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Jackie Cochran: Pilot in the Fastest Lane

by Doris L. Rich, University of Florida Press, Gainesville, 2007, $24.95.

Jacqueline Cochran led an incredible life. Besides managing a successful business, marrying a millionaire, serving as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, running for political office and socializing with U.S. presidents, by the end of her life Cochran had accumulated more records for speed, distance and altitude than any other aviator, male or female. Feisty and independent by her own description, she was driven by fierce determination to become the most famous pilot in the world. She achieved many aviation firsts, including becoming the first woman to pilot a bomber across the Atlantic and the first to be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Of all her achievements, the most important to Cochran were being the first woman to break the sound barrier (also the first to reach Mach 2) and successfully campaigning for women pilots to fly noncombat missions during World War II. Her efforts resulted in the establishment of an Army Air Forces women’s flying auxiliary. Cochran directed both the civilian Women’s Flying Training Detachment as well as the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots.

Doris Rich has thoroughly researched Cochran and packed every detail she could find into this biography—including some information that has never before been published. The minutiae of the storytelling can sometimes bog down the overall significance of events, but it’s also what makes this a fascinating read. Cochran knew everyone who was flying or building planes, so Rich’s book reads like a who’s who of American aviation between the 1930s and her death in 1980.

Anyone interested in learning more about one of America’s most accomplished female pilots, as well as what it took to be an aviation pioneer, will want to get hold of this detailed and inspiring biography.


Originally published in the May 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here