By Elinor Clack
Gene Etchart of Glasgow, an early-day flight enthusiast, will present the history of the civilian pilot flight training program Wednesday as part of the Clack Museum summer lecture series.
It will be presented in the foyer of the Heritage Center at 7 p.m.
The U.S. Congress was anti-war in the early 1930s but President Roosevelt was aware the nation was unable to protect itself in the event it had to join the war effort. He knew we needed to train both military and commercial pilots. Roosevelt knew we were unprepared because we ranked seventh among the world's nations in military aircraft. Italy and Germany had 12,500 aircraft and a reserve of 7,000 planes while the United States had only 3,762. Italy and Germany had a combined trained army of 14,265,000 including reserves while the U.S. total military was only 174,000.
This inequality was pointed out by Gen. Hap Arnold in 1938. He also stated that Hitler was training 65,000 pilots and mechanics. We had fewer than 5,000 pilots and only one training center. Alarmed by these statistics, Robert Hinkley of Ogden, Utah, came up with a plan to train pilots with the assistance of a handful of colleges and pilot training programs which would be designated civilian pilot training programs.
On Dec. 7, 1938, Roosevelt announced a CAA plan to annually train 20,000 college-age students to fly. The program got under way early in 1939.
Here in Montana, 16 airports were utilized under the auspices of several commercial flying school operators. The Havre program was one of the first in Montana as well as one of the first nationwide. These programs were spread around the state in cooperation with several colleges, three high schools and even with the Sisters of Charity of Providence in Great Falls. Locally, Northern Montana College provided the necessary book training with Dr. Merrill Rassweiller as coordinator. To give the program a civilian flavor, one of every 10 students was a girl. Red Morrison of Helena was the flying school operator. The government offered 35 hours of flying time. A $25 registration fee provided $3,000 in insurance, a flight physical exam, and at the end they would receive their private pilot's license.
Robert Jestrab treasurers the fact he has his father's log book. Others value the rapport built among the students. In the first Havre class was Dick O'Neill, Jim Leeds, Mark Mowry, Bob Patterson, Ted Lewis, Carl Graham, plus William Love of Fort Shaw, Philip Anderson of Circle, and Frederick and Wesley Peterson of Plentywood.
After receiving their private pilot's license, they could attend a secondary program that offered aerobatics in open-cockpit planes, instrument training, night flying and on to a commercial license.
At first the military saw little value in the program but soon realized the CPT could train a badly needed reserve of pilots. The program was a resounding success. Ninety-five percent of the initial 330 students received their pilot's licenses. There was only one accident. The program expanded rapidly and by Jan. 1, 1941, 63,113 had their wings. A total of 56 Havre men were graduated and of that group, so far as we know, Dale Anderson, Vern Olson, Irwin Wink and Joe Anderson still reside in Havre. Carl Graham, Mark Mowry and George Foss were lost in military action, while many of the class went on to military flight training.
Gene Etchart is hoping to visit with the Havre pilots from the training program on Wednesday and is interested in learning of the whereabouts of William Love, Ted Lewis, Frederick and Wesley Peterson, Charles Bailey, Porter Bengston, Trgve Brensdahl, Bill Hamilton, James and Jerome Kinbring, Glen Morgan, Donald Morris, George "Jack" Petrie, Glen Peterson, Russel Slyngstad, Lee Smith, William White, Bob Morrison, Harry Sorenson, Virgil Sticka, Oliver Larson, John Wolf, Lois Wilson, Winnajean Gailbraith, Robert Maxwell, Robert Rigg, John Calfee and Harold Oien. If you know up-to-date information about these people, please contact Etchart in Glasgow, or call the Clack Museum, 265-4000, or Elinor Clack, program sponsor, at 265-5152. Your help is much appreciated.