March 19th, 196410:23 PM
On this 45th anniversary of the launch of Jerrie Mock's solo flight around the world, I am one of a tiny army of aviators and members of the general public who celebrate her fantastic achievement. And when I say tiny, I am not kidding:
Back in 2000 when I discovered the tale of Three-Eight Charlie had disappeared off the radar screen of aviation history, I was drawn into a quest to find out why. How could a petite but unbelievably driven woman with three kids be the first to fly solo around the world, only to see her legend vanish into thin air? What would make it O.K. for aviation historians to forget about a journey far more complex than Lindbergh's, and seriously more successful than Amelia Earharts? It is incredible that by my own estimation, just four percent of licensed pilots know what Jerrie Mock did. I base that on very informal field testing conducted when I have spoke to large groups of pilots. Trust me, in a group of 50 flyers, I'd be thrilled if two of them know about this story.For nine years, I have sought the answer to these questions. I have amassed one of the most complete collections of research materials and data on Mock's 1964 flight, I have interviewed the pilot in person. I have had unprecedented access to FAA N1538C at the Smithsonian's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, and shot a large amount of detailed archival images of the plane from every angle.
As I wrote the screenplay for the [yet to be made] film, Three-Eight Charlie, I spent long nights scouring this information, trying to come up with the why...why did Jerrie Mock's accomplishment fall through the cracks. As far as I can tell, the reasons are many:
When she returned to Port Columbus Airport on April 17th, 1964, a rousing welcome and wild crowd greeted her. A recent discovery of a man who was there uncovered the fact that as he remembers it, the crowd pushed to surround the plane so tightly that police has to get the crowd under control just so Jerrie could open Charlie's door. So it was obvious that the flight was a really big success - at least in the Columbus metro area. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the excitement level throughout the nation.When Jerrie returned home to Columbus, she was more than happy to become "mom" again. Yes, she was planning some more aviation record flights, but her three kids were far more important than traveling the USA on a Dog and Pony show to promote her flight:
As fast as the story appeared on the front pages of U.S. newspapers, it was just as fast forgotten the minute the fish were wrapped. The year was 1964, and our country's media was more interested in the Vietnam War than a "flying housewife". We had not really moved past the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and let's get real, Jerrie was a WOMAN, and we all know how the male-dominated world viewed that gender in the mid-sixties.So in a flash – poof – the story died. Had she flown the flight today, the mob mentality of the traditional media and their 24/7 news cycles would have made Jerrie Mock an instant celebrity. Her flight would have been tracked in real-time using GPS to send gobs of data to schools around the globe. She would have had onboard video, and would have been podcasting a vLog from high over the Sahara, and text messaging from her fuel stop in Cairo. Oprah, Ellen, Jay, David and Barbara would be battling it out for the first "get" with this aviation rock star, and the even before her wheels had stopped moving upon completion of the flight, you can be guaranteed the whole arrival would have gone viral on Youtube. And...you can be damned sure Hollywood would be kicking my door in to read my screenplay about this impossible feat that she somehow pulled off.
As the anniversary of her flight's launch comes each year, I go into Three-Eight Charlie mode, thinking about what this story should have been. It should have been huge, it should have been maybe the biggest thing in aviation history. But sadly, it is still just an answer to a trivia question that nobody at your local airport can ever answer:
Who was the first woman to fly solo around the world? Aren't you even a little bit blown away that you didn't know the answer to that question until you met me?