Capsule Biographies

A : B : C : D : E : F : G : H : I : J : K : L : M
N : O : P : Q : R : S : T : U : V : W : Y : Z


Born February 1908. Died 19--


Born at Hawthorne IA, December 5, 1879. Died November 20, 1954.

At age 31, after witnessing an aerial exhibition in Kansas that sparked his interest in aircraft, Clyde Vernon Cessna began his lifelong dedication to aviation. He designed and built his own aircraft and taught himself to fly. Those qualities of courage and self-reliance not only made him successful in aviation, but also served to inspire his associates throughout the industry.

Following World War I, the widespread interest in private flying induced him, in 1925 to found, with Walter Beech, the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita KS. With Cessna as its president, the company became one of the leading U S aircraft manufacturers, and his advanced design concepts produced a line of internationally famous aircraft that established many speed and distance records.

In 1927, he formed the Cessna Aircraft Company, and in the decade of the 1930s produced racing and sports aircraft that set traditions of safety, performance, and economy which are still the standards of safety for aviation. His aircraft introduced the pleasures of private flying to many thousands of pilots throughout the world. Cessna returned to his farm to spend his later years in Rago KS. (Digested from "These We Honor," International Hall of Fame; San Diego Aerospace Museum)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1978. Invested in International Aerospace Hall of Fame 1983.


Born in Ohio, 1893. Died October 30, 1976.

Clarence Duncan Chamberlin, born in Ohio in 1893, first began flying while working at an aerial sign-towing company, then won his wings in 1918 after enlisting in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. After a tour of barnstorming he became a dealer in surplus aircraft sales, as well as a company pilot for Wright Corp.

When 1927 a $25,000 prize was offered in to the first pilot to cross the Atlantic in solo flight, Chamberlin was eager to try. That spring Charles Levine's powerful Wright-Bellanca WB-1 Columbia proved it could endure the time barrier of an ocean flight when Chamberlin and Bert Acosta remained aloft for 51 hours over Roosevelt Field. Unfortunately, Levine was still puttering with the plane and arguing with his pilot and Giuseppe Bellanca when Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris on May 12.

However, on June 4 he and Levine flew non-stop to Germany, and his trip of some 43 hours and 3,905 miles later—which bettered Lindbergh's distance record—landed on a small field near Eisleben. There they refueled with 20 gallons of fuel brought by a local farmer, and using a quart-size coffee pot to fill the tank, then headed for Berlin, but got lost and landed east of the city at Kottbus, where they received a small but tumultuous welcome. They did finally land at Tempelhof Airport the next afternoon to a crowd of more than 100,000 cheering Berliners.

He designed his own line of Crescent monoplanes, and flew one in the 1929 Air Races, then acquired a diesel-powered Lockheed Vega, in which he set a world altitude record of over 19,000 feet in 1932. He next formed Chamberlin Airline between New York and Boston, but when it seemed doomed for failure, he used its four Curtiss Condors for a barnstorming group during the next five years, plus having his own flight school and aircraft dealerships. When war clouds threaten in Europe, he opened a series of aviation trades schools vital for the war effort. After the war, he served briefly as sales manager for Bellanca Aircraft Corp for a time.


Born at Paris, France, February 18, 1832. Died November 23, 1910.

Octave Alexandré Chanute began his career in railroad construction at the Hudson River Railroad in Ossining NY. A self-taught engineer, he became a legend for his novel designs and construction of complex bridges and railroad terminals. Experiments in material preservation led to his invention of the system for pressure treating rail ties and telephone poles with cresote, techniques still in use worldwide.

In 1889, at age 57, he began his second career and devoted himself to the solution of the problems of flight. In typical Chanute fashion of step-by-step investigation, his first act was to assemble all known data on the science into a single synthesis and to catalogue its problems. Initial objectives were the elimination of the errors of experimentalists and to advance the science of flight by making known both their successes and failures. His publication of the classic book, "Progress in Flying Machines." in 1894 gave the world its first compendium on flight, and earned him the title of the world's first aero historian.

Chanute believed the advancement of flight science must be the work of many. He corresponded internationally and encouraged the pioneers: Voisin, Blériot, Farman, and the Wright Brothers, of whom he was a special friend and mentor. He sought no patents on his inventions, and gave his findings openly to all. His sponsorship of the term "aviation" resulted in its common use.

Gliding experiments on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1890's contributed much to flight science in the areas of control systems and stability, efficiency of materials, aircraft structural integrity and strength. In utilizing his knowledge of braced-box-structure in bridge construction, he invented the familiar strut-wire-braced wing structure still employed in biplane aircraft. Wilbur Wright, in his 1911 eulogy of Chanute, said, "His labors had vast influence in bringing about the era of human flight." (Digested from "These We Honor," International Hall of Fame; San Diego Aerospace Museum)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1963. Invested in International Aerospace Hall of Fame 1974.

