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Historic photo of the spruce mill at the Vancouver Barracks that produced the wood components for the manufacture of military aircraft during World
War I

Photo courtesy of Pearson Field Historical Society
Pearson Field, located in Vancouver, Washington, within Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, is one of the oldest active airfields in the West and a historically significant center of aviation in the Pacific Northwest. In 1905, the first aeronautical event took place here when Lincoln Beachey, one of the most talented early aviators, landed a dirigible on the parade grounds of the U.S. Army's Vancouver Barracks. The first airplane flight in the Vancouver-Portland, Oregon, region took place in 1910, and generated much public interest. By 1911 two local aviators, Charles Walsh and Silas Christofferson, began flying the first airplanes on the polo grounds with their Curtiss Pusher biplanes. Use of the field by local aviators increased in the years leading to World War I. During the war, a spruce mill was constructed at the Vancouver Barracks by the U.S. Army Signal Corps for the production of wood components needed to manufacture military aircraft. Completed in 90 days, the mill's production sustained the manufacturing of U.S. and Allied aircraft and played a crucial role in the expansion and modernization of American aircraft production.

[photo] Lt. John A. Macready and Lt. Oakley Kelly in 1924
Photo from clipart.com

In 1923, the Army established an airfield at the Vancouver Barracks and assigned the 321st Observation Squadron to the field, led by Lt. Oakley Kelly, to expand air reserve training. The squadron used four Curtiss JN-4 Jennies and one Dehavilland DH-4 aircraft to teach the Army Reserve Officers how to fly. Lt. Kelly was a major figure in the U.S. Army Air Service, and attracted national attention when he and Lt. John A. Macready completed the first transcontinental flight in April 1924. In 1925, Kelly pushed to rename the airfield in honor of Lt. Alexander Pearson, a Vancouver native and exemplary Army aviator who was killed in an aviation accident in 1924. Pearson had been commissioned by the Department of the Interior to make the first aerial survey of Grand Canyon National Park. Pearson Field was the last stopover in the Army's epochal Round-the-World flight in 1924, which demonstrated the range of military aircraft and allowed advocates of air power to promote Army aviation.

During Kelly's assignment to the airfield (1924-1928), he actively promoted the expansion of civilian involvement in aviation in Vancouver and was instrumental in the establishment of the adjacent commercial field. The Vancouver Chamber of Commerce worked with Kelly to establish this field in 1925. This expansion allowed a home for general aviation and for early commercial airlines, and enabled Pearson to bid for an airmail route. The original West Coast airmail service stopped at Pearson. Both Pacific Air Transport and Varney Airlines used the field, and later joined with two other airlines to become United Airlines.

Historic photo of the Soviet aviators after their arrival at Pearson Field, June 20, 1937
, upon completion of the first transpolar flight
Photo courtesy of Pearson Field Historical Society
In 1937, Pearson Field was the landing site of the courageous crossing of the North Pole by three Soviet aviators in the ANT-25, a single-engine aircraft designed by the Soviet Union for long-range flight. This important milestone in aviation--the first transpolar flight--prompted intense public interest and attracted national attention. A monument was erected to commemorate the flight. In 1941, the 321st Squadron was called to active duty, and Pearson ceased to be an active Army Air Corps base. The original grass field, surviving military structures and the backdrop of the Officers Row reflect the interwar period during which Pearson was an active aviation center. In the late 1940s, the City of Vancouver assumed responsibility for Pearson after it was declared surplus by the military, and since that time, the field has been an area for general aviation. The Army airfield and adjacent commercial airfield were joined and became known as Pearson Airpark which continues to serve the greater Vancouver-Portland area as an important general aviation center.

Pearson Field is part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, in Vancouver, Washington. Pearson Air Museum, located at 1115 E 5th., depicts the pioneering days of aviation in the Northwest and the history of Pearson Field, one of the oldest continuously operating airfields in the nation. It is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. There is no fee for admission. Call 360-816-6232 or visit the museum's website for further information.‚Äč

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