May 18, 1953: The sound barrier was broken by a woman for the first time

Jackie Cochran (right) alongside her wingman and lifelong friend, Chuck Yeager, who accompanied her on her supersonic flight. Image: Smithsonian Mag.

Female American pilot Jackie Cochran made history on this day when in 1953 she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.

American pilot Jackie Cochran, who became the first woman to break the sound barrier 65 years ago today, owes some of her breakthrough success in the sky to a rather ironic source: cosmetics.

The Florida native had made a name for herself in New York City, putting charm and good looks to use in the task of landing a position at the famous Saks Fifth Avenue salon.

There, she met wealthy businessman Floyd Bostwick Odlum (the pair would marry in 1936).

Odlum offered to help her launch a makeup line, but also suggested she try flying.

Despite the fact that she was approaching 30 when she began to fly, she quickly made up for lost time.

Cochran earned her licence in 1932, after only three weeks of lessons.

Cochran would go on to become not only one of the country’s most skilled female pilots, but one of the most deft and agile pilots of all time.

One of her most memorable achievements came on this day in 1953 when she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.

On 18 May, 1953, Cochran took off from Rogers Dry Lake, California, accompanied by Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, who six years earlier became the first person to break the sound barrier.

In an F-86 Sabre plane, borrowed from the Royal Canadian Air Force, Cochran surpassed Mach 1.

Over the course of her flight, she averaged speeds of 652,337mph (1049,834637kph).

To date, she holds more speed and distance record than any pilot – male or female, dead or alive (this even after not flying for her first 30 years).

Cochran’s achievements include being the first woman to reach Mach 2, the first woman to take off from an aircraft carrier, the first woman to make a blind instrument landing, and the first woman to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.





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