The inspirational pilot named Jacqueline Cochran is the namesake for the airport in Thermal? Jacqueline was instrumental in creating the program during WWII that allowed over a thousand women aviators to ferry the Army Air Corps aircraft around the country in preparation of joining the war effort. This group ultimately became known as “Women’s Air force Service Pilots (WASPs) and these women mastered the controls of almost all military aircraft including the B-29 Super-fortress. This group of women pilots ferried these aircraft between airports, towed targets for anti-aircraft training, transported troops, weapons, cargo and even tested various new airplanes. Their service allowed for many more men to fly into combat.
To honor Jacquelin’s efforts during wartime she received the Distinguished Service Medal…the second highest honor for a civilian in service to the United States. In 1941, she flew a Hudson V-bomber from Canada to Great Britain becoming the first women to pilot a military aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean. In 1953, aided by Chuck Yeager, Jacqueline became the first women to break the sound barrier. Her resume is too extensive to document in this space but it is notable that in 1962 alone, she set many inter-city and straight line distance records including becoming the first women to fly a jet across the Atlantic Ocean. At the time of her death in 1980 she had set approximately 250 speed, altitude and distance records…more than ANY other pilot, male or female. She received the Harmon Trophy (Most outstanding aviator) fifteen times and was named “pilot of the Decade” 1940-1949. If you are interested in her other accomplishments it will be easy to find them listed in any number of web-sites.
Jacqueline lived with her wealthy husband Floyd Odlum in Indio near Motorcoach Country Club in what is now Indian Palms Country Club on Monroe…in fact the club house was originally their home. Throughout Jacqueline’s time in the Coachella Valley she often frequented the Thermal Airport…this small regional airport started its existence as a training facility for the Army Air Corp early in WWII and towards the end of the war was used for Naval Aviation training. To honor Jacqueline and her local roots in 2004 the airport was named after her. Many famous aviators used the airport as a result of Jacqueline’s nearby residence.
Their home, The Cochran-Odlum date and citrus ranch as it was then known was also the gathering place of the who’s-who of America’s elite, including Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, the Rockefeller’s, Walt Disney and Bob Hope. The first public golf course in Indio was built on the ranch and attracted stars including Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny and Clark Gable. After her death in 1980 the ranch was sold and transformed into the current resort.
Next time you are near Thermal check out this emerging pillar of an airport named after the pioneering aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran.