"A good airport to any city means as much in this
day of aerial travel supremacy as a first-class barber to
any maritime metropolis. Salem will make a grave mistake by
neglecting to supply a first-class airport in this great era
of aviation that is now with us." - 1928
On May 8, 1910, a Curtis model airplane of C. B. Ely was placed
on display in McMinn Hall in the D'Arcy Building. Although
this plane never flew, it did encourage Ben Taylor, a postal
employee, and Dr. H.H. Scovell to construct a similar plane.
That made several attempts to fly finally succeeding on June
4, 1910. The aircraft took off from Lone Oak race track at
the State Fairgrounds and circled the capital dome at an altitude
of 400 feet. This was the day Salem citizens saw the first
flight over the city, 20 years before the Salem airport was
Lee Eyerly did a lot to get Salem off the ground. Lee Eyerly
,a resident of Salem, was supplying this city with airport
service and an aviation school - - having 27 students enrolled
in 1928. He was a great supporter of the Airport Bond initiative
which was the campaign conducted by the American Legion, the
Chamber of Commerce, and other civic organizations to place
the facts regarding an airport before the voters during "Airport
Week". Airport Week involved a "flying circus"
event at the Fairgrounds and speeches to community groups
on the importance of this feature to the community by war
heroes and notable dignitaries. The American Legion published
in the local pages of advertising urging its necessity, the
"Airport Bulletin" appeared on every door- step
and leaflets demanding an airport were dropped from a promotion
"A larger and better-equipped field at Salem would mean
hundreds of new students learning to fly and a larger payroll
for a new industry." Mr. Eyerly stated. A conservative
flyer, Lee Eyerly has never had an accident, and he proudly
stated there had never been a serious accident in Oregon with
modern aircraft as of 1928. He was an enthusiastic aircraft
man and established his school at Salem in the fall of 1927.
Lee Eyerly was Salems pioneer, having started flying
in 1921, bringing to Oregon one of the first ships to fly
commercially. He had a reputation being a conservative pilot,
using no old "Jenny" machines, but all modern equipment.
Taking no chances and using the latest methods of training,
he opened a ground school about June 1st, and taught mechanical
work, rigging, meteorology, and navigation. By 1928, his planes
were doing cross-country business as well as passenger hops
over the State House, where everybody was trying to land.
Eyerlys assistant was W.A. Hazelwood, an army pilot
and graduate of Kelly Field, Texas, and had several years
of flying experience. Salem had progressed so that any major
plane overhaul or rebuild job was possible.Prior to 1928,
there was a small airfield at the Oregon State Fairgrounds
and one in neighboring Silverton. This airport campaign was
presented in the form of a charter amendment calling for issuance
of not to exceed $50,000 in bonds for the purchase of land
and the establishment of the landing field. Since the measure
is a charter amendment, a majority vote will be sufficient
to carry it - and it did.
Speaking for the airport bonds support, L.E. Hofer,
observed the rapid growth of aviation, and was an ardent advocate
of supporting the airport bill put on the ballot at the primary
election. He remarked: "The wider scope and greater reach
afforded by air travel makes the reputation of this city for
maintaining a modern airport of great importance for travelers
who transact National business. It puts Salem in a class of
cities that are talked about and considered along with the
greater cities of our country. The nearness of Portland to
Salem does not affect the situation, because it virtually
means nothing in distance to an airplane. The city of Oakland
has derived National prominence by having one of the best
airports on the coast, casting other coast cities in the shade."Hofer
went on: "A good airport to any city means as much in
this day of aerial travel supremacy as a first-class barber
to any maritime metropolis. Salem will make a grave mistake
by neglecting to supply a first-class airport in this great
era of aviation that is now with us."
High School students were actively encouraged to learn "how
to fly". 1928 saw Salem High School offering three new
classes, and modification of a fourth for the 1928-29 school
year. Reported by R.W. Tavenner, assistant principal, additions
to the courses of study would be auto mechanics, commercial
art, elementary psychology, and a half-period glee work which
modified the present class so more students may be able to
take the "flying" class.
