One of the brightest and most daring personalities of all time, these seven early aviation pioneers have managed to do the unthinkable of their era. Needless to say, we have all daydreamed about their courage and unimaginable creativity that made them fly away into the unknown and grow some amazing wings. These are their inspiring stories:
- Elinor Smith Sullivan
There’s no way we could start this list without firstly mentioning Elinor Smith Sullivan. One of the most prolific aviation figures of all times, Elinor never stopped to amaze the world with her passion. The youngest person to ever get a flying license and one of the most courageous and most gifted pilot ever, she is sure to be remembered. If not for her successful completion of a simulated shuttle landing at NASA at the amazing age of 89, then for the many unbelievable achievements from her life-long career.
- Captain Eric Brown
Captain Eric Brown is a legendary figure, also known for holding the record for testing the greatest number of aircrafts – 487 and at the same time for the most landings on an aircraft carrier – 2407. He’s not only impressive because of these crazy numbers but also because of his famous, self-described fearless spirit.
He served as a pilot during the World War Two but has only finished flying at the age of 75. Talk about breaking boundaries as a life-long passion.
- John A.Macready
Having served in the US Military’s Engineering Division’s Flight Test Section, he has set some of the greatest records in aviation. One of the most impressive is the 1922 record for altitude flight when he has reached the fabulous altitude of 40,800 feet despite the incredible technical hardships he had to face. He became the first to fly non-stop across the United States, and he’s also the one who set the world endurance flight record by staying in the air for more than, wait, 35 hours!!
- Joseph A.Walker
If there’s someone who actually broke the limits of air, it has got to be Joseph A.Walker. Known as the one who first reached the altitude of 107 km – with 100 km being the boundary between atmosphere and space, he officially became not only a pilot but an astronaut as well!! His story goes tragic when he dies, out of a sudden, in 1966, during a flight for a General Electric photo opportunity. He was lost too soon, but he has left behind one of the most innovative legacies to both aviation and spaceflight.
- Otto Lilienthal
A real innovator for his times, Otto Lilienthal is one of the greatest aviation pioneers of the 19th century. Born in 1848, he was among the first ones to successfully experiment with flying gliders. His studies and sketches of gliders are one of the most fascinating there are. With more than 2000 glider flights during his career, he was a real famous figure during his times. Unfortunately, his passion brought a tragic end to his life, when in 1896 he died after a glider flight test. One of his original gliders is today on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
- Eugene Barksdale
One of the earliest professional test pilots of the interbellum period, Eugene Barksdale made some of the most remarkable contributions to the field of aviation and engineering. He is the author of a book on being a military test pilot called Flight Testing of Aircraft, proof of his keen eye and methodical spirit. His career was not spared from tragedies, and he got killed, at only 29 years old, due to a dysfunctional parachute he attempted at launching during an out of control flight.
- Hanna Reitsch
Germany’s most prolific World War Two test pilot, Hanna Reitsch’s name has made history. A controversial character and a woman who has crashed all existing gender barriers of that time, Hanna was one of the most gifted and loyal pilots the Nazi regime had. Her story though changes abruptly after the war ends, with Hanna becoming a national hero in Ghana, all due to her establishing one of sub-Saharan Africa’s first flying schools.
These are some of the aviation pioneers and daredevils that inspire us to get out of our comfort zone and reach for the stars. Who inspires you?