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New Centre County Historical Society Exhibition Showcases a Local Aviation Pioneer

by on June 11, 2019 6:00 AM

Guests visiting the Centre County Historical Society and Centre Furnace Mansion this summer will enjoy a new exhibit honoring a piece of the county’s 20th-century history. However, this exhibit won’t only be of interest to history fans both novice and knowledgeable; it will also be of great interest to any area “avgeeks.” The new Up, Up and Away: Sherm Lutz and the State College Air Depot exhibition chronicles one fascinating local’s aviation career and his influence on the county’s air service.

The exhibition displays hand-picked selections from a collection of more than 5,000 images and items, including a large quantity of negatives and slides, film reels, documents and newspaper articles, all donated by Sherman Lutz’s niece, Phyllis Barr.

A labor of love for the society and more than a dozen interns and volunteers for the last four years, the exhibition is finally unveiled to the world with a public reception from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday.

But who was Sherm Lutz?

Born in Ferguson Township in 1903, Lutz became an aviation pioneer. He was not only a pilot during a formidable point in aviation history, but also a flying instructor, airfield owner and avid photographer and videographer. In the early 1900s, Lutz operated an air depot in Boalsburg, offering services for chartered flights and instruction, before moving his operation to State College following World War II, creating the State College Air Depot on farmland just a short walk from Penn State’s campus.

Throughout his career, Lutz held strong ties with the university and was an alumnus himself. Many of his first flight students were undergraduates. He served as the senior instructor at Penn State’s U.S. Civil Aviation Authority Civilian Pilot Training Program during World War II, training pilots who would end up flying for the Army or Navy during the war. He also helped push along the creation of aeronautical engineering curriculum at Penn State, now one of the best programs of its kind in the country.

Sherm Lutz, at right, in a portrait taken at Beckley Aviation College in Harrisburg, where Lutz taught engine building and radio engineering in 1928 and 1929. S.W. Kuhnert, Photographer. Photo courtesy Centre County Historical Society, Sherman Lutz Collection

Lutz’s influence on the county’s air service can still be seen by travelers passing through the University Park Airport. His State College Air Depot was the predecessor to today’s airport and first brought commercial air service to State College in 1949. The very first commercial flight — an All American Airlines flight (an airline which would later become US Airways, then merge with American Airlines) — was piloted by one of Lutz’s former students and landed 70 years ago this week.

Now you can see a variety of mementos from Lutz’s long career in the new exhibit, including many photographs of Lutz and his students throughout the decades and items such as Lutz’s own camera equipment and flight suit. A section of the exhibition is dedicated to Lutz’s many female flying students, as his work heavily intersected with the advancement of women in aviation. A touch screen monitor shows further photos from the collection not displayed on the exhibition walls.

The exhibition will be on display through March 2020. Visitors can drop in to the public reception June 16 to learn more about the collection from historical society staff. A podcast is also planned for the society’s website, further detailing Lutz’s life and the significance of the collection.

The Boalsburg Air Depot in 1931. Photo courtesy Centre County Historical Society, Sherman Lutz Collection.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified All American Airlines as later becoming a part of United. It has been corrected to state that All American Airlines later became US Airways and then merged with American Airlines. 

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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