Pilots have been admired since the first days of aviation. To this day, their job is considered a prestigious career, desired by many. While every pilot deserves appreciation, throughout history some earned special recognition. Below is the list of top 10 legendary male pilots of all times.
10: Noel Wien – Introduced Alaska to Aviation
Before the days of modern mapping systems, high quality radios, paved landing strips and advanced aviation technologies, flying over certain areas seemed to be nearly impossible. With its harsh climate, Alaska in the 1920s was definitely such an unwelcoming place for planes and pilots. But Noel Wien saw it differently.He took it upon himself to brave the difficult weather and, in spite of Alaska's conditions, introduced the state to air travel. As the only dedicated flyer in the area, Noel set many precedents and forever changed the way locals in this sparsely populated but huge state traveled. Many of the norms he set function till today.
9: Alastair Atchison – Life-Saving Co-Pilot
Legends come in all shapes and sizes. As a co-pilot, Alastair Atchison may not be the most famous name on this list. Yet, that fateful day in 1990 he more than earned his stripes among the brave, legendary pilots.When the windscreen smashed on British Airways Flight 5390, the pilot Tim Lancaster was sucked out from the cockpit by the decompressed air. It seemed that he got thrust to certain death until a quick-thinking flight attendant grabbed his belt preventing him from being pulled out completely.With utter chaos consuming the plane, it was Alastair who took control of the situation. His cool head and steady hand saw the plane land safely in under an hour, saving the life of all crew members and passengers on board.
8: Adolphe Pegoud – Dared to Loop-the-Loop
Aristotle said that “there is no great genius without a mixture of madness” and it was probably the case with Adolphe Pegoud, a brilliant pilot who was the first to successfully execute the classic loop-the-loop technique.The aesthetically impressive loop-the-loop had always been a risky maneuver but never more so than in Adolphe’s time. The daring dynamo proved his dexterity over a century ago with a roofless aircraft, increasing the risk of death and making it look even more impressive. He brought down six enemy planes en route and became the first-ever flying ace. His gift was also his downfall, however, as a former German student shot him down.
7: Baron Manfred von Richthoven – The Red Baron
Whilst some may take offence to the nature of his actions, there is no denying the ability of Manfred von Richthofen, a man who is still known to this day as the Red Baron. The German fighter pilot is known for taking down 80 opposition planes during World War I. He was not exactly viewed as an exceptional flyer - instead, he made the big time thanks to his extraordinary marksmanship.Although encouraged to retire, Baron remained active until his iconic red plane got shot down. It remains a matter of debate who exactly did it but a Canadian pilot is often credited for eliminating the Baron which may have been a morale-boosting tactic. Speculation has led to widespread belief that it was errant ground fire that ended the Baron’s streak, but either way he is still remembered to this day.
6: Steve Fossett – The World Record Breaker
Now and then an adrenaline junkie is born with an insatiable thirst to break down boundaries and leave their mark on the world. Steve Fossett certainly was such a case.Steve’s list of accolades stretched to an incredible 116 world records including five back-to-back nonstop orbits of Earth. He went missing flying over the Nevada desert in 2007 and his body was found the following year. At the time of passing away 60 of his records were still intact, ensuring he left a lasting legacy behind.
5: Jimmy Doolittle – The Doolittle Raid
For a man with the surname Doolittle, Jimmy certainly did a lot. Aviation was in his blood from an early age. At just 15 years old he (unsuccessfully) tried to fly a hand-built glider. Undeterred by the messy ending, Jimmy rallied and persevered with his dream of becoming a top pilot.Lieutenant Doolittle is perhaps best known for his famous ‘Doolittle Raid’ on Japan at a pivotal point in World War II. It's worth remembering, though, that he also broke many flying speed records and played an important role in advancing aircraft technologies. He understood that pilots could operate planes using instruments only. That was a huge step in the history of aviation.
4: Charles Lindbergh – First Man to Fly Solo across the Atlantic
‘Lucky Lindy’ became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. His debut 33.5-hour flight began in New York on May 20th, 1927. It was a very dangerous stunt at the time which brought him a good deal of stardom once successfully landed in Paris.Charles’ personality was as bold as his airborne aerobics, but his credibility suffered when he spoke out against the war. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor saw him perform a dramatic U-turn and he went on to contribute to over 50 combat missions. Later in life he became a steadfast environmentalist in contrast to his technology-laden accomplishments. His enigmatic life came to an end peacefully in 1974.
3: Chuck Yeager – Beat the Speed of Sound
Chuck Yeager took the phrase “faster than the speed of sound” quite literally. In 1947 he became the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound, completing a challenge that many had died trying to face.It wasn’t his only notable accomplishment in aviation. Chuck went on to break the record again six years later when he reached the incredible speed of 1,650 mph. Books and films have been made in his honour – take a look at The Right Stuff if interested – showing this truly enthralling life story.
2: Wright Brothers – Birth of Aviation
The question of who was the first-ever man to take a flight is a hot debate among aviation enthusiasts. Eilmer of Malmesbury, Abbas Ibn Firnas and, of course, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier all threw their hat in the ring of this ambiguous triumph. When it comes to a genuinely controlled flight in a power-centric airplane, however, there is little doubt about who holds the honor.On December 17th, 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright managed to cover 852 ft over 59 seconds in a plane they had built from scratch, giving birth to the new world of aviation that we know today. Like others on this list, the two were not particularly accomplished pilots. Instead, it was their creativity, ambition, and perseverance that guaranteed their memorable place in history books.
1: Yuri Gagarin – First Human in Space
We have achieved many incredible feats over the years but few are as impressive as traveling into outer space. All the top male pilots on our list represent extraordinary achievements related to flying but a number one position is for the very first pilot to make that boldest of excursions, Yuri Gagarin.Yuri became the first human to venture into outer space on April 12th 1961 on the Vostok spacecraft. After orbiting the Earth he became something of a celebrity in his native land and got awarded with the highest honor available, the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Although it was the only space flight he would ever make, this feat was a ground-breaking accomplishment that will never be forgotten.