Jacqueline Cochran was born near Muscogee, Florida on an undetermined date sometime between 1906 and 1910 and was orphaned by the age of four. She actually selected her name, Jacqueline Cochran, out of a phone book. As a teenager, she went to New York to work in the cosmetics industry and by the age of nineteen owned her own salon.
In 1932, she earned her pilot's license at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, in a Fleet Trainer. She entered her first long distance race, The MacRobertson London to Australia Race in 1934, flying the unforgiving Gee Bee Q.E.D. along with Wesley Smith and led the race briefly but was unable to finish due to faulty flaps. Cochran entered her first Bendix Trophy Race in 1935 flying a Northrop Gamma but did not finish due to engine problems. In 1936, she married millionaire Floyd Odlum and in 1937 once again entered The Bendix Trophy Race in a Beech Staggerwing. She took first place in the Women's Division of The Bendix and third overall flying from Los Angeles, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 10:19.8 seconds at an average speed of 194.74 mph.
In 1938, Jacqueline won The Bendix Trophy Race flying a Seversky P-35 in an elapsed time of 8:10.31 at an average speed of 249.774 mph. Also in 1938, she was awarded the prestigious Harmon Trophy as Outstanding Female Pilot of 1937, setting three major course records: The Women's National Speed Record (203.895 mph in a Beech Staggerwing), The Women's World Speed Record (292.271 mph in a Seversky P-35), and The New York To Miami Speed Record (with an elapsed time of 4:12.27, also in a Seversky). She went on to establish a Women's National Altitude Record in 1939 flying to 30,052.43 feet over Palm Springs, California, and an International Speed Record on a 1,000 kilometer course of 305.926 mph.
On April 6, 1940, Jackie set a New World Speed Record on a 2,000 kilometer course at 331.716 mph. In June of 1941, she became the first female pilot to ferry a bomber across the North Atlantic and soon thereafter organized a group of twenty-five American women to ferry aircraft for Great Britain early in the War. By 1943 she was doing the same thing for her own country and was appointed to the U.S. Army Air Force General Staff. She directed all phases of the Women's Air Force Service Pilot's Program (WASP).
The Bendix Trophy Race resumed in 1946 and Jackie was entered once again. She finished second in a P-51B with a speed of 420.925 mph. In 1948 she flew her last Bendix, placing third in a P-51B with an average speed of 445.847 mph. In 1953, she became the first woman to exceed the speed of sound, flying a Canadian built F-86 Sabre Jet and received a Gold Medal from The Federation Aeronautique Internationale. From '58 to '59 she was the President of FAI, the only woman ever to hold that office and be reelected for a second term.
In 1962, Jacqueline Cochran set sixty-nine intercity and straight line distance records for Lockheed in one of their Jet Stars and became the first woman to fly a jet aircraft across the Atlantic. She also set nine international speed, distance, and altitude records in a Northrop T-38 in that same year. Between April 12, 1963, and May 11, 1964, she set a series of records all in excess of 1,200 miles per hour in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter.
Among Jacqueline Cochran's decorations and honors were the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Force Legion of Merit, and an enshrinement in the Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, in 1971, the first woman to have been so honored.