Geraldyn “Jerrie” M. Cobb, a well-established female trailblazer of the skies, was born in Norman, Oklahoma. Her father was a pilot and, with his encouragement, she developed a strong interest in aviation at an early age.
By the time she was 12, Cobb was learning how to fly in her father’s 1936 Waco Aircraft Company biplane. She earned her private pilot’s license by the time she turned 17 and received her commercial pilot’s license not long after that. One of her first jobs as a pilot entailed flying a Piper J-3 Cub light aircraft over various communities and making a leaflet drop for a circus. Cobb eventually also served as a flight instructor and performed such other airborne tasks as crop dusting and pipeline patrol.
Cobb’s aviation career continued to soar when she was in her 20s. As a commercial pilot flying Aero Commander planes, Cobb set new world records for speed, distance, and altitude. She became the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, the largest exposition of its kind. Cobb received the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement, and was one of only nine women to be highlighted by Life Magazine as the “100 Most Important Young People in the United States.” When she was designated a manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company in the late 1950s, Cobb earned the distinction of being one of the few female executives in aviation at that time.
Cobb, aspiring to even greater heights, made history in 1960 as the first U.S. woman astronaut trainee. She underwent a rigorous testing program, doing well in all three stages of the physical and psychological assessment that had been used to select the first seven Mercury astronauts. Cobb was even made a consultant to NASA on the possible future use of women as astronauts. Ultimately, however, NASA decided against including women in the astronaut program at that point in the agency’s existence.
Cobb resigned from NASA and went on to pursue a new calling in aviation. Over the course of three decades, she served as a private pilot conducting humanitarian missions throughout much of South America. Cobb’s work included transporting supplies to indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforests and surveying air routes for remote areas. Cobb was honored by the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian governments for her humanitarian efforts, and in 1981 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her airborne achievements in South America also earned her the Harmon International Trophy for outstanding aviation; President Richard M. Nixon presented her with this award during a White House ceremony in 1973.
In addition, Cobb was only the fourth American to be awarded the prestigious Gold Wings of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1990 and became a member of the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2000.