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It’s hard to imagine that just a handful generations ago, humans could only dream of traveling around the world by plane.

Leonardo da Vinci designed the concept of a “flying machine” 500 years ago. But it took hundreds of years for flight of any kind to become reality, starting with balloons and then gliders.

It wasn’t until the Wright brothers came along in the beginning of the 20th century that we had something like the type of flight we use now. After that, the world of aviation made quick progress.

Just 66 years after that 12-second flight in Kitty Hawk, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. Since then, flight technology has continued to progress at a rapid pace.

But the amazing machines that make flight possible wouldn’t mean a thing without the people who pilot them. Although the number of inspiring individuals who’ve done incredible things for the world of aviation is beyond count, we aim to spend a little time recognizing some of the most influential figures in aviation.

From record-makers to groundbreakers, here are 5 pilots who changed the world of flight for the better.

Bessie Coleman

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While hers may not be a household name, Bessie Coleman paved the way for women and people of color by becoming the first woman of African-American descent, as well as Native American descent, to become a pilot.

Born in 1892 to a family of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow south, Coleman defied all the odds, working her way from fields of cotton at a young age to France where she trained to become a pilot (women, African-Americans, and Native Americans were not allowed to obtain pilot licenses in America at the time).

She came back to America to become an air show pilot. Given how early in the timeline of aviation Coleman accomplished this feat, she served as inspiration to many aspiring young pilots who dreamed of following in her footsteps.

Eugene James Bullard

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It turns out France plays quite an important role in the history of aviation. Eugene James Bullard was born in America just a few years after Bessie Coleman, and was also of African-American and Native American descent. Like Coleman, he also ended up in France.

When World War I rolled around, Bullard took to the skies to fight for France as the first African-American military pilot in history. His heroism in the war earned him many honors, including being named a knight in the Légion d’honneur by Charles de Gaulle.

He paved the way for many great African-American military pilots, including the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Amelia Earhart

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Here’s a name everyone knows, as much for her mysterious disappearance while attempting to fly around the world as for her successful groundbreaking flights.

Most notably, Earhart was the first woman to pilot a flight across the Atlantic Ocean, back in 1928.

The world fame she attracted from that flight afforded her a platform to fight for women’s rights. She eventually went on to help found the very successful airline TWA. Her feats continue to inspire young women to this day.

Charles Lindbergh

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It would be hard to write about influential pilots without mentioning the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, from New York to Paris in 1927.

That flight made Lindbergh world famous, but before that he was breaking ground and wowing crowds with in-air stunts like walking on wings and parachuting out of barnstormers.

After his revolutionary flight across the Atlantic, Lindbergh continued to make important contributions to the world of aviation, perhaps most notably surveying many routes that are to this day used by commercial airlines all over the world.

Yuri Gagarin

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The moon landing, the International Space Station, and the Mars Rover — all of this wouldn’t be possible without Yuri Gagarin.

This Soviet cosmonaut was the first human to fly into outer space and to orbit the planet, back in 1961. His stunning achievement gave a big boost to the early years of the Space Age, pushing the United States to even more aggressively amp up its efforts to dominate beyond the atmosphere.

The technology developed as a result would send men to the moon, open the way for humans to live in space on the ISS, and give us the Hubble Telescope, which has afforded humanity an entirely new perspective on our place in the universe.

Continuing the Tradition of Revolution in Aviation

Here at Mountain Aviation, we know about and respect the people who came before that made what we do possible. And we strive to follow in their footsteps by continuing to stay in step with the revolutionary trends that are reshaping the aviation industry as we know it.

Read about the latest trends in the private charter jet industry »