Jerrie Cobb

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Jerrie Cobb
Jerrie Cobb with a Project Mercury spacecraft
Born(1931-03-05)March 5, 1931
DiedMarch 18, 2019(2019-03-18) (aged 88)
Florida, US
EducationOklahoma City Classen High School
Known forPart of the Mercury 13 (Mercury 13 was a group of women who had training to see if women could go to space)
Aviation career
First flight1943

Geraldyn M. Cobb (March 5, 1931 – March 18, 2019), commonly known as Jerrie Cobb, was an American pilot and aviator. She was also part of the Mercury 13, a group of women who underwent physiological screening tests at the same time as the original Mercury Seven astronauts, and was the first to complete each of the tests.[1]

Cobb set three aviation records in her 20s: the 1959 world record for non-stop long-distance flight, the 1959 world light-plane speed record, and a 1960 world altitude record for lightweight aircraft of 37,010 feet (11,280 m).[2] In 1960,[3] Life Magazine named her as one of nine women of the "100 most important young people in the United States".[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Born on March 5, 1931, in Norman, Oklahoma,[6] Cobb was the daughter of Lt. Col. William H. Cobb and Helena Butler Stone Cobb. From birth, Cobb was on the move, as is common for many children of military families. Weeks after she was born, Cobb's family moved to Washington, D.C., where her grandfather, Ulysses Stevens Stone, was serving in the United States House of Representatives. After Ulysses Stone lost a re-election bid, the family moved back to Oklahoma, where he and Cobb's father worked as automobile salesmen. Once the United States became involved in World War II, Cobb's family moved once again, this time to Wichita Falls, Texas, where Cobb's father joined his active U.S. National Guard unit. The family later moved again to Denver, Colorado, before finally returning to Oklahoma after World War II, where Cobb spent the majority of her childhood in Ponca City.[7]

As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Cobb took to aviation at an early age, with her pilot father's encouragement. She first flew at age twelve, in her father's open cockpit 1936 Waco biplane.[8] 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, she helped scrape together money for fuel to practise 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 pilot's license a year later, on her 18th birthday.[6] In 1948, Cobb attended Oklahoma College for Women for a year.[9]


Facing sex discrimination and the return of many qualified male pilots after World War II, Cobb took on less-sought-after flying jobs, such as patrolling pipelines and crop dusting. She went on to earn her multi-engine, instrument, flight instructor, and Ground Instructor ratings, as well as her airline transport license. At the age of 21, she was delivering military fighters and four-engined bombers to foreign air forces worldwide.[4]

When Cobb became the first woman to fly in the 1959 Paris Air Show, the world's largest air exposition, her fellow pilots named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement.

Cobb played women's softball on a semi-professional team, the Oklahoma City Queens, to save the money to buy a surplus World War II Fairchild PT-23 so that she could be self-employed.[6]

By 1959, at age 28, Cobb was a pilot and manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company, which also made the Aero Commander aircraft that she used in her record-making feats. She was one of the few female executives in aviation. By 1960, she had accrued 7,000 hours of flying time.[2]

In November 1960, following a number of crashes of the Lockheed L-188 Electra, American Airlines' marketing department identified that the aircraft's reputation was poor among women, which was adversely affecting passenger bookings. American Airlines had no female pilots so, in an attempt to win over passengers, the airline invited Cobb to fly the aircraft on a highly publicized four-hour test, her first turboprop flight.[10][11]

In May 1961 NASA Administrator James Webb appointed Cobb as a consultant to the NASA space program.[4]

Jerrie Cobb operating the Multi-Axis Space Test Inertia Facility (MASTIF) at the Lewis Research Center in Ohio. The test simulated bringing a spinning spacecraft under control, and was one of many that the women of the Mercury 13 went through in order to qualify for space flight.[12]

Medical testing[edit]

Although Cobb successfully completed all three stages of physical and psychological evaluation that were used in choosing the first seven Mercury astronauts, it was not an official NASA program, and she was unable to rally support in Congress for adding women to the astronaut program. At the time, Cobb had flown 64 types of propeller aircraft, but had made only one flight in a jet fighter, in the back seat.[4] As a NASA historian wrote:

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.[13]

In 1962, Cobb was called to testify before a Congressional hearing, the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts, about female astronauts.[14] Astronaut John Glenn stated at the hearing that "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".[15] Only a few months later, the Soviet Union sent the first woman into space,[8] Valentina Tereshkova. Soon afterward, Tereshkova ridiculed Cobb for her religious beliefs but sympathized with the sexism she encountered: "They (American leaders) shout at every turn about their democracy and at the same time they announce they will not let a woman into space. This is open inequality."[16]

Along with other Mercury 13 participants, including Jane Briggs Hart, Cobb lobbied to be allowed to train alongside the men. At the time, however, NASA requirements for entry into the astronaut program were that the applicant be a military test pilot, experienced at high-speed military test flying, and have an engineering background, enabling them to take over controls in the event it became necessary. Since all military test pilots were men at the time, that effectively excluded women.[17] Liz Carpenter, the executive assistant to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, drafted a letter to NASA administrator, James E. Webb, questioning those requirements, but Johnson did not send the letter, instead writing across it: "Let's stop this now!"[18][2][19]

Later life and death[edit]

Cobb then began over 30 years of missionary work in South America with MAF, performing humanitarian flying (e.g., transporting supplies to indigenous tribes), as well as surveying new air routes to remote areas. Cobb "pioneered new air routes across the hazardous Andes Mountains and Amazon rain forests, using self-drawn maps that guided her over uncharted territory larger than the United States".[20]She has been honored by the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, French, and Peruvian governments.[4][21] In 1981, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.[6]

In 1999, the National Organization for Women conducted an unsuccessful campaign to send Cobb into space to investigate the effects of aging, as John Glenn had done.[6] Glenn's main purpose was to observe the effects of a micro-gravity environment on the body of an aged individual. Specifically, NASA wanted to see whether the effects of weightlessness had positive consequences on the balance, metabolism, blood flow, and other bodily functions of an elderly person.[22] Cobb believed that it was necessary to send an aged woman on a space flight as well, to determine whether the same effects witnessed in men would be witnessed in women. At 67, Cobb, who had passed the same tests as John Glenn, petitioned NASA for the chance to participate in such a space flight, but NASA stated "it had no plans to involve additional senior citizens in upcoming launches".[23] Many aviators and astronauts of the time[who?] believed that was a failed chance for NASA to right a wrong they had committed years before, but Cobb never reached her ultimate goal of space flight.[24]

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

On March 18, 2019, thirteen days after her 88th birthday, Cobb died at her home in Florida.[24][25][26]

While independent filmmaker Mary Haverstick was researching a documentary she wanted to make about Cobb in 2009 to 2011, she was warned by a high-ranking woman from the US Department of Defense not to delve too deeply into Cobb's life. Her curiosity aroused, further research led Haverstick to discover that another woman, June Cobb, shared an extraordinary amount of biographical detail with Jerrie Cobb. In a subsequent interview, Jerrie Cobb denied she was June Cobb, but said, "I heard she impersonated me for a while." When Haverstick suggested that June Cobb had flown a plane waiting at Redbird Airport, Dallas, on November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was killed, which had been standing on the runway for an hour with engines running, and was rumored to be the get-away plane for Lee Harvey Oswald, Jerrie Cobb reacted strongly, but gathered herself and said, "I was at the Redbird Airport." Haverstick has concluded that Jerrie Cobb was a spy who used the name June Cobb.[27][28][29]

In popular culture[edit]

Laurel Ollstein's 2017 play, They Promised Her the Moon, (revised in 2019) tells the story of Jerrie Cobb and her struggle to become an astronaut.[30]

Sonya Walger portrays the character Molly Cobb, based on Jerrie Cobb, in the 2019 alternate history TV series For All Mankind, in which Cobb becomes the first American woman in space. Episode four of the first season, "Prime Crew", is dedicated to her memory.[31]

Cobb is portrayed by Mamie Gummer in the 2020 Disney+ series The Right Stuff.



