Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Aviation pioneer Jerrie Mock leaves high-flying legacy

NY Times News Service

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.

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