First Woman to Fly Solo Around the World
When Jerrie Mock landed her single engine Cessna airplane in Columbus, Ohio in April of 1964 after her around the world flight, she entered modern aviation history. After nearly 30 days, with 21 stopovers, and flying nearly 23,000 miles—she was the first woman to fly solo around the world—and also to do it in a single-engine plane.
Born in November, 1925 in Newark, Ohio, Geraldine “Jerrie” Fredritz Mock first developed an interest in flying when she was about seven when she and her father traveled in the cockpit of an old Ford Trimotor plane. This first experience continued to inspire her interest in aviation, giving her an ongoing admiration for Amelia Earhart.
This interest was apparently a contrast to the traditional ideas at the time of feminine accomplishments. “I did not conform to what girls did,” she once said. “What girls did was boring.”
In high school she decided flying was her passion and went on to attend Ohio State University. There she took an engineering course, where she was the only girl, but eventually she left her studies to marry Russell Mock in 1945.
She continued her interest in aviation, when she and her husband became part owners in an 11-year-old single engine Cessna 180, which seemed to be the inspiration for her accomplishment. Once when she casually mentioned to her husband that she was bored and wanted to accomplish something he had a suggestion. “Maybe you should get in your plane and just fly around the world,” He said. So she did.
In fact, Russell Mock, an advertising executive, encouraged her from the beginning, as he recognized the commercial possibilities of such a trip.
In 1964 when Mrs. Mock—then a homemaker, mother of three and a recreational pilot—had only about 750 hours of flight time the when the around the world flight became reality. She took off on March 19 from the Port Columbus Airport (Ohio) in the Cessna—dubbed The Spirit of Columbus. This was a tribute to renowned aviator Charles A. Lindbergh whose plane was titled The Spirit of St. Louis. They also modified the aircraft, removing a seat, and installing fuel tanks in that place.
Mrs. Mock flew east, passing over the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, across the Pacific, with stops in such places as Casablanca, Cairo, Calcutta, Bangkok and Hawaii. She returned to Columbus on April 17.
She later described her numerous experiences on her flight. One was when she arrived in Morocco where she was to be the guest of a local flying club. After an evening in a French home she wrote about the contrast between flying and the social hour: “…there were no nightmares of thunderheads over the Atlantic. Dressed in red satin, I danced in marble palaces.” She later took off to continue her flight, and landed in Saudi Arabia. There she was greeted by a group of men who seemed puzzled. As they came near she wrote about one man, “His white-kaffiyeh-covered head nodded vehemently, and he shouted to the throng that there was no man. This brought a rousing ovation.” As a lone woman she was obviously unique at her arrival in a culture where women did not drive cars much less pilot an airplane.
Along the way she was confronted by high winds, and rough weather as she flew 1300 miles over the Pacific, without the benefit of ground signals. Her flight also served to give her an interesting perspective. As she flew over Vietnam as the war was underway, she later wrote “Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above all looked peaceful.”
The first to actually circumnavigate the world was believed to be Wiley Post in 1933. Later of course the feat was attempted in 1937 when renowned lady aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, though she flew with a navigator. Of course she did not complete her flight after she later disappeared over the Pacific.
Though Mrs. Mock’s feat did not attract much national publicity, she was honored locally first in her hometown of Columbus, and in her home town of Newark. However, there were indeed later more honors—President Lyndon B. Johnson presented her with the Federal Aviation Agency Gold Medal in May, 1964. And in what might have been an especially meaningful tribute she received a wire from Muriel Earhart Morrissey, Amelia’s sister: “I rejoice with you.”
She also received congratulations from Ohio Senator Stephen M. Young in a telegram. He wrote: “There may be some doubt about which nation will produce the first person to reach the moon, but historians will always know that the Buckeye State [Ohio] produced the first woman to make a solo aircraft around the world.”
In the coming years Mr. and Mrs. Mock were divorced, two sons died, she gave up flying because of the expense. However, she no doubt enjoyed her grandchildren and great grandchildren with her daughter Valerie.
But the aviation world had not forgotten her. Her plane, The Spirit of Columbus now hangs in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian. And in 2022 she was posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
Mrs. Mock passed away in her Florida home in 2014 and a volunteer pilot took a final flight in a Cessna as her ashes were, as one source put it, “..returned to the clouds.”
When asked if her mother was disappointed her notoriety was so brief, Jerrie’s daughter Valerie had a ready answer. ”Disappointed?” she replied, “No, not at all. She didn’t do what she did for fame or fortune. She like the idea of what was going on in other parts of the world, and she wanted to see it for herself.”
However, she seemed to have retained her sense of accomplishment. In an interview was asked why she’d taken on such a challenging task as flying around the world. Her answer? “It was about time a woman did it.”
Anne Adams is a retired church staffer. She lives in East Texas and has an historical column for a local newspaper. She has published in Christian and secular publications for more than 40 years.
New York Times