History of The Ohio State Airport
Aviation comes to Ohio State
The Ohio State University has played an integral part in advancing the aeronautics field, while evolving into one of the nation’s premier aviation programs. Less than 14 years after the first flight, World War I created the need for qualified military pilots. In spring 1917, the War Department established Schools of Military Aeronautics at six universities, including The Ohio State University.
The School of Aeronautics opened May 21, 1917, when the first "squadron" or group of 16 cadets reported. As the story goes, the cadets built the aircraft in the aeronautics building, located at on the southeast corner of West 19th Avenue and Neil Avenue. The planes would then be rolled down the hill to the field just east of the Olentangy River, where flight tests and training would ensue.
Unfortunately, this arrangement was short-lived, with the opening of Ohio Stadium in 1922. Shortly thereafter, the university built a second airport on East Broad Street “near the country club,” while also using other local airports such as Sullivant Field on Neil Avenue. In 1939, Ohio State was one of a number of universities that took part in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, sponsored by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, for the purpose of fostering private flying
Birth of an airport
In support of its pilot training program, the university, in May 1942, purchased property for the development of an airport. The new facility was located on the outskirts of town, seven miles north of campus in northwest Columbus. The first plane to utilize the new airport landed at the field on November 5, 1942. What followed was the construction of the airport's first two buildings in the spring of 1943, and two 2,200 feet, hard-surfaced runways, taxiways, and aprons in early 1944.
Ruth Gouthey (photo on the right and the second from the right in the photo above.) was Ohio State's first female flight instructor, pictured here with a student in 1947. Gouthey also helped form the first Columbus chapter of the 99s. Ohio State began offering flight instruction in 1945.
Growth in flight training
In 1952, lab fees and ground school for a private pilot’s license totaled $530. By 1956, school enrollment was at capacity with 29 students and the fleet consisted of four Cessna 140s and four Navions.
Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing into the 1950s, the airport partnered with the farming community to research equipment for crop dusting. Charles W. Kellenbarger, aircraft maintenance supervisor at Ohio State Airport, worked on the Ohio Project. This was “an airplane developed by the Ohio Flying Farmers Association, The Ohio State University, Civil Aeronautics Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others, for use in spraying and dusting farm crops." A modified version of the Piper J-3, the airplane was built to take off from and land on short farm fields. (Science and Mechanics, 8/1956) However, the plane crashed in 1957 and the project was halted.
Jack Eggspuehler was named director of the School of Aviation at Ohio State in 1958 when he was 28 years old. He was head of aviation until he retired in 1978. Part of his responsibilities included serving as airport director.
Ohio State Enters the Jet Age
In 1967, the crew of a TWA 707 mistook the airport for Port Columbus International Airport. After shuttling all passengers and baggage to Port Columbus, and removing all galley equipment and seats, the plane was light enough to depart for the larger facility across town. Watch the 707 take-off below:
These Beech Musketeers are pictured at the Beech Aircraft Customer Delivery Center in Wichita, Kansas, in June 1969. The picture is courtesy of Myron Ashcraft, Ohio State University class of 1971.
The airport started its decades-long partnership with the NIFA by hosting their national competition in 1960. SAFECON (Safety in Flight Evaluation Conference) has been held at The Ohio State University Airport ten times.
The National Intercollegiate Flying Associations (NIFA) relocated its headquarters to The Ohio State University Airport in 2012.
1970 – 1979
Growth in Research & Development
In the 1970s, the airport operated an air transportation service with two DC-3s. The service provided transportation for university sports teams, faculty and administration and served as a flying classroom.
In 1976, Dr. Gerald Gregorek, Ohio State Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, and Dr. Stacy Weislogel, Ohio State Aviation, worked with NASA and Beech Aircraft Corporation to test a new aircraft wing design at the OSU Airport. The Beechcraft Muskateer had the new wing built up over the conventional airfoil to find out if the design would improve economy, performance and efficiency of general aviation airplanes. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/29/1976)
The Civil Aeronautics Administration granted a temporary permit for Wright Airlines of Cleveland to operate a weekday commuter service between Cleveland and Columbus in August of 1975. However, by October of that year, Ohio State University’s administration moved to evict Wright Airlines because there was no lease. Residents near the airport also objected to the increased air traffic. Eventually Wright moved their operations to Port Columbus. The university then clarified that it had no intention of “expanding ….use to the operation of regularly scheduled commercial airlines…”
“Airport For Sale” and Community Support
Officials of Ohio State University discussed selling Don Scott Airport and the surrounding land in 1986. Ohio State President Edward H. Jennings called for a land use study to determine the feasibility of “disposing of the approximately 1,400 acres, valued at upwards of $100 million, and moving the agricultural and aviation programs elsewhere.”
