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On March 19, 1964, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock and The Spirit of Columbus, her 1953 Cessna 180 single-engine monoplane, took off from Columbus, Ohio. During her historic flight, she traveled 23,103 miles in just under 30 days. The trip lasted a total of 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes. She was the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world.
Jerrie Mock was one of the first aeronautical engineering students at the Ohio State University. Her husband, Russell Mock, was a pilot and not only inspired Jerrie to become a pilot herself, he encouraged it.
The mother of three deemed herself “the flying housewife” and worked hard to get 750 hours of flight time under her belt by the time she made her trip in 1964.
With some help from her husband and his colleagues, Jerrie Mock found herself in the cockpit of The Spirit of Columbus. The Cessna 180 had been given several updates to help prepare the aircraft for the long distance journey. This included a new engine, radio direction finders, and both long and short-range radios for communication.
The pilot also brought along a typewriter so that she could type personal letters and articles for the Columbus Dispatch while she traveled. Mock and her family lived in Bexley when she left for her excursion.
Every hero has a rival
The Ohio native discovered a rival in Joan Merriam Smith. They were unaware of the competition until they were filing their routes with the National Aeronautic Association and learned of the other’s plans. Both began racing to become the first woman to successfully fly around the world.
The National Aeronautic Association did not sanction Smith’s flight. However, she planned to begin what she called a sightseeing expedition around the world. She took off from a field near San Fransisco and planned to follow the same flight path as Amelia Earhart. Smith began her journey two days before Mock on March 17, 1964.
Despite her rival’s head start, Jerrie Mock was given the title as the first woman to fly around the world on April 17, 1964. Throughout her travels, she experienced minor technical difficulties and her plane needed a handful of repairs along the way. She was greeted at the Port Columbus Airport by thousands.
Mock’s success came 27 years after Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated attempt to fly around the world in 1937.
In an interview before her death in 2014, Mock was asked how she had felt about the achievement, looking back on it 50 years later. Her response was simple.
“I didn’t think it was such a great thing; it was just lots of fun. It was a good, practical thing that dozens of women, both in the United States and other countries, could have done before I did,” she said. “You just use your common sense, know how to fly the airplane, do what you’re supposed to do, know the routes and all the rules and regulations. Just nobody else had the sense—or shall I say, the stupidity—to try it [laughs]. There were women who told me that they flew because of me. I’m glad I did what I did, because I had a wonderful time.”
Since 2013, the Columbus Foundation has awarded the Spirit of Columbus Award, in honor of Jerrie Mock, to recognize those who exhibit exemplary community spirit through their efforts and accomplishments.
Mock was named the first recipient in 2013, along with Jeni Britton Bauer and David Brown. Additional award recipients include the late Denny Griffith, former Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Tanny Crane, Jane Grote Abell, Michelle Alexander, Columbus’ leading African American artists, those who contributed to the “Save the Crew” movement, and more.
Last year, the Spirit of Columbus was awarded to Dr. Amy Acton, the former Director of the Ohio Department of Health to recognize and honor her outstanding work and leadership in the community, and to represent all of Ohio’s public health workers, first responders, and medical personnel on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 crisis.
For more information about Jerrie Mock and her plane, visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum website. For more info about The Spirit of Columbus Award
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