  -- Flying Machines, Construction & Operation; Octave Chanute, W J Jackman, Thos H Russell (Charles C Thompson 1910)
  -- Progress in Flying Machines; Octave Chanute (M N Forney 1894, Lorenz & Herweg 1976, Dover 1997 softbound)
  -- Recent Progress in Aviation; Octave Chanute (Smithsonian 1911)



Born near Pensacola FL, May 11, 1908 (estimated). Died August 7, 1980.

Because Jacqueline Cochran was orphaned at an early age, an exact date of birth is unknown; she grew up in poverty in a foster home and reportedly selected her name from a telephone book. At age eight she went to work in a cotton mill in Georgia, later was trained as a beautician and pursued that career in Alabama, Florida, and New York City.

Her most distinguished aviation career began in 1932 when she obtained her pilot's license at Long Island's Roosevelt Field with only three weeks of instruction. From that time, her life was one of total dedication to aviation. In 1935, Cochran became the first woman to enter the Bendix Trophy Race, but her Northrop Gamma was plagued with engine problems. She married millionaire Floyd Odlum, and in 1937 again entered the Bendix race in a Beechcraft 17, taking first place in the Women's Division and third overall flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland, also winning the Harmon Trophy for Outstanding Female Pilot for that year. In 1938 she won the Bendix flying a Seversky P-35, becoming respected by all for her competitive spirit and high skill. Among her last flying activities was the establishment in 1964 of a record of 1,429mph in the F-104, prior to which she was the first woman to break the sound barrier, flying an F-86.

At the beginning of WW2, she became a Wing Commander in the British Auxiliary Transport Service, ferrying US-built Hudson bombers to England, becoming the first female pilot to ferry a bomber across the Atlantic. At our entry into the war, she offered her services to the USAAC and formed the famed Women's Air Force Service Pilots, and was appointed to the USAAF General Staff as director of the WASPs. This more than 1000-strong group played a major role in delivering of aircraft to the combat areas throughout the world. For her service, Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and USAF Legion of Merit, and became the first civilian female to be commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the USAF Reserves. In 1958 she also became the first woman president of Federation Aeronautique International.

Some of the honors she has been accorded include the Harmon Trophy, the General William E Mitchell Award, Federation Aeronautique Gold Medal, and decorations from numerous countries.

Cochran not an orphan? SEE A Cochran Controversy, 12/20/00.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1971. Invested in International Aerospace Hall of Fame 1965.

  -- Jackie Cochran; autobiography with Bucknum Brinley (Bantam. 1987)
  -- The Stars at Noon; Jacqueline Cochran (Hale 1955)


Born 1878. Died 1960.

Frank T Coffyn. Pioneer flyer, aviation consultant, one of the first six men taught to fly in 1910 by the Wright brothers in Dayton and a member of the original Wright Flying Team. Learned to fly autogyros in 1931.


Born 1893. Died 1926.

Long Island's black communities turned out nearly 1000-strong for the big air show at Curtiss Field in Mineola in Sept 1922. The cause of all the excitement was Bessie Coleman, making her first flight in America since her return from France, where she had become the first licensed black pilot in the world.

Coleman, then 29, had gone to France to train after being rejected by American aviation schools because she was black and a woman. She soared three times that September day in a tiny Curtiss JN4D, the first American-made plane she had flown. Her performance, she said, was to "honor the 115th Infantry, the colored regiment" and to "create an interest in aviation" among her people. She went on to barnstorm the country, returning several times to perform in Mineola air shows.

Born in Texas in 1893, Coleman determined after World War I to learn to fly. The climate was inhospitable for women pilots, as well as blacks. A year before Coleman's appearance in Mineola, Laura Bromwell, a daring young aviator, had crashed while looping over the same field, causing the New York Times to suggest that women be excluded from an activity "in which their presence certainly is unnecessary."

Four years later she met the same fate over Florida, but her causes survived. Bessie Coleman Aero Groups, organized after her death, staged the first all-black air show in 1931.

  -- Talkin' 'Bout Bess; Nikki Grimes (1998)


Born at Galveston TX, January 22, 1907. Died at Santa Ana CA, December 9, 1995.

Popularly known as "Wrong Way" Corrigan because of his flight from New York's Floyd Bennett Field to Dublin, Ireland, instead of Los Angeles, in 1938. Whether this was intentional or truly a navigational error was never admitted by Douglas Corrigan, but he was a skilled pilot and navigator, holding a Transport Pilot's license at the time, so hitting Dublin right on the nose after a 28-hour flight in mostly IFR conditions using only a magnetic compass and needle-and-ball and airspeed indicators smacks of more than plain luck. Additionally, Sunshine, his Curtiss Robin that the press described as "a worn-out relic" was far from that, barely nine years old, completely rebuilt, and with a freshly-majored 165hp Wright J-6... plus some extra fuel tanks.

