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List of aviation pioneers

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

Aviation pioneers are people directly and indirectly responsible for the advancement of flight, including people who worked to achieve manned flight before the invention of aircraft, as well as others who achieved significant "firsts" in aviation after heavier-than-air flight became routine. Pioneers of aviation have contributed to the development of aeronautics in one or more ways: through science and theory, theoretical or applied design, by constructing models or experimental prototypes, the mass production of aircraft for commercial and government request, achievements in flight, and providing financial resources and publicity to expand the field of aviation.

Wright brothers first powered, controlled, and sustained flight, captured on film.

Wright brothers first powered, controlled, and sustained flight, captured on film.

This is a list of early aviation pioneers.



  • Sir Charles Kingsford Smith Made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia in 1928 and the first non-stop crossing of the Australian mainland


  • Wilhelm Kress was a piano builder who constructed a sea plane with 3 pairs of wings. The under-powered aircraft capsized while taxiing.
  • Edvard Rusjan Slovene aircraft constructor and pilot. His first flight was on November 25, 1909, with biplane of his own design.



  • Félix du Temple de la Croix made a jump for a couple of seconds with his aircraft in 1874. He is the first one to have made a jump with a motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft.
  • Clément Ader made his first flight with his bat-like steam-powered Éole on 9 October 1890. The jump was made in secrecy and was not documented. Another test was later done for the French army, but this too was kept secret. Some have suggested that he was the first true aviator. However, due to lack of evidence, his flights must be considered mere jumps.
  • Ferdinand Ferber made two copies of Wright glider, after having been told of about it by the French-American oracle of aviation Octave Chanute. However the aircraft never lifted off and the experiments ended in 1905 - after the Wright brothers half hour flights. Ferber is sometimes mentioned since he has been of major importance for the development of French aviation.
  • Alberto Santos Dumont. A wealthy Brazilian who lived in France. Most famous for his airships and the flights with them, he designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible balloons. In doing so he became the first person to demonstrate that routine, controlled flight was possible. He was later named "The World's First Aviator" by Aéro Club de France after having performed three flights in 1906 - three years after the Wright brothers. He was the first pilot officially witnessed to take off, fly and land without the use of catapults, high winds, launch rails, or other external assistance. Thus, some consider him to be the inventor of the airplane, especially in his homeland Brazil, where he is honored as the "Father of Aviation".


  • Otto Lilienthal made many jumps in his gliders and contributed greatly to the development of flight. However, he never flew a motor-powered craft.
  • Karl Jatho. His tombstone in Hannover says "Jatho, the World's first motored aviator, August 18, 1903". However, not even the Germans consider his motorized wing glider to be an aircraft. The wing gliders were used at the time as manned artillery spotter platforms.

Great Britain

  • Hiram Stevens Maxim was born in the USA. He was possibly the one with the greatest technical skill of the early aviation pioneers. He had made a fortune on his machine gun construction and spent almost seven years to construct an aircraft. It weighed almost 4 tons and was powered by two 180-hp steam engines. On 31 August 1894 he made his first attempt to lift off. The craft ran on four wheels on rail tracks. It never really lifted off and crashed and was destroyed when it reached the end of the rail line. Maxim also constructed other unsuccessful models. He is today most famous within aviation circles for his wind tunnel tests.
  • Preston Watson was born in Scotland. In 1953 his brother James claimed that Preston had flown already in 1903. Preston, however, had built 3 aircraft between 1908 and 1913 and himself authored an article in Flight magazine on 15 May, 1914, writing that the Wright brothers were the first practical aviators.



  • Juan Pablo Aldasoro flew his first aeroplane in 1909. In 1912 he graduated from the Moissant School of aviation together with Leopoldo Alberto Salinas Carranza, Gustavo Salinas Camiña, Horacio Ruiz Gaviño and his brother Eduardo Aldasoro. In that same year, Juan Pablo Aldasoro became the first man to overfly the Statue of Liberty. On the 14 April 1914, Gustavo Salinas Camiña was the first man in America to use the airplane as a bomber in the vicinity of Topolobampo (Sinaloa).

New Zealand

  • Richard Pearse A group of aviation historians in New Zealand claims that Pearse flew about a kilometer by the end of March 1902 and a similar distance in 1903. However, no proof of this flight has been presented although the topic has been researched since 1958.


  • Alexander Mozhayskiy is sometimes claimed to be the first aviator, the sources of these claims are almost always Russian or Finnish (as he was born in today's Finland). He is supposed to have flown 20-30 meters with a steam-powered aircraft in Saint Petersburg in 1884. Little is known of his fate and his aircraft after this. Mozhayskiy was developing concepts for heavier-than-air flight 20 years before the Wright brothers' first flight.


  • Ivar Sandström was one of Sweden's earliest aviators. He died when his plane crashed in September 2, 1917, at the age of 28. A navy officer, he joined Enoch Thulin's flying school in 1915 and graduated in August the same year. He was one of the first aviators to obtain the international flying licencse. He continued flying until his death and was known as one of the country's most skillful and experienced aviators.


  • Vecihi Hurkus served in first war in which aircraft were employed, in the First Balkan War in 1912. He was also the first Turkish pilot to down an enemy aircraft, in 1917. Later pioneered civil aviation and aircraft manufacture in Turkey.


  • Lyman Gilmore Jr claimed in 1927 that he had flown 6 kilometers with a steam-powered aircraft on May 15, 1902. No proof of the flight exists.
  • Augustus Moore Herring was employed by Chanute, In 1898 he built a hang glider and equipped it with a pneumatic engine which could run for 15 seconds. The same year he flew 15 and 20 meters respectively, after having taken of from a hill. Many years later, he and his friends claimed that he was the world's first motor-powered aviator. However, these were more jumps than flights.
  • Samuel Langley designed an unmanned steam-powered model, the "Aerodrome," which made the first sustained engine-driven flight by a heavier-than-air winged aircraft in 1896. His full-size gasoline-powered manned Aerodrome failed twice in 1903, plunging into the Potomac River after catapult launches.
  • Alfred V. Verville, designer of the first plane with fully retractable landing gear, the Verville-Sperry R-3 Racer, planes he designed won the Pulitzer Trophy Race in both 1920 and 1924, and a plane he designed, the M-1 Messenger performed the first airship hook and release. A plane he designed, the Buhl-Verville CA-3 Airster was the first plane to receive a Type certificate. He was honored with a 33 cent airmail stamp in 1985.
  • Gustave Whitehead (Gustaf Weißkopf) arrived in the U.S. from Bavaria at the end of the 19th century. According to a local newspaper at the time and witness reports over 30 years later, he flew 800 meters at a height of 15 meters with a motor-powered aircraft in the early morning of 14 August 1901, near Bridgeport, Connecticut. The aircraft had a boat-shaped fuselage. The two propellers were driven by one 20 hp acetylene gas engine. In April 1902 the American Inventor magazine published a letter from Whitehead, who described two flights, 3 and 12 kilometers respectively, over Long Island Sound. No photographs have ever been found of his airplane in flight. Witness affidavits claim that he made several flights in the summer of 1901 before the publicized flight August 14.
  • Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur made four powered flights near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in the U.S. on December 17, 1903. The first three flights did not exceed 200 feet or 15 seconds. The fourth, by Wilbur, traveled 852 feet (260m) in 59 seconds and ended with a hard landing which broke the elevator supports. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale and Smithsonian Institution certify the Kitty Hawk flight to be the first that was controlled and sustained.


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Published - July 2009

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