On May 1, 1929, the City issued the bond for property acquisition
and construction. Salem acquired 55 acres from Tom Holman
and 36 acres from Jim Linn. Since there was substantial progress
in the development of the airport and while the Statewide
convention of the American Legion assembled here during August
of 1929, the airport was dedicated during this time.
The Capital Journal newspaper, dated April 15, 1929 stated
that work was to start on the airport in two weeks. Lee Eyerly
formed Eyerly Transport company in which they were going to
manufacture aircraft and would proceed with their plans if
the City built the airport. Eyerly stated they are ready to
purchase the land and erect the buildings as soon as it is
possible to use the runways on the new field.
Direct mail came to Salem on August 5, 1941 with the aircraft
named "The City of Cleveland"
First airmail out of Salem took place on December 5, 1941
aboard the "City of Salem" when United Airlines
established regular air service.
In the spring of 1942, the US Air Force came into Salem and
took over McNary Field. In early June 1943 the 356th fighter
squadron of the 354th fighter group came to McNary Field to
City Council approved a resolution on March 6, 1944 making
the official name of Salem Municipal Airport (McNary Field)
after the late Charles L. McNary. Charles L. McNary was a
Senator from Oregon who was born on a farm near Salem. The
resolution was brought to them by the committee on airport
and aviation. The Airport Committee was made up of Tom Armstrong,
chairman, David O'Hara and Kenneth Perry. The late Senator
played an important part in securing the federal assistance
and cooperation necessary for development of the airport and
in securing its designation as an army air base.
United Airlines Freight Services started February 1, 1946.
The new air freight service between Salem and other cities
from coast to coast was to start. DC-3 Cargo-liners flying
freight of 6,300 pounds capacity will inaugurate their service
over United's nation-wide system.
President Harry S. Truman flew into the Salem Airport on June
An article in the Capital Journal newspaper dated August 4,
1950 stated in 1948 the government turned the airport back
over to the City, but the fall of that year the US Navy was
showing interest in McNary Field as a training center. In
July of 1949, the lease was signed giving the Navy the use
of the hangar on the east side of the airport and the use
of the other facilities on that side of the field. Dedication
ceremonies for the Salem Naval Air Facility were held here
August 5, 1949.
The first jet to fly into Salem was an F-80 flown by Captain
C. A. Curtin from Williams Airbase in Arizona on August 20,
The $40,000 Airport Administration Building was dedicated
on Sunday, August 7, 1950. Mayor Robert L. Elfstrom and City
Manager J.L. Franzen presented the keys for the building to
Charles Barclay, the Airport Manager. Mayor Elfstrom reminded
that a metropolitan city must have air service and pointed
to the industries in this area depending on air transportation.
June 30, 1953, the City of Salem fights to keep the original
Airport Control Tower open. The city failed and the tower
was closed by the Civil Aeronautics Commission, July 1, 1953
due to budget cuts. The tower which went into operation in
1949, was dismantled in 1956 due to vandalism. Only United
Airlines had ground assistance with an employee of the airline
looking through the administration office windows after the
tower closed. Salem was without a control tower until 1973
when the current control tower was built.
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy flew into Salem on
September 7, 1960.
On October 14, 1960 an agreement was made between Marion &
Polk Counties and the City of Salem for the establishment
of a Port agency. This Port Agency was formally called Marion-Salem-Polk
Port Agency. The administrative board consisted of seven members
appointed by the elected officials of each government, one
member was appointed by Polk County, two members from Marion
County and four members from the City of Salem.
