Flying Penguins

By Brian Brennan 

Ohio styles itself as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” The slogan is emblazoned on its license plates and graces the state’s commemorative quarter. After all, the Wright Brothers were born in the Buckeye State, as were astronauts John Glenn, Jim Lovell and Neil Armstrong.

North Carolina also lays claim to this distinction because the Wrights’ first flight took place there in 1903. Arguably, the Tar Heels’ position is tenuous, as Orville and Wilbur conducted most of their research in Dayton. Regardless of each state’s assertion to its nativity, aviation would quickly seize the American imagination.

By the 1930s, Youngstown College students were taking wing.

Freshman Arthur Smith, who earned his pilot’s license in 1930, studied aeronautics in California under an Army instructor who reportedly taught Charles A. Lindbergh to fly. In 1936, YoCo junior Galen Elser flew an airplane that he constructed with his brother Donald Elser and Carlysle Jobs.

Powered by a Ford engine, the aircraft had a wingspan of 28 feet and a top speed of 85 miles per hour. Later, Galen would teach high school English, and Donald would retire from Youngstown State University as a speech and broadcasting instructor. Carlysle Jobs’ fate is unknown.

As the clouds of war gathered over Europe and eastern Asia, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced a program of reserve pilot training at selected American colleges and universities.

Initially funded by a grant from the National Youth Administration, it was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. The program spread, setting up shop at Youngstown College soon thereafter. In 1939, 80 students applied; 40 were disqualified.

Of the 20 selected for training, a coed named Beryl Dent was the only female. Several weeks later, these 20 trainees formed a permanent flying club, the Dawn Patrol, a term that harkens back to the early morning combat sorties flown during World War I, as well as the 7 a.m. start time of flight classes at YoCo.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, the CAA pilot curriculum evolved into the War Service Training Program, providing aviators for both the Army Air Forces and naval aviation. The CAA ended its affiliation with Youngstown College in 1944, when pilot training was moved to Greensboro, North Carolina.

No account of Penguin aviation would be complete without Marie Barrett, Youngstown’s first homecoming queen in 1938. A participant in the CAA program, Barrett earned her pilot’s license in 1940. During World War II, Barrett was a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, a group of female pilots who ferried aircraft from the factories to the military. They also transported high-ranking officials, conducted humanitarian flights, and flight tested repaired aircraft. Sadly, military status and benefits were not granted to the WASP until 1979.

After the war, Youngstown College and the Youngstown Municipal Airport jointly conducted a flight course for veterans. Later, in 1974, Dr. Edwin Bishop and interested students formed the YSU Flying Club, complete with its own airplane.

Penguins do fly, after all.

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