CINCINNATI (AP) — Recounting her history-making adventure 50 years later, Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock plays it down as an enjoyable way to see the world.
The native of Newark, Ohio, became the first female pilot to fly solo around the globe when her single-engine Cessna 180 dubbed Spirit of Columbus landed in the state's capital on April 17, 1964. She had covered more than 23,000 miles in 29-plus days while making stops in such exotic locales as the Azores, Casablanca, Cairo and Calcutta.
"You call it an accomplishment. I just call it having fun," Mock, now 88, said by telephone from her home in the small north Florida city of Quincy.
"Scared? Let's not use the word scared," she said, laughing. "Airplanes are meant to fly. I was completely confident in my plane; I trusted it completely. I had plenty of gas, a good engine. You just kind of used your head."
But 27 years after female aviation pioneer and Mock's childhood hero Amelia Earhart's disappearance in the Pacific, her flight had plenty of harrowing moments.
"Amelia Earhart was an inspiration to me. ... She wasn't really on my mind during the flight," said Mock, who recalled that she was most alarmed when she noticed a burning wire while flying over a desert in the Middle East. She switched it off and the wire cooled down, as she considered what might have happened had the fire spread in a plane loaded with extra fuel for her trip.
She also had radio and brake problems, was grounded in Bermuda by rough weather and landed by mistake at an Egyptian military base. Armed soldiers quickly sent her on the right way to the international airport, she said.
While called "the flying housewife" at the time, the suburban mother of three studied aeronautical engineering at Ohio State University, had flown for years and had been planning her flight for months, working with an Air Force friend and other aviation experts and officials. Her husband, Russell Mock, also a pilot, worked in advertising and helped line up The Columbus Dispatch and other sponsors.
She accelerated her plans after learning that another experienced female pilot, Joan Merriman Smith, was launching her own around-the-world quest. As her husband egged her on with progress reports on Smith, Mock limited sightseeing and finished well ahead of the late Smith, whom she would later meet at an event celebrating their aviation exploits.
"We briefly shook hands and pretended to smile at each other," Mock said, chuckling.
She was honored at the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson and appeared on national television.
"It was all very exciting," Mock said. "Suddenly I became very busy, and everyone wanted to talk to me."
She wrote a book called "Three-Eight Charlie," her nickname for her plane. She later added several aviation speed records, though her celebrity faded as Americans focused on the space race — with fellow Ohioan John Glenn among the heroes — and on the sweeping social changes of the 1960s, including the women's movement.
"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, putting on high heels when disembarking at stops. Reactions in Saudi Arabia to a female pilot emerging from the plane ranged from bemusement to disbelief, she said.
Mock is disappointed that a movie has never been made about her flight. But she's pleased with various commemorations, including an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum and the latest, a statue that will be unveiled Thursday at Port Columbus International Airport.
Douglas Kridler, president of The Columbus Foundation, which is helping organize the event, said the celebration of the 50th anniversary "renews the story and people's consciousness" of a feat that can inspire current and future generations. The foundation earlier chose Mock for the first "Spirit of Columbus Award" for exemplary community spirit.
Health concerns will prevent her from traveling to Columbus for the event.
"I'm still here, but I don't get around nearly as much," Mock said.
She does hope, though, that her flight can be a lesson to others.
"If you have a dream, follow through on it," she said. "Don't let people discourage you from trying."
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- Amelia Earhart