009.

Not only did Jackie train female pilots and fly cargo missions, but she was also a war correspondent for Liberty magazine throughout the war. Not bad for someone with a 4th grade education.

After the war she trained under Maj, Charles “Chuck” Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier. On May,18 1953 at the age of 49, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier with a Canadian military jet. The U.S. military did not allow civilians to fly their jets. Jackie went on to break more speed records, achieving Mach 2. Cochran later was allowed to fly a Northrop T-38 Talon, a U.S. Air Force jet, and set an altitude record of 56,071.80 feet. She was awarded the Medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, an international organization for air sports, for accomplishment. Cochran served as the first female president of the organization from 1958-1960.

Jackie after breaking a speed record

In her lifetime she received many awards, among them the Distinguished Service Medal for her leadership in the WASP, and three Distinguished Flying Cross medals. She ended her military career as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. She even ran for office, the only time she did not achieve her goal. She did however help with Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign by persuading Walt Disney to make an animated ad for his campaign.

She worked to get women pilots recognized as capable to be astronauts when NASA was formed. Cochran financially supported the Lovelace’s Clinic Women in Space Program that offered medical testing that duplicated NASA’s tests for prospective male astronauts. Thirteen women passed with flying colors. The clinic was closed when NASA insisted they were not ready to allow women in the space program. Jackie seemed to support the notion that women shouldn’t be astronauts. Some speculated it was because she would not qualify.  

In 1967, a heart condition prevented her from flying jets. However, she continued as a consultant for the Air Force and NASA until she retired in 1970.

In 1973 she and her husband, Floyd, retired to a ranch in Indio, California. Floyd passed in 1976 and Jackie in 1980. At the time of her death she held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other pilot, male or female. Not bad for a girl born in poverty. Her achievements opened the door for women pilots in both commercial and military fields.

Have you ever heard of Jackie Cochran?


Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She is addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater. Visit her website Or on Social media:


Angelina’s Resolve: Book 1 of Village of Women

Proving her skills are equal to a man’s may cost her more than she ever imagined.

Modern-thinking Angelina DuBois is determined to prove her cousin Hiram wrong. He fired her from the architect firm she helped grow when her father’s will left the business to Hiram. Using her large inheritance and architectural degree, she sets out to create a village run by women—Resolve, Kansas.

Carpenter and Civil War veteran Edward Pritchard’s dream of building homes for

Chicago’s elite must be put on hold until he gains references. Serving as a contractor under Angelina’s well-known DuBois name provides that opportunity. But can Angelina trust her handsome new carpenter to respect her as his boss? Will the project take Edward one step closer to his goals, or will it make him a laughingstock? Can these two strong-willed people find love amid such an unconventional experiment? Buy link







1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I had not heard of Jackie, but I don't necessarily pay attention to news from the flying world. And I was busy raising children at this the only flying I was doing was racing after them!!