Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: April 28, 2017
In May 1917, the U.S. Army established the School of Aeronautics on Ohio State’s campus as one of six flying schools at universities across the country to ready new pilots to fight in World War I.
The school opened with about 100 civilian instructors and greeted waves of squadrons every week with each cadet receiving an intensive eight-week training in photography, radio telegraphy, gunnery, airplane engines, aerial observation and piloting.
Given Ohio State’s leadership in wireless telegraphy dating back to the turn of the century, the Army focused in part on courses radio transmission and reception.
By 1918, a new aviation hangar was completed near the OSU electrical engineering labs at 215 W. 19th Avenue. The distinctive building included a saw-tooth skylight with north-facing windows placed vertically allowed for maximum indirect natural light in the building.
The idea, developed by university architect Joseph Bradford, was to minimize shadows as student flyers teamed together to work on airplanes.
With 15,000 square feet of open space, the lab’s hangar was large enough to house four airplanes, a machine gun study area, and two rooms designated for the study of wireless. After the War, a portion of the the WWI hangar became the home of WOSU Radio and would remain so for the next 50 years until WOSU moved into the Fawcett Center.
The Army tapped an unlikely youngster to help lead instruction in wireless communications, a sophomore at a local high school named Bob Higgy. This was not just another teenager dabbling in wireless.
As a 10-year-old living in Lima, Ohio, Higgy received his wireless operators license and used a homemade spark coil transmitter to send code across the state.
His father was a salesman and moved the family to Arizona and California. Along the way, young Higgy built a reputation with operators across the western United States for his technical prowess. He was regarded as a “smooth code operator” for his deft touch on the key. When Higgy’s family moved to Columbus, the Army Signal Corps quickly recruited the youngster to teach cadets the science and art of wireless telegraphy at a pay level equal to a First Lieutenant. Higgy would later direct WOSU’s radio stations.
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