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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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Berlin, Donovan Reese (13 June 1898–17 May 1982), aircraft designer and executive, was born in Romona, Indiana, the son of Charles N. Berlin and Maude Easter Mull, farmers. After high school at Brook, Indiana, Berlin enrolled in the Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering in September 1916 but withdrew almost immediately when his father insisted he stay home and work the farm. He reentered the university in September 1917 and completed a B.S.M.E. on 8 June 1921. His first employment, as an assistant in the aerodynamics laboratory of the Air Service at McCook Field at Dayton, Ohio, from 1921 to 1926, launched his career in aeronautics....

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Busemann, Adolf (20 April 1901–07 November 1986), aeronautical engineer, was born in Lübeck, Germany, the son of Cornelius Buzeman. Busemann’s father changed his name to Busemann in 1908. After earning his Ph.D. in engineering in 1924 from Brunswick Technical University, Busemann worked as an aeronautical research scientist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Flow Research from 1925 to 1931 under the leadership of Ludwig Prandtl. While there he married Magdalene Krage in 1927; they had three daughters....

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Colley, Russell (22 July 1897–04 February 1996), inventor, designer, and aeronautical engineer, was born Russell Sidney Colley in Stoneham, Mass., the son of Frank S. Colley, a druggist, and Florence Vesta Hopkins Colley. Russell spent several summers in high school serving as an apprentice electrician. After he revealed his desire to become a women's fashion designer, his art teacher directed him out of her freehand drawing class into what she considered more appropriate, a mechanical drawing class. He was accepted into Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1918 completed the two-year machine construction and tool design course....

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de Seversky, Alexander Procofieff (07 June 1894–24 August 1974), aircraft designer and influential air-power advocate, was born in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia (then part of imperial Russia), the son of Nicholas Procofieff-Seversky, a pioneer Russian sportsman-pilot, and Vera Vasilieff. A 1914 graduate of the Imperial Naval Academy of Russia, he attended the Military School of Aeronautics. In July 1915 on his first combat mission in World War I, de Seversky was shot down over the Gulf of Riga on a bombing mission, losing his right leg....

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Donald W. Douglas. Stepping into a Douglas Cloudster airplane. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98158).

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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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Draper, Charles Stark (02 October 1901–25 July 1987), aeronautical engineer, was born in Windsor, Missouri, the son of Arthur Draper, a dentist, and Martha Washington Stark, a former schoolteacher. From the beginning, Draper was a free spirit whose intellectual drive could not be contained within any one discipline. He matriculated at the University of Missouri in 1917 but transferred to Stanford University in 1919 when his parents moved to California. After receiving his B.A. in psychology in 1922, he abandoned his plan to become a physician and instead embarked on a career as a ship’s radio operator. He attended Herald’s Radio College in 1922 and then went along for the ride with a friend who was traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend Harvard University. Draper was so taken with Cambridge in general and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in particular that he immediately enrolled in MIT. In 1926 he received his B.S. in electrochemical engineering. His graduate coursework was such a free-form collage of mathematics, chemistry, physics, metallurgy, and aeronautical engineering that his M.S., which he received in 1928, was awarded from no particular department. In 1929 he began working as a research assistant in MIT’s aeronautical engineering department while pursuing a doctorate and was promoted to assistant professor in 1935. Again, his interests could not be confined to one narrow field of study. Not until 1938, after MIT demanded that he focus on ...

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du Pont, Henry Belin (23 July 1898–13 April 1970), executive and engineer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Henry Belin du Pont, a businessman, and Eleuthera du Pont Bradford, an executive. He earned a B.A. in history from Yale University in 1920 and a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1923....

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Durand, William Frederick (05 March 1859–09 August 1958), engineer, was born in Beacon Falls, Connecticut, the son of William Leavenworth Durand and Ruth Coe, farmers. He grew up on the family’s farm near Derby, Connecticut. Exceptional enthusiasm for mechanical tinkering and outstanding mathematical ability inclined him toward training as an engineer. He entered the competition for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy, placed highly, and was admitted to the Naval Academy for the fall semester of 1876. As a midshipman, he ranked first in his senior class—second overall for his four years—and was placed in command of the academy’s engineering students. He graduated in 1880....

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Ehricke, Krafft Arnold (24 March 1917–11 December 1984), rocket engineer and space visionary, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Arnold Ehricke and Ruth Konietzko, dentists. In 1929 Ehricke’s life was changed when he saw Frau im Mond (The woman in the moon), a science-fiction movie by director ...

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Herring, Augustus M. (03 August 1867–17 July 1926), airplane designer, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of William F. Herring and Chloe Conyers, occupations unknown. He was married to Lillian Mellen and had two children.

In his early teenage years, Herring’s interest in the air was aroused by a toy helicopter butterfly. He began to make large model helicopters, then took a four-year engineering course at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He left in 1888 without graduating when the school rejected his thesis on flying machines as impractical....

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Hunsaker, Jerome Clarke (26 August 1886–10 September 1984), aeronautical engineer and aviation pioneer, was born in Creston, Iowa, the son of Walter J. Hunsaker, a newspaper publisher, and Alma Clarke. Hunsaker was raised in Detroit and Saginaw, Michigan. He enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated first in his class in 1908. He was then assigned to the naval construction corps, and shortly afterward he was sent by the navy to begin graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he intended to study ship construction. Hunsaker, however, soon became fascinated by the phenomenon of flight and the study of aeronautical engineering. In 1911 he married Alice Porter Avery, with whom he had four children....

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Theodore von Kármán. Courtesy of NASA (JPL P30570B/GPN-2000-001500).

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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....

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Lawrance, Charles Lanier (30 September 1882–24 June 1950), aircraft engineer, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts, the son of Francis C. Lawrance and Sarah E. Lanier. He attended Groton School and graduated from Yale University in 1905. In 1910 he married Margaret Dix. They had three children. Lawrance studied architecture for three years at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, graduating in 1913, before turning to aviation. He designed an experimental aircraft motor and a successful wing section in Paris and worked for several months on a front-wheel drive for an electric automobile in New York City....

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Lockheed, Allan Haines (20 January 1889–26 May 1969), aeronautical engineer and airplane manufacturing executive, was born Allan Haines Loughead in Niles, California, the son of John Loughead, a truck gardener and fruit grower, and Flora Haines, a writer. Lockheed and his older brother Malcolm ( ...

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Lockheed, Malcolm (1887–13 August 1958), aircraft engineer and inventor, was born Malcolm Loughead in Niles, California, the son of John Loughead, a hardware store owner, and Flora Haines, a fruit grower and writer. (He later started using a phonetic spelling of his Scottish name, which people had persisted in pronouncing “log-head” or “loaf-head.”) His mother, long separated from her husband, was a college graduate and a former schoolteacher who supported her family by growing and marketing fruit and writing feature articles for the ...

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Loening, Grover Cleveland (12 September 1888–29 February 1976), aeronautical engineer and author, was born in Bremen, Germany, the son of Albert Loening and Hermine R. Rubino. After spending his first year in Bremen, where his father was U.S. consul, Loening returned to the family home in New York. Educated in private schools in New York and New Jersey, he received a B.S. degree from Columbia University in 1908. In his senior year, Loening went to Morris Park, New York, to see the flight of an airplane. Although the machine never made it off the ground, Loening came away with an enthusiasm for aviation that would last a lifetime. He helped to organize the Columbia University Aero Club and designed a flying boat glider (which never became airborne). He remained at Columbia to take a M.A. in aeronautics, studying fluid dynamics under visiting professor Karl Runge of the University of Göttingen. In 1910 he was awarded the first degree in aeronautical engineering ever conferred by a university in the United States. His thesis—a study of the aerodynamic basis of contemporary airplanes—was published under the title ...

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Frank Malina, ca. 1960s. From left: Dr. William H. Pickering Jr., Dr. Theodore Von Kármán, and Dr. Malina. Courtesy of NASA (GPN-2000-000488/JPL P8695A).