The fly­ing house­wife

The first woman to fly solo around the world

Paradise - - Contents -

Amer­i­can found­ing fa­ther, Ben­jamin Franklin, once told us that only two things in life are cer­tain: death and taxes. In the late 1960s, my grand­mother, Geral­dine ‘Jer­rie’ Mock, dis­cov­ered the sec­ond to be true.

You see, in 1964, she was dubbed the ‘ fly­ing house­wife’ by the me­dia as she set out to claim the ti­tle of first woman to fly around the world. Twenty-nine days later – after sur­viv­ing sand­storms, iced-over wings and en­gine trou­bles – she landed back in Ohio on April 17 and claimed that ti­tle along with sev­eral oth­ers.

Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son and the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Agency (FAA) awarded her the Gold Medal for Ex­cep­tional Ser­vice. The Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion hon­oured her with the place­ment of her plane on dis­play in the Air and Space Mu­seum. Cessna re­placed her plane, ‘Char­lie’, with a brand-new P-206 plane. The In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice, how­ever, found it more suit­ing to re­ward her eight world records and mas­sive achieve­ments by tax­ing $US6000 on the new plane.

The Cessna P-206 is a gor­geous lit­tle sin­gle-en­gine, fixed land­ing gear air­craft of­ten re­ferred to as the SUV of the air. These sporty lit­tle planes seat up to five pas­sen­gers, plus the pi­lot. The P-206 was the per­fect choice for the other flight records grandma took in both dis­tance and speed after her cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tional flight.

But the taxes and the fees were killing her dreams. “We couldn’t af­ford to keep the plane.” Good­bye P-206.

Grandma rarely spoke about the loss of the plane – I think it was a lit­tle too painful for her to think about – but I have many mem­o­ries of

Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son and the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Agency (FAA) awarded her the Gold Medal for Ex­cep­tional Ser­vice.

sit­ting with her in the den, hear­ing her sto­ries of Pa­pua New Guinea and the fly­ing padres.

My grandma wanted the plane to go to some­thing wor­thy since she’d no longer be set­ting records in it. So, when she heard about a for­mer World War 2 pi­lot turned Sa­cred Heart mis­sion­ary serv­ing in PNG, she knew she’d found the per­fect new home for it.

Rus­sell Mock, a ca­reer ad­man – my grand­fa­ther and Jer­rie’s hus­band – part­nered with the Mis­sion­ar­ies of the Sa­cred Heart to raise the funds nec­es­sary for the plane. This part­ner­ship meant the plane could be do­nated to the mis­sion­ary pi­lot work­ing with re­mote com­mu­ni­ties in PNG.

Rus­sell also got the FAA in­volved, and grandma was back to tak­ing world records. This time, she sought sev­eral speed records as she de­liv­ered the plane to Fa­ther Tony Gen­dusa.

There’s lit­tle on record about grandma’s flight to PNG, and she cared noth­ing for fame, so rarely spoke to me about those records.

The news­pa­pers from 1969 re­veal only the full name of Fa­ther Tony and the dates for each leg of her jour­ney to the other side of the Pa­cific. The var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions around the coun­try couldn’t keep the facts straight. They sug­gest that Jer­rie took any­where from two to nine world records on that se­ries of flights to New Ire­land.

The P-206 was out­fit­ted with spe­cial fuel tanks de­signed to out-pace her pre­vi­ous records by sev­eral hours. The fuel sys­tem took up nearly the en­tire in­te­rior of the plane. Dur­ing the flight, Jer­rie used a thick cus­tom-made gel cush­ion to help ease the im­pact of the un­for­giv­ing metal fuel tanks serv­ing as her seat.

Oak­land to Honolulu was the first leg. The flu struck, though, and she was de­layed for sev­eral days. When she was able to depart on Oc­to­ber 20, 1969, the straight flight took her nearly 16 hours.

She earned two speed records for the jour­ney. Bad weather grounded her in Honolulu for a few days be­fore her next take-off, to Tarawa, Kiri­bati. When she did find the air, more speed and dis­tance records were taken.

From Tarawa, she flew to­ward her fi­nal desti­na­tion of PNG. More bad weather over the Pa­cific de­toured her to Guadal­canal, but she took more records along the way, even go­ing off-course.

Al­to­gether, Jer­rie took nine world records in the 206, fly­ing from Oak­land to Rabaul. There she met Fa­ther Tony, the fly­ing priest who would take the P-206 into his mis­sions work around the coun­try.

