The Liberty Gazette
November 27, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: On a spring day 48 years ago a red and white Cessna 180, a single-engine airplane, touched down in Columbus, Ohio completing a fairly long cross-country flight – 23,206 miles long to be exact. Exiting the aircraft before a cheering crowd of 3,000 the pilot, Geraldine "Jerrie" Fredritz Mock, a 38-year old housewife and mother of three stepped into history; now it seems an almost forgotten history. Quite a journey, the flight ended exactly where it began 29 days and 21 stopovers before.
Her story, in the back pages and nooks of history books, few people know: that she was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe solo. Many people think Amelia Earhart was the first to fly solo around the world but she only completed about 75 percent of the trip before she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared someplace over the Pacific Ocean.
Today organizations such as Earthrounders help pilots organize circumnavigation attempts, but this was in the days before Al Gore invented the Internet. Jerrie planned the entire adventure herself in the basement of her Ohio home. She flight planned using old world navigation charts given to her by a former Air Force pilot friend and her husband Russ supported her by securing sponsors and equipment donations.
Jerrie fell in love with flying the day she first rode in a Ford Tri-Motor at the age of 12. She dreamed of visiting far off places, yet it wasn't really her intent to be the first to make such a trip. Things just sort of came together and it sounded like a lot of fun.
While in the final phases of planning she learned that Joan Merriam Smith was planning to make a similar flight, only in a faster twin-engine Piper Apache. Smith wanted to be the first woman to round the globe solo and she was going to make a race of it. Jerrie moved her planned departure date up and she launched sooner than she felt she was ready.
Through the course of the “race” she faced dangers from ice over the North Atlantic to sand storms over the Sahara Desert. Her brakes’ mechanical problems weren’t the only concerns about the airplane; the long HF radio antenna necessary for communication over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans wasn’t entirely cooperative either. Navigating around the escalating conflict in Vietnam, she finally achieved her goal but the significance of her feat was drowned out by the war that sprung to the front pages of every newspaper in the U.S.
Named for her airplane, Three-Eight Charlie published in 1970 chronicles the adventures of Jerrie and her Cessna 180, but the book had a limited release so many people even in aviation circles don’t know about her.
Jerrie lives in Quincy, Florida, her beloved Charlie, also known as The Spirit of Columbus, hangs from the ceiling in the Smithsonian Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, in all its glory for all to see, encouraging others to dream about launching on their own adventures.