Pearson Air Field is the oldest operating airfield in the United States dating to a dirigible landing in 1905. While most other airfields have grown and expanded into major facilities, Pearson remains much like it once was, although a small community airfield now.
The site is where the first trans-polar flight ended when Soviet pilot Valery Chkalov sat his Tupolev ANT-25 instead of continuing on to San Francisco as originally planned June 20, 1937. The Russian crew was greeted by Gen. George C. Marshall, then commander of Vancouver Barracks. A monument to the landing remains today.
A cornerstone and historic attraction has been the remaining hangar converted to a museum housing restored aircraft, models, flying suits and displays related to the rich history the field holds with Vancouver, Washington when it was operated as an Army Air Corps Field.
The museum has been the location of numerous community events and gatherings and even hosted the only flyable fully restored Boeing 40C airplane in the world, painstakingly restored and rebuilt from original blueprints by Addison Pemberton over an 8-year period and after sitting on an Oregon mountain side for some 70 years after it crashed in October 1928.
To say the Airfield and museum are a treasure in our community would be a gross understatement. The hangar that houses the museum was delicately restored, repaired and set up by community volunteers and Veterans with no help from the National Park Service. The aircraft and displays were either donated or on loan to the museum by members of the community and has been used for various community gatherings, dances, dinners and events for several years, without a hitch.
Somewhere along the line the NPS acquired title to the land the museum sits on and signed a 45 year lease to the City of Vancouver who operates the museum through the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust headed by Elson Strahan.
The last couple years have seen a change as many events previously held at the museum an on the property were suddenly denied permits by the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, headed by Tracy Fortmann and citing as reason, “some activities don’t fit a national park setting.”
With a federal bureaucracy unyielding, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site suddenly broke the lease and announced they would take over management of the museum.
When the announced 45 day transition period was shortened just 4 days or so for the trust to surrender all security codes keys to the museum, prompting Laureano Mier, Pearson Air Museum manager to quickly organize a crew of volunteers and empty the hangar of everything inside not owned by the National Park Service, which amounted to every single item, housing them in hangar space at nearby Pearson Airport donated by citizens and aircraft owners.
Outraged over this grab by the National Park Service, Kelly Beckelhiemer and her husband James, along with friends, quickly set up a facebook page Save Pearson Air Museum and called for what appears to be the first of many protest rally’s calling on the National Park Service to back off and return the hangar as a museum as it was.
About 35 people came out on such short notice to wave signs and call on the NPS to return the hangar. At the time of this posting, the page as acquired 756 likes in its first 24 hours.
Everyone also outraged over this unreasonable grab by the NPS is urged to contact your local legislative delegation: Senator Patty Murray (360) 696-7797; Senator Maria Cantwell (360) 696-78838; and Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler (360) 695-6292 an urge them to take what actions is necessary to return our Historic Landmark and museum to the community.
The museum has been an asset to our community not funded by any taxes and should remain that way. It was restored and manned by volunteers who donated time, energy and their sweat to create.
It should be returned to our community where it belongs, not used as an oversized storage shed to store tractors and equipment owned by the Park Service.
That is an insult and trampling on our history that must be stopped.