First Female Solo Flight Around the World Captured by Tallahassee Writer
A Tallahassee man has written the little-known story of the first woman to fly solo around the world. That historic aviator spent her last years in nearby Gadsden County.
Her tale was penned by Taylor Phillips. He works at Tallahassee’s Westminster Oaks Retirement Community. That often brings him into contact with famous people and incredible stories.
“As a chaplain, I’m helping to officiate for memorial services and attending memorial services throughout the year and often have that ‘Aha!’ moment about that photo on the PowerPoint or that story that was shared has to be captured; it has to be collected and archived in some way,” Phillips said.
It was through this sort of scenario – combined with his insatiable curiosity – that led Phillips to the tale of Jerrie Mock; the first woman to fly a plane around the world solo.
“There was a photo exhibit of Jerrie’s photos at the airport several years ago,” he remembered. “Also, one of our residents, Garwood Braun, as he listened to me, he finally said, ‘Oh, if this is interesting, you might be interested to meet the lady who was the first one to fly a plane around the world. I know her because I belong to a flight club out in Quincy.”
It turned out that Jerrie Mock had retired to Gadsden County years after her historic globe-girdling flight in 1964. Phillips tracked her down and she agreed to tell him her story. Like how she fell in love with flight at the age of seven when barnstorming aviators came through her tiny Ohio hometown of Newark and gave her a ride in their Ford Tri-Motor airplane.
“It was wonderful!” she exclaimed during the interview with Phillips. “We’d fly around and I’d look out the window and the little cars were like insects down on the ground and I was just so excited and thrilled. When I came out of the airplane, I told my parents, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a pilot.’”
This incident took place in 1933; four years before Amelia Earhart would disappear somewhere in the Pacific while attempting her trans world flight.
“I remember walking down the street that summer when Amelia was flying and telling my girlfriends that I was going to fly my airplane around the world. So it went on from there,” Mock said.
She went on to become a pilot. And Phillips said Mock’s childhood dream started turning into reality in the 1960s.
“She just liked to fly. And her husband got tired of hearing her talk about how much she’d rather be flying than doing all the other domestic chores. And finally he said, ‘I don’t know…why don’t you just fly a plane all the way around the world?’ And instead of arguing with him, she got to thinking about it and thought, ‘Well, why not?’”
Thus began the preparations. Mock bought a new plane, a single engine Cessna 180 with extended range. She and her husband also filed for all the government permits necessary to land in so many different countries during the journey.
“And as that was happening, they began to find out that someone else might be on that, too,” Phillips said. “So they made sure to stay a step ahead of whoever that person was. So from the beginning, it was this undeclared race.”
That second female pilot attempting a worldwide solo flight was Joan Merriam Smith. She would stay behind Mock for the entire distance, although in those days before GPS, no one was really sure who was ahead until the race was over. Phillips said not all of Mock’s twenty-one stopovers took place in friendly territory. One such touchdown was in a remote corner of what was then the United Arab Republic, a close friend of the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was at its peak.
“And out came the soldiers and they draw guns and surround the plane because she has landed in an airport that’s not on the map because evidently the Soviet Union has built it for the U.A.R.”
Somehow, Mock talked her way out of what could have been a serious – perhaps fatal – encounter. She went on to finish the flight, covering nearly 23,000 miles in 29 days. She set several other aviation records, but tired of the public spotlight and sought refuge in rural Gadsden County. That’s where she died at the age of 89 in 2014. Phillips hoped his written account of her remarkable life is a worthy tribute.
“My book so far is only an e-book. You’ll have to Google Amazon and Kindle and look up the title, ‘Racing to Greet the Sun’ and my name and you’ll find it on Kindle, yes.”
Taylor Phillips will also be talking about Jerrie Mock and her historic flight during next month’s Life Long Learning Extravaganza at the Tallahassee Senior Center. His presentation is set for Monday, April 4th at 3:00 p.m.