Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is an integral part of the Daytona Beach culture and economy, so it’s hard to imagine how things might have been very different. As a matter of historical fact, Daytona Beach almost didn’t become the home of ERAU. The events that preceded the move to Daytona Beach started in 1963 when Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute, then located in Miami, hired a new president, Jack R. Hunt. Hunt was a leader and a visionary whose goals were to see the school improve its facilities, consolidate its resources (which were then spread among three different locations) and expand enrollments. Mr. Hunt was considering accreditation for the school by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, something relatively rare for a technical institution. This endeavor alone was perceived as one that would necessitate a more clearly defined campus. Shortly after Hunt took control, the Dade County Port Authority announced plans to close Tamiami Airport, the home of Embry-Riddle’s flight operations, which further spurred the need to relocate.
As Hunt considered new locations, climate was a principal factor, and he did want Embry-Riddle to remain in Florida. By January 1964, the choices were narrowed to five, and the Trustees met with representatives in those cities. Ultimately, the decision was made to move to the Daytona Beach area. A consulting firm, hired by the school, concluded that the Daytona Beach area could expect significant economic growth having established companies, such as General Electric, coupled with the area’s proximity to NASA’s facilities in what Hunt called the “Space Triangle of Daytona — Orlando — Cape Kennedy.” In actuality, all airports in Volusia County were being seriously considered and Hunt said, “Community attitude and participation in planning and management will be paramount factors leading to the firm’s final decision.” The selection was clinched by the overwhelming community support spearheaded by Daytona Beach’s Committee of 100, a group of city leaders and local businessmen tasked with attracting new businesses to the area. The Committee offered to raise nearly $1 million to support the necessary construction for the new campus. In addition, to offset moving costs and provide necessary operational capital, 75 local businessmen harnessed resources within their own banks to provide loans. These generous actions made an indelible impression on Jack Hunt who said, “… The city of Daytona Beach has shown enthusiastic interest in having our institute there, we’re going to move.”
On Saturday, April 24, 1965, a convoy of 31 trucks, organized by the Daytona Beach Jaycees and manned by volunteers, left Daytona Beach headed for Miami in what was known as “Operation Bootstrap.” In Miami, the volunteers spent many hours loading the trucks with everything the school owned. They overnighted in Miami and early Sunday morning aimed north. Operation Bootstrap had received extensive coverage in that date’s Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal so many were aware of the effort underway. By the time they neared their destination at the Daytona Beach Municipal Airport, the caravan had grown by many cars loaded with families willing to help Embry-Riddle settle at its new location. Last to depart Miami, yet fastest to arrive, was the Embry-Riddle “air force” consisting of 20 Cessna 150s, Cessna Skyhawks, Beech D-18s and DC-3s.
The destiny of the “University of the Air” remained questionable however. Daytona Beach had only been intended as a temporary stop-over while a permanent facility at the Ormond airport was built. Even as the trucks were pulling away from Miami there were rumors that the city of Ormond Beach was second-guessing its willingness to allow ERAI to use the airport facilities. Norm Hickey, then Daytona Beach City Manager, had quickly arranged for the abandoned Army and Navy Reserve facilities at the Daytona Beach Municipal Airport to be retrofitted to house the school even on this temporary basis. Once there however, in less than two months, Hunt and the Board of Trustees had changed the plan about the Ormond location. The Daytona Beach Municipal Airport with its supportive community would become Embry-Riddle’s permanent home.
The long-range economic benefits were reported to the citizens in the News-Journal. Student enrollments were targeted at 1,000 with an ultimate $3 million capital investment for buildings, aircraft and equipment. In five short years, enrollment exceeded 1,500 and faculty and staff numbers had grown from 40 to 300. The promise of a huge payoff to the city soon exceeded even Hunt’s vision. According to a 2012 study conducted by Washington Economics Group, Inc. (WEG), the total economic impact of the University upon the State of Florida exceeds $1 billion, $963 million of which is attributed to the impact upon Volusia County. Today, there are 1,550 full and part-time Embry-Riddle faculty and staff in the area, with a payroll of over $97 million per year. Additionally, over $6 million is paid in student wages annually. Today at the Daytona Beach campus, students number more than 5,500, and accredited degrees are conferred from the Associates level through Doctorate. The Daytona Beach Campus has graduated over 37,000 students since Operation Bootstrap, and University-wide, alumni number greater than 120,000, six of whom have flown in space as members of the elite corps of astronauts. The impressively long list of celebrated graduates includes government officials, military officers, businessmen in every imaginable industry and an incalculable cadre of commercial, corporate and military pilots. The reach and scope of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has grown far beyond those seemingly lofty prognostications of the visionary, Jack Hunt.
