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An Unsung Hero of Aviation

Interview by Kelly Curry | Photography courtesy of the Air Force Flight Test Center History Office

Buckle up and get ready to take flight! Northwest Florida filmmakers Dave King and Jessica Plowden Anderson have set out to sift fact from fiction in sharing the story of the most well-documented American hero you’ve probably never heard of. The upcoming documentary, The Flight of Jackie Cochran, sets out to unfold the fascinating story of Jackie Cochran, an intrepid Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) of World War II, who set more records in altitude, speed, and distance than any other pilot in the twentieth century. The story is inspired by Nancy Hasty’s riveting play, based on the book Superwoman Jacqueline Cochran by Billie Pittman Ayers and Beth Dees.

VIE caught up with King and Anderson to learn more about their plans for the documentary, upcoming events they have planned for the film, and how we all can support their vision.

VIE: What inspired this project, and how is it connected to the previously published book and play?

The Flight of Jackie Cochran is a documentary film under production that embarks on a captivating exploration of the extraordinary life and legacy of Jackie Cochran, an aviation pioneer who shattered barriers in a male-dominated industry.

We were inspired by Nancy Hasty, the author and performer of the play The Flight of Jackie Cochran, which tours nationally. After reviewing the script, we knew Jackie’s story had to be told as a documentary.

Jackie is a hidden icon. Her dynamic personality and extraordinary life story go beyond the typical small-town girl narrative. Her accomplishments as an entrepreneur, involvement in the US military, and contributions to women in aviation are remarkable. She holds the most speed, altitude, and distance records of her time—among both men and women—however, in many ways, she has been overshadowed by others. Of the people who know about her and her accomplishments, few are aware she did all of it under a fake identity.

We’re collaborating with Nancy and Beth, the author of Jackie’s book, to provide an accurate historical portrayal of Jackie’s life and career.

VIE: Who is Jackie Cochran and how did she impact the future of aviation?

Jackie Cochran, originally Bessie Lee Pittman, defied conventions and transformed the aviation industry in the early twentieth century. Born in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, she adopted a new name to break free from societal constraints and pave her own path in life.

After moving to New York City and founding her own cosmetics company, she began her aviation career in the 1930s and quickly gained recognition for her flying skills and determination. In 1938, she became the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy, a prestigious air race from California to Cleveland. She played a vital role in World War II by flying bombers, training hundreds of female pilots in Britain and the US, and becoming director of the WASPs. She began flying jets after the war and became the first woman to break the sound barrier. She continued to set records into the 1960s.

VIE: Why don’t more people know about her?

Despite her significant contributions to aviation and pioneering achievements, Jackie Cochran remains relatively lesser-known compared to some other aviation pioneers. There are likely several explanations for this. One possible reason is that her achievements were overshadowed by the fame of her contemporaries, such as Amelia Earhart. Earhart’s disappearance and the mystery surrounding it captured the public’s imagination, making her a household name. Her tragic story became synonymous with adventure and courage, solidifying her status as an iconic figure in aviation history. However, Cochran’s accomplishments were equally groundbreaking and deserving of widespread recognition.

Moreover, Cochran’s accomplishments were not limited to one specific area, making it more challenging for her legacy to be tied to a single defining event. Additionally, the prevailing narratives that have shaped the historical portrayal of women in aviation might have contributed to her relative lack of recognition. This documentary aims to address and rectify this disparity so that Cochran’s impact on aviation, her advocacy for women pilots, and her numerous achievements can continue to inspire and pave the way for future generations of aviators. It will also promote DeFuniak Springs, Jackie’s hometown.

VIE: Tell us about your backgrounds and how you each got involved in this documentary project. Are you working with a local team or sources across the country?

Cochran’s impact on aviation, her advocacy for women pilots, and her numerous achievements can continue to inspire and pave the way for future generations of aviators.

Dave King: I’m an art and technology enthusiast who began a new journey as a film and podcast producer after a successful career in finance. Following my retirement in 2018, a profound near-death experience inspired me to pursue a more purposeful life. In 2022, my vision materialized as SOWAL House, a private social club and production company that combines technology and various art forms. I have come to believe in innovation, resilience, and a deep-rooted understanding of the transformative power of storytelling.

Jessica Plowden Anderson: I was raised in the lively city of Los Angeles, where I cultivated a profound love for storytelling and film. This passion propelled me toward a career in video production and advertising. Having collaborated with renowned brands, I established That Girl Media in 2022, dedicated to developing captivating narratives that resonate with diverse audiences, leaving a lasting impression.

We are co-producing and directing the documentary, along with Nancy Hasty as an associate producer and an all-local team of filmmakers who are helping to bring this project to life.

VIE: When will the film be complete, and where will you show it?

We eagerly anticipate the film’s premiere in 2024 when we aim to unveil Jackie Cochran’s extraordinary story to the world. Our comprehensive plan involves strategically distributing the documentary through various film festivals to capture the attention of a national audience.

Additionally, we are thrilled to announce that private screenings will be held throughout this year and into 2024 at the esteemed SOWAL House in Rosemary Beach, Florida. These exclusive screenings will provide an intimate and immersive experience for a select audience, allowing us to gather valuable feedback and refine the documentary.

As we work diligently to bring Jackie’s captivating narrative to the screen, we recognize the importance of keeping our supporters and followers informed and engaged. To that end, we will actively share updates on our production progress across multiple social media platforms. You can stay connected with us and follow our journey on Instagram and Twitter, where we can be found at @flightofjackiecochran. We believe in the power of community and appreciate the opportunity to connect with fellow enthusiasts, aviation enthusiasts, and history buffs who share our passion for Jackie’s story.

By strategically combining our distribution efforts through film festivals, hosting private screenings, and sharing updates via social media, we are confident that Jackie Cochran’s story will receive the attention it deserves. Our ultimate goal is to bring this remarkable woman’s life and achievements to the forefront of a national conversation, inspiring and enlightening viewers all over the globe.

VIE: How can the public support you?

Contributions are crucial for preserving Cochran’s legacy. We collaborate with local non-profits and have an ongoing fundraising campaign for The Flight of Jackie Cochran production. Donations cover production expenses like research, filming, editing, and distribution to bring this inspiring story to a broad audience.

There will be ongoing events at SOWAL House and various local venues throughout 2023 and 2024. Sign up for notifications for upcoming events via the SOWAL House app, available to download in the apps store.

— V —

Visit SOWALHouse.com/flight-of-jackie and follow on Instagram @flightofjackiecochran to learn more! You can also donate at www.gofund.me/c53103a4.

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