Born in Hoopeston, Ill., in 1922, Jean Hixson developed a love of flying from early on. She started flight lessons when she was 16 and earned a pilot’s license at 18.
Serving with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in World War II, Hixson flew all manner of aircraft in the Army Air Force inventory. Her missions included towing targets for live gunnery practice, ferrying aircraft domestically and overseas and instructing—practically everything except engaging in combat.
She was a graduate of WASP Class 44-6 at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and went on to fly the B-25, twin-engine bomber as an engineering test pilot. After World War II, she became a flight instructor in Akron, Ohio. After hours, she attended Akron University, where she received a degree in elementary and secondary education. In 1952, she began a new career as a teacher, but she continued to fly. In 1957, she became the second woman to break the sound barrier, earning her the nickname “Supersonic Schoolmarm.”
Hixson was 37 years old when was invited to test at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, N.M. Many of the other Mercury 13 women considered her to be the most experienced of them and the best of the crew. After the program was terminated, she went to work at the Flight Simulator Techniques branch of the U.S. Air Force Reserve at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1982, she retired from the Air Force Reserves as a full colonel. In 1983, she completed 30 years of service with the Akron School System. At the age of 62, she died of cancer in 1984—shortly after Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space.