Women of USU: Then and Now, Women in Aviation

Since its earliest days, women at Utah State University have had a huge impact on the cultural, scientific, economic, and social fabric of the institution. The Year of the Woman shares these critical voices simply because their stories matter.

Utah State Agricultural College (USAC) taught its first courses in Aviation in 1930 in the School of Mechanic Arts. Courses covered the principles of flight and airplane materials, history of aviation, flight theory, assembly and rigging, repair, instruments, and navigation. In 1931, a standard Aviation Ground School was established at the college, which did not greatly change the subjects taught, but geared learning toward preparing to enter the air service as pilots or airplane mechanics. The Aviation program at the USAC did not evolve beyond three courses until 1940 with the development of a degree in Aeronautics. In 1941, a Ground School was implemented under the Department of Commerce, Washington D.C., as part of the Civilian Pilot training program, with the intent of schooling a large number of men as Civilian Pilots. 

When the United States enter World War II in December of 1941, men and women rushed to assist the war effort; men enlisted as pilots and land troops while women worked in factories to produce munitions and airplanes or, became truck drivers and mechanics. In 1942 due to a shortage of pilots and the need for male pilots to engage in overseas combat, women were trained to fly military aircraft. This group of female pilots was called the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.  

Unlike male military enlistees, women were required to have already obtained a civilian pilot’s license when applying to become a WASP. Women from across the nation applied, including Florence Prince (Alvey) from Cache Valley. 

Following high school, Florence Prince attended the Branch Agricultural School in Cedar City, Utah, affiliated with Utah State Agricultural College. Graduating in 1939, she remained in Cedar City to work. While there, opportunity struck after the onset of WWII. The Branch Agricultural School had been chosen for a flight-training program, and one of the two units was to be female. Jumping on the opportunity, Florence received her Private Pilot License, becoming one of the first women in Utah to do so. 

The fall following the completion of her pilot’s license, Florence enrolled at the USAC as a secretarial science major. Florence received word of the WASP program, following her graduation in 1942. With a passion for flying, she became one of the 1,830 women accepted into the program, out of over 25,000 applicants. 

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After only two years, the WASP program was canceled without these women ever officially becoming part of the military during their service. Most women went back to the occupations they held prior to the war, with only a few continuing as pilots as no major commercial airline would hire a female pilot. Many of the women stayed in touch and began pushing for military status in the 1960s.  It was not until the 1970s that members WASP were granted military status.

Now: Jessica Hines

Sitting in an air traffic tower at seventeen, Jessica Hines decided that flying a plane was her dream. She chose to pursue her aviation education at Utah State University, and with the support of mentors and peers, graduated in 2006 in Aviation Technology. Following graduation, Hines moved to Texas to work as a flight instructor. Never giving up on her dream to fly commercially, she was hired as a pilot for American Eagle (now called Envoy) in 2008 and became a recruiter in 2013. In 2017, Hines was promoted to the position of captain on the Embraer 145, and in 2019, she landed her dream job as a First Officer on the Airbus 321 for American Airlines. 

According to data from Federal Aviation Administration, women comprised only 7% of commercial pilots in 2019. With a goal to continue to increase this number, Hines finds opportunities to speak to young girls about what it is like to have a career as a pilot and encourage them to pursue their dreams, even when they might seem impossible. Joining with USU’s Women in Aviation group in promoting women in aviation, Hines attended their annual Girls in Aviation Day in 2016 as a guest speaker. When young girls see women as active participants in fields they are interested in, they are more likely to see themselves following their dreams.

For information on USU’s 2020 Girls in Aviation Day in September, follow USU Women in Aviation on Facebook. The sky is the limit.


Resources: 
University Course Catalogs
The Wayne and Garfield Country Insider
Federal Aviation Administration
 

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