When she was 7, Mock got a ride in a Ford Tri-Motor airplane, and then and there declared she would become a pilot. She didn’t do it until she was 33. After seven years of scarcely more than 100 hours of flying per year, she decided to do what Amelia Earhart couldn’t: fly around the world — except Mock would do it by herself (Earhart took a navigator). Mock, a housewife and mother of three, took off in her own plane (a Cessna 180, modified with extra fuel tanks and radio equipment), on March 19, 1964, from Columbus, Ohio, and got back to Columbus 29 days later after flying nearly 23,000 miles, making her the first woman to fly solo around the world. “Nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t do it because I was a woman,” she said later.
After her feat she set several other records, including various distance and speed records, often taking overall honors, not just in the female division. For her around-the-world flight, Mock was awarded the Amelia Earhart Memorial Award, National Aviation Trades Association Pilot-of-the-Year Award (1964), the 1965 Louis Blériot medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Federal Aviation Agency’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. But Mock wasn’t interested in fame. “The kind of person who can sit in an airplane alone is not the type of person who likes to be continually with other people,” she said. She wrote a book (Three-Eight Charlie, a reference to the plane’s tail number) and made TV appearances to pay back her sponsors. Appearing on To Tell the Truth, actor Orson Bean (a panelist on the quiz show) asked her, “You left your husband alone for 29 days. What did he do? I mean, who cleaned up the house and all?” After the flurry of attention, Mock dropped out of the limelight, and retired from flying in 1969. The Ohio-based National Aviation Hall of Fame never even inducted her, but her plane, Spirit of Columbus, is displayed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s annex. Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock died at her grandson’s home in Florida on September 30, just a few months after the celebration of her flight’s 50th anniversary. She was 88.
Local (Ohio) news story about Jerrie Mock on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the flight:
That episode of To Tell the Truth, in full: