51 Heroes of Aviation

Throughout its history, aviation has generated some of the most remarkable figures that ever lived, including those brave pilots who made the first forays into the air and who courageously pushed the bounds of flight in ways previously unimaginable. At the same time, aviation has produced a number of people whose heroism rises above the job description of pilot, even if that is the day job. These figures touched all of us in aviation and, in many cases, those far beyond the flying world by their extraordinary deeds, talents or accomplishments. These are the people we celebrate in Flying Magazine's "51 Heroes of Aviation," a look at the people who changed aviation and, in many cases, the course of human history through their remarkable achievements. — Robert Goyer

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51. Dutch Kindelberger
James Howard “Dutch” Kindelberger was born in 1885, nearly 20 years before the first manned, heavier-than-air flight. But thanks to his vision and engineering genius, before his death in 1962 he would see Americans enter space, a feat for which he helped pave the way. In the early 1920s, after serving as a pilot instructor in World War I, Kindelberger would get his start in aviation design with the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft company. Shortly thereafter, he lent his aeronautical insight to the Douglas Company, designing such iconic aircraft as the DC-1 and DC-2. But it was at North American Aviation that he oversaw design of his most famous bird, the P-51, widely considered the best piston single fighter of all time. Under his direction, the company would go on to make huge strides in the realm of rocket-powered aircraft, laying a solid foundation for America’s successful space exploration well into the future. Related: - A Jet Jockey Flies the P-51 Mustang
- P-51 and B-29 Warbird Tour Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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50. Sally Ride
Sally Ride didn't initially set out to become a role model for women, but that's exactly what happened when she became the first American woman in space in 1983. The California native was pursuing a graduate degree in physics at Stanford University in 1977 when she saw a NASA ad in the school newspaper looking for female astronauts. She applied, and beat out thousands of other candidates to become one of six women selected for the program. She made history just a few years later with her work as science officer aboard Space Shuttle Challenger at the age of 32, and transformed into an instant inspiration for girls and women around the country as she broke down traditional gender barriers. She would go on to fly in space again and assisted NASA during the investigation into the fatal Challenger accident of 1986. Her most lasting legacy would be the role she played in inspiring girls and women across the nation and the world to pursue roles in science and engineering, not just through her historic feats, but also through her long-term role as an advocate for the cause, which she accomplished through the creation of the company called Sally Ride Science and by writing several science books for children. Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer. Related: - A Look Back at NASA's Shuttle Program Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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49. Louis Bleriot
Frenchman Louis Bleriot secured a slot in the history books when he successfully crossed the English Channel in the summer of 1909. He was flying the Bleriot XI, an evolution from his earlier Bleriot models designed with major contributions from French engineer Raymond Saulnier. The design is a wood and fabric structure controlled by wing warping, powered by a single engine of various models with a horsepower range of 25 to 100. The Channel crossing made the Bleriot XI an instant international hit, making Bleriot one of the first successful mass producers of airplanes. The airplane flew missions in World War I and Bleriot exported the XI as far as Australia and the United States, where the Queen Aeroplane Company in New York became a producer and Clyde Cessna was inspired to build his first airplane Silver Wings. AB Enoch Thulin Aeroplane Company, a factory in Sweden, also produced the airplane under the name Thulin A. More than 100 years later, there are still a few Bleriot XIs in flying condition. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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48. Harrison Ford
While he’s more famous for his roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford’s engagement as an advocate for the aviation community has been nothing short of extraordinary. The Hollywood A-lister has lent his star power to nearly every facet of the industry, making regular trips to Washington to fight for pilots’ rights, encouraging tomorrow’s generation of aviators through his involvement with Young Eagles, and taking an active part in a number of charitable organizations like the Citation Special Olympics. Pilots may catch a glimpse of the star at EAA AirVenture or the annual NBAA convention, where he is a regular attendee, or standing next to the president of AOPA, GAMA or a number of other aviation associations as they work to ensure better conditions for all of us who love to fly. As for Harrison's own flying career, he wanted to pursue flying lessons while in college, but didn’t have the funds. Thanks to the phenomenal success of his acting career, Harrison was able to finance and fulfill the dream of getting his pilot’s license at the age of 53. He has put that license to use ever since, flying everything from his beloved de Havilland Beaver to his Bell 407. That genuine deep love of flying combined with his reputation as a hero on screen gives an incomparable credence to his advocacy work and has made him a real-life hero to those of us in the aviation community who reap the fruit of his efforts. Related: - Harrison Ford Brings Star Power to Tower Closure Fight
- Harrison Ford Lends Celebrity Power to Fight for GA
- Harrison Ford New Young Eagles Chairman
- Harrison Ford, Death Wishes and Dangerous Planes Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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47. Paul Bowen
Paul Bowen has been capturing the magic of flight through aviation photography for more than four decades. Countless images and more than 1,000 magazine covers later — including many, many cover shots for Flying — Bowen's work continues to stand out as the cream of the crop, and he remains easily identifiable as one of the most renowned and skilled photographers in the business. His ability to capture wing-tip vortices is breathtaking, and his expert use of light and background has drawn award after award over the years. As far as what it takes to get the job done, Bowen usually relies on a Canon and his favorite photo shoot platform, a B-25. He likes to shoot images from the tail gunner's position while also directing what he calls the "aerial ballet" of the formation flying via intercom. As if it weren't enough that Bowen's photographs bring the beauty of aviation to life, he is the real deal in terms of an aviation enthusiast and doesn't hesitate to exclaim that he has the best job in the industry. Related: - How did you get that picture?
- Flying Fave, Photographer Paul Bowen Honored Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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46. Felix Baumgartner
Neil Armstrong’s famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” came to mind as Felix Baumgartner stepped out of the Red Bull Stratos space capsule at 127,852 feet, initiating the highest skydive in history on October 14, 2012. The world held its breath as Baumgartner started spinning, seemingly uncontrollably, for several seconds as he plummeted toward earth, freefalling an extraordinary 119,431 feet while reaching speeds as fast as Mach 1.25. A specially designed helium balloon brought Baumgartner’s capsule up to the edge of space in about 2.5 hours. The trip down took 4 minutes and 20 seconds. A long time skydiver, Baumgartner also holds records for the highest BASE jump, from the Taipei 101 building in Taipei, Taiwan, and the lowest BASE jump, from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Baumgartner’s biggest challenge for the Stratos jump was not the jump itself but rather overcoming extreme claustrophobia. Felix is not only a skydiver. A few years back he earned his commercial helicopter certificate. Related: - Baumgartner's Freefall Jump Was Faster than Initially Thought
- 10 Questions about Baumgartner's Jump
- Baumgartner Goes Supersonic with Freefall Jump Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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45. Lawrence Sperry
Lawrence Sperry created the first successful autopilot in 1912. It connected a gyroscopic heading indicator, invented by his father Elmer Sperry, and the younger Sperry’s second famous invention, the attitude indicator, with hydraulically activated rudder and elevator. The automatic system could maintain straight and level flight on a compass course without pilot input, greatly reducing workload. Sperry demonstrated his autopilot to an amazed audience in Paris in 1914, flying with his hands off the controls and visible to onlookers. On December 23, 1923, Sperry took off into fog in an airplane of his own design to cross the English Channel from England to France but never reached his destination. His body was found in the channel nearly three weeks later. The artificial horizon Sperry invented is the same basic design still used in aircraft today, and the company he founded is now a part of Honeywell. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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44. Boris Popov
The idea of a parachute that could safely lower the entire airplane to the ground in case of an airframe failure or loss of control wasn't new in 1975, when hang gliding pilot Boris Popov's craft suffered a structural failure at 400 feet above the ground, but no one had succeeded in building a commercially successful model. Others had imagined the idea, but no one had actually done it. This was the fact that made Popov mad as he fell toward earth. As it so happened, Popov survived the fall and went on to invent just such a device, which he succeeded to sell though his new company, Ballistic Recovery Systems, or BRS. The system, which was at first intended for ultralights, uses a rocket to safely extract a large chute, which lowers the craft to the ground. Popov's company went on to great success, eventually getting installed on every single model of the Cirrus line of single-engine airplanes. Today, BRS counts nearly 300 pilots whose lives have been saved by one of Popov's inventions. Related: - BRS: Parachute Recovery Systems Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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43. Ed King
Ed King was a good friend of Bill Lear who shared a passion for aviation and electronics with the famed Learjet designer. An electrical engineer who owned a Beech Bonanza, King in the 1950s became dissatisfied with the avionics in his airplane and decided to do something about it. First, he started by selling his fledgling electronics company to Collins and trying to convince higher ups to invest in general aviation electronics. When they declined, he quit and founded his own avionics company, King Radio. King’s VHF comm radios quickly gained a reputation for being inexpensive and reliable. The early success paved the way for a number of firsts: King Radio produced the first solid-state aviation transceiver, the first digital ADF for general aviation, and the first low-cost VHF navcom. The company’s Silver Crown line became the gold standard in aviation radios. The company was purchased in 1985 by AlliedSignal and merged with Bendix Corp. to become Bendix/King. Today the company is a part of Honeywell and still produces bulletproof aviation radios pioneered by King. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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42. Peter Garrison
Readers of Flying will know Peter Garrison as the author of a pair of monthly columns, Aftermath (an accident analysis) and Technicalities (a discussion of aircraft design); longtime readers will know Garrison's accomplishments in aerodynamic modeling, safety education, aircraft homebuilding and extreme long distance flying. Garrison, who earned a degree in English from Harvard College in 1965, began writing for Flying in 1968 and soon began work on his first homebuilt aircraft design, which he called Melmoth. He completed the two-seat all-metal airplane in 1973 and proceeded to fly it with his longtime companion Nancy Salter on several remarkable trips, including to Europe, Japan and South America. In 1982, Melmoth was destroyed when it was struck by a landing airplane; in 2003, Garrison completed Melmoth 2, a four-seat model reminiscent of the original. Related: - Technicalities: My Own Private Wichita
- Technicalities: Now, Whitehead
- Aftermath: Indecision Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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41. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, famous among non-pilots as the author of the fable The Little Prince, one of the best selling books ever, wrote his greatest works about his greatest passion, flying. In The Aviator, Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight and others, Saint-Exupéry chronicled his exploits as a mail pilot flying routes in North Africa, an aerial explorer and an air racer, and about his many crashes. He joined the French Air Force in the early 1920s and quit flying for a short time before beginning work as an airmail pilot and aerial surveyor, both in Africa and, for a time, in Argentina. Saint-Exupéry returned to the Free French Air Force in North Africa and in 1944 was on a reconnaissance mission in a P-38 over the Mediterranean Sea, from which he never returned. Starting around 1998, searchers found parts of his airplane, and some personal effects were found on the seafloor in the presumed crash area. Before and since, Saint-Exupéry's works have inspired generations of pilots with their detailed descriptions of the actual flying and the surpassingly beautiful writing, which captures the glory of flight arguably better than any writer has before or since. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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40. Daniel Bernoulli
Those who have earned a pilot's license have undoubtedly heard of Bernoulli’s principle — the idea that the pressure decreases as the speed of a moving fluid increases, which explains how an airfoil is able to lift an airplane to the skies. But Bernoulli established this principle long before airplanes began to fly. Bernoulli was born in Holland in 1700 and grew up in Switzerland in a family of mathematicians. Bernoulli published several books and also figured out how to measure blood pressure. Through his extensive study of the law of conservation of energy, he discovered a formula for how kinetic energy relates to pressure. This formula later explained how a wing is able to lift an object much heavier than air. So, a couple of centuries after his birth, Bernoulli became a chief resource to the newest wave of scientists studying fluid dynamics: aerodynamicists, to whom Bernoulli is a much revered figure. Related: - Technicalities: You Will Never Understand Lift Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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39. Dr. Paul B. MacCready
A true renaissance aviation thinker, Paul MacCready is perhaps best known for advancing human-powered flight and solar-powered flight. The Yale and Cal Tech trained aeronautical engineer and champion sailplane pilot made history when two of his designs, the Gossamer Condor and Gossamer Albatross, established marks for human powered flight. The Albatros was a very light and rigid aluminum frame craft with mylar covering that cyclist Bryan Allen successfully flew across the English Channel in 1979, making the 36-mile crossing in 2 hours and 49 minutes. MacCready went on to work on a number of groundbreaking solar-powered airplanes, including NASA’s massive Helios, which with a wingspan of nearly 250 feet, established records for all winged aircraft, including sustained flight at the highest altitude, as well as for distance and endurance. MacCready died in 2007. Related: - Flying Bicycles Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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38. Charles Taylor
Without Charles Taylor, you probably never would have heard of the Wright brothers. Originally hired to fix bicycles at the Wrights' Ohio shop, the mechanically inclined Taylor was soon being pressed to build an engine for the brothers' flying machine. Every engine manufacturer the Wrights had contacted said they couldn't build what Wilbur and Orville needed: a gasoline engine weighing less than 200 pounds and producing 8 horsepower. Out of ideas, they asked Taylor to build the engine while they continued working to perfect the aerodynamics of their Flyer. Up until that point, Taylor's experience with engines had been limited to an unsuccessful attempt to fix one once. Still, that didn't stop him from trying. He had a local foundry produce the crankcase from aluminum and the pistons and flywheel from cast iron. When he finished assembling the engine, it weighed just 156 pounds and, once running, produced 12 horsepower. Months later it would propel the Flyer on its famous 56-second flight and the Wright brothers into the history books. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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37. Frank Whittle
British Royal Air Force engineer Frank Whittle is the inventor of the turbojet engine, patenting the design in 1930. Without Air Ministry support, he founded his own company, Power Jets Ltd., to build a prototype, which ran in 1937. The successful test drew interest, and contracts, to build more engines, but Whittle suffered a nervous breakdown in 1940. In 1941, a Gloster E28/39 research airplane was fitted with a Whittle W.1 engine producing 800 pounds of thrust. The airplane reached 466 mph and climbed to 42,000 feet, breaking all aviation records of the day. Because the British government didn’t have the foresight to keep the jet engine design a secret, Germany had no trouble reverse engineering jet engines from Whittle’s patent. In 1944, when Power Jets was nationalized in Great Britain, Whittle again suffered a breakdown, eventually resigning from the company’s board. Despite no longer serving to advance jet design for England, he was nevertheless awarded a knighthood upon retiring from the RAF in 1948. In his career he would be instrumental in helping both Rolls-Royce and General Electric enter the jet age. Related: - The Brotherhood of Yellow Pads Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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36. Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer didn’t learn to fly because he was passionate about aviation or loved airplanes. Quite the opposite, he was scared to death of flying. A terrifying airline flight through a thunderstorm early in his professional golf career convinced him to take flying lessons to help him get over his trepidation. To his surprise he found that he loved flying. Palmer started out flying single-engine Cessnas to golf tournaments. As his win total increased, so did the size and complexity of the airplanes he flew. He moved into an Aero Commander, then a Jet Commander, a Learjet and finally into Cessna Citations, in large part due to his close friendship with Cessna’s president, Russ Meyer. But Citations were slower than Learjets and Palmer longed for something speedier. His input led directly to the development of the Mach 0.92 Citation X. For many years Palmer piloted his Citation X to golf events and between his homes in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and Orlando, Florida, with chief pilot Lee Lauderback. Palmer finally hung up his pilot wings in 2011 after nearly 20,000 hours. Through it all, he has been an outspoken champion of business aviation causes and an ambassador for a profession he says he would have loved to pursue if he wasn’t such a terrific golfer. Related: - One of GA's Finest Folds His Wings
- Capt. Arnie's Final Flight Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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35. Hal Shevers
A major force in the flight training and pilot supply market for more than 50 years, Hal Shevers is at heart a passionate ambassador for aviation. In 1961 the young flight instructor and born entrepreneur started selling radios out of the trunk of his car. Before long it was pilot supplies of all kinds, from handheld radios to kneeboards and headsets, making Sporty’s, the company he founded, one-stop shopping for cockpit supplies for pilots of three generations. Over the years Shevers added to that portfolio with award winning instructional videos, books, training guides and other courses. Today, Sporty’s is on the cutting edge of mobile technology and has partnered with Appareo and ForeFlight on a highly-rated ADS-B receiver. Through it all, Shevers has remained a passionate pilot, flying his trademark Piper Aztec as well as his Cessna Citation II and maintaining a world-class FBO at Sporty’s home base of Clermont County Airport near Cincinnati, Ohio. Related: - Sporty's Celebrates 50th Anniversary
- Unusual Attitudes: Memories of South Line Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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34. Ernest Gann
Ernest Gann was a man of many talents, but it was his love of flying and his excellent command of language that first propelled him to success as he wrote some of the best aviation literature of all time. Over the years Gann published a slew of aviation-themed best-sellers, including Fate Is the Hunter, The High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky, and throughout the decades the classic works have continually captured the imagination and suspense of pilots and non-pilots alike. What made the novels so great, in part, was that Gann was the real-deal, a man who loved to fly and who piloted everything from the DC-3 to the U-2 to the F-15 over the course of his life. But beyond that rich flying history, he had the rare ability to convey the love and excitement of aviation within a neatly woven narrative, one that captured not only the truths of flying but also the truths of life. He was a frequent contributor to the pages of Flying. While Gann passed away in 1991, he continues to inspire and enthrall aviation enthusiasts around the world who have the pleasure of exploring new worlds within the pages of his books. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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33. Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan
