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The Cessna 180 "Spirit of Columbus" Story

A National Aeronautic Association press release dated April 18, 1964, announced that Mrs. Geraldine Mock had become the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world. Previous attempts by women, including the much-discussed flight by Amelia Earhart, were unsuccessful.

When success did come, it was accomplished by this tiny housewife from Columbus, Ohio, flying a 1953 Cessna 180 single-engine monoplane, the "Spirit of Columbus". In 1953, the first year of production, 640 Model 180's were produced. The "Spirit of Columbus" was the 238th, bearing serial number 30238 and registration number N1438C. After several owners and 990 flying hours, the plane was purchased by Mrs. Mock for her world flight attempt. Additional fuel tanks were custom-made to fit inside the cabin; personal equipment and survival gear were assembled and stowed aboard, and detailed flight planning was completed.

On March 19, 1964, at 9:31 a.m., Mrs. Mock departed from Columbus on her history-making solo flight. Twenty-nine days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes later, she arrived back home, on April 17, 1964, after flying 23,103 miles around the world. The flight was monitored by the National Aeronautic Association and its Federation Aeronautique Internationale-affiliated organizations around the world. The FAI certified Mrs. Mock's flight as a speed record around the world for aircraft weighing less than 3,858 pounds. On May 4, 1964, she was awarded the Federal Aviation Administration's Exceptional Service Decoration by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Model 180 was developed as one of a family of aircraft designs. Borrowing some features from the Army's L-19 Bird Dog liaison plane, the 180 is a rugged four-place plane. Variations on the basic airframe have made it a popular "bush" type aircraft, in use in most of the underdeveloped parts of the world as well as in the United States. The 180 was successfully modified with the addition of a tricycle landing gear to become the Model 182, which has enjoyed a long production run as a high performance workhorse in the general aviation category.

After completing her flight, Mrs. Mock never flew the "Spirit of Columbus" again. The manufacturer exchanged aircraft with her, giving her a later model plane. For a number of years the record-setting aircraft was suspended in the Cessna factory in Wichita, Kansas, until it was cleaned up for its trip to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, where it is exhibited in the General Aviation Gallery.

Louis S. Casey