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The flying house wife
A first that has mostly been forgotten, but worth knowing about. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Fifty-nine years ago this weekend, a relatively novice pilot named Jerrie Mock, then 38 years old and a mother of three, took off on a very ambitious journey.
Her goal was to become the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the planet alone.
Mock had apparently wanted to try this flight her entire life—a dream that began when she took her first as a 7-year-old passenger, and took hold after famed aviator Amelia Earhart (her "childhood idol") died trying to accomplish basically the same thing.
She'd enrolled in an aviation program at Ohio State University (the only woman out of 100 students), but dropped out to get married and start a family. By the late 1950s she'd grown tired of "cooking meals and washing dishes," according to one account, and earned her pilot's license.
While Mock had never flown over an ocean or made an instrument landing at night before, she obtained an 11-year-old, single engine Cessna 180 aircraft with the help of sponsors (her husband was in advertising, which seems to have helped; he was also a pilot). She filed her flight plan, and departed from Columbus, Ohio.
As her Cessna, nicknamed "Charlie,” became airborne, she overheard the traffic controller on the radio: “Well, I guess that’s the last we’re going to hear from her.”
Over the next 29 days, Mock completed the 23,103 mile trip after all kinds of mishaps, adventures, and a quicker-paced itinerary than she would have wanted.
(The hurry was because a few weeks before Mock took off, she learned that another woman was also planning a round-the-world trip. Newspapers covered both women's journeys as a race, and referred to Mock as “the flying house wife.”)
Among a few of the highlights:
All kinds of mechanical problems, including the realization that her long-range radio was dead, plus suspected sabotage—someone had replaced her plane's new air filter with an older, faulty one.
In-flight emergencies including wings coated in ice and a small onboard fire, plus a navigation error that led her to land at a secret military base in Egypt instead of the Cairo airport.
Curiosity at some of her stops, including a landing in Saudi Arabia where suspicious soldiers surrounded her plane. Recalling the part of her flight that took her over Vietnam, she later wrote: "Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful."
Also, some amazing experiences on the ground—although at every stop she was pushed to get back in the air quickly.
Mock finished her trip, wrote a book, gave speeches to promote her sponsors, and received a bunch of awards, including the Federal Aviation Agency Gold Medal from President Johnson.
She later broke 20 records for distance and speed, and also "once flew a jet fighter at more than 1,000 mph." But her fame subsided rather quickly afterward (which seems to have been just fine with her), and she returned home to raise her family.
There's a lot more to tell about Mock's story, but I want to focus on one small anecdote.
It might be among the best "Well, actually ... " moments I've ever found, and it's written by Rita Pike, Mock's granddaughter, a writer who has worked hard to keep Mock's memory alive.
Pike's 5th grade teacher was teaching a unit on aviation history in 1991. The teacher mistakenly told her class that the first woman to fly around the world was Amelia Earhart.
My little hand shot up. “No, she didn’t.”
“I beg your pardon?” ...
“My grandma was the first, not Amelia. I can show you.”
The next day, I brought in newspaper clippings, a copy of my grandmother’s book, Three-Eight-Charlie, and a photo of her and Charlie, the little Cessna who took her around the world.
I brought Jerrie in for show-and-tell a few weeks later.
Mock died in 2014 at age 88. Her plane is on display at the Air & Space Museum.
"It was a good, practical thing that dozens of women, both in the United States and other countries, could have done before I did," Mock said in what might have been her last interview before her death. "Just nobody else had the sense—or shall I say, the stupidity—to try it. There were women who told me that they flew because of me. I’m glad I did what I did, because I had a wonderful time."
7 other things worth knowing today
OpenAI announced the latest version of its primary large language model, GPT-4, saying it exhibits “human-level performance” on many professional tests. GPT-4 performed at the 90th percentile on a simulated bar exam, the 93rd percentile on an SAT reading exam, and the 89th percentile on the SAT Math exam, OpenAI claimed. (CNBC)
Mexico’s president called anti-drug policies in the U.S. a failure Wednesday and proposed a ban on using fentanyl in medicine—even though little of the drug crosses from hospitals into the illegal market. (AP)
The company behind Fortnite will have to pay a $245 million fine for using "a variety of design tricks known as dark patterns" to get people to make unintended in-game purchases. "Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button." (FTC.gov)
There is a possibility that extraterrestrial motherships and smaller probes may be visiting planets in our solar system, the head of the Pentagon’s unidentified aerial phenomena research office noted in a report draft: “[A]n artificial interstellar object could potentially be a parent craft that releases many small probes during its close passage to Earth." (Military Times)
Roblox will no longer allow advertisements aimed at children under 13 as part of a set of standards the company is rolling out to more clearly define and govern promotions placed by developers within its platform. The rollout comes as Roblox has become an increasingly popular venue for advertisers to set up virtual stores, branded experiences and in-game billboards. (Adweek)
For the first time in three decades, the U.S has a new top dog breed. According to the American Kennel Club, the French bulldog, the sturdy, push-faced, big-eared and distinctively droll pooch became the nation's top purebred dog last year. (AP)
You know, it only just occurred to me that the next time humans go to the moon, now set for 2025, they'll be outfitted head to toe in spacesuits with high definition cameras likely recording every second. It will be a different experience for all of us back on Earth. Here's the new design of the space suits. (NYT)
Thanks for reading. Photo of Jerrie Mock on Wake Island during her round-the-world flight, courtesy of Rita Mock-Pike. See you in the comments.