Alpha Eta Rho International Aviation Fraternity is a professional collegiate fraternity founded to bring together those students having a common interest in the field of commercial aviation. Since 1929, the organization has fostered a unique bond among fellow aviators and aviation enthusiasts, and has aspired to uphold our longstanding motto of "Collegiate Aviation Leaders of Today... Aviation Industry Leaders of Tomorrow."
Alpha Eta Rho, the Greek letters which stand for “AIR,” came into being to fulfill a definite need of the time. On the campus of the University of Southern California in the spring of 1929, enrollment in aviation courses was surprisingly high. Faculty members as well as students were voicing the need for an extracurricular activity for promoting and organizing the unified interest in aviation.
Led by Earl W. Hill, Professor of Aviation at the University of Southern California, Alpha Eta Rho was organized on April 10, 1929. After receiving official recognition by the university, the first official election of officers was held on May 23, 1929. Under the leadership of Hill, Founder and National President for 21 years until his death in 1950, Alpha Eta Rho continued to grow in size and reputation within collegiate academia and the aviation industry.
Marshall C. Benedict, an employee of United Airlines, succeeded Earl W. Hill as National President of Alpha Eta Rho (AHP) in 1950. Benedict served in this capacity until 1963, at which time he had become involved with the FAA. Benedict was recalled to active duty with the United States Air Force for a 16-month period from June 1951 until October 1952, and during this period John Goodwin temporarily assumed position of National President.
Benedict resigned in 1963 and was succeeded by Ray Mertes, a great supporter of aviation education while with United Airlines. Mertes died unexpectedly in 1965 and was succeeded by Gene Kropf, Public Affairs Officer of the Western Region of the FAA. Known within the aviation circle as "The Red Baron," Kropf served as National President until 1981 at which time he resigned to accept the position of Chairman of the Board of Alpha Eta Rho. Dr. Harold S. Wood, then National Secretary-Treasurer for Alpha Eta Rho accepted the position of National President. Professor Wood was Chairman of the Aeronautics Department at Parks College of St. Louis University and was responsible for the growth and modern expansion of Alpha Eta Rho, The University Aviation Association (UAA), and the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). He managed the National Office of Alpha Eta Rho at Parks College from 1950 to his retirement in 1986.
On July 1, 1988, Harold Wood resigned as National President to accept the position of Chairman of the Board of Alpha Eta Rho with the passing of Gene Kropf “The Red Baron." Professor Wayne E. White, retired faculty member of Boise State University, accepted the position of National President. Professor White served as the National President until his passing in 1997.
Professor Ronald Kelly of Southern Illinois University was elected as National President in 1997. Kelly is a member of the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame and was a long time volunteer leader in collegiate aviation circles. Kelly was the founder of the Sigma Chapter of AHP at Southern Illinois University in 1963 and an early pioneer of their aviation program. In addition to his efforts to expand the collegiate aviation programs at Southern Illinois University, Kelly served in various leadership capacities at a national level with the NIFA and NIFA Foundation.
“Collegiate Aviation Leaders of Today... Aviation Industry Leaders of Tomorrow.”
In April of 2008, Professor Ronald Kelly passed away and was succeeded by the current National President of Alpha Eta Rho, Capt. Robert H. Clement. Clement is the first student alumni of Alpha Eta Rho to serve as National President. Clement pledged the Pi Chapter of Alpha Eta Rho at Parks College of St. Louis University in 1969. During the period from 1968 to 1973, Clement served as a student volunteer and Special Assistant to Professor Harold Wood at the National Office of Alpha Eta Rho at Parks College. Upon graduation from Parks College, Clement served 21 years as an officer and aviator in carrier based naval aviation. Capt. Clement was in the initial cadre of fleet introduction of the F-14A “Tomcat," a graduate of “Top Gun” and the Naval Aviation Postgraduate Safety Program, and former Commanding Officer of the VF-111 “Sundowners” embarked on USS Kitty Hawk.
Upon his retirement from the US Navy, Capt. Clement joined FedEx in 1996 and is currently flying the MD-11 in both domestic and international operations. Clement is a member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and serves on the FedEx ALPA Safety Committee. Prior to assuming the duties of AHP National President, Clement had provided 42 years of volunteer service to Alpha Eta Rho and the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) in various leadership positions.
In January of 2010, Alpha Eta Rho embarked upon the largest change in its modern history. The Board of Directors voted to expand its membership to include two new vice presidents; Vice President of Communications and Technology, Mr. Keith Leonhardt, and Vice President of Alumni Affairs, Mr. Bob Scott. Both Leonhardt and Scott are AHP Alumni of the Sigma Delta Chapter at Daniel Webster College. In the challenge to modernize and enhance the services of Alpha Eta Rho to its active membership, alumni, industry and the collegiate aviation community, Alpha Eta Rho hired its first full time National Executive Director. Mr. Anthony L. Johnson, an AHP Alumnus of Parks College of St. Louis University, assumed the duties of Executive Director in June of 2010 and has returned the National Office to St. Louis, Missouri.
Through the leadership all the individuals aforementioned, Alpha Eta Rho has grown internationally. The alumni membership of Alpha Eta Rho is large, and is prevalent throughout the worldwide aviation industry. Currently, there are over ninety active chapters of Alpha Eta Rho. Over the years, an additional fifty chapters have been established but have become inactive. Approximately one thousand new members are being initiated into Alpha Eta Rho every year.