Bessie Coleman and her airplane in 1922
Bessie Coleman and her airplane in 1922

8 Pilots Who Led the Way

Including the first U.S. president to be a licensed pilot.

1. Raymonde de Laroche. In 1910, she became the world’s first licensed female pilot.

2. Bessie Coleman. The first woman of African-American descent and the first of Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license, “Queen Bess” earned her wings in 1921 and became famous for her loop-the-loops.

3. William P. MacCracken, Jr. In 1927, he received the first pilot license issued by a civilian branch of the U.S. government after Orville Wright turned down the honor.

4. Eleanor Zabel Willhite. This lively barnstormer and commercial pilot, who in 1928 became the first deaf woman to earn a license to fly, was also South Dakota’s first female pilot.

5. Dwight Eisenhower. He learned to fly while stationed in the Philippines and, in 1939, became the first president to be a licensed pilot.

6. Steve Fossett. He completed the first solo round-the-world flight without refueling in 2005—just three years after he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a hot-air balloon.

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7. Miles Hilton-Barber. In 2007, he became the first blind pilot to make a microlight flight from London to Sydney, Australia. Hilton-Barber used speech-output technology and sighted copilots to complete his 55-day journey.

8. Jessica Cox. The first licensed pilot to fly using only her feet, Cox, who was born without arms, passed her 2008 checkride in an Ercoupe 415C.