The National Intercollegiate Flying Association exists today as a forum for collegiate aviators to expand their studies and further their careers by participating in competitive and non-competitive events, networking with industry and contemporaries, and applying themselves to go above-and-beyond their ordinary curriculum. But, its history began almost a century ago.

NIFA History: Students at Columbia University form a flying club in 1919.
Students at Columbia University form their first flying club in 1919.

The NIFA traces its roots to early post-World War I powered flight.  Young aviators, returning from the war to their collegiate studies, sought to expand upon and use their training and experience to further the nascent cause of civil aviation. “We, students of Columbia University, being ex-army and navy aviators, have organized the Aero Club of Columbia University,” twelve students declared in their May 1, 1919 petition to the University Secretary. Similar clubs were born in the early days of flight at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Lehigh, and other universities and colleges across the United States.

On May 7, 1920, nine schools competed at Mitchel Field in the first contest held by the Intercollegiate Flying Association.  Yale took first place, assisted by naval aviator and future founder of Pan American Airways, Juan Trippe in a war-surplus Curtis Jenny.

In 1929, Grover C. Loening of the Loening Aeronautical Engineering company, who had been America’s first candidate for an aeronautics degree just seven years after the Wright Brothers historic flight, established the Loening Intercollegiate Flying Trophy. His wish was to encourage flying and exceptional achievements among the now many collegiate aviation programs nationwide. The award was judged that first year by Loening and his friends, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Navy Commander John Towers.  The pure silver, Tiffany-designed trophy is still judged and bestowed today at the annual SAFECON.

NIFA History: Popular Aviation, May 1935
Popular Aviation, May 1935

In December of 1934, twenty three colleges and universities met in Washington, D. C. to broaden the competition beyond what had been mainly Ivy League schools.  They elected officers, chose an airmeet location for the following June, and formed a National Intercollegiate Flying Association.

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We urge teams, former competitors, judges, historians, and anyone interested to search school library archives and newspapers, yearbooks, newsletters, magazines, and other publications for items relating to NIFA’s past to help us build a written history. Personal written accounts are accepted, too. Please submit those items and details pertaining to them to:

The Collected History of the NIFA

NIFA History: Popular Aviation, May 1935

NIFA History 1935: College Flyers Organize the NIFA

Popular Aviation magazine, May 1935: “A NATIONAL intercollegiate aviation association was organized at Washington, D. C., in December to put competitive flying activities between colleges in a class with football, baseball, and other major sports. Delegates from most of the leading universities were present.” [Read more…]