The above cartoon depicts Ohio State President Edward Jennings as King Kong, taking over the airport with the intention of selling it to developers. Peggy McElroy was a member of the Northwest Civic Association. (Suburban News)
This discussion continued on and off for decades, with vigorous arguments offered from both sides. Developers were interested in discussing commercial and retail use of the property, as well as residential buildings. President Gee continued the discussion on selling the airport in the 2000’s.
1978-1982: Richard D. Gilson chaired the Department of Aviation, director of the Ohio State Airport and director of the aviation psychology lab.
1982-1990: Stacy Weislogel was Department of Aviation chair, and was airport director from 1982-1983.
“A city within a city”
Kenneth Newstrom, airport director, 1992-1997
- “The airport is city within a city. We have our own police and fire department, There is a city-type atmosphere with tenants and users."
- 140,000 take-offs and landings per year
- 5th largest in state
- One of the top 30 GA in country
- 80 flight students per quarter
Outreach and Community Activism
Airport outreach programs were created in 2009 and currently serve over 2,000 students and adults each year. In addition, the airport provides shadowing opportunities for eligible local K-8 students interested in entering a collegiate aviation program. Outreach staff provide tours of the facility by school groups, scouts, and other individuals. The airport is the host site of the semi-annual Youth Aviation Adventure and Young Eagles airplane rides
Airport Open House and Don Scott Trot: A 5K on the Runway
The Airport Open House was held in 2003, 2005, and 2007, and attracted thousands of visitors with hot air balloons, military fly-overs, static displays, free plane rides for kids, a 5K run, and more. This event was brought back in 2015 and 2016 with similar success.
A group of airport expansion opponents formed a group called WOOSE (We Oppose Ohio State Expansion), complete with a website. (Worthington ThisWeek, October 3, 2003) Airport supporters responded by pointing out that the airport has a $65 million economic impact and provides medical transportation services. The runway expansion would reduce the noise problem, improve safety, and create more business opportunity to the region. (Worthington News, April 23, 2003)
The Ohio Aeronautics and Aviation Campus
The airport has evolved in the 75 years since its inception from a pure training facility to Ohio’s premier business aviation center, and is the primary facility serving The Ohio State University and the surrounding central Ohio general aviation community. Today, the airport serves as a general aviation reliever for Port Columbus International Airport. Its status as a Part 139 certificated airport assures the aviation community that the facility will meet the highest standards in terms of operations and maintenance.
The university airport is home to 200 aircraft, including, both single- and multi-, piston and turbine engine aircraft and rotorcraft, and sees an estimated 75,000 operations per year, including corporate activity, student training, and pleasure flying. The airport ranks fourth in Ohio in the number of take-offs and landings and within the top 100 general aviation airports nationally.
The airport has welcomed many dignitaries to Columbus, including former Presidents of the United States, First Ladies, celebrities, and even manatees being transferred to/from the Columbus Zoo.
Austin E. Knowlton Foundation gives Ohio State $10M to enhance aviation, education and research facilities
Continuing its namesake’s commitment to education and to his alma mater, the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation donated $10 million to upgrade aviation education and research facilities, and the terminal at The Ohio State University Airport.
“This generous gift reinforces the university’s commitment to aviation education and research at Ohio State and to utilize Don Scott Field as it was originally intended — training pilots, advancing aviation innovation and serving the needs of a growing region,” said Dean David B. Williams of the College of Engineering. “Modernizing the facilities will allow us to keep pace with the educational needs of 500-plus Ohio State students, research demands of the state and nation, and service expectations of local businesses and pilots.”
In 2017, the airport will celebrate its 75th anniversary, as well as the groundbreaking for a new flight education and terminal building.