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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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Bullard, Eugène Jacques (09 October 1895–12 October 1961), combat pilot, was born Eugene James Bullard in Columbus, Georgia, the son of William Octave Bullard, a laborer and former slave, and Josephine Thomas. Both parents were of African American and Creek Indian descent. In 1906 Bullard, the seventh of ten children, ran away from home, ending his formal education. He lived for a time with a band of gypsies, who taught him to ride racehorses. He then worked as a horse handler, jockey, and laborer in several southern states. Bullard gained the respect of several employers by his quiet insistence on treatment with dignity and equality, an ethos instilled in him by his father and strengthened by his sojourn with the tolerant, English-born gypsies....

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Carpenter, Scott (1 May 1925–10 Oct. 2013), astronaut, was born Malcolm Scott Carpenter in Boulder, Colorado, to Marion Scott Carpenter, a post-doctoral student in chemistry, and Florence Kelso (Noxon) Carpenter.

When his mother became ill with tuberculosis and his father abandoned them, “Buddy” was raised in Boulder by his grandparents, Victor Irwin Noxon, Progressive publisher of the ...

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Conrad, Pete (02 June 1930–08 July 1999), astronaut, was born Charles Peter Conrad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Conrad, an investment broker, and Frances V. Sargent Conrad. He was called “Pete” from an early age because his mother liked the name. He was educated at the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and received his high school diploma from the Darrow School, New Lebanon, New York, in 1948. Like his father, who had served as a balloonist in World War I, Conrad was intrigued by flying. As a child, he built model airplanes. As a teenager, he hung around local garages and airfields, neglecting his schoolwork. He worked part time sweeping up in a machine shop to finance flying lessons and flew solo when he was sixteen. Encouraged by his father, he entered Princeton University in 1948 and earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1953....

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Cooper, L. Gordon, Jr. (06 March 1927–04 October 2004), test pilot and astronaut, was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the only child of Leroy Gordon Cooper, Sr., and Hattie Lee Herd. Young Gordon developed a taste for flying at age five when his father, an early military aviator, started taking his son for airplane rides and occasionally giving him the controls. Growing up among his father's aviator associates, and completing his first solo flight at age twelve, the young man whom friends called "Gordo" assumed that flying was a natural part of being human....

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Curtiss, Glenn Hammond (21 May 1878–23 July 1930), aeronautical inventor and manufacturer, was born in Hammondsport, New York, the son of Frank R. Curtiss, the owner of a harness shop, and Lua Andrews. After the death of his father in 1883, Curtiss was raised by his mother and his strong-willed grandmother Ruth Curtiss in the bucolic Finger Lake region of western New York. After graduating from the eighth grade in 1892, Curtiss secured a job stenciling numbers on the backing of photographic film for the Eastman Dry Plant and Film Company (later Eastman Kodak Company) of Rochester. The next year he purchased a bicycle and found employment as a messenger for Western Union....

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Doolittle, James Harold (14 December 1896–27 September 1993), aviator and air force commander, was born in Alameda, California, the son of Frank Henry Doolittle, a carpenter and gold prospector, and Rosa Shepard. Doolittle grew up in California and Alaska, where his parents moved in the gold rush of the period. He was educated in Nome, Alaska; at Los Angeles Junior College; and, for three years, at the University of California. He left the university at the beginning of his senior year when the United States entered World War I....

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Douglas, Donald Wills (06 April 1892–01 February 1981), aeronautical engineer and airplane manufacturing executive, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of William Edward Douglas, a banker, and Dorothy Locker. He attended a Brooklyn elementary school and was later sent to the Trinity Chapel School in Manhattan, an Episcopal preparatory school. Douglas enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing, spending considerable time sailing at the New York Yacht Club, where his father was a member. As a boy he also became enthralled with the exploits of ...

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Engen, Donald Davenport (28 May 1924–13 July 1999), naval officer, test pilot, public servant, was born in Pomona, California, the son of Sydney M. Engen, a stockbroker and later an Internal Revenue Service employee, and Dorothy Davenport Engen. Engen spent his childhood years in southern California, principally in Pasadena. When he was in fourth grade, he decided that he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and become a naval officer....

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Fokker, Anthony (06 April 1890–23 December 1939), aircraft designer and manufacturer, was born Anton Herman Gerard Fokker in Blitar, Java, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the son of Herman Fokker, a Dutch coffee planter, and Anna Diemont. His life in Blitar, a small settlement in southeastern Java in the district of Kediri, was spent running free with the native children, but his family returned to the Netherlands when he was four. In Haarlem he proved to be an indifferent and rebellious student; in his memoir, ...

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Glenn, John (18 July 1921–8 Dec. 2016), aviator, astronaut, and United States Senator, was born John Herschel Glenn, Jr. in Cambridge, Ohio, the son of John Herschel Glenn, Sr. and Clara Sproat Glenn. The couple subsequently adopted a daughter, Jean. The family moved to New Concord, Ohio shortly after John’s birth where the father established a local plumbing company. Glenn attended local schools, graduating from New Concord High School in ...

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Jeffries, John (05 February 1745–16 September 1819), physician, surgeon, and the first American to fly, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of David Jeffries, Boston’s treasurer for more than thirty years, and Sarah Jaffrey. Jeffries was named for a wealthy uncle who arranged for his early education. He entered Harvard College in 1759, receiving his master of arts with honors in 1763. He studied medicine with ...

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Julian, Hubert F. (20 September 1897–19 February 1983), aviator, was born Hubert Fauntleroy Julian in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of Henry Julian, a cocoa plantation manager, and Silvina “Lily” Hilaire Julian. He was educated at the Eastern Boys' School, an excellent private school in Port of Spain. In 1909 he saw his first airplane; minutes later, he witnessed its pilot's fatal crash. Nevertheless, Julian was instilled with a passion for both the exotic and the mechanical aspects of aviation. In 1912 his parents, who wanted their only child to be a doctor, sent him to England for further education. When World War I broke out, Julian went to Canada and attended high school in Montreal. Late in the war he took flying lessons with Canadian ace Billy Bishop. One of the earliest black aviators, he earned his Canadian pilot's license at the age of nineteen. In 1921 he was awarded Canadian and American patents for an airplane safety device he called a ...

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Kármán, Theodore von (11 May 1881–07 May 1963), aeronautical engineer, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Maurice (Mór in Hungarian) Kármán, a professor, and Helen Kohn. In Hungarian the boy’s name was von Sköllöskislaki Kármán Todor. For a few years he was tutored at home by a former student of his father, and through his school years he was almost totally dominated by his father’s strictures. When Kármán was six, his older brothers found that he could multiply large numbers in his head, but his father considered this a show-off ability only and forbade all mathematics for several years, and instead encouraged him in geography, history, and literature....