Corrigan soloed a Jenny in 1926. As a mechanic at Ryan, he helped in the building of Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis,and through the late '20s and early '30s he worked around the country as a mechanic and barnstorming pilot. Like so many others, his hero was Lindbergh, and it was his dream to some day do something equally noteworthy. This plan took shape as a transatlantic flight, but his proposals were rejected by the DoC in light of Earhart's disappearance in 1937 and dismissed as foolhardy. Corrigan then revised the plans as a two-way, non-stop, transcontinental flight from Los Angeles to New York. These were accepted, and he received his Robin's experimental license. The first leg of that trip came on June 9, 1938, when he arrived at New York, but bad weather kept him grounded until July 17. That morning, he departed without fanfare, ostensibly heading back to the west coast. Knowing he could lose his license for an unauthorized flight to Ireland, he pled guilty to "reading his compass backwards," and happily accepted the "Wrong-Way" nickname, which earned him his ticker-tape parade down Broadway, and instant acclaim by a public caught up in the humor of the event.

He made nationwide public appearances, wrote an autobiography, and even starred as himself in a minor film, "The Flying Irishman." Thereafter he worked for Douglas as a test pilot, ferried planes overseas during WW2, and finally retired from aviation as an orange grover in Southern California after marrying his childhood sweetheart. (— K O Eckland)

  -- That's My Story; Douglas Corrigan (DuSMALL1938)


SEE NAHF for now.


Born at Hammondsport NY, May 21, 1878. Died 1930.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss was raised by his mother after the father died when he was four, moving to Rochester in 1890. In school there, his interest in mathematics and machinery was apparent and, after graduation, he went to work at Eastman Kodak company as a camera assembler.

His interest in 1906 in motorcycles and racing prompted a switch in careers when he was offered a job at a local cycle shop, and later opened his own store to help finance his racing. His thirst for speed led to experiments in gas engines, and he was soon designing and producing his own brand of one- and two-cylinder motorcycle engines. He tried unsuccessfully to interest the Wright brothers in his engine designs for use in their airplanes, but one design caught the attention of Thomas Scott Baldwin, who ordered a motor to use on his airship, California Arrow.

On January 23, 1907, he set a motorcycle speed record of 136.3mph with a 40hp air-cooled V-8 design that would lead directly to the popular OX aircraft motor of WW1. Later that same year, Alexander Graham Bell purchased a Curtiss motor and was so impressed with it that he invited its designer to join him in his Aerial Experimental Association (AEA), where, with Frank W Baldwin, he designed and built the first airplanes to feature movable wing-tip ailerons. These, however, brought on bitter patent-infringement lawsuits that ran on for years in courts until finally ending with a Wright-Curtiss Co merger in 1929.

Curtiss began flying and became Director of Experiments for AEA in 1908. There he designed aircraft and was successful in building the June Bug, a Curtiss-powered aircraft that won the Scientific American Trophy for a first flight in the USA traveling one kilometer.

1909 was A key year for Curtiss, who, after leaving AEA, built aircraft independently for himself and others, notably the Aeronautical Society of New York. One of these was the Golden Flierin which he won the Gordon Bennett Cup in Reims, France, awarded for the fastest flight speed, which was his then-breathtaking 46.5mph. Following this, Curtiss founded his own company and flight school in Hammondsport, America's first such commercial operations.

In 1909 Curtiss joined with Augustus M Herring to form the Herring-Curtiss Co to manufacture powered vehicles. Despite numerous lawsuits, Curtiss continued to advance the cause and technology of aviation, founding the first public flying school (1910) and later a chain of schools across the US, inventing the aileron (1909), the dual-control trainer (1911), and the hydroaeroplane (1911).

At the 1910 Dominguez Hills Air Meet he picked up $6,500 in prize moneys in the categories of fastest speed, endurance, and quick starting. That year the Navy contracted for several flying boats, as well as for training Navy fliers, and this led to experiments with airplanes in operations with ships at sea, in which Eugene Ely's first flights to and from USS Pennsylvaniawere harbingers of things to come. In 1914 a large, multi-engine flying boat, America, was built for an Atlantic crossing, but this was cancelled by the outbreak of WW1. However, America's war preparation saw the development of his famous JN-4 "Jenny" and OX-5 motor, and his NC-4 flying boat finally made the first transatlantic flight in 1919.

Because of patent lawsuits and legal battles, by 1918 Curtiss, then 40, had retired from active participation in his company to develop real estate in Florida, but remained on the company roster as a design consultant. He died at 52 from complications after an appendicitis operation, but the Curtiss marque continued with a line of historic aircraft until its doors closed shortly after WW2.

Some major awards were: Scientific American Trophy, 1908, 1909, 1910; Gordon Bennett Trophy, 1910; Collier Trophy, 1912; Langley Medal, 1914. (— K O Eckland)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1964.

  -- Curtiss: The Hammondsport Era, 1907-1915; Louis S Casey (Crown 1981)
  -- Glenn Curtiss, Pioneer of Flight; C R Roseberry (Syracuse Univ 1972, 1991)
  -- Glenn Curtiss, Pioneer Of Naval Aviation; Alden Hatch (Messner 1948, 1957)
  -- Glenn Curtiss, Pioneer Pilot; Kathryn & James Terzian (GrosseSMALL & Dunlap 1966)
  -- Over Land and Sea: Biography of Glenn Hammond Curtiss; Robert Scharff & Walter S Taylor (McKay 1968)
  -- Sky Storming Yankee; Clara Studer (Stackpole 1937)