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North Dakota Aviation Pioneers


North Dakota has had no shortage of aviation heroes. Carl Ben Eielson was a daring pilot, one of two men to fly over both Polar Regions in the same year. He was killed in an air crash in Siberia. Another aviator, Florence Klingensmith was inspired to fly by Charles Lindbergh’s visit to Fargo in 1928. She bought a plane and christened it “Miss Fargo.” In 1932 she won the coveted Amelia Earhart trophy. She was killed in an air crash during a race in 1933.

Oscar Westover was born in Michigan, but served for a time at Fort Lincoln, so North Dakota newspapers also claimed him for the state. In 1919, Westover was assigned to the army’s Aviation Section. He developed a passion for flying, and after attending the Air Service Balloon School, he began racing balloons. In June, 1922, the Bismarck Tribune proudly announced that Westover was the winner of the National Balloon Race and would go on to race in Europe. On this date in 1922, The Bismarck Tribune announced that Westover finished third in that international race.

A race the following August was more of a misadventure. On three different occasions, while flying at low altitude, locals grabbed his drag rope and forced him to the ground. Each time he had to make a detailed explanation before they released his balloon. The last time he had to wait for local officials to clear things up. They gave him a letter expressing regret for having stopped his progress. Ultimately, he was unable to finish the race.

After being promoted to Major General, Westover served as chief of the Air Corps from 1935 to 1938. He played a major role in the expansion that led to the Air Force as a separate service. He flew to bases around the country to increase pilot training. He helped advance the nation’s emphasis on aviation, which proved to be important during World War II.

In 1938, Westover was killed in a plane crash. Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts was named for him. He is buried in "" Arlington National Cemetery . And while not a native son, for a time at least, Oscar Westover was considered an honorary North Dakotan.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bismarck Tribune. “Winners in Balloon Race.”12 June, 1922.

The New York Herald. “Peasants Compel Balloonist to Land.” 13 August, 1922.

Arlington National Cemetery. “Oscar Westover.” "" Accessed 3 July, 2016.