Texas Air & Space Museum

Aviators of the past remembered,
aviators of the future inspired.

 

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Selma English

Selma Caroline Olsen was born in 1905 in Mason City, Nebraska the youngest of a family of eight. In 1910, her family moved to Hansford County Texas where they were part of the Oslo Community. Selma attended school in Oslo, Texas and Goodwell, Oklahoma and then graduated from high school in Tyrone, Oklahoma.

 

In 1926, Selma met Harold English, and, on 13 May 1927, they married in Hereford, Texas. Harold was a full-time brick layer and, although he possessed a commercial pilot license with an instructor's rating, he was only a part-time pilot. Harold flew out of Bivins property on E 10th street.

 

In order to further their flying ambitions, Harold and Selma would spend their weekends barnstorming (flying boldly and, some thought, dangerously) at towns around the Texas Panhandle. On Sunday afternoons while Harold was flying, Selma would be at their car selling candy, ice cream and ride tickets--anything to make an honest dollar that they could invest in a better plane.

 

In 1928, Harold and Selma leased the Bivins Flying Field (which was located northwest of Amarillo) from Jude Bivins and renamed the field English-Bivins Airport. Because the field was experiencing tremendous growth with cross-country flights needing fuel and service, and, with locals residents needing flight instruction and charter flights, Selma assumed the full-time job of handling all administrative duties of the airport. 

 

Also in 1928, Selma and Harold joined brothers Thornton and Jimmy Oxnard to form the Amarillo Airport Corporation. In 1929, the corporation made a bid to manage Amarillo's new Municipal Airport. Upon being rejected by the city, the Corporation bought 740 acres of land seven and one half miles east of the city, within three months built one of the nation's finest airports and, on 1 September 1929, open the new English Field and closed English-Bivins Airport.

 

Within three years, through the efforts of the Corporation, English Field was recognized as one of the finest airports in the nation and was lauded in two national aviation magazines. Selma oversaw the operation of three major airlines, eight planes of the corporation, a major aircraft repair shop and the ever-increasing business of servicing and fueling and airline and US Army aircraft. In 1933, due to an air mail fiasco by the federal government, aviation growth slowed nationwide. 

 

In 1935, Harold died in an auto accident, Jimmy Oxnard withdrew from the Corporation, and, in a reorganization, Selma, Thornton Oxnard, Fred Smith and Harold Carter formed Amarillo Flying Service. In 1937, the English Field terminal building and hanger burned to the ground putting great stress on the Corporation to accommodate the air traffic.

 

Late in 1938, the Corporation rebuilt the terminal, hanger and FBO and, in 1939, Selma became the first female airport manager. Changes continued--in 1941, Thornton left to fly for the US Army Air Force, in 1946, the Corporation sold the airport to the city of Amarillo and, in 1947--English Field's 17th year--Selma left Amarillo and moved to San Diego to care for Harold's ailing mother.

 

In 1951, Selma moved to Portland, Oregon to join her sister Ester. There she was active in fruit production and construction. She never worked in the  aviation business again. Selma passed away in Portland on 27 July 1997 at the age of 93 years.

Selma was truly a pioneer of aviation in the Texas Panhandle.

 

 

Additional information regarding other aviation pioneers may be seen at the Texas Air & Space Museum.

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