Training Jackie Cochran-to Become 1st Woman to Break Sound Barrier

May 18th, 2014

I first met Jackie Cochran in 1947, not long after I broke the sound barrier, in Secretary of the Air Force Scott Symington’s office. She was a tall, blonde woman in her forties. “I’m Jackie Cochran,” she said pumping my hand. “Great job, Captain Yeager. We’re all proud of you.”

She invited me to lunch acting as if I should know exactly who she was, and caused an uproar just entering the posh Washington restaurant. The owner began bowing and scraping, and the waiters went flying. During the meal, she sent back every other course, complaining loudly, and even marched into the kitchen to give the chef hell.

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In the spring of 1953, Jackie approached General Vandenberg about setting speed records in the F-86. Colonel Ascani asked me to be her instructor in the F-86.

That first day, I set us up for a six a.m. takeoff and told her she had to be there at five to get briefed on the flight, get her G suit on and so forth, in order to start engines at six. I was there at a quarter to five.

At five, no Jackie.

Six, no Jackie.

Six-fifteen rolled around and she came bouncing in.

I shut the door to the office we were using and sat her down. I said: “Look I want to tell you something. If you want to fly this program, you’re gonna be here on time. You’ve got fifteen people out here workingat four in the morning to pre-flight your airplane and get your gear ready while you, a single pilot, can’t get here on time. Look at all th eman-hours you’ve already wasted for the Air Force, not to mention the guys who are busting their tails for you. If you want this program, you’re gonna be here when you’re scheduled to be here.”

From then on we had no more problems, If I said be here at five, she was.

She had no jet experience and was a little apprehensive. I had checked her out in the airplane systems the day before, teaching her the cockpit, the landing gear handle, the flaps and the throttle, the techniques for flying the Sabre – but only what she needed to know.

The big thing I told her over and over: “If I tell you to do something, you do it immediately and don’t ask why.”

We lined up both airplanes for that first take-off. I climbed on her wing. She was a little scared: “Don’t get too close!”

“Forget about me,” I told her. “I’m used to this. This way I can watch you and see if you do anything you shouldn’t.”

We had maybe half a dozen of these orientation flights when Jimmy Doolittle called me down to Jackie’s ranch. The gist of the talk was did I think Jackie could break the sound barrier without busting her butt. If not, just say the word, and the Chief of Staff would call it off. If so, then the monkey was on my back if anything happened.

I told him: “General, she’s a good pilot with a tremendous background of experiencein flying. She can fly practically anything, and I really think she can do this program.”

Jackie was always excellent at landing airplanes, nothing bothered her.

Jackie had a lot of confidence in me. She’d be upset if any of the other pilots flew chase – she felt I knew her capabilities best. Jackie hated the smell of sweat and kerosene inside the cockpit and on her parachute so every time she flew, she carried a perfume spray. For a year after Jackie went through there, pilots could still smell the perfume aboard those Sabres she flew.

After six or so flights in the Sabre, I figured she knew it well enough, so I took her up to 45,000 feet and told her to push her nose straight down. We dove together, wing to wing, kept it wide open and made a tremendous couple of sonic booms over Edwards. She became the first woman to fly faster than sound and forever after, she loved to brag that she and I were the first and probably last man and woman team to break Mach 1 together.

Although she died in 1979; Jackie holds many speed records (male or female) still today.



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