As Above the Clouds hosts its annual Big Sister / Little Sister Dream Flight Day this month, we salute and honor the life of Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, a pioneer in aviation. Jerrie recently died at age 88 at her Florida home after a lifetime of aviation achievement; advocacy for women pilots in the space program; and after devoting 50 years to using her aviation skills for humanitarian missions.
Jerrie began her flying lessons at age 12, earned her private pilot certificate at age 16, and her commercial pilot license at 18. At 21, while working in a clerical job at Miami International Airport, Jerrie applied for a pilot’s job to deliver surplus military planes around the world. After initially being dismissed as a “girl wanna be pilot”, Jerrie opened her log book documenting more than 3,000 hours of flying time. The next day she began flying World War II aircraft overseas.
Jerrie was the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, one of the first female aviation executives, and eventually earned the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement, the Amelia Earhart Memorial Award and Woman of the Year in Aviation. At age 28 Jerrie was the first woman to enter NASA’s astronaut testing program and was on track to be one of the United States’ first astronauts as a member of “The Mercury 13” female aviators group. In spite of the Mercury 13’s intensive training, testing, and otherwise qualifying, in 1962 a Congressional Subcommittee voted to exclude women, based on gender, from participating as astronauts.
Not to be deterred from flying, Jerrie devoted the next several decades to flying in humanitarian missions, delivering lifesaving supplies and assistance to indigenous tribes in the Amazon. And throughout her life, Jerrie continued to advocate for women’s equality in aviation. In 1999 she, along with several of the original “Mercury 13”, sat in VIP seats at the launch of Eileen Collins, NASA’s first female shuttle commander, 37 years after the Congressional Committee had denied trained and qualified women the right to serve as astronauts.
Jerrie has been honored by several South American countries for her humanitarian work; has received the the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for “Humanitarian Contributions to Modern Aviation”; is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame; and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981. Jerrie wrote two books about her life: Woman Into Space, with Jane Rieker, and Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot.
As we fly Above the Clouds, let us honor Jerrie Cobb as a trailblazer who inspired generations of men and women throughout the aviation and philanthropic communities, and helped chart the course for female aviators.
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At Above the Clouds we believe in the positive transformative impact of aviation, and through our programs we inspire joy and hope in children and teens to help them reach for the stars in their own lives. Along with our Dream Flyers Program, Above the Clouds offers two extended programs designed to nurture a sense of hope and possibility for a bright future in teens.
The Discovery Flyers Program is a one-to-one mentoring program that introduces teenagers to aviation and enables them to develop a lasting friendship with a caring, volunteer Discovery Pilot. Discovery Flyers have the opportunity to fly in the co-pilot’s seat with their mentor on a monthly basis. The Flyers learn about aviation, and they experience the self-esteem that results from a supportive relationship with a trusted, committed adult. The Discovery Flyers Program has served 25 youth since its establishment in 2015 and will serve 15 teens this year.
The Cadet Flyers Program gives a small number of teens the amazing opportunity to take flying lessons at no cost, and eventually to pilot an airplane by themselves – solo flying! This program, which has served ten teenagers thus far, gives low-income, at-risk youth a life-changing opportunity they never could have imagined for themselves, and it motivates them to focus, stay in school, and follow a path toward a better future. One of our Cadet Flyers was recently accepted into Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, as well as the Aviation Science Program at Bridgewater State University. Another of our Cadet Flyers has completed his commercial rating and will be graduating soon from St. Louis University.
Flying in the copilot seat and seeing the world from a new perspective helps Above the Clouds’ kids see that the world is wide with possibility. As flying first ignited a passion in Jerrie Cobb 75 years ago, our Discovery Flyers and Cadet Flyers Programs work to infuse each teen with the skills and confidence to chart his or her own course for a positive future.
Many thanks to our volunteer squadron of pilots, volunteers, and donors for all you do to help Above the Clouds continue to bring joy and hope through the wonder of flight.
Learn more about the Discovery Flyers Program here: https://abovethecloudskids.org/discovery-flyers/
Learn more about the Cadet Flyers Program here: https://abovethecloudskids.org/about-cadet-flyers/