Funding of this new agency was split up between the three
governments. Marion County 30%, Polk County 10%, and Salem
60%. The purpose of the board was to ensure the effective
planning, economical operation and cooperative financing of
air and river port facilities to meet the needs of public,
private, commercial and industrial interests of the Mid-Willamette
In 1966 the Salem Fire Department completed construction on
the airport fire station. The funding to build the fire station
was provided by the FAA. The facility was large enough to
house three fire trucks. Also in 1966, construction began
on the airport restaurant and was completed by 1967. The City
of Salem assumed ownership of the facility after the Marion-Salem-Polk
Port Agency disbanded in 1967. The Port agency assumed responsibility
for the airport when it was returned to local authorities
by the federal government which had used the facility during
WW II as a military installation.
The current Airport Control Tower was built in 1973. It went
into operation on August 30th. The new steel center controlled
it's first flight at 7:14 am. The 58 foot prefabricated tower
was one of 64 built around the country by Hunt Building Corp
of El Paso Texas. The $225,000 tower was built from a user
tax trust fund. The new tower replaced a temporary tower that
was in operation during the past year. The new tower hours
of operation were from 7 am to 11 pm. Operating the new tower
facility were William Christensen, Robert Hillis and Robert
Worthington who worked in the temporary tower as did City
employees, Larry Johnson, James Laird and Arden Packer. Ronald
C. Hanna was the manager of the tower at that time.
United Airlines operated out of the Airport Administration
Building along with the U.S. Weather Service, a car rental
service and a limousine service that provided bus rides to
and from Portland Airport in 1977. Airline deregulation occurred
in 1978. Horizon Airlines discontinued service in April, 1993.
In the new millennium, Salem Airport offers on-demand air
taxi service, cargo shipping, a restaurant, rental cars and
shuttle services it is still operated by the City of Salem.
For 1995, the total output (including direct and secondary
impacts) stemming from all on-airport tenants and from general
aviation visitors to Salem McNary Field was approximately
$49.7 million. Total full-time employment related to all airport
tenants and to all general aviation visitors, including all
secondary impacts, was estimated at 589 persons. A total annual
payroll (direct and secondary) of approximately $10.9 million
was estimated to be associated with these jobs.
Salem's McNary Field is used by a number of area businesses,
their suppliers, and parent companies as and alternative to
driving. For example, May Trucking, Praetzer Industries, Entek
Corporation, Holiday Retirement, West Coast Washers and Fasteners,
Microflect, and Oregon Research and Development all base aircraft
at the airport. In addition, the airport is frequented by
numerous companies, located outside of the area, when they
conduct business in Salem. These companies include Hewlett-Packard,
Jeld-Wen, Nordstroms, Washington Power and Les Schwab Tires.
FedEx and UPS each have one flight a day to pick up and deliver
freight and packages. FedEx also has a distribution center
on the airport which employees approximately 50 people.
Although commercial service is not available at the airport,
Hut Limousine offers scheduled shuttle van service from the
airport to Portland International Airport. Great American
Airways offers Salem residents some charter flights to casinos
in Reno. State legislators also fly into the airport during
the legislative session. The ODOT-Aeronautics Section's primary
office, as well the State's fleet of aircraft are located
at the airport.
In addition to business flights, there are a significant number
of less obvious activities that take place at the airport
that contribute to the well-being of the region. The airport
provides FBO services, training flights, aircraft restoration,
aerial photography, forest fire fighting, traffic and news
reporting, shipping of "just in time" goods, law
enforcement and prisoner transport, aerial advertising, real
estate tours and search and rescue activities. The Army National
Guard is also based at the airport. Their activity includes
training and military aircraft repair. Recently, the airport
was the host of the the Ninth World Helicopter Championship
Competition. This was the first time the event was ever held
in the United States.
There is an on-airport industrial park which is home to several
businesses which contribute to the aviation industry. II Morrow,
Inc. manufactures LORAN navigation equipment for both marine
and aviation uses. MicroFlect also located in the industrial
park, manufactures radar towers for the FAA. In addition,
Norris Paint is located in the airport's industrial park;
they manufacture paint used for marking runways and highways.
Compiled by Monica Mersinger
Oregon Statesman newspaper, May 18, 1928
Salem Municipal Airport - McNary Field website: January 2003