Aviation education began at The Ohio State University during World War I when the United States’ War Department established Schools of Military Aeronautics at six universities, including Ohio State. The School of Aeronautics opened on May 21, 1917, when the first squadron of 16 cadets reported for duty.
The commandant and his staff provided military instruction to the aviation cadets and pilots, while the scientific and technical instruction was in the hands of the following departments: signaling and radio, gunnery, aids to flight, airplanes, engines, and aerial observation. The aviation laboratory was built for the purpose of teaching students the rudiments of aircraft construction and maintenance. Newly built aircraft were rolled down the hill to the Ohio State University Airport, located in the floodplain of the Olentangy River and the current site of Ohio Stadium.
With the return to peace, aviation became dormant on campus. This did not last long though, and in 1939, the University took part in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which started that year under the sponsorship of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Although its purpose was to foster private flying, it quickly became tied to the war effort with the onset of World War II. On December 7, 1941, the program changed its name to the “Civil Aeronautics Administration-War Training Service.” In December 1942, the university was designated as a Naval Aviation Cadet training center.
With the success of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, Ohio State’s Board of Trustees took action to solidify Ohio State’s future as a leading Aviation program on November 9, 1942. First, they created a School of Aviation with undergraduate curricula in five fields: aeronautical engineering, meteorology, air transport, photogrammetry, and aviation psychology and physiology. The first flight instruction offered by Ohio State was during the spring quarter of 1945.
The School of Aviation was also instrumental in early aviation research. Research projects included engine design problems, fuel synthesis and testing, pilot performance, communication between ground and aerial crews, and high altitude flying. Research projects concerned with the training of personnel to operate airplanes were of notable achievement. One such project determined criteria for flight competence or the selection and training of aircraft pilots. Another project researched the instant recognition of aircraft and surface ships, both friendly and enemy. Other projects researched the agricultural applications of aircraft.
A key factor in the early growth and success of the School of Aviation was the Ohio State University Airport, built in 1942. Described at the time as “an excellent flying field,” the airport provided flight training, instructional, and research opportunities.
In 1956, the School of Aviation was transferred to the College of Engineering, and in February 1963, it became the Department of Aviation. Along with its new departmental status came a new program of instruction, which improved and strengthened the course structure, recognizing that individuals from all academic disciplines have contributed to the development and growth of aviation.
The Department of Aviation, therefore, began offering courses adjunct to other major curricula of the university. The department supported the university community by offering courses to students who wished to relate aviation to their area of study. This supportive role continued until 1982 when the Department of Aviation became a degree granting program within the university. Since then, the department has granted more than 6,000 bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degrees through the College of Engineering, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the Fisher College of Business.
In 2012, The Department of Aviation became The Center for Aviation Studies. The Center continues to sponsor dozens of research projects oriented toward basic and applied research and development in aviation, with an emphasis on flight instruction and pilot certification.
Today, The Center for Aviation Studies educates more than 250 students each quarter in all aspects of the air transportation system, conducts active research in issues currently facing the aviation industry, and offers numerous outreach programs for kids of all ages.