Embry-Riddle's History

Aviation and Embry-Riddle: Always Pioneering

Twenty-two years to the day of the historic flight of the Wright Flyer, barnstormer John Paul Riddle and entrepreneur T. Higbee Embry founded the Embry-Riddle Company at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 17, 1925.  Just months later, they opened the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, supporting the Air Commerce Act of 1926, which introduced certification and medical examination of pilots.

The school quickly gained a national reputation for excellence. The safety record of its pilots allowed Riddle and Embry to earn one of the first air mail routes in 1927.

Within three years, the school had become a subsidiary of AVCO, the parent of American Airlines. By the end of the decade, World War II created a demand for skilled aviators and mechanics intensified. Embry-Riddle’s second life began.

In South Florida, Embry-Riddle opened flight-training centers and quickly became the world’s largest aviation school. Allied nations sent thousands of fledgling airmen to the Embry-Riddle centers at Carlstrom, Dorr, and Chapman airfields to become pilots, mechanics and aviation technicians. Embry-Riddle trained more than 25,000 aviation professionals during the war years.

After the war, under the leadership of John and Isabel McKay, Embry-Riddle expanded its international outreach, establishing a school in Brazil, and strengthening its academic programs.

With Jack R. Hunt as president, Embry-Riddle moved its flight program, ground school and technical training programs in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1965. This relocation and consolidation, supported by Daytona Beach civic leaders, signaled the rebirth of Embry-Riddle. With accreditation, we became Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1970. That year, the university also established centers at U.S. aviation bases to serve active-duty military personnel, planting the seeds for Embry-Riddle Worldwide.

In 1978, under President Hunt’s leadership, Embry-Riddle opened a western campus in Prescott, Arizona, on the 511-acre site of a former college. With superb flying weather and expansive grounds, the Prescott Campus has earned prominence in aviation education and research.

After Hunt’s presidency, Lt. Gen. Kenneth L. Tallman led the university for five years, drawing on his 35-year military career and service as superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Under Tallman’s leadership, we added a school of graduate studies and degree programs in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Physics. 

Dr. Steven M. Sliwa led the university from 1991 through 1998, focusing on strengthening the ties with industry. He developed a joint venture with FlightSafety International; a partnership with Cessna Aircraft Company; a technology alliance with IBM; and an exclusive educational partnership with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He also spearheaded a $100+ million capital expansion program and an $11.5 million congressional line-item appropriation. 

Dr. George H. Ebbs, led the university from 1998 through 2005. During his tenure, Embry-Riddle continued to expand its campuses and gain national prominence, earning the No. 1 Aerospace Engineering undergraduate program ranking from U.S. News & World Report. The Aerospace Engineering program also became the largest in the country. New programs in this era included Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering, Space Physics, Safety Science, and Global Security and Intelligence Studies. The university won $57 million in military contracts to provide aviation degrees to U.S. military in Europe and provide training to the Air National Guard, international flight safety officers from the U.S. Air Force and support pilot training at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Dr. John P. Johnson came to Embry-Riddle from Texas A&M University, where he was provost and vice president. He was also Dean at the Medical University of South Carolina and at Northern Kentucky University. Dr. Johnson expanded international and research initiatives and launched doctoral programs in Aerospace Engineering, Aviation, Aviation Business Administration, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering Physics, Human Factors, and Mechanical Engineering. Working with the FAA and industry leaders, Dr. Johnson positioned the university to lead the development of next-generation air traffic management technology.

In 2017, P. Barry Butler came to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University from the University of Iowa, where he served as executive vice president and provost. An aeronautical, astronautical and mechanical engineer and former dean of engineering, Dr. Butler now oversees a university that has become a collaborative workforce developer and a respected center for aviation research and development, including emerging areas such as cyber resilience.

Under his presidency, Embry-Riddle continues to expand discovery-driven degree programs and its research park is home to new aerospace patents, technology transfer and startups. Dr. Butler has prioritized collaboration with industry, resulting in new scholarships, mentorship programs and expedited hiring initiatives. He is expanding the university’s research, development and education in the areas of aviation cybersecurity, aviation data analytics and autonomous vehicles.