Aviation pioneer Geraldyn M. "Jerrie" Cobb entered the world on March 5, 1931, in Norman, Oklahoma. Daughter of Lt. Col. William H. and Helena Butler Stone Cobb, Jerrie Cobb grew up in an aviation-oriented environment. By age twelve she had learned to fly in her father's plane, and at age sixteen, while a student at Oklahoma City Classen High School, she earned a private pilot's license. From that time, she devoted all of her energy to flying, although she played semiprofessional softball and spent a year in college at Oklahoma College for Women (now University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) in Chickasha. She made her living, however, by crop dusting and teaching navigation. In the 1950s, as a commercial pilot, Cobb set several world altitude and speed records in Aero Commander airplanes built by Oklahoma's Aero Design and Engineering Company.
In addition to these accomplishments, Jerrie Cobb became the United States's first woman astronaut trainee in August 1960. She went through NASA's rigorous testing program and became the agency's consultant for the future use of women as astronauts. However, in 1963 NASA decided against including women in the program, and in that year the Soviet Union sent the first woman into space. Cobb resigned from her position with the space agency and became a private pilot conducting humanitarian aid missions to the peoples of the Amazon rain forests in six South American nations.
Over her career Cobb received numerous awards. In 1959 she was named the National Pilot's Association Pilot of the Year, the Women's National Aeronautic Association's Woman of the Year in Aviation, and the Washington Aero Club's Woman of the Year in Aviation, an award presented by Oklahoma's U.S. Senator Mike Monroney. Cobb is one of four Americans to hold the Golden Wings awarded by France's Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The Oklahoma Hall of Fame included her in 1976. In 1981 U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian efforts. Cobb published her autobiography, Woman Into Space, in 1963. Into the twenty-first century, she continued her relief efforts for peoples of the Amazon.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jerrie Cobb and Jane Ricker, Woman Into Space: The Jerrie Cobb Story (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentiss-Hall, Inc., 1963). Ann Hodgman and Ruoy Djabbaroff, Skystars: The History of Women in Aviation (New York: Atheneum Press, 1981). Debbie Michalke, "The Rare Woman, Indeed: Jerrie Cobb, An Aviation Pioneer," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 73 (Winter 1995-96).
© Oklahoma Historical Society