Martin, Dexter Charles

January 2, 1897–December 12, 1982

In 1927 Martin joined Norman Langley barnstorming as a flying circus. With Langley he performed in North and South Carolina. Martin also delivered movie film to theaters and in 1928 joined Anderson Airways, flying for Mabel Cody’s Air Circus.

Aviation pioneer. Martin was born on January 2, 1897, in Santa Ana, California, to Jesse Martin and Belle Southwell. The exploits of Glenn Martin, who built gliders in Santa Ana, inspired Martin’s interest in flying. He learned to fly from barnstormers in 1919 and received his first pilot license in 1924. According to Martin, he became an aviator “because I didn’t have any better sense.” Martin married Guynelle Eison on December 15, 1938, and the couple had four children.

In 1927 Martin joined Norman Langley barnstorming as a flying circus. With Langley he performed in North and South Carolina. Martin also delivered movie film to theaters and in 1928 joined Anderson Airways, flying for Mabel Cody’s Air Circus. In 1929 that relationship ended when he flew his plane into a mountain, although he survived.

In 1931 Martin sold airplanes in North Carolina, but he returned to Greenville and worked for the passage of the 1935 act creating a South Carolina aeronautics commission. He became the first executive director of the State Aeronautics Commission and served in that capacity until 1950. Initially, Martin focused the commission’s efforts on Works Progress Administration airport construction. During World War II the commission developed Lexington County Airport (later the Columbia Metropolitan Airport) to house the Doolittle Raiders’ training program. Martin and the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission also cooperated with the U.S. Department of Defense to identify sites for military airports in South Carolina, which resulted in the development of McEntire, Myrtle Beach, and Shaw air bases, among others.

When the Civil Air Patrol was created in November 1941, Martin, given the rank of major, became the first wing commander for South Carolina. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Martin organized a coastal patrol to escort ships leaving South Carolina ports. Martin also led South Carolina to become a pioneer in civilian flight instruction. He developed a training program at Columbia’s Owens Field in 1939 and established the Palmetto School of Aeronautics in Columbia to train airplane mechanics.

In his varied aviation career Martin flew across the country in 1927, served as governor-elect Olin D. Johnston’s pilot in 1934, and was a member (1938–1972) and president (1940–1945) of the National Association of State Aviation Officers (NASAO). While a member of the NASAO, he chaired a national committee to develop legislative protocols for state and federal control of aviation. Martin left aviation in 1963, and the Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame inducted him in 1976. Martin died on December 12, 1982, in Columbia.

Maxey, Russell. Airports of Columbia: A History in Photographs & Headlines. Columbia, S.C.: Palmetto Publishing, 1987.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Martin, Dexter Charles
  • Coverage January 2, 1897–December 12, 1982
  • Author
  • Keywords Aviation pioneer, worked for the passage of the 1935 act creating a South Carolina aeronautics commission, cooperated with the U.S. Department of Defense to identify sites for military airports in South Carolina, became the first wing commander for South Carolina Civil Air Patrol, served as governor-elect Olin D. Johnston’s pilot, president (1940–1945) of the National Association of State Aviation Officers (NASAO), Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 18, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 19, 2016
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