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A Quick Flight Back 75 Years

February 08, 2021 14:08 | Anonymous

Seventy-five years ago, in Fargo, ND, a U.S. Military war surplus property airplane auction was held at Hector Field. All 111 Fairchild PT-26 were sold. (Wikicommons photograph) 

By Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D.

Imagine it is 1946. North Dakota, as is the rest of America, is booming with Post-World War II prosperity. Returning GIs (WWII slang used by soldiers meaning “Government Issue”) trained at airports all across the state using their educational benefits. Dickinson’s Sax Aviation Company, Westhope Flying Service, and Rugby Airport (described as the geographic center of North America) advertised flight instruction in the new Dakota Flyer. In 1946, Hector Field hosted a Military surplus PT-26 auction drawing potential buyers from seventeen states. All 111 Fairchilds sold to eager buyers with the average selling price of $1,288, which is about $18,000 today. The average price of a new car back then was $800, with gas about 15 cents a gallon.

The PT-26 was popular with pilots. This primary trainer was often the first plane our World War II pilots flew before moving on to other trainers. Along comes twenty-two year old Geneva Evelyn Schow from Mott, ND, who launches the brand new Dakota Flyer. Her purpose was to boost aviation in the Dakotas and benefit the flying fraternity with a monthly subscription publication about all things flying. 

In November 1946, Geneva launched her Dakota Flyer. In the December issue, she printed some of the letters of congratulations about her new aviation publication. Geneva must have been thrilled when she opened the official looking letter from North Dakota Governor, Fred Aandal, congratulating Geneva on her first edition to promote aviation in the state and “further projects in which all air-minded people in North Dakota desire.” The letter did not indicate if the two dollar annual subscription was enclosed.

In her first editions, Geneva wrote about Ms. Zona Brown, only 16 years old, becoming North Dakota’s youngest female pilot. Zona worked in stores “and saved every dollar for flying lessons and to buy her own airplane.” Zona was also writing “Hangar Chatter” for the Bowman County Pioneer. Geneva also wrote about Elgin High School student Darlene Levorson’s solo on October 13, 1946. Darlene dreamed of flying for the past six years. Jumping ahead to the August 1948 Dakota Flyer edition, Geneva wrote an update that now age 19, Darlene was a private pilot and University of North Dakota sophomore. 

Seventy five years ago when Frank Sinatra was crooning “Five Minutes More” and Perry Como sang “Prisoner of Love,” Geneva’s Dakota Flyer continued covering the good news about aviation training, flyers, airports, and organizations such as Flying Farmers and the Civil Air Patrol. On July 9, 1948, Geveva married Todd Oleson. She continued her beloved Dakota Flyer. However, over time she turned it over to Carl T. Thompson. In January 1949, Thompson expanded the vision to promote aviation in the North Central States and changed the name of the iconic aviation newspaper to The Central Flyer. 

Seventy-five years has flown by since Paris unveiled the bikini and World War II combat pilot, Jimmy Stewart, played George Bailey in the acclaimed movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” However, one constant is the enthusiasm for aviation in North Dakota remains strong. 

Dr. Hamilton researches and writes about unique aviation history. Learn more www.PennyHamilton.com 

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