Pearson Air Museum is in Vancouver, which lies directly across the Columbia River from Portland, in Washington State. It is the oldest continuously operated US airfield in the West with the first landing by the dirigible Gelatine in 1905, is actually one of the oldest in the country. The field was named in 1925 for local Alexander Pearson, who did the first aerial survey of the Grand Canyon and won the first cross-country aerial race in 489 hours, 14 minutes and 8 seconds in 1919. He died preparing for another race in 1924 when one of his plane‘s wings collasped.
There aren’t a large number of planes exhibited, but the history of the field and northwest aviation in general are outlined through a series of displays. There’s a learning area for children, gift shop, computer resource center, and a viewer-activated theater.
A Few Things Not to Miss:
--An example of a rather rare Everel propeller, notable for being a single blade prop, is in the Restoration Center, which itself is in the country‘s oldest (1918) wooden hangar. Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers listed one in December 2003 expected to bring $5000-7000.
--An exhibit and collection of objects (donated by the families) from the first nonstop trans-polar flight in 1937, which made an unscheduled maintenance stop at Pearson. Developing trouble with the ANT-25, Valeri Chkalov, Georgiy Baidukov, and Alexander Belyakov first thought to land elsewhere but mindful of the terrifying crush Lindbergh experienced in Paris they opted for the military field as a safer choice. There is also an exterior monument commemorating this event.
--The best of all, for me, and totally unexpected, on that sliver of a mezzanine level: a bit battered -- understandably -- and keeping a low profile, is the only surviving bit of the Hindenberg. When the Kaiser ordered all the parts returned to Germany (with the intention of destroying everything) a bench (seats two) from the Lounge was held back, hidden away. That this was rather covert and arguably disrespectful may well be why the existence of the seat hasn't received more publicity and it’s barely mentioned on the website. This is the only place the seat has been publicly displayed.
The airfield is within Vancouver National Historic Reserve ((360)696-7655), which includes the ongoing reconstruction of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, founded by John McLoughlin, known as the Father of Oregon, for the Hudson's Bay Company. One last note; although scaled back in 2003, Fort Vancouver hosts the largest Fourth of July Fireworks display in the West, with a big party beforehand.
The airfield is slowly undergoing restoration to return its vintage 1920s appearance.
Open: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Admission: Adult $5, seniors $4, (13-18) $3, (6-12) $3, under 6 free.
Contact: 360/694-7026, (fax) 360/694-0824
Map and directions.
Reflections: Pearson Field, a series of articles from the Columbian newspaper.
Reflections: Pearson Field, a more indepth history.