Jacqueline Cochran set eight aviation world records in 1961

Riverside County, Thermal to be precise, is home to the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport. During World War II the airport served both the Army and Navy aviators. With the war over it became surplus property and was deeded to Riverside County.

Roy Wilson, then the Fourth District County supervisor, wanted to put Thermal Airport on the map and considered naming the airport after former President Gerald R. Ford, our 38th President, Rancho Mirage resident and philanthropist.

Another name was brought forward by the late Jean Benson, a Palm Desert City Council member who had served with former Palm Desert Mayor S. Roy Wilson. That name was aviation’s own Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran who also had numerous ties to the Coachella Valley and airport.

Wilson decided to honor Cochran by officially renaming the airport in her honor. Cochran set more aviation speed records than any other man or woman while an active pilot.

Cochran chose the T-38 aircraft to set eight aviation world records in 1961, including a speed record of 844.2 miles per hour over a 15km oval course Aug. 24, 1961. Those records are painted under the aircraft’s canopy.

“This Trainer Can GO, GO, GO!” Air Force Magazine proclaimed in March 1961. The epithet is now quoted on a massive video screen behind the museum’s T-38.

When the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., reopens to the public Oct. 14, it will showcase a T-38 for the first time.

The former hairdresser-turned-aviator is to be honored at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum when the facility reopens. The aircraft she had chosen to set those records has been installed in the museum as a display to honor this record-setting patriot.

Today the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport has fulfilled the vision of the late County Supervisor Dr. S. Roy Wilson. New hangars abound, sheriffs’ aviation has a state-of-the-art hangar, general aviation thrives, corporate aircraft such as Nike’s are often parked on her ramps, new parking apron’s, taxiways,  a racetrack, air show’s and even a foreign trade zone designation is pending with the federal government thanks to the Cathedral City-based Four Winds Tribal Coalition.

Jackie Cochran served aviation and her country and along the way, set speed records that were remarkable achievements for aviation and aviators.

Her name lives on in record books, military history, at the regional airport, and now boys and girls the world over can see her record setting T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Hopefully, the static display that recognizes these achievements inspires more girls and women to enter aviation as military, commercial, and general aviation pilots and crew members.

Keep your eye on the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport. County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez has plans to improve her even more!

When in Washington, D.C., visit the Air & Space Museum where the history of aviation and its aviators unfolds before your eyes. Admission is free.

Image Sources

  • Jacqueline Cochran: Purchased from Alamy, 10/11/2022