  1. ^ Bartels, Meghan (April 19, 2019). "Jerrie Cobb, Record-Breaking Pilot and Advocate for Female Spaceflight, Has Died". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Gant, Kelli. "Women in Aviation". The Ninety-Nines Inc. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  3. ^ "Record free-fall". Life. August 29, 1960. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  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 c d e "Geraldyn M. "Jerrie" Cobb (1931–)". Hargrave, the Pioneers. Monash University, Australia. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  7. ^ Ackmann, Martha (July 1, 2004). The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. Random House Trade Paperbacks. pp. 21, 25. ISBN 9780375758935.
  8. ^ a b Jerrie Cobb. "Introduction". In Dena Hall (ed.). Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot (autobiography). Archived from the original on November 16, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2010 – via
  9. ^ "Cobb, Jerrie 2003". Hall of Fame Honorees. University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Archived from the original on August 9, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  10. ^ Davis, Lou (February 1961). "Electra On Public Trial". Flying Magazine. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  11. ^ Serling, Robert (2017) [1962]. The Electra Story. Endeavour Media. ISBN 9780553288452.
  12. ^ Dunn, Marcia (April 18, 2019). "America's 1st Female Astronaut Candidate, Jerrie Cobb, dies". AP News.
  13. ^ Hahn, Michael (May 13, 2010). "Jerrie Cobb Poses beside Mercury Capsule". Great Images In NASA (GRIN). Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  14. ^ 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)
  15. ^ "Why Did the Mercury 13 Astronauts Never Fly in Space?". Popular Science. July 17, 2016.
  16. ^ "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 icon
  17. ^ Tanya Lee Stone. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2009 p. 64.
  18. ^ "The Space Review: You've come a long way, baby!".
  19. ^ Stephanie Nolen. Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race. Penguin Books Canada, Toronto, 2002. p. 300.
  20. ^ a b "Cobb, Geraldyn "Jerrie" M." The National Aviation Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on July 12, 2019. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  21. ^ "Mercury 13".
  22. ^ Wittry, Jan (April 3, 2015). "John Glenn Returns to Space". NASA. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  23. ^ Ackmann, Martha (November 1998). "Right Stuff, Wrong Time: Mercury 13 Women Wait". The Christian Science Monitor – via ProQuest.
  24. ^ a b Berger, Eric (April 18, 2019). "Jerrie Cobb, one of the most gifted female pilots in history, has died". Ars Technica. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  25. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (April 19, 2019). "Geraldyn M. Cobb, Who Found a Glass Ceiling in Space, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
  26. ^ Smith, Harrison. "Jerrie Cobb, decorated pilot once in line to become first female astronaut, dies at 88". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  27. ^ Haverstick, Mary (November 11–12, 2023). "Space, secrets and the CIA: who was the real Jerrie Cobb?". Weekend Australian Magazine (book extract). pp. 22–27. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  28. ^ Haverstick, Mary (2023). A Woman I Know – Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination. Crown. ISBN 9780593727812.
  29. ^ Andy Kroll (November 15, 2023). "The Filmmaker and the Superspy". The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2024.
  30. ^ Herbert, James (April 5, 2019). "In Old Globe's They Promised Her the Moon women's dreams of traveling into space wind up lost in the stars". San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on April 8, 2019.
  31. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (November 8, 2019). "For All Mankind Recap: The Glass Ceiling". Vulture. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  32. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  33. ^ Jerrie Cobb jerrie_cobb_facts.html "Jerrie Cobb, Facts" (autobiography), Accessed March 13, 2010 Archived October 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Krebs, Albin (September 21, 1973). "5 Top Pilots Cited". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  35. ^ "Jerrie Cobb – Fact Sheet". Archived from the original on June 7, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  36. ^ "Jerrie Cobb". Women in Aviation International. Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  37. ^ Commendation-Cobb University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh Accessed March 12, 2010

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

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