Grandma re­vealed in think­ing of her plane help­ing mis­sion­ar­ies

work­ing with re­mote com­mu­ni­ties in the heart of PNG. She loved the im­agery so much that most of her sto­ries for me grow­ing up were about PNG, not the world-record flight.

In the past, Fa­ther Tony vis­ited the vil­lages as he was able. The 206 now af­forded him a fly­ing am­bu­lance he could use when­ever needed to fly in med­i­cal sup­plies or trans­port pa­tients for med­i­cal treat­ment on the main­land.

Grandma and Fa­ther Tony in­stantly con­nected as friends. She longed to stay and fly around with him for much longer than her home du­ties would al­low. She dined on pa­paya and other trop­i­cal fruit he in­tro­duced her to and vis­ited with chil­dren in the jun­gle. Sadly, how­ever, her time there lasted only a few days. She had to head back to her own life – via com­mer­cial air­liner – and get back to her chil­dren and grand­daugh­ter.

Years later, Jer­rie had mem­o­ra­bilia from her flights scat­tered about her Florida home. One of her favourites was a hand-painted seashell from PNG. The shell holds the scene of a quiet, sunkissed beach. Grandma fondly spoke of beach­comb­ing while there, and the unique seashells she found on her own, as well: “Did you know seashells used to be their cur­rency?”

She showed me slideshows with hun­dreds of pho­tos she snapped of the tribal dances she watched. Ex­otic birds of par­adise roosted in trees and faces of chil­dren from the vil­lages she vis­ited shone with ex­cite­ment at the sight of the fly­ing lady.

“New Guinea was fun,” she of­ten said. “I wish I could go back. You should go some time.”

When I was 12 or 13, we dis­posed of the gel cush­ion she used as her seat on the way to PNG. It was stained from years of ne­glect, smelled kind of funky, and def­i­nitely had passed its prime long be­fore I was ever thought of.

Grandma was not prone to cry­ing, but there was a glint of tears in her eyes as I heaved the last piece of her fly­ing ca­reer into the rub­bish bin.

“It smells funny, Grandma,” I in­sisted. “I know, dear.”

Grandma’s sci­atic nerve was dam­aged dur­ing that 24-hour leg of the flight to PNG. Age un­kindly added some pain as well and, even­tu­ally, she had to have both of her hips re­placed. Since I lived only 10 miles away and was home­schooled, I stayed with her while she re­cov­ered. Many hours of watch­ing Mat­lock, I Dream of Jean­nie and

Gil­li­gan’s Is­land passed, ac­com­pa­nied by that far­away look in her eyes when she’d no­tice a trin­ket from some­where along her jour­ney.

Look­ing back, I now re­alise that the gel cush­ion I ca­su­ally tossed was the last sym­bol of her life as a pi­lot. She had the knick

knacks from her trav­els, but her planes were gone. That flight with the P-206 to PNG was it for her.

“I’m glad peo­ple can see ‘Char­lie’ at the Smith­so­nian,” she told me,

“and I’m glad the 206 helped save some lives in New Guinea.”

Her legacy may be quiet – after all, you likely didn’t know her name be­fore read­ing this story – but her im­pact has been great.

“No­body ex­pected I’d make it,” she chuck­led, think­ing back to tak­ing off for her first world record flight. But by the time Jer­rie flew to PNG, she’d al­ready taken so many records that they no longer thought of her as a fly­ing house­wife. Of course, the ti­tle ‘ fly­ing grand­mother’ was hardly an im­prove­ment.

But, in the end, that is sort of how I see her. Jer­rie Mock, my fly­ing grand­mother. She was a tiny woman from small-town USA, but she rode a camel in the Sa­hara, flew into sand­storms, waited out bad weather in the Pa­cific and trod the path of ex­plor­ers into the jun­gles of PNG. And she lived to tell me all about it in her sunny Florida home 50 years later.

A gold-medal mo­ment ... Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son awards Jer­rie Mock the Gold Medal for Ex­cep­tional Ser­vice (this page); Mock with the plane she flew around the world (op­po­site page).

Jer­rie Mock ... do­nated her new plane to a mis­sion­ary pi­lot work­ing in Pa­pua New Guinea.

Cock­pit fash­ion ... (from left) a fly­ing out­fit worn by Jer­rie Mock; the pi­lot with an air of con­fi­dence; the Mock statue; her pass­port.

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