Today in Herstory: Jacqueline Cochran Breaks Boundaries in Aviation

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 18, 1953: Jacqueline Cochran has just become the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound – and that wasn’t the end of her record-breaking day.

Cochran talking to test pilot Major Chuck Yeager earlier today.
Cochran talking to test pilot Major Chuck Yeager earlier today.

She broke the sound barrier using two steep dives, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’d accomplished her goal, because ground observers clearly heard a “sonic boom” on the second attempt.

But adding supersonic flight to her already impressive list of feats wasn’t her only accomplishment today at Edwards Air Force Base in California. She also flew faster over a 100-kilometer circular course than any pilot – male or female – has ever done, at 652 miles an hour.

Though the old record she shattered belonged to a man, it was not a “battle of the sexes” in the usual sense. Colonel Fred Ascani, who flew an equivalent course near Detroit at 635 miles an hour in August, 1951, is actually a good friend of hers. When she told him she would like to surpass his speed, he suggested the legendary aviator use her considerable influence to borrow the Canadian version of the Sabre Jet, which has a more powerful engine than the one he used. She took his advice – and his record.

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