On December 14, 1986, after nearly six years of intensive research and development work, Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan departed from Edwards Air Force Base in California, embarking on the first non-stop flight around the world. The couple flew the Rutan Model 76 Voyager, a twin-engine sailplane designed by Rutan’s innovative brother, Burt. At the point of departure, the airplane was loaded to a gross weight of nearly 9,700 pounds, 20 percent more than it had ever flown with before, of which fuel comprised 73 percent. The wings were so weight laden that the wingtips scraped along the tarmac, putting the success of the flight into serious question. But the Voyager lifted and after nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds of flight, covering 24,986 miles on one tank of gas, Yeager and Rutan landed safely back at Edwards. For their efforts, the Voyager team received the Presidential Citizens Medal and several awards including the Collier Trophy — the first time a woman had been included as a recipient of this coveted award. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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32. Elrey Jeppesen
Captivated by the magic of flight, Elrey Jeppesen would often watch birds fly for hours as a young boy growing up in the Western United States during the early 1900s. He would go on to turn down a slot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, dropping out of high school during his senior year to instead pursue his love of flying, making his first solo flight in an Alexander Eaglerock after little more than two hours of instruction in the air. After spending his days as a barnstormer, Jeppesen eventually became a mail pilot, and soon encountered the widespread lack of navigational aids along his routes. He made a habit of jotting down geographical landmarks, elevations and other data in a 10-cent notebook as he flew. Other pilots soon took note, and in no time his inventory of navigational information was in high demand. Thus began the inception of standardized aerial charts that most pilots today couldn’t imagine flying without. Thanks to Jeppesen’s ingenuity, today’s pilots can now rely on one of the most detailed, comprehensive information databases in the world to provide life-saving navigational technology both for VFR and IFR flight. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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31. Olive Ann and Walter Beech
The Beechcraft story begins with Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman, three legendary figures who started out together by forming Travel Air, one of the leading aircraft manufacturers of the 1920s. After parting ways with that venture, Walter Beech and his wife Olive Ann cofounded Beech Aircraft Co. in Wichita in 1931. He was 40 and she was 27. The company’s first airplane was also one of its most iconic: the Beech Model 17 Staggerwing. During World War II, Beechcraft won numerous military contracts, supplying versions of the Model 17 and 18 Twin Beech. After the war, Beechcraft introduced the legendary Bonanza, the longest continually produced airplane in aviation history. Olive Ann had already run the company when Walter contracted encephalitis during World War II, and was able to manage the company expertly after her husband’s death from a heart attack in 1950. She was a driving force behind the company’s expansion, ushering in the Beech Baron and King Air line. She headed the company until it was bought by Raytheon in 1980. She died in 1993 at age 89. Related: - Beechcraft: A History
- A Family Affair Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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30. Fred Weick
A name little known even by most pilots, Fred Weick was one of the most important aeronautical thinkers of the 20th century, doing highly influential work on subjects including cowling design, propeller efficiency, stall resistance and control surface configuration. Weick, who won the Collier Trophy in 1929 for developing the NACA inlet, still in wide use today, went on to design the groundbreaking (two-axis control, nosewheel design, and spin resistant design) but ultimately unsuccessful Ercoupe, which sought to make flying easier, safer, less expensive and more accessible. Weick went on to co-design one of the most successful light planes in history, the Cherokee PA-28, which re-invented Piper Aircraft as a modern aircraft company. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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29. Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was born in 1878 and, like the Wright brothers, started his career operating a bicycle repair shop and, later, designing bicycles, motorcycles and engines under the trade name Hercules. In 1907 he became known as "the fastest man on earth" after driving his motorcycle to a speed of 136.3 mph, a world record that held until 1911. He first ventured into aviation when balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin placed one of Curtiss' engines in his airship, the California Arrow. In May of 1908, Curtiss flew the Aerial Experimental Association's White Wing, an airplane with aileron-like "horizontal rudders," 1,017 feet, a much greater distance than anyone had flown before. His experience with White Wing led him to build June Bug, an airplane in which Curtiss won the Scientific American Trophy in a highly publicized flight across Pleasant Valley in Hammondsport, New York. He experimented extensively with seaplane operations until finally reaching success in 1911 within days of becoming the first to land on a platform on a Navy ship and also completing the first hydroplane flight to a ship. These three achievements earned him the title "the father of naval aviation." Related: - Photo Gallery: Curtiss A-1 Triad Replica
- Flying Quiz: The Early Days of Aviation Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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28. Gary Burrell and Min Kao
Legend has it that the idea for avionics powerhouse Garmin arose from the scrawls on the back of a napkin at a Lenexa, Kansas, Red Lobster restaurant. It was the late 1980s and two Bendix/King engineers, Gary Burrell and Min Kao, had tried unsuccessfully to convince their bosses that the company should be investing in a new navigation technology known as GPS. The higher ups at Bendix/King scoffed at the idea, and so Burrell and Kao hatched a plan to start their own company, originally called ProNav. Their first product, the GPS 100 panel-mount receiver, was an immediate hit. A company called NavPro soon sued over the name, and so it was subsequently changed to Garmin — a combination of the founders’ first names. Garmin’s first handheld GPS proved popular with military personnel during the 1991 Gulf War. The company cemented its place in aviation with the revolutionary GNS 430 and 530 GPS/navcom navigators and, a few years later, the G1000 integrated avionics system. Burrell has since retired while Kao remains Garmin’s executive chairman, helping the company expand into a wide range of avionics markets, including integrated systems for Part 25 jets. (Kao pictured on the left, Burrel pictured on the right. Photo courtesy of Garmin.) Related: - Garmin Pilot App Overhauled: Game Changer?
- Garmin Introduces Its First Radar Altimeter
- Garmin Receives 2012 Flying Editors' Choice Award Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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27. Clyde Cessna
Clyde Cessna was a farmer and car salesman in Enid, Oklahoma, who in 1910 was inspired to get into aviation by a traveling airshow. He became an apprentice at the Queen Aeroplane Company, which produced copies of the Bleriot XI, and used one of the company’s fuselages for his first flying machine, which he crashed multiple times while teaching himself to fly. He nearly bankrupted himself in the process and retreated to his family farm in Wichita, Kansas. There he built his first complete design, Silver Wings, a monoplane constructed of spruce and linen, in 1911. A successful Midwest show circuit followed. Each winter, Cessna would build a new airplane, each an improvement over last year’s model. After the war, which forced Cessna back to farming for a few years, he joined forces with Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman at the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. But Cessna’s strong belief in strutless monoplane designs caused him to resign from Travel Air and start up Cessna Aircraft Company in 1927. Cessna retired and went back to farming in 1936, but with much help from his nephew, Dwane Wallace, Cessna’s company became the most productive airplane manufacturer in history. Related: - Cessna Commemorates Founder's First Flight Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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26. John Glenn
