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Salem's McNary Airport

"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 constructed.

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 plane.
"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 Salem’s 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. Eyerly’s 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 bond’s 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 train.

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 11, 1948.

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, 1948.

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 Valley.

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


Additional Links
Flight of Salem's first airplane, 1910

The flight of Salem's first airplane took place from the Lone Oak racetrack of the Oregon State Fairgrounds (1910).
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Ben Taylor and his homemade plane.
Ben Taylor and his homemade plane, 1912
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Lee Eyerly
Lee Eyerly
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Eyerly's pilot training school flyer
Eyerly's pilot training school flyer
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Direct airmail comes to Salem.
The direct airmail comes to Salem on August 5, 1941. The crew is standing in front of the plane carrying the name City of Cleveland at the airport. They were (from the left): H.J. Hamilton, Passenger Agent; S.H. Rehnstron, Captain; Mary McGonigle, Stewardess; R.H. Bosler, 1st officer; E.M. Edwards, Chief dispatcher.
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Airport building
This is the Salem airport administrative office as seen in August 1955 at the airport in southeast Salem. At that time United Air Lines was serving Salem passengers
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First jet to land in Salem
On August 20, 1948, the first jet plane landed on McNary Field at Salem. Captain C.A. Curtin flew the F-80 jet plane from Williams Base, Arizona, to McNary field at Salem.
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Eugen Ely stands near first jet to land in Salem
Eugene Ely stands by first jet to land in Salem, 1948
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Port Agency Rule Book 1965
Rule Book for Port Agency, 1965
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