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The Department of Aeronautics at William & Mary was initiated in 1931 by President Julian A. C. Chandler in connection with James Riordan School of New York City which was operating out of a steamship berthed at Jamestown. It was the first of its kind at any American institution.

Lieutenant Colonel Earl C. Popp, who taught at the Riordan School, offered his services as a flight instructor to William & Mary students for free in exchange for the use of laboratory facilities at the college for his students. In addition to Popp, Julian Chandler, President Chandler's son, and Yelverton O. Kent served as assistant instructors. Students learned to fly in four different planes, including an open-cockpit Biplane, a Fleet Trainer, a Kitty Hawk and a Curtis Robin. Survivors of the era recall that the planes were painted green, gold and silver. Students were required to take part in courses three times a week and additional laboratory work at the College Airport.

Once students logged 20 hours of flight time, they were eligible to become private pilots. After three years, the college deemed the cost of insurance and maintenance on the planes too much, and the program was shut down. By the end, approximately forty-four students completed training, including one woman, Minnie Cole Savage.

The students of the Aeronautics Department formed the Flight Club in 1931, and won the Loening Cup in 1933.

Material in the SCRC


  • Flight School, University Archives Subject File, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.