The Legends of the Skies: Five Famous U.S. Aviators Who Made History

wright brothers plane in grayscale
June 8, 2023
The Legends of the Skies: Five Famous U.S. Aviators Who Made History
Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology is a prominent voice in the aviation space. These blogs are for informational purposes only and are meant to spark discussions within the aviation industry on a variety of topics.

Aviation has been a part of American history since the first powered flight in 1903. From the Wright brothers to Jackie Cochran, the U.S. has produced some of the world’s most famous aviators. These men and women completed daring feats in the sky that made them legends in the air and the annals of history. Here, we take a look at five famous U.S. aviators who made history and the incredible feats they achieved. Their courage, determination, and skill have inspired generations of aviators and made them true American adventurers.

The Wright Brothers: First In Flight

Born in Dayton, Ohio, the Wright brothers were two of five children. When they were growing up, their family was very poor, and the brothers did not have many toys when they were young. As the brothers got older, they began to develop an interest in aviation. This led Wilbur and Orville to build their very first aircraft, a glider, before they turned 23. The Wright brothers made many attempts to fly during the next ten years, but unfortunately, all of them ended in crashes. Finally, in 1903, the brothers made the first powered, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine – which the brothers called the Flyer. Though their longest attempt in flight only lasted one second short of a minute, this feat was seen as the biggest achievement in aviation at the time – paving the way for future milestones in the sky.

Charles Lindbergh: First Transatlantic Solo Flight

Born in Minnesota in 1902, Lindbergh was a dedicated pilot and explorer with a fascination for the sky. Lindbergh’s interest in flight was spurred during his time at the University of Wisconsin while studying mechanical engineering. His enthusiasm for the craft grew so large that it enticed him to leave school to pursue it fully. Shortly following, Lindbergh took his first solo flight in 1923. Lindbergh took his interest in aviation to the U.S. Army in 1924 where he trained as an Army Air Service Reserve pilot. Following his time in the Army, Lindbergh worked as an airmail pilot and would often fly between Missouri and Illinois. In 1927, Lindbergh heard about a competition that a wealthy hotel owner was hosting – offering $25,000 to the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Lindbergh was determined to win and convinced nine local investors to back him in order to compete for the prize. Lindbergh took flight in a small monoplane, named the Spirit of St. Louis, and flew from New York to Paris in 33 hours - making him the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. His flight was a success and badged him with the nickname “Lucky Lindy.” This accomplishment made him a national name and brought worldwide attention to aviation.

Amelia Earhart: First Female Solo Transatlantic Flight

Though Amelia Earhart’s life came to a short end before her fortieth birthday, her name is known across the world for her record-breaking aviation accomplishments, and her efforts in paving the way for women in commercial flight. Earhart’s exposure to the aviation world began during her time working at a Canadian military hospital where she met aviators and heard of their flight experiences. In 1918, she attended her first flying expedition and by 1920 she took her first flight.

Earhart had a love for flying that was almost instant from the time she set foot on a plane and was determined to help make a name for herself and other women in the industry. By 1921, she was flying by herself, and the very next year she bought her first aircraft. In that first year of owning her airplane, she set the female record for altitude, flying 14,000 feet. Earhart set several altitude and speed records in the ten years following that, and then set the record as the first female to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic in 1932.

This transatlantic flight made Earhart a worldwide name and made aviation history. She continued to break several records for flying in the years following, however in 1937, she disappeared during one of her attempts to fly around the globe. Her plane is believed to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

Chuck Yeager: First to Break the Sound Barrier

Unlike many famous aviators, Yeager’s love for flying was not immediate. Directly following high school, Yeager joined the U.S. Army Air Forces with no interest in learning how to fly. However, the Air Force's “Flying Sergeant Program,” which trained enlisted me to fly, sparked his passion for aviation. That following year, Yeager earned his wings to fly and went over the Atlantic to fight in World War II. Yeager was a combat fighter and flew 60+ missions over Europe.

When Yeager returned home from combat, he went to test pilot school. His skills were so impressive that he was asked to fly a rocket-propelled plane called the Bell X-1 – beating out 125 other candidates for the mission. On October 14, 1947, Yeager broke the sound barrier in his flight of the Bell x-1 and was named the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Jackie Cochran: First Female to Break the Sound Barrier

Jackie Cochran was an incredibly unique and powerful force in the aviation industry - holding more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in history at the time of her death in 1980. During her late 20s, Cochran was hard at work to launch her own cosmetics company. It was during this time that she was approached by a wealthy financial advisor, by the name of Floyd Bostwick Odlum, about the idea of getting her wings in order to travel across the states to beat out her competition. Cochran swiftly acted on Floyd’s advice and learned how to fly that summer. Following her initial flying lessons, Cochran expressed that’s when she knew "a beauty operator ceased to exist, and an aviator was born."

In the late 1930s, Cochran decided that she wanted to take her newfound love for aviation and use it to help contribute to the protection of her country. She wrote a detailed letter to Eleanor Roosevelt – who was the First Lady at the time – proposing to create a plan to include female pilots in military support missions and offering herself to lead the efforts. Though nothing came of the proposal at first, she was eventually asked to help research how female pilots can assist the US. Army Air Corps, several years later. The research Cochran did for this project soon led to the creation of a U.S.-established program to train women to fly, called Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Although proven to be successful, the approval of the program into military formality was eventually denied by congress.

Even though WASP ended, Cochran continued her aviation career. About a year later, she competed in the Bendix race, known as the free-for-all transcontinental speed dash, and came in second place with a total time of four hours and fifty-two minutes. Four years later, Cochran set a new speed record for a propeller-driven aircraft and then three years later, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.


These five famous U.S. aviators broke many records during their careers. From the Wright brothers to Jackie Cochran, these pilots have made a lasting impact on the field of aviation. Their courage, determination, and skill have inspired generations of aviators and made them true American heroes.

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