Flashback Friday: A record-setting flight by a “fast” female pilot

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair F-86 with Chuck Yeager. (Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)

Learn about a record-setting flight and the pioneering female aviator who was at the controls.

On April 22, 1961 a Lockheed L-1329 JetStar flew from New Orleans to Bonn and set 18 world records, according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. And according to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, the flight “…set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”

The pilot was Jackie Cochran, a pioneer in aviation who earned the reputation as one of the top racing pilots of her generation. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier (in the picture she’s talking with Chuck Yeager) and the first woman to be honored with a permanent display of her achievements at the United States Air Force Academy.

During World War II, Cochran was the driving force behind the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Both units played an important behind-the-scenes, non-combat role.

In 1948, Cochran joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel and in 1969 was promoted to colonel. She retired from the Reserves in 1970 and passed away in 1980.

The JetStar used on the 1961 record-seeing trip was named The Scarlett O’Hara by Cochran. It made fueling stops in Gander, Newfoundland, and Shannon Ireland over the 4,300-mile journey.

The Lockheed L-1329 JetStar was the pioneer aircraft in the small-to-medium-sized jet category and was the forerunner to today’s business jets. The JetStar could carry eight to 10 passengers.

The JetStar, which was produced from 1957 to 1978, had a cruise speed of 504 mph and a top seed of 547. It had a range of nearly 3,000 miles with a service ceiling of 43,000 feet.

The JetStar flown by Cochran on her record setting flight in 1961 was acquired by NASA and is now on static display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, in Palmdale, Calif.