Imagine a move on the magnitude of Operation Bootstrap being undertaken today. It would undoubtedly take years to plan, millions of dollars to execute and the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference in red tape to authorize. It is utterly inconceivable to ponder moving what Embry-Riddle has become. It’s a very good thing the University is home to stay.
The story of Embry-Riddle after its arrival in Daytona Beach fills many chapters. In those early days, Hunt’s vision for a permanent campus with growing enrollments was coming into focus. Buildings were erected, accreditation was sought and university status was granted in 1968. In 1970, the name was changed to reflect the milestone and the era of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University began. In 1970, educational centers were established at military installations to serve the military and civilian personnel, the seeds of what is today the Worldwide Campus, with facilities around the globe and the online educational delivery network.
In 1978, the university established a residential campus in Prescott, Arizona which in 2015 boasts enrollments exceeding 2,200 in 25 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The Prescott Campus is home to our nation’s first College of Security and Intelligence and is the base for its rotor-wing program within Aeronautical Science.
After Hunt’s death in 1984, under the leadership of the former Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, Kenneth Tallman, Embry-Riddle continued to grow enrollments, expand its infrastructure and gain prominence in the world. During his tenure, research endeavors were launched, as were new programs in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Physics, as well as the first graduate-level programs. He worked tirelessly to strengthen the university’s ties with the aviation and aerospace industries. The Advanced Simulation Center was constructed to house the growing fleet of flight training devices that allow students to log flight hours and hone their skills without ever leaving the ground nor using an ounce of aviation fuel.
Beginning in 1991, with the appointment of Dr. Steven Sliwa as president, the university was dedicated to growth and to earning its place as “The University of the Aviation and Aerospace Industries.” Dr. George Ebbs, who succeeded Sliwa in 1997, continued this direction, establishing strong ties with industry leaders while inaugurating both new undergraduate and graduate programs to ensure that Embry-Riddle was providing the workforce with graduates possessing relevant skills and experience.
The events of September 11, 2001, brought a downturn in the aviation industry and the wave was felt throughout the university. The Daytona Beach campus responded quickly and established a degree in Homeland Security focused on the vital areas of terrorism studies, law and policy, emergency management, risk analysis, asymmetric warfare, and strategic planning. For a brief time, enrollments in the aviation-related degree programs stalled, but soon rebounded and gained momentum. New facilities to house the College of Aviation opened in 2002.
Under the leadership of Dr. John P. Johnson, who retired in May 2015, the Daytona Beach campus expanded its infrastructure, its global reach, its research endeavors and its foothold as the industry partner for which it is so widely known. Aging buildings were replaced to support the high-tech endeavors and the demands of a growing student and faculty population. The College of Business opened in 2008 after which a new complex was built at the flightline for flight operations and to contain the Aviation Maintenance Science academic facilities and labs. Athletic facilities were expanded, a new residence hall was built, and the fitness center opened adjacent to the pool. Academic offerings continued to broaden and the reputation of the university grew in countless positive ways.
Two iconic edifices opened during these construction boom years — the Henderson Welcome Center and Administration Building and the massively impressive College of Arts and Sciences, topped with its signature dome belonging to the largest research telescope in the southeast. To further complement these remarkable structures, a signature quad now graces the expanse in front of the Wright Flyer monument.
During the period while Dr. John Watret served as Interim President, construction began on a new residence hall facility and the John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex (the MicaPlex), the cornerstone building of the Research Park at Embry-Riddle. The MicaPlex is under construction just south of the University, beyond the airport property. Dr. Karen Holbrook is currently serving as Interim President while the Board of Trustees conducts a search for the next, permanent president of Embry-Riddle.
On the horizon is the construction of a new student union and library facility that will serve students in many ways and will provide them, faculty and researchers a repository of intellectual resources well into this century. We invite you to watch as this spectacular edifice rises on the site that was originally that of the Jack R. Hunt Memorial Library, at the center of campus.
As impressive as the facilities may be, it is what takes place within their walls that defines Embry-Riddle, now and into the future. The university offers degrees in more than 80 programs from the Associate’s level to Doctorate. The escalating research with global implications, the emergence of new knowledge borne of the efforts of faculty and those in the graduate programs, the cultural exposure from which our students benefit in a richly diverse institution, and the promulgation of intellectual resources are the true essence of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
While celebrated among our university peers, lauded by nations throughout the world and recognized by the industries we serve, the community of Embry-Riddle is keenly cognizant that it is indebted to the many citizens of the Daytona Beach area who brought us here and continue to support us in innumerable ways.