While two Americans had already completed suborbital flights by the dawn of 1962, America’s space program was still trailing far behind that of the Soviet Union when John Glenn's first NASA mission approached. That fact, and the growing anticipation of Americans across the nation, put all the more pressure on the success of the flight as it was repeatedly delayed and aborted a whopping 10 times. Luckily, however, try number 11 was a go, and Glenn soared into orbit aboard the Mercury 7 capsule. Within less than five hours, he had orbited the earth three times and watched the sun set and rise with each journey around. While the United States hadn’t quite caught up in the space race just yet, the accomplishment put the U.S. on a more equal footing with the Soviets and gave Americans a sorely needed morale boost. Glenn would go on to serve his country as a two-term United States Senator, and returned to space again at the age of 77, setting the record as the oldest man to fly in space. As if those accomplishments weren’t enough, earlier in his life Glenn also accomplished a slew of other feats, including the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speeds and participation in 149 missions during World War II and the Korean conflict. Throughout his life, he remained an avid general aviation pilot, making him a particularly legendary hero among fellow fliers. Related: - Video: 50th Anniversary of Friendship 7 Orbit Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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25. Howard Hughes
The mind of Howard Hughes appears to have fit right on the fine line between genius and insanity. A man of grandiose plans, Hughes managed to achieve many seemingly unattainable goals partially as a result of inheriting a massive fortune at the age of 18. He left for Hollywood where he started making movies and fell in love with flying. As a 28-year-old, Hughes started Hughes Aircraft Company and produced the H-1 Racer, arguably one of the most beautiful airplanes ever built. In 1938 Hughes broke the current speed record with the H-1 at 352 mph. He also flew the H-1 from Burbank, California, to New York in 7 hours and 28 seconds, breaking his previous record, set in a Northrop Gamma, by nearly two hours. As a majority shareholder in TWA Airlines, Hughes commissioned the Lockheed 049 Constellation, which became a huge success. But not all of Hughes’ dreams became victories. His massive HK-1, popularly known as the “Spruce Goose,” was an eight-engine seaplane constructed primarily of wood that was designed to carry up to 750 troops overseas. It was not completed until after the war and Hughes was accused of war profiteering. In the end the “Spruce Goose” did fly, but it became most successful as a tourist attraction after Hughes’ death. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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24. Lloyd Stearman
When Lloyd Stearman joined forces in 1925 with Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Company, one of several early airplane manufacturers that set their roots in Wichita, Kansas, no one could have expected that each one of them would quickly move on to become successful independent airplane designers. After a quick stint in Venice, California, Stearman founded Stearman Aircraft Corporation in Wichita in 1927, successfully designing and building the C-3, which was used for transporting mail and passengers. In 1929, like many aviation businesses of the era, Stearman Aircraft was absorbed, by United Aircraft and Transportation Corporation, owned by William Boeing, and the company later became a division of Boeing. While Stearman left his company in 1931, his drawings were the basis for the successful Stearman Kaydet military trainer, of which Boeing built more than 8,500 in the late 1930s and early 1940s. And Stearman himself didn’t quit the business. He worked for several companies, including Lockheed Aircraft Company, designing airplanes and spacecraft until he died in 1975. __ (Stearman pictured on the right.) Related: - Tuskegee Airmen Stearman Flies Into History Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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23. Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson
Few innovators have designed such an incredible number of legendary aircraft over the years as Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Born in a poor town in northern Michigan, Johnson got his start at Lockheed during his early 20s and quickly won the trust of his colleagues with his visionary ideas and incisive insight. He first assisted in the creation of the Lockheed Electra and a few years later produced one of his most valuable aircraft of World War II — the uniquely crafted P-38. As the head of the super-secret Skunk Works, Johnson would go on to spearhead the design of aircraft like the P-80, the T-33, the F-104, the P-2V, the U-2 spy plane, and the ultra-fast SR-71. Despite his at times brash and dominant demeanor, Johnson’s intellect and direct managerial style commanded respect far and wide. All in all, Johnson lent his expertise to the creation of more than 40 aircraft designs over his decades-long career. One of Lockheed’s former test pilots summed up Johnson’s legacy well when he said that Johnson’s designs “kept us out of World War III.” Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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22. Dick VanGrunsven
Back in the early 1970s Dick VanGrunsven started work on his first homebuilt design, a reworking of the Stitts Playboy homebuilt with metal wings and a new engine. VanGrunsven, known to friends and followers simply as “Van,” was on to something. He soon turned his efforts to his own designs, starting with the single-seat RV-3 and tandem-seat RV-4, which were affordable, sporty, fast, easy-to-build and fun-to-fly all-metal homebuilt kits. At a time when futuristic composite speedsters and vintage looking tube-and-rag taildraggers were getting all the attention, Van’s company, Van’s Aircraft, was generating a ton of sales from people who wanted what the growing lineup of RV’s had to offer. Over the next 40-plus years, Van’s RVs have continued to get better, easier to build, better handling and more comfortable, and Van’s has gone from one model to many, including a beautiful four-seater and a hot-selling LSA. Today with more than 18,000 kits sold and more than 7,500 known to be completed and flying, Van’s is the undisputed leader in kit aircraft manufacturing with no sign of letting up soon. Related: - The RVs of Van's Aircraft and Dick VanGrunsven Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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21. Wolfgang Langewiesche
Perhaps no other author has left such a legacy in the realm of aviation as Wolfgang Langewiesche, a German-born academic who became captivated with flying while pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. He sold his car and used what little money he had to pay for flying lessons at a rate of $0.25 per minute. He soloed in 1934, ten years before his classic book Stick and Rudder was first published. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the book have been sold since, and it remains the bible of aviation literature nearly seven decades later. The impetus for the timeless work was what Langewiesche saw as the disconnect between what pilots think flying is all about, as opposed to the fundamental realities of aeronautics and how an airplane really works. In Stick and Rudder, Langewiesche put to rest those discrepancies by explaining the basic truths of piloting a fixed-wing airplane in language that any pilot or would-be pilot can understand. In doing so, he opened up a whole new depth of understanding to generation after generation of pilots, who were made safer, better masters of their craft for it. Related: - Using the Airspeed Indicator as a Fuel Flow Meter?
