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Bert Acosta. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-94370).

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Acosta, Bertrand Blanchard (01 January 1895–01 September 1954), aviation pioneer, was born in San Diego, California, the son of Aphonse Ferdinand Acosta and Martha Blanche Snook, businesspeople. Acosta became enthralled with aviation at an early age, built gliders and later powered aircraft, and taught himself to fly. Because of this interest, at age sixteen his parents enrolled him in Throop Polytechnic Institute (later the California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena so that he could study aeronautical engineering, but he never graduated. Beginning in 1911 Acosta spent almost every moment not in school working for ...

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Allen, Edmund Turney (04 January 1896–18 February 1943), test pilot, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Edmund Allen, a preacher, and Abby Irene Dyer. A shy, frail-looking person, “Eddie” Allen moved around with his family before returning to Chicago, where he graduated from high school in 1913. He was initially drawn to farm work, but his mother and sister convinced him to attend the University of Illinois, which he did in 1916–1917. He then enlisted in the infantry before attending officers’ training camp at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he became interested in aviation....

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Allen, William McPherson (01 September 1900–29 October 1985), chief officer of the Boeing Company, was born in Lolo, Montana, the son of Charles Maurice, a mining engineer, and Gertrude Maud Hughes, an orchardist. Following preparatory school in Missoula, Montana, he enlisted in the army for a short time during World War I. Upon his return, he went on to graduate from the University of Montana in 1922. Later he characterized himself as a middling student who became more serious in the process of earning a law degree at Harvard....

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See Columbia Space Shuttle Crew

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Armstrong, Neil (05 August 1930–25 August 2012), aerospace engineer, test pilot, and astronaut, was born Neil Alden Armstrong in Auglaize County, Ohio, the first of three children of Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Engel. His father, an auditor with a state agency, moved the family fourteen times before finally settling in Wapakoneta in 1944. Neil was a good student, a voracious reader who skipped a grade in elementary school; he won a freshman science award and represented his school in a state-wide civics program. He was also an Eagle Scout, played in the Blume High School band and orchestra, served as vice president of the student council in his senior year, and graduated at age sixteen....

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Barnes, Pancho (22 July 1901–29 March 1975), airwoman, was born Florence Leontine Lowe in San Marino, California, the daughter of Thaddeus Lowe, Jr., and Florence Mae Dobbins. The uninhibited character of Barnes’s adult life contrasts sharply with the conventionality of her background and upbringing. Born into a wealthy California family and educated at several private and convent schools, she was married at the age of nineteen to the Anglican vicar of Pasadena, C. Rankin Barnes, in 1921, giving birth to her only child, William, the same year. The marriage was not successful and the couple quickly separated, although they did not divorce until 1941. The death of her mother in 1924 made Barnes financially independent, enabling her to embark upon a life of adventure. Capitalizing upon her childhood training as a horsewoman, she obtained work as a double for several Hollywood actors in horseback scenes, as well as providing occasional screenwriting assistance to her childhood friend ...

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Beech, Olive Ann (25 September 1903–06 July 1993), cofounder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation, was born Olive Ann Mellor in Waverly, Kansas, the youngest of four daughters of Franklin Benjamin Mellor and Susannah Miller Mellor, both originally from Ohio. As a young girl, Olive Ann moved with her family from their farm in Waverly to the larger town of Paola, Kansas, where her father became a full-time carpenter. Olive Ann managed her own bank account starting at age seven, and by eleven she was in charge of writing checks to pay the family bills. Unlike the famous flier ...

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Bell, Lawrence Dale (05 April 1894–20 October 1956), aircraft manufacturer, was born in Mentone, Indiana, the son of Isaac Bell, a lumber mill operator, and Harriet Sarber. When Bell was thirteen, his family moved to Santa Monica, California. After his graduation from Santa Monica Polytechnic High School in 1912, Bell secured his first job in aviation as an aircraft mechanic for his brother Grover E. Bell and Lincoln Beachey. Bell decided to leave aviation after the death of his brother in an exhibition flight on 4 July 1913, but one year later he reentered the industry by taking a mechanic’s position on the shop floor of the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in Santa Ana, California. Bell’s drive earned him rapid promotion at Martin, and he was named superintendent at the age of twenty. As superintendent, he created one of the aircraft industry’s best engineering teams, centered on ...

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Bellanca, Giuseppe Mario (19 March 1886–26 December 1960), aircraft manufacturer, was born in Sciacca, Sicily, the son of Andrea Bellanca, a flour mill owner, and Concetta Merlo. Bellanca spent his childhood in Sciacca. After his high school graduation, he attended the Technical Institute of Milan, Italy. While attending school in Milan, Bellanca’s interest in aviation emerged. During his third year Bellanca, with help from two friends, Enea Bossi and Paolo Invernizzi, designed and built his first aircraft. On 8 December 1909 the little biplane was ready for its first flight. The honor of this flight was given to Bellanca’s partner Bossi. He promptly crashed and destroyed the aircraft on the first attempt. After graduating from the Technical Institute with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, Bellanca became professor of industrial mathematics at the Royal Institute of Milan....