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Lt. Cdr. Jean Hanmer Pearson, USN, Retired

Jean H. Pearson


Lt. Cdr. Jean Hanmer Pearson was born on February 7, 1915 in Detroit, Michigan. She received her pilot's license in 1941 and graduated from the Women's Airforce Service Pilot training in Texas in 1943. During World War II, she served as a WASP assigned to the second ferrying division of the Air Transport Command at Wilmington, Delaware. She was later sent on temporary additional duty to Camp Davis at Wilmington, North Carolina for tow target flying. The targets were to train Army anti-aircraft artillery men.
Later, after being commissioned in the U.S. Navy, she served as an aviation officer for the deputy chief of naval operations in Washington, D.C. She remained in the Naval Reserves following the war, retiring as a lieutenant commander in 1975.

Pearson's interest in civil aviation was as great as her commitment to military aviation. She flew in 10 All-Women Transcontinental Air Races with Alice Hammond, owned her own Cessna 172 from 1961-2005, was vice chairman of the Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Zoning Board of Appeals and was in the Civil Air Patrol in 1942 as an operations officer for an all-women's squadron before leaving for WASP training in Texas. She was a trustee of the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame and also served on the board of directors of the Michigan Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club (an organization of those who have crossed all longitudes in the round the world flight) and the Travelers Aid Society of Detroit.

Her career as a journalist spanned over 30 years at The Detroit News and won her numerous national and local awards including the Aviation/Space Writers Association's Strebig Memorial Award for outstanding aviation writing in 1968 for her "Man in Space" series. She covered the U.S. space program from its earliest days through the Apollo 11 moon landing.
In 1961, Pearson was the first newspaperwoman in the United States to break the sound barrier in an F-106 delta-wing supersonic fighter interceptor at Selfridge Air Force Base. She has also flown in and reported on many different aircraft, ranging from the F-89 Scorpion to the Goodyear blimp.

A past president of the National Science Writers Association, Pearson accompanied four women scientists to Antarctica in 1969 where they were the first women to reach the South Pole. Her series on the Antarctic expedition led to the Women in Communications naming her a National Headliner winner in 1970. On a later pioneering flight by Scandinavian Air Systems, she flew directly over the North Pole on a flight from Tokyo to Copenhagen.

Pearson earned a master's degree in public health from the University of Michigan, a bachelor's degree in English, a master's degree in audio-visual education and an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Wayne State University.

Jean Pearson was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 2, 2005. She passed away January 11, 2010.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program