- Smooth Flying in Rough Air
- Technicalities: Bookends Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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20. Al Mooney
A passionate airplane designer from an early age, Albert Mooney sold his first airplane design at the age of 20 to Denver, Colorado-based Alexander Aircraft. Mooney and his brother Albert founded Mooney Aircraft Company in 1929, but, because of the Great Depression, it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the company got off the ground with the help of Charles Yankey and W.L. McMahon. Like many early airplane manufacturers, the Mooney brothers started their business in Wichita, Kansas, with the Mooney M18 Mite — a single-engine, single-seat airplane with retractable gear and the trademark forward swept tail. The company later moved to Kerrville, Texas, near the Mooney family’s farm. Mooney’s designs became known for speed. The M20J, also known as the 201, was the first production airplane to do one mph per horsepower, claimed Mooney. Though the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the flying public loved their Mooneys. With more than 11,000 Mooneys delivered, the production in Kerrville has paused, for now at least. Related: - Magic Mooney 201
- Mooney M20: A Look Back in Photos Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
Mooney Aircraft
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19. Otto Lilienthal
German Otto Lilienthal’s 19th Century experiments and research in flight, which included many successful, long gliding flights in craft he designed, set the stage for the success of the Wrights and others. While Lilienthal failed to embrace new technologies, his scientific approach and practical success were crucial steps in the march of aviation. Lilienthal’s designs used weight shift principles, meaning control was achieved by the pilot maneuvering his body, instead of control surfaces like ailerons and rudders, to change the flight path. Lilienthal also failed to discard the notion that we needed to copy the mechanics of bird flight. Designs he was working on at the end of his career featured flapping wings. Lilienthal died, in a glider crash in 1896, at the age of 48, without seeing the success of the Wrights. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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18. Burt Rutan
The true definition of an innovator, Elbert "Burt" Rutan seems to have ignored all previous designs to create unique and in some cases revolutionary airplanes and spacecraft. Rutan was a very early adapter of composite materials, which helped form his unique, sometimes art-like airplane designs. His first design was made of wood and fiberglass - the tandem two-seat VariViggen, named after the Saab Viggen fighter jet. Like many of the Rutan designs that followed, the VariViggen was a pusher prop with a canard wing and two vertical stabilizers in lieu of a traditional empennage. It first flew in 1972. By 1977 the Rutan Aircraft Factory had sold 600 VariViggen plans. Many successful designs ensued, the VariEze and Long-EZ being the most abundant, and thousands of Rutan designed homebuilts are now flying around the world. But what made Rutan famous with the general public was arguably the Voyager, which carried Burt's brother Dick and Jeana Yeager around the world non-stop on one tank of gas. In 1982, Rutan formed Scaled Composites, LLC, which specializes in the development and flight test of composite airplanes and spaceships. Rutan's innovations have earned him many awards, including two Collier trophies. After designing SpaceShipOne, the spacecraft that won the Ansari X Price in 2004, Rutan was listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. Before leaving Scaled Composites in 2011, Rutan completed the design of the first commercial spaceship — SpaceShipTwo. Related: - Burt Rutan: Icon of Homebuilding…And Space Travel
- What Burt Rutan Did
- Final Burt Rutan Creation Unveiled: A Hybrid 'Roadable Aircraft' Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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17. Alan and Dale Klapmeier
Cirrus Aircraft founders brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier began their manufacturing careers developing a kit for an airplane known as the VK-30, a high-performance single-engine pusher that never had much of an impact. Discouraged about the results and the limitations of the kitbuilt world, they proceeded to create a plan for a new kind of airplane in their much-buzzed Hangar X. That new plane, the SR20, looked conventional compared to the VK-30. But it wasn't. In addition to all-composite construction, the fixed-gear but fast 200 hp SR20 featured a parachute system designed to lower the entire aircraft safely to the ground in event of trouble. In addition, the SR20 and even more so its soon-to-be launched hangar mate, the fixed-gear 310 hp SR22, would boast flat-panel avionics, and the SR22 would have available turbocharging and a host of high-tech safety features, including ice protection, infrared cameras, flight-envelope protection, and sophisticated auto-flight capability. Through the Klapmeiers' vision, Cirrus models defined in many ways the wants and needs of modern light GA pilots: Since mid-2000, Cirrus has built more than 5,000 airframes. Today Alan has left Cirrus Aircraft, now owned by Chinese concerns. Dale Klapmeier remains as president of the company he co-founded. (Alan pictured on the left and Dale pictured on the right.) Related: - The Klapmeier Brothers…Homebuilts to Factory Builts
- 10 Ways that the SR22 Changed Flying Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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16. C.G. Taylor and William Piper
Without these pioneers of general aviation, the Piper J-3 Cub and indeed all the legendary Piper Aircraft models that have followed never would have come into existence. C.G. Taylor designed the E-2 Cub in the early 1930s, but his company, Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania, soon went bankrupt. William Piper, a local oil industry entrepreneur, bought a controlling interest in the company and retained Taylor as president. Piper believed airplanes should be inexpensive to own and fly, and soon green lighted production of the J-3 Cub, which improved on earlier Taylor models with an enclosed cockpit, rounded edges and more power. Taylor was furious with the changes and quit. He would go on to find success with the founding of Taylorcraft Aviation in Ohio. Meanwhile, Piper moved the company to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, establishing the world’s first mass producer of general aviation airplanes as more than 19,000 J-3 Cubs rolled out of the factory over the next decade. Related: - Piper Cub: Aviation's Holy Relic
- The Piper Cub in Photos
- Piper Cub Seaplane Discovery Flights Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
C.G. Taylor courtesy of alliancememory.org and Rodman Public Library. All rights reserved.
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15. Bill Lear
Most people remember Bill Lear as the creator of the Learjet, the first mass produced small business jet. But Lear achieved so much over a nearly 50-year career that no tribute to the man can start with the airplanes he designed and built. For instance, Lear was the inventor of the 8-track cassette player. He was also the cofounder of Motorola. He bought his first airplane, a Fleet biplane, in 1931 when he was 28, but found navigating by dead reckoning a chore, so the self-taught engineer founded an avionics company, Lear Developments. He produced radio direction finders, autopilots and the first fully automatic aircraft landing system. In 1960 he moved to Switzerland, where he began redesigning a prototype Swiss fighter jet into a small business jet. Lear moved the company to Wichita in 1963 and began flight tests of the legendary Lear 23. One of Lear’s most innovative projects, the failed LearAvia composite pusher turboprop, was also his last before he died in 1976. Related: - 45 Years of Learjets
- Learjet 60 XR, An Airplane With Roots Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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14. Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman first became enthralled with aviation after hearing World War I veterans return from the conflict with incredible stories of flying feats both seen and heard. She decided she would learn to fly, but as a young African American woman coming of age in the early 1900s, she was rejected by all of the flight schools in the United States that she approached with her plan. Undeterred and inspired by the success of French female pilots, Coleman decided to learn the language and head overseas to pursue flying lessons at the Caudron Brother's School of Aviation. There she learned to fly a Nieuport Type 82 biplane, and received her pilot’s license just seven months later, in 1921. When she stepped foot back in the United States, she became a star, and went on to delight and inspire countless spectators at airshows across the nation. While her life was short-lived — she died in an airplane crash in 1926 — her legacy was not. As the first African American to receive a pilot’s license and one of the earliest female aviators in the world, Coleman broke down barrier after barrier, paving a way for all Americans of future generations to one day pursue the possibility of flight. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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13. Al Ueltschi
