Monday, August 18, 2014

WC Takes to the Skies

In the Fall 1946 course catalog, the Physics Department at Woman's College added a new class to its curriculum. "Elements of Aeronautics" allowed WC students to not only understand the principles of aeronautics but to actually learn how to fly from instructors from the Hawthorne Flying Service at the Greensboro-High Point airport (now the Piedmont Triad International Airport). An article in the Greensboro Daily News noted that "the course, as outlined, will be one of the first of its kind in the country, and Woman's College will become one of the few girl's schools in the nation to offer flying to its students."
Dr. Anna J. Reardon

The course was led by Dr. Anna J. Reardon, head of the physics department. Prerequisites included at least one year of mathematics, one year of physics, and written permission from the student's parents. In the first semester, seven WC students signed up for the course -- Lucy Rodgers, Tommy Tomlin, Jean Fleming, Margaret Ferbee, Betty Pickett, Jean Kirkman, and Betty Sue Beaman.

Students began with on-campus classes in the Science Building focused on navigation, aerodynamics, aircraft, meterology, and air regulations. Three times per week (third period on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), the students focused on learning to read maps, chart courses, and study wind drifts.

The classroom learning provided the necessary groundwork for the flying lessons that followed. A minimum of one afternoon per week, each member of the class had to catch the Winston-Salem bus from campus to the Greensboro-High Point airport for a half-hour private flying lesson from one of four instructors of the Hawthorne Flying Service. An article in the Carolinian student newspaper made special note that, "for flying, the girls wear slacks, blue jeans, or army tans."

"Elements of Aeronautics" students with one of
their instructors, Carolinian, Nov. 15, 1946
Initial flying lessons focused on straight and level flying. As the Carolinian reported, "Among the most astonishing things to these flyers was running a straight course to discover the plan flying straight at an angle because the wind is blowing. Instead of holding at a steady course down the air-strip on a take-off the students go to one side, almost getting off the runway." After mastering straight and level flying and adjustments to wind drifts, the students moved on to banks and turns. By the end of the course the students demonstrated their skills with "pylon eights," described as "ice-skating eights in an airplane, with two houses as center of each loop."

"Elements of Aeronautics" appears in the WC course bulletin through the 1954-1955 academic year. But at least one of the original Fall 1946 students continued their aviation-related work. In a 1990 oral history interview, Dr. Reardon notes that one students "followed up with piloting after she graduated from here. She moved out west some place and she took part in some of these races across the country."

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