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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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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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Boyd, John R. (23 January 1927–09 March 1997), air force officer, was born John Richard Boyd in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of Hubert Boyd, a paper mill official, and Elsie Mae Beyer. When Boyd was three, his father died and his mother became a telephone-advertising salesperson. At Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Boyd was an honor student and a member of the swimming team. He received his diploma in absentia in 1945 because he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces. During his tour of duty in Japan (1945–1946), Boyd criticized the bivouacking of enlisted men in freezing tents and giving them cold K rations while officers enjoyed warm quarters and hot food. When Boyd and others dismantled and burned a wooden hangar for warmth, he was threatened with court-martial; but he ultimately helped to implement reform measures. His stubborn maverick personality was forming....

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Janet Bragg. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (79-13664).

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Bragg, Janet (24 March 1907–11 April 1993), aviator, nurse, and nursing home proprietor, was born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia, the daughter of Cordia Batts Harmon and Samuel Harmon, a brick contractor. The Batts family had long been established in Griffin. Bragg's maternal grandfather was a freed slave of Spanish descent, and her maternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Bragg's grandfather had built the house in which she and her siblings were born; her mother had been born in the same house. Bragg, the youngest of seven children, had a happy childhood, enjoying sports and games and excelling at school. In an interview conducted at the University of Arizona as part of a project called African Americans in Aviation in Arizona, Bragg reminisced: “We were a very happy family. We were not a rich family, only rich in love.”...

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Willa Brown. Shown wearing a padded flight suit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (90-13119).

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Eugène Jacques Bullard. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (91-6283).

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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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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Constance Porter Uzelac

Coleman, Bessie (26 January 1892–30 April 1926), aviator, was born Elizabeth Coleman in Atlanta, Texas, the daughter of George Coleman, a day laborer of predominately Indian descent, and Susan (maiden name unknown), an African-American domestic and farmworker. While Bessie was still very young, the family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where they built a three-room house on a quarter-acre of land. She was seven when her father left his family to return to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Coleman household was Baptist, and Bessie was an avid reader who became particularly interested in ...

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L. Gordon Cooper. Tempera, pencil and ink on board, 1963, by Boris Chaliapin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

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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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Corrigan, Douglas “Wrong Way” (22 January 1907–09 December 1995), aviator, was born Clyde Corrigan in Galveston, Texas, to Clyde Sinclair Corrigan, a civil engineer, and Evelyn Groce Nelson Corrigan, a former schoolteacher. When he was two years old, the family moved to Aransas Pass, Texas, where the elder Corrigan worked on the construction of a railroad causeway. Four years later, in 1913, the family, which now included a younger brother and sister, moved again, this time to San Antonio. There Clyde Corrigan, Sr., opened a bakery and soda fountain across the street from the Alamo. After several years the business foundered, and in 1916 Corrigan abandoned his family to pursue a career as an inventor. Evelyn Corrigan opened a rooming house to support her children; her eldest son, whom she had renamed Douglas after securing a divorce from her husband, supplemented the family income by delivering newspapers....

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Glenn H. Curtiss. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106325).

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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....