LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) – The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will dedicate a historical marker in Lynchburg on Veterans Day to honor a woman who was an accomplished pianist and a pioneer in Virginia’s aviation history.
Jim Rogers has loved aviation since he was a little boy.
“I started hanging around riding my bicycle out to the airport,” he said.
At 14, he got a job at Lynchburg Regional Airport in the 40s, when it was known as Preston Glenn Airport.
“That’s what they called a gofer. You go for this, go for that,” Rogers laughed.
He stood inside the airport, listening in as a woman taught a class of men to fly.
“She was the only woman around there. I mean, it was others out there, secretaries and so forth. She was one of the first ground school instructors on the East Coast.”
She, is Lucille Chaffin Kent. Rogers tells some of her story in his book, “Planes, Pilots & Gofer Tales of Virginia’s Old Preston Glenn Airport.”
Jane White first heard about Kent last year while working on a display of pioneers in aviation at E.C. Glass High School.
She called Kent, who passed away in 1997, a pioneer in part because of what she did.
“Until she did what she did, people didn’t fly at night,” White said. “You just had to fly in the daytime so you could see where you were going.”
When she did it, was also significant.
“It’s so important to realize the era in which she did what she did.”
Kent was one of the first women in Virginia to earn an instructor’s rating in aeronautics. She instructed nearly 2,000 future military pilots during World War II as a ground school director in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, later War Training Service at Lynchburg College and in commandeered facilities at the Miller Home for Girls, as well as at Preston Glenn Airport.
“To have to be taught by a woman was really something. A lot of men didn’t like that.”
She persevered. Her story, in 107 words, will be shared on a historical marker like the ones seen dotting the street in a historic district in Lynchburg.
“You may not remember the name or the details but the fact that there was a woman who taught aviation to over 2,000 men is a remarkable thing when she was 23, 24 years old. I just love that,” White smiled.
It’s the type of history White says will be lost if the story doesn’t continue to be told.
The dedication of Kent’s historical marker will take place November 11 at 3:30 pm in the front lobby of E-C Glass High School located at 2111 Memorial Avenue in Lynchburg. It’s open to the public.
The text of the marker will read as follows:
Lucille Chaffin Kent (1908-1997)
Lucille Kent, born near here, was among the first Virginia women to earn an instructor’s rating in aeronautics. In 1939 she began teaching meteorology, navigation, and civil air regulations at E. C. Glass High School. During World War II, she was ground school director for the Civilian Pilot Training Program (later War Training Service) in Lynchburg and instructed about 2,000 future military pilots at Lynchburg College, in commandeered facilities at the Miller Home for Girls, and at Preston Glenn Airport. After qualifying as an instructor on the Link Trainer, a flight simulator, Kent taught pilots how to navigate using instruments. She later wrote a comprehensive aeronautics manual.
The Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which authorizes all state historical markers, approved the “Lucille Chaffin Kent” historical marker for manufacture and installation earlier this year.
The program, which began in 1927, is considered the oldest such program in the nation.
There are currently more than 2,400 official state markers. They are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation and local partners outside of VDOT’s jurisdiction.