The invention of the airplane introduced an exciting time in history that we are still enjoying today. Throughout this time, daring pilots have flown the airways for fun, war or commercial purposes. That brings us to our present discussion of who we feel are the top 10 greatest pilots in history:


#10: Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger

Country: United States of America
Lives: 1951 – Present

We must mention Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger in our list, as he is a modern-day hero for his expert aviation skills. From 1973 to 1980, he was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. After this, Sully became a commercial pilot for Pacific Southwest Airways in 1980. He also has been an accident inspector and a safety chairperson with the Air Line Pilots Association during his career. On July 15, 2009, Sully had to put all his safety training to use when a flock of Canadian geese struck his US Airways airliner, flight 1549, during liftoff and damaged both engines. Sullenberger had to decide quickly the best way to land the plane to save his passengers. He decided that his only course of action was to perform an emergency water landing in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers survived with just a few suffering injuries. In true captain fashion, Sully exited the plane last.

Florence Pancho Barnes

#9: Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes

Country: United States of America
Listed: 1901-1975

Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes established her place in aviation history not only as a skilled aviator, but also she was the first woman to fly as a movie stunt pilot. In 1928, she bought a Travelair biplane for her first aircraft and participated in flight instruction for only six hours before soloing. She was adventurous with her flying maneuvers, but became an expert pilot along the way. She flew in the Women’s Air Derby in 1929, which was a cross-country competition that began in Santa Monica, California and ended at Cleveland Ohio. She led the pack, but had to withdrawal after a collision with a truck on the runway. The next year, she competed once again and set a new women’s world speed record of 196.19 mph which knocked Amelia Earhart out of the top spot. Later in her life, she performed aeronautical stunts in Hell’s Angels, a Howard Hughes movie, to become the first female stunt pilot for the motion picture industry.

Louis Bleriot

#8: Louis Bleriot

Country: France
Lived: 1872 – 1936

Louis Blériot was an aviation pioneer in France. After he earned a degree in Arts and Trades from École Centrale Paris, he served in the military as a lieutenant. After he served his country, he opened his own business where he manufactured headlamps for automobiles. From his profits, he funded his experiments with constructing and flying various types of aircrafts. He went on to be the first pilot to fly across the English Channel with his own monoplane. This plane was powered by a 25-horsepower engine and was named the Blériot XI. Such a feat as this earned him a place in history as one of the greatest pilots and innovators of early aviation.

Erich Hartmann

#7: Erich Hartmann

Country: Germany
Lived: 1922 – 1993

Erich Hartmann has the distinction of being the most successful fighter pilot in World War II by flying 1,404 missions where he achieved 352 victories. On top of all this, Erich never was shot down in his plane. The only time his plane was forced down was for mechanical issues or lack of fuel. His record set him on the list of top pilots ahead of Richthoven, who was number one before Hartmann’s accomplishments. Towards the end of the war, Erich was imprisoned by the Soviets for 10 years. After his release, he went on to command the first jet fighter unit in West Germany.

Charles E. Yeager

#6: Charles E. Yeager

Country: United States of America
Lives: 1923 – Present

Charles ‘Chuck’ E. Yeager had a long and illustrious career in the military where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot. During World War II, Chuck Yeager served in the Army Air Force as a non-commissioned officer where he piloted fighters against German forces. He went on to shoot down about 14 German planes. One was a Messerschmidt-262, the new German jet fighter, and Chuck was in a propeller-operated P-51 Mustang. After the war, he trained to be a test pilot. Yeager went on to be the first pilot to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947 when he hit speeds of 670 mph in the Bell X-1 rocket in a level flight. Chuck held various positions in the Air Force after that including his eventual promotion to brigadier general in 1969. He retired from service in 1975. Today, he is still alive at age 93 and still enjoys flying.

Baron Manfred Von Richthoven

#5: Baron Manfred Von Richthoven

Country: Germany
Lived: 1892 – 1918

Baron Manfred Von Richthoven or the ‘Red Baron’ was a terrifying force in the skies during World War I. He had the most victories of all the pilots on either side of the war by taking down 80 planes. Even during his final flight, he was mighty since he landed his plane safely although he was wounded fatally in his chest area. All this gained him legendary status in Germany.


#4: James ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle

Country: United States of America
Lived: 1896 – 1993

General James ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle was much more than just a great pilot as he also was a combat leader and aeronautical engineer over his lifetime. His Army career spanned from 1917 to 1930, the first time around, where he had flight training and moved up to the rank of second lieutenant. He performed the first flight using just instruments in 1928. In 1930, he resigned from the Army, but in 1940, the Army recalled him to duty. He is most famous for the Doolittle Raid that occurred in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Doolittle trained a group of pilots to fly 16 U.S. bombers to bomb Tokyo and other important Japanese cities on April 18, 1942. After the raid, the planes were low on fuel and the crews had to crash-land or bail out in China or the Soviet Union where locals rescued them. The Doolittle raid negatively affected the morale of the Japanese to the point that Doolittle received accommodation for it.

The Wright Brothers

#3: The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville

Country: United States of America
Lived: Wilbur – 1867 to 1912, Orville – 1871 to 1948

Orville and Wilbur Wright ushered in the age of aviation when they performed the first flight of a heavier-than-air, powered flying machine, the Wright Flyer. The flight took place on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This flying machine was four-year labor of love and technological exploration for the Wilbur and Orville. The Wright Brothers truly are the founders of modern aviation.

Amelia Earhart

#2: Amelia Earhart

Country: United States of America
Lived: 1897 – 1939

Amelia Earhart set her place in the history books by being the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean the year after Lindbergh’s historic flight. She left Trespassey Harbor in Newfoundland, Canada, on June 17, 1928 in ‘Friendship’, a Fokker F.Vllb/3m, accompanied by Louis E. Gordon as co-pilot and mechanic, and Wilmer Stultz, a fellow pilot. The journey took just under 21 hours to complete, and they landed at Burry Point in Wales. On this trip, however, Stultz operated the plane for the entire trip due to inclement weather, and Amelia kept the flight log. Tragically, her last flight brought her the most fame of her career. In 1937, Earhart attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, but she disappeared near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean after radioing that her fuel was low, and the weather conditions were cloudy. The other details remain a mystery to this day.

Charles Lindbergh

#1: Charles Lindbergh

Country: United States of America
Lived: 1902 – 1974

Charles Lindbergh’s claim to fame is the fact that he performed the first, transatlantic, solo airplane flight on May, 20, 1927. Lindbergh or ‘Lucky Lindy’ participated in this flight to win a $25,000 prize that Raymond Orteig, a hotel owner, offered for the first aviator to fly from New York to Paris non-stop. He flew the Spirit of St Louis, a custom-built monoplane, from Long Island, New York, to Le Bourget Field just outside Paris, France in only 33.5 hours to be victorious in this challenge. His route was straight across the Atlantic Ocean at a distance of 3600 miles.

Let us applaud all of these famous aviators for their contribution to the world of aviation. While we share only 10 on this list, there are many more that you will discover along the way. If you have any favorite pilots that you felt should have made our top 10 list, please let us know in the comments section below!

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