In 1964, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock, a relatively untested pilot, accomplished what Amelia Earhart could not by becoming the first woman to fly solo around the world. Mock died on Tuesday at her home in Quincy, Florida. She was 88. Her grandson, Chris Flocken, confirmed her death.
When she took off on March 19, 1964, from Columbus, Ohio, Mock was a 38-year-old homemaker and recreational pilot who had logged a meager 750 hours of flight time. She returned on April 17 — 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes later — after a 37,000km journey over the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Pacific.
She was stalled by high winds in Bermuda and battled rough weather between Casablanca, Morocco, and Bone, Algeria. She navigated 2,092km over the Pacific from Guam to Wake Island without the benefit of ground signals. Between Bangkok and Manila, she flew over embattled Vietnam.
“Somewhere not far away, a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful,” she wrote later.
Mock and her husband, Russell, were half-owners of the plane, an 11-year-old single-engine Cessna 180 named the Spirit of Columbus (evoking the Spirit of St Louis plane Charles Lindbergh flew in becoming the first person to cross the Atlantic solo 37 years earlier).
The Mocks’ plane was modified for the journey. Three of its four seats were removed and fuel tanks installed in their place. The radio and navigational equipment was augmented, although, as she recounted in her 1970 book Three-Eight Charlie (a reference to the plane’s serial number, which ended in 38C), she soon discovered that a crucial radio wire had been disconnected, leaving her cut off from the ground during the first leg of the trip.
That summer, Flying magazine asked Mock why she had undertaken the treacherous journey alone and she replied: “It was about time a woman did it.”
The first circumnavigation of the globe by a solo flyer is generally credited to Wiley Post, a Texan whose 1933 trip began and ended not quite eight days later at Floyd Bennett Field in New York. Four years later, Earhart, trying to do the same with navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific.
Mock had competition when she made her flight. On March 17, 1964, — the 27th anniversary of Earhart’s departure and two days before Mock took off — Joan Merriam Smith, a more experienced pilot flying a more powerful plane, embarked from California on her own planned flight around the world.
The women contended that they were not racing, but Mock’s husband, an advertising executive who recognized the commercial possibilities of his wife’s venture, urged her to press ahead during her trip.
At one point, Mock told her husband over the phone: “If you call me again to talk about Joan, I’ll come home on an airliner,” and hung up.
In the end, Smith was hit by mechanical problems and bad weather, and finished her journey on May 16.
Mock was born Geraldine Lois Fredritz on Nov. 22, 1925, in Newark, Ohio. When she was seven, her parents took her to a local airport for a short airplane ride. Enthralled, she declared she wanted to be a pilot and grew up idolizing Earhart.
“I did not conform to what girls did,” she said. “What girls did was boring.”
She studied aeronautical engineering at Ohio State University, but left to marry Mock, who was also interested in flying. They settled in Bexley and had three children.
Jerrie Mock said her trip came about because of an offhand remark by her husband after she said she was bored.
“Maybe you should get in your plane and just fly around the world,” her husband said.
“Alright, I will,” she replied.
Mock’s feat has largely been overlooked in popular history; she is not an inductee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, but she was celebrated at the time. The Columbus Evening Dispatch, her hometown paper and a sponsor, splashed her return across the front page.
In a White House ceremony, former US president Lyndon B. Johnson presented her with the Gold Medal Award on behalf of what is now the Federal Aviation Administration.
Yet Mock did not care for the trappings of fame, telling news Web site BuzzFeed this year that “the kind of person who can sit in an airplane alone is not the type of person who likes to be continually with other people.”
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