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COLUMBUS, April 14, 2014—Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly solo around the world, will be honored as fellow aviators, historians, community leaders, and friends gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her flight.
On April 17, a life-size bronze statue of Ms. Mock holding a globe, created by Columbus artist Renate Burgyan Fackler, will be unveiled at Port Columbus International Airport, the departure and landing site for her extraordinary achievement.
Ms. Mock’s historic 1964 landing will be re-enacted that night during a local chapter of Women in Aviation event by a female pilot guiding a tiny Cessna 180, the same model as Ms. Mock’s “Spirit of Columbus,” that touched down after flying more than 23,000 miles over oceans, deserts,and mountains.
“Ohio’s long and storied aviation history should hold a special place for Jerrie Mock,” said Douglas F. Kridler, president and CEO of The Columbus Foundation.“Accomplishing this feat using the technology of the time was quite remarkable. Jerrie was able to do it because of her careful planning, determination, and bravery.”
The Columbus Foundation has been promoting Ms. Mock’s odyssey by tracking each leg and stop of the treacherous journey on Twitter (@colsfoundation) and the Foundation’s Facebook page. Daily excerpts and images from the flight primarily come from her book about the trek, “Three-Eight Charlie,” the nickname she gave her plane on aviation radios.
Ms. Mock, 88, is retired and unable to attend the celebration, but she has spoken recently about becoming, unexpectedly, the flier who fulfilled Amelia Earhart’s dream.
“I was a little kid in the fifth grade and I listened on the radio to what she was doing,” Ms. Mock recalled about Ms.Earhart’s exploits, including her attempt, accompanied by a navigator, at an around-the-world flight in 1937 from which she never returned.
“Amelia was my hero and I told my friends then, ‘I’m going to fly around the world,’ ” Ms. Mock said, adding modestly that she never expected to become the first woman to do so.
She was a 38-year-old amateur pilot at the time with fewer than 700 flight hours to her credit. One newspaper described her as “a green-eyed Ohio housewife in open-toed shoes.”
The rules of official sanctioning required that only one flier make an attempt at a time. Fearing that publicity would bring a more-experienced woman forward, perhaps one with thousands of flying hours or higher standing in aviation circles, “I had to do my training in secret. I had to keep it quiet,” she said.
Once her plans became public, Ms. Mock recalled, “A female Army pilot said, ‘She’ll never make it.’”
One veteran commercial pilot did decide to make it a race, and the two women were up in the air alone chasing the record in spring 1964, as wire service news reports covered the drama.
The “Spirit of Columbus” was retro-fitted by Cessna Aircraft Co. in Wichita, Kansas, with a giant fuel tank, and a new engine supplied by Continental Motors. It lifted off from Port Columbus on March 19, 1964. Ms. Mock’s compass proved troublesome on the first of her 21 flight legs and her radios were often balky. Her best navigational aid became her own knowledge and planning as the 11-year-old plane pulled her along through history at about 150 mph.
A news wire report filed within minutes of her final touchdown quoted Ms. Mock as saying: “I hope … that somewhere here and there, just my doing something that hadn’t been done, will encourage someone else who wants to do something very much, and hasn’t quite had the heart to try it.”
On May 4, 1964, Ms. Mock received the FAA Gold Medal for Exceptional Service in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, where President Lyndon Johnson declared that the flight demonstrated “the promise of our system,” and showed what women can do when “given the opportunity to fully utilize their talents and energies in meeting the great challenges of our day.”
Her plane hangs in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, a companion facility to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
In setting her solo global record, Ms. Mock also became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans alone and the first woman to cross the Pacific in either direction in a single-engine plane. She set an around-the-world speed record for men and women in an aircraft weighing less than 3,800 pounds.
The Columbus Foundation’s social media campaign is set to entice and excite followers and fans about this largely forgotten piece of history. Fly38Charlie, a Facebook page created by the publisher of the 50th anniversary edition of “Three-Eight Charlie” is also following the route.
About The Columbus Foundation
The Columbus Foundation is the trusted philanthropic advisor® to more than 2,000 individuals, families, businesses, and communities that have created unique funds to make a difference in the lives of others through the most effective philanthropy possible. Serving the region for 70 years, The Columbus Foundation is the seventh largest community foundation in the United States. The Foundation’s online giving marketplace, PowerPhilanthropy®, makes it possible for everyone to access valuable information about nonprofit organizations in central Ohio.