Jerrie Cobb

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Jerrie Cobb
JerrieCobb MercuryCapsule.jpg
Jerrie Cobb with a Mercury spacecraft
Born (1931-03-05) March 5, 1931 (age 88)
Norman, Oklahoma, U.S.
EducationOklahoma City Classen High School
Aviation career
Known forPart of the "Mercury 13"
First flight1943

Geraldyn M. Cobb (born March 5, 1931) is an American aviator. She was also part of the "Mercury 13," a group of women selected to undergo physiological screening tests at the same time as the original Mercury Seven astronauts, as part of a private, non-NASA program.

Early life[edit]

Born on March 5, 1931 in Norman, Oklahoma,[1] Cobb is the daughter of Lt. Col. William H. Cobb and Helena Butler Stone Cobb. As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Cobb took to aviation at an early age, with her pilot father's encouragement. Cobb first flew in an aircraft at age twelve, in her father's open cockpit 1936 Waco biplane.[2] At 16, she was barnstorming around the Great Plains in a Piper J-3 Cub, dropping leaflets over little towns announcing the arrival of circuses. Sleeping under the Cub's wing at night helped scrape together money for fuel to practice her flying by giving rides. By the age of 17, while a student at Oklahoma City Classen High School, Cobb had earned her private pilot's license. She received her commercial pilots license a year later.[1] In 1948, Cobb attended Oklahoma College for Women for a year.[3]

Record-setting career[edit]

By age 19, Cobb was teaching men to fly. At 21, she was delivering military fighters and four-engine bombers to foreign Air Forces worldwide.[4]

Facing sex discrimination and the return of many qualified male pilots after World War II, she had to take on less sought after jobs, such as patrolling pipelines and crop dusting. Nevertheless, she persisted. She went on to earn her Multi-Engine, Instrument, Flight Instructor, and Ground Instructor ratings as well as her Airline Transport license.

Cobb went on to set new world records for speed, distance, and absolute altitude while still in her twenties. When she became the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, the world's largest air exposition, her fellow airmen named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. Life Magazine named her one of the nine women of the "100 most important young people in the United States."[4][5]

To save the money to buy a surplus World War II Fairchild PT-23, and a chance to be self-employed, Cobb played women's softball on a semi-professional team, the Oklahoma City Queens.[1]

By 1959 (age 28) she was a pilot and manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company, which also made the Aero Commander aircraft she used in her record making feats, and was one of the few women executives in aviation. By 1960, she had 7,000 hours of flying time and held 3 world aviation records: the 1959 world record for nonstop long-distance flight, the 1959 world light-plane speed record, and a 1960 world altitude record for lightweight aircraft of 37,010 ft.[6] In May 1961, NASA Administrator James Webb appointed Cobb as a consultant to the NASA space program.[4]

Medical testing[edit]

Although she successfully completed all three stages of physical and psychological evaluation that were used in choosing the first seven Mercury astronauts, this was not an official NASA program and she was unable to rally support in Congress for adding women to the astronaut program based solely on their gender. At the time, Cobb had flown 64 types of propeller aircraft, but had made only one flight, in the back seat, of a jet fighter. She had also set world records for speed, distance and absolute altitude.[4]

Although she never flew in space, Cobb, along with twenty-four other women, underwent physical tests similar to those taken by the Mercury astronauts with the belief that she might become an astronaut trainee. All the women who participated in the program, known as First Lady Astronaut Trainees, were skilled pilots. Dr. Randy Lovelace, a NASA scientist who had conducted the official Mercury program physicals, administered the tests at his private clinic without official NASA sanction. Cobb passed all the training exercises, ranking in the top 2% of all astronaut candidates of both genders.[7]

In 1962, Cobb was called to testify before a Congressional hearing, the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts, about women astronauts.[8] Astronaut John Glenn stated at the hearing "men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes," and "the fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order." [9] Only a few months later, the Soviet Union would send the first woman into space,[2] Valentina Tereshkova. Soon afterward, Tereshkova ridiculed Cobb for her religious beliefs.[10]

Cobb argued, along with other Mercury 13 participants including Jane Briggs Hart, to be allowed to train alongside the men. However, at the time NASA requirements for entry into the astronaut program were that a pilot be a military test pilot, experienced at high speed military test flying, and have an engineering background enabling the pilot to take over controls in the event it became necessary. An exception was not made for Cobb.[11] Executive Assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Liz Carpenter, drafted a letter to NASA administrator James E. Webb questioning these requirements, but Johnson did not send the letter, instead writing across it, "Let's stop this now!"[12][6][13]

Later life[edit]

Cobb then began over 30 years of missionary work in South America, performing humanitarian flying, e.g., transporting supplies to indigenous tribes, and surveying new air routes to remote areas. Cobb has been honored by the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, French, and Peruvian governments.[4][14] In 1981 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.[1]

In 1999, the National Organization for Women conducted an unsuccessful campaign to send her to space to investigate the effects of aging, as John Glenn had been.[1]

She has received numerous aviation honors, including the Harmon Trophy and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale's Gold Wings Award.[4]



 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. ^ a b c d e Hargrave, The Pioneers Monash University, Australia Accessed March 12, 2010
  2. ^ a b Jerrie Cobb “Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot” (Autobiography) Pilot, Accessed March 12, 2010
  3. ^ "Cobb, Jerrie 2003," University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Accessed April 2, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Internet Encyclopedia of Science, Aviation Pioneers Accessed March 12, 2010
  5. ^ John Shepler "Astronaut Jerrie Cobb, The Mercury 13 Were NASA's First Women Astronauts" Accessed March 12, 2010
  6. ^ a b Kelli Gant Women in Aviation The [Ninety-Nines]Inc., Accessed March 12, 2010
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Qualifications for Astronauts: Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts Archived December 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, U.S. House of Representatives, 87th Cong. (1962)
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Girl Cosmonaut Ridicules Praying of U.S. Woman Pilot". The Racine Journal-Times. July 7, 1963. p. 5. Retrieved August 18, 2014 – via open access
  11. ^ Tanya Lee Stone. "Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream". Candlewick Press Somerville, MA, 2009 p. 64.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Stephanie Nolen. "Promised the Moon: The untold story of the first women in the space race". Penguin Books Canada, Toronto, 2002. p. 300.
  14. ^ ,"UW Oshkosh Mercury 13 biography" University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh
  15. ^ Jerrie Cobb jerrie_cobb_facts.html Jerrie Cobb, Facts(Autobiography) Accessed March 13, 2010
  16. ^ Albin Krebs (September 21, 1973)5 Top Pilots Cited, New York Times, Accessed March 13, 2010
  17. ^ Jerrie Cobb Factsheet Jerrie Cobb Foundation
  18. ^ "Women in Aviation-Pioneers" Archived January 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Women in Aviation Accessed March 3, 2010
  19. ^ Commendation-Cobb University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh Accessed March 12, 2010

^ Ackmann, Martha, The Mercury 13.


Weitekamp, Margaret (2004). Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America's First Women in Space Program. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7994-9. Ackmann, Martha (2003). The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight. Random House. ISBN 0-375-50744-2.

External links[edit]