Mock, 1st female pilot to circle globe, dies at 88

Geraldine Jerrie Mock
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Mock, 1st female pilot to circle globe, dies at 88
CANADA - MARCH 25: Mrs. Jerrie Mock; Columbus; O.; who has flown her own plane around the world; would like to be astronaut but thinks women haven't chance for space flight. (Photo by Frank Grant/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
The first woman to fly around the world, Jerrie Mock, stands surrounded by reporters next to her plane, 'The Spirit of Columbus,' upon landing in Cairo, Egypt, April 8, 1964. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 - 1973) places the Federal Aviation Agency's Gold Medal Award around the neck of Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly around the world, during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Washington D.C., May 4, 1964. (Photo by Gene Forte/Washington Bureau/Getty Images)

Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock, the Ohio housewife who 50 years ago became the first female pilot to fly solo around the world, has died. She was 88.

Mock died in her sleep Tuesday at her home in Quincy, Florida, after being in failing health for months, her grandson, Chris Flocken, said Wednesday.

Mock flew her single-engine Cessna 180 "Spirit of Columbus" 23,000 miles in 29-plus days before landing in Ohio's capital city on April 17, 1964. On her trip, she made stops in such places as the Azores, Casablanca, Cairo and Calcutta.

Dubbed "the flying housewife" at the time, the Newark, Ohio, native was a mother of three in suburban Columbus but also an experienced pilot who studied aeronautical engineering at Ohio State University. She spent months planning her flight with aviation experts and veteran pilots.

A life-sized bronze statue depicting Mock holding a globe was unveiled in April at Port Columbus airport on the 50th anniversary of her flight, and it was also commemorated with an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum.

She was unable, due to health reasons, to attend the events, but recounted her adventure in an April interview, saying she was inspired as a child by aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. Earhart was trying to become the first female aviator to circle the globe when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in the South Pacific in 1937. Mock played down her trip as a fun way to see the world.

"Airplanes are meant to fly. I was completely confident in my plane," she said.

But she had radio and brake problems, ran into bad weather, and landed by mistake at an Egyptian military base. Her most harrowing moment was when she noticed a burning wire while flying over a desert in the Middle East, but was able to switch it off and cool it down as she considered what could have happened on a plane carrying extra fuel.

Another experienced pilot, the late Joan Merriman Smith, was on the same quest but finished well behind Mock.

Mock was honored at the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and appeared on national television. She later added several aviation speed records.

"Nobody was going to tell me I couldn't do it because I was a woman," said Mock, who wore a skirt and blouse on her flight and put on high heels after landings.

She is survived by a daughter, after being preceded in death by her two sons. She had 12 grandchildren.

Flocken said Mock didn't want a funeral service, but asked to be cremated and have her ashes scattered from a plane flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

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