Albert Lee Ueltschi is rightly recognized as the father of modern business aviation flight training. As founder and longtime president of FlightSafety International, Ueltschi pioneered the use of fight simulation, including advanced full-motion units, for pilots of business and GA aircraft. Born in Kentucky in 1917, Ueltschi earned the money to learn to fly selling hamburgers and eventually got a job flying for Pan Am Airlines, where he was personal pilot to Pan Am founder Juan Trippe. Amazingly Ueltschi stayed on the job with Pan Am for nearly two decades after founding FlightSafety (in 1951) and was president at FlightSafety until 2003, though he remained chairman. FlightSafety, today a part of Berkshire Hathaway, is a giant in business aviation flight training. The company has more than 4,000 employees in dozens of training centers around the world and annually provides training to more than 75,000 pilots. Related: - FlightSafety International
- Albert Lee Ueltschi, the Father of Modern Aviation Training, Dies at 95 Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
FlightSafety
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12. Igor Sikorsky
Russian-born Igor Sikorsky built his first helicopter in 1909. But his early design didn’t get off the ground and Sikorsky was encouraged to design airplanes instead. He flew his first truly successful design, the S-5, which had a 50-horsepower Argus engine, as early as 1911. The rudimentary airplane later crashed after a mosquito lodged in its fuel system, starving the engine. Sikorsky continued to design and fly fixed-wing airplanes for years, winning multiple races and breaking several records. He focused his efforts on large airplanes. In 1913, he became the first pilot to design and fly a four-engine airplane, the S-21 Grand, which had a gross weight of more than 9,000 pounds, by far the heaviest airplane at the time. The Russian revolution eventually pushed Sikorsky to leave his homeland to continue his pursuit of aviation in the United States where his S-38 amphib and S-42 flying boat became huge successes for Pan Am Airlines in the late 1920s and 1930s. In 1939, Sikorsky finally had an opportunity to build and fly his first viable helicopter, the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300, which was also the predecessor to the first mass-produced helicopter, the Sikorsky R-4. Sikorsky died in 1972, but his legacy lives on with the continued production of a long list of civilian, commercial and military helicopters of many shapes and sizes. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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11. Dwane Wallace
Those new to aviation history usually assume that the story of Cessna Aircraft begins and ends with founder Clyde Cessna, but it was actually Clyde’s nephew, Dwane Wallace, fresh out of college at Wichita State, who rescued the company from bankruptcy in the 1930s. It was Wallace and not his uncle who designed its first commercially successful airplane, the C-34, shepherded in the era of all-metal construction, ushered in mass production of airplanes in Cessna’s Wichita factory, created a market for business and personal transportation use for light airplanes and oversaw the creation of a general aviation powerhouse in Cessna that built more than 100,000 airplanes in his time there, from small two-seat trainers (the ubiquitous 150) to entry-level twinjets, and beyond. Wallace resigned from Cessna in 1983 as the company was readying to abandon the piston-engine airplane market, a move it didn’t reverse for seven years after Wallace’s death, at 78, in 1989. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Cessna
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10. Bob Hoover
Bob Hoover will forever be remembered for his exhilarating airshow routines in his green-and-white Shrike Commander. As a grand finale, he would shut down both engines, fly a whisper-quiet loop followed by an 8-point hesitation slow roll and then land on one tire before exiting the runway and coming to a stop at show center in front of the cheering crowd. Known as “the pilot’s pilot,” Hoover is almost equally well known for his yellow P-51 Mustang named “Ole Yeller.” Jimmy Doolittle called Hoover the best stick-and-rudder pilot of all time. Chuck Yeager thought so much of Hoover’s piloting skills that he requested he serve as his backup and chase plane pilot during testing of the supersonic Bell X-1. When Hoover had his medical certificate revoked, there was a national outcry among pilots to return it; the FAA did. Hoover’s start in aviation was far more mundane: He learned to fly at Nashville’s Berry Field while working at a grocery store to pay for lessons. In World War II, Hoover was shot down in his Spitfire off the coast of Southern France and taken prisoner. After 16 months he escaped and stole a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, flying to safety in the Netherlands. Thus the legend began. Related: - Troubled P-51 Mustang Lands Safely After Help From Bob Hoover
- AirVenture 2011: Boeings, Boomerangs, Bob-Mania, and More Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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9. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart did more to spur interest in aviation than any pilot of her generation save for Charles Lindbergh. Keenly interested in advancing women's causes, she capitalized on her celebrity to discuss and write about issues that were important to her. After she became world famous as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, she began endorsing products from luggage to clothing and even Lucky Strike cigarettes. She took first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on her first airplane ride, was an associate editor for Cosmopolitan, helped found the Ninety-Nines and, with Lindbergh, founded an airline that would become TWA. After marrying book publisher George P. Putnam, Earhart set her sights on an even bigger prize: becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by airplane. After an aborted attempt in March 1937 to fly around the world east to west, Earhart tried the same feat going in the other direction. She and navigator Fred Noonan made it all the way from California to within miles of Howland Island in the Pacific, but famously disappeared on July 2, 1937. Related: - Photo Gallery: Amelia Earhart
- New Amelia Earhart Search Mission Begins
- State Department Joins Earhart Search Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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8. Alberto Santos-Dumont
In the debate over who was really the first to fly — the Wright brothers, as the history books tell us, or someone else — the name Santos Dumont frequently surfaces. In Brazil, Dumont’s home country, he is a national hero. The heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers, Dumont devoted himself to the study of aeronautics in Paris, where he lived as an adult. What is not in dispute is that Dumont was the first to successfully fly a dirigible, piloting his craft around the Eiffel Tower on October 19, 1901. He donated the 125,000 franc prize he received for the feat to the poor of Paris and his workers as a bonus. Dumont’s first official flight in an airplane came on October 23, 1906, when he flew his 14-bis canard biplane before a large crowd for a distance of 197 feet at a height of about 15 feet. The airplane was able to take off under its own power on wheels, as opposed to all of the Wright designs until that point which used launching rails. This distinction has led many Dumont supporters to claim that he technically was the first to fly an airplane. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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7. Donald Douglas
Donald Douglas was a Brooklyn-born man who first became enthralled with aviation upon witnessing Orville Wright demonstrate the Wright Flyer as a teenager in 1908. While Douglas was initially enrolled in the Naval Academy, his fascination with flight prompted him to transfer to MIT, where he finished a four-year aeronautical engineering degree in just two years. After working for several burgeoning aircraft companies for a few years, Douglas set out to build his own company. With just $600 to his name, Douglas washed cars and hoed potatoes to make ends meet, but got his first break when millionaire David Davis invested $40,000 to build a cross-country flier called the Cloudster. While the Cloudster failed to achieve Davis's goal of flying non-stop across the continental U.S., the airplane brought enough attention to Douglas's expertise to trigger a slew of new business. Douglas went on to build a number of different aircraft, and in 1936 introduced what would become his most famous model — the Douglas DC-3. The iconic airliner would go on to become an unimaginable success, and today serves as a symbol of the brave ingenuity that marked the revolutionary era of aircraft development so many years ago. Douglas would go on to lead his company into the jet age with some of the most forward looking and successful commercial jets in history, giving Beoing a run for its money for many years. (Douglas pictured on the right.) Related: - DC-3, A Real Man's Airplane
