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H.J. Forsythe


In 1917, as World War I loomed, Americans prepared for war. Among the challenges was aviation. Aircraft were relatively new, with Orville and Wilbur Wright having just flown in the first recorded controlled, powered flight in December 1903. But the field had developed quickly, becoming an important wartime priority. To meet the demand for pilots, the Aero Club of America pledged to concentrate efforts until the U-S had "one thousand trained aviators."

H.J. Forsythe, a mechanic of Bismarck, was very interested in this new field. Forsythe passed the examination required by the department of aviation. After receiving an "unusually high rating," he was immediately commissioned first lieutenant.

Forsythe heard that the U.S. Government was looking to start another pilot training school. He realized there were several reason Bismarck would be a good candidate. North Dakota had more clear days in the year than any other state; an inland school would be desirable, since most of the current schools were on the coast; and the altitude and climactic conditions were considered favorable for flying.

On this date, The Bismarck Tribune reported that the secretary of the Bismarck Commercial Club issued a formal request for such a school. The Tribune reported that "if the war department officials at Washington act with favor," the school would likely be placed at Fort Lincoln, which is now the site of United Tribes Technical College.

An estimated 12 airplanes, 25 trucks, a motorcycle and seven autos, among other supplies, would be brought to the location if it became a school—equipment valued around $800,000.

Forsythe expected to win the post for Bismarck, but he was called away to service in early April before any decision was made.

"I expect to come back," said Forsythe. "And while I am away I am not going to lose sight of the advantages which Fort Lincoln offers as a site for an aviation school, and I intend to do everything I can to impress the importance of this location upon my superior officers and military authorities generally. If in this way I can do something for Bismarck and at the same time serve the best interest of my country, I shall feel well repaid for the sacrifice I am called upon to make."

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Tribune, February 12, 1917, p1; February 10, 1917, p1; April 9, 1917, p8