Lieutenant Noel B. Evans and the 321st Observation Squadron at Pearson Field

Group of men wearing pilot's goggles and suits pose in front of biplane aircraft.
The 321st Observation Squadron at Pearson Field in 1926. This and the other photographs in this article are part of the Lt. Noel B. Evans collection at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site museum collection.

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Black and white photo of a man in uniform. Pilot's wings insignia are pinned to his jacket.
U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Noel B. Evans in uniform.

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In the early decades of the 20th century, civilian aviators used the polo grounds south of Vancouver Barracks as an improvised landing field. Then, in 1923, Vancouver Barracks became part of the U.S. Army Air Service program (called the U.S. Army Air Corps after 1926), and an airfield was built to support air reserve training. In the same year, the 321st Observation Squadron was assigned to the barracks.

Beginning in 1924, the unit was led by Lieutenant Oakley Kelly, one of the military's best known pilots. Under Kelly's leadership, the Army made a number of infrastructure improvements to Pearson Field, until it became known as one of the most developed military air fields on the West Coast. Kelly also worked to promote aviation throughout the Northwest - promoting record breaking flights and encouraging civilian aviators in Vancouver. In 1925, the field was expanded to make room for airmail planes and emerging commercial airlines. 1925 was also the year that the airfield was named Pearson Field after Lieutenant Alexander Pearson, a renowned Army aviator who had died the previous year.

Lt. Oakley Kelly commanded the squadron until 1929, when he was replaced by Captain Carlton F. Bond.
Black and white photo of man riding a motorcycle with another man in sidecar in front of airplane hangars.
Lt. Evans wrote a caption on this photo from his personal collection that reads: "Just jazzin a little while waiting for my ship."

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Black and white photo of man wearing leather jacket, cowl, and flight goggles.
Lt. Evans in his flight suit.

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By the time Lieutenant Noel B. Evans arrived at Pearson Field in 1925, he had been trained as a pilot with the 840th Aero Squadron at Camp McArthur, Texas, and had attended a school of military aeronautics in Austin, Texas, and a flying school at Southerfield, Georgia.

From 1925 to April 1932, Evans was a member of the 321st Observation Squadron at Pearson Field. During his time in the Northwest, Evans also worked for the Pacific Air Transport company as a relief pilot, flying planes between Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Later, he also worked as a co-pilot for West Coast Air Transport. In 1930, when West Coast Air Transport was purchased by Western Air Express, Evans piloted tri-motored Fokker monoplane transports from Portland to San Francisco.

In January 1932, Evans left the Army and the Northwest, taking a job with Varney Speed Lines, flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Evans' life was tragically cut short in 1933, when his plane crashed in bad weather. At the time of his death, he had logged more than 4,200 flying hours.

Pearson Field was home to the 321st Observation Squadron until 1941. Many structures, including the historic hangar to the south of today's Pearson Air Museum, the headquarters building where Lt. Kelly's office was located, the munitions building to the east of the museum, and the grass field and runway, remain from this period.
Photo of landed biplane. Three men look inside cockpit. A dragon is painted on the fuselage, and the tail is marked with "Northwest Aircraft Corporation Portland Oregon"
While employed by the U.S. Army Air Corps, Lt. Evans also worked a commercial pilot. This photo from his personal collection, possibly taken at Pearson Field, shows a plane owned by the North West Aircraft Corporation, a commercial aviation company.

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Last updated: January 4, 2018