- Famed DC-3 Returns to the Skies Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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6. Jimmy Doolittle
On April 18, 1942, Jimmy Doolittle led 16 B-25s as they took off from the USS Hornet on a daring one-way mission to bomb the Japanese mainland. While the physical damage caused by the raid was minimal, the psychological blow to the Japanese was huge. The mission made Doolittle a Medal of Honor recipient and an instant American hero, but his feats in the realm of aviation hardly end there. After becoming one of the first men to graduate with a doctorate degree in aeronautics from MIT, Doolittle went on to complete pioneering work in the field of instrument flying, and in 1929 made the first-ever "blind" flight relying on instruments alone. His achievements also include a slew of aviation speed records — he not only nabbed the record for the fastest seaplane flight in 1925 and the fastest land airplane flight in 1932, but also swept the air race circuit, winning the Thompson Trophy Race with his speedy flight in the Gee Bee Racer and the Bendix Trophy Race in a Laird biplane. Related: - The Last Toast for the Doolittle Raiders
- Doolittle Raid Reunion to Celebrate Veterans of Historic Mission Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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5. Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager is that rare breed of pilot to have achieved legendary status. And for good reason. He became a World War II ace on a single mission, shooting down five enemy airplanes in one day in his P-51 Glamorous Glennis. He was also one of the first pilots to shoot down a jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262. Yeager evaded capture after being shot down in March 1944 and escaped to Spain with the help of the French Resistance. After the war, he became a noted test pilot, rising to fame as the first person to break the sound barrier, at the controls of the rocket-powered Bell X-1. While that flight guaranteed him celebrity, it was his test flights over the next seven years that earned him legendary status among his peers. At Edwards Air Force Base in the 1950s he tested the limits of exotic research aircraft, including flying at Mach 2.44 in the Bell X1-A. Yeager was also one of the first Western pilots to fly a Russian-built MiG 15. Yeager's exploits made him wildly popular after the publication in 1979 of Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff and the movie that followed. He retired as a brigadier general. Related: - Chuck Yeager Breaks Sound Barrier on 65th Anniversary Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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4. Paul Poberezny
Like many of the people on this list, Paul Poberezny changed the aviation world with a simple act: building an airplane of his own design, the Pober Pixie, and publishing plans for it in an early 1950s article in Popular Mechanics. Just back from the war, the Wisconsin resident couldn't afford to buy an airplane, so he decided simply to build it himself. The idea took off like wildfire, and soon there was a groundswell of interest in aircraft homebuilding. Soon after that Poberezny began organizing fly-ins of a few airplanes at his local airport, annual events that within the next 20 years turned into the largest gathering of airplanes in the world, which is today known as AirVenture and held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Poberezny's passion for grass roots aviation inspired millions of people to get involved in aviation and to share that love with others though homebuilding, aircraft restoration and preservation, and sport flying. His positive impact on aviation is immeasurable. Related: - Paul Poberezny's Three Great Accomplishments
- Photo Gallery: Paul Poberezny
- EAA Founder Paul Poberezny Turns 91 Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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3. Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic New York-Paris flight ignited worldwide passion for aviation and inspired the launch of Flying. Lindbergh, who taught himself to fly in a surplus Jenny, got his Army wings in 1923 before launching a career as an airmail pilot. In the mid-1920s Lindbergh began planning his New York-Paris flight in pursuit of the $25,000 Orteig Prize. In May 1927, flying a purpose-built Ryan monoplane dubbed Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh made the hop to Paris' Le Bourget Field, where he was mobbed. Despite his instant fame, Lindbergh's later life was complex and sometimes tragic. After the abduction and murder of his infant son in 1932, he and his family embarked on a withdrawal to Europe, where Lindbergh flew (and secretly reported on) emerging German warplanes. But his seeming support for the German regime made him a polarizing figure at home. In later years, Lindbergh reemerged, secretly flying in World War II and later lending his name to the development of new technologies, endorsing and consulting on the U.S. space effort, and writing prolifically while backing environmental and social causes. He died in Maui, Hawaii, in 1974 at the age of 72. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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2. Orville and Wilbur Wright
In 1901, after years of aeronautical study into the possibility of a human flying machine, Wilbur Wright told his brother Orville that he believed man would not fly for some 50 years. Less than three years later, Orville blew that projection out of the water and changed the course of history when he made the first powered, heavier-than-air flight. The feat lasted all of 12 seconds, but its reverberations resounded far into the future, laying the foundation for a world unbelievably changed by a single invention: the airplane. Just five newspapers initially reported that first flight, and skeptics of the accomplishment abounded. Nevertheless, the Wright brothers feverishly pursued further development of their invention, meticulously documenting their work, risking their lives and eventually turning doubters into believers as they conducted flight demonstrations across the nation. In 1909 the men sold the U.S. government its first airplane and went on to set up a flight school that trained some of the world’s earliest aviators. For the rest of their lives, the men devoted themselves to the perfection of human-powered flight, and in the process they built the immeasurable stepping stones that created the amazing world of aviation we treasure today. Related: - Wright Brothers: Little Known Secrets to their Success
- Flying Quiz: The Early Days of Aviation Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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1. Neil Armstrong
Few aviation notables are as instantly recognizable or revered as Neil Armstrong, who grew up as an Ohio native captivated by the feats of the Wright brothers. The soft-spoken man who would go on to take that “one small step” became enthralled with aviation at a young age, experiencing his first airplane ride in a Ford Trimotor when he was six years old. He went on to get his pilot’s license at the age of only 15, before he even had his driver’s license. He served as a U.S. Navy pilot during the Korean War and later as a test pilot, manning such high-speed aircraft as the Bell X-1B and the X-15. Armstrong was officially moved to astronaut status in 1962 and made his first space flight as the commanding pilot of Gemini 8 in 1966. He would make his most memorable achievement a little more than three years later, as hundreds of millions of people around the world raptly watched the live footage as he became the first man ever to step foot on another world. As incredible and stunning as that feat is, perhaps equally compelling is the humility and modesty that marked Armstrong’s demeanor throughout his life. He once said, “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” and he continually credited others for the success of Apollo 11. Related: - Neil Armstrong in Photos
- Remembering Neil Armstrong
- Neil Armstrong: Knowing the Kid From Wapakoneta Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
50 Amazing Aircraft Engines Extra Gallery Slide
The countdown doesn't have to end there. Check out Flying's 50 Amazing Engines list to celebrate the most significant engines in aviation history. Click here to view the list. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.