Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome to the Bellingham Army Air Field

It's 1936, and here in one of the last out-posts before the Canadian border, in the far northwest corner of Washington State, The Great Depression has hit hard. Works Progress Administration projects employ small numbers of men, but times are tough. Yet by October of the same year, a new project is on the horizon... an airport to permanently replace the smaller, make-shift landing fields that have been around since the early 1920's. An airport that United Airlines would like as a Port of Entry for their flights from Vancouver to Seattle and locations further south. An airport that the Army Air Corps see's as being strategically placed as war looms on the horizon...

Bellingham's well-known Larabee family sells 200 acres at the present location to Whatcom County, and the State Grant-in-Aid requests start flowing to Olympia. Three runways are planned, but it takes almost four years to get the first 5000' x 150' runway cleared and paved. Temporary Port of Entry status is secured early, but the slow construction leaves it in a continually tenuous state - United Airlines will only base there if the field is safe enough for their DC-3's, and it maintains it's Port of Entry status. Ultimately they build a beautiful terminal, designed by F. Stanley Piper, and the airport is dedicated in 1940, having employed more than 500 people 'on relief'.

With WWII approaching rapidly, the Army Corps of Engineers takes over and within a year there are three full runways, revetments for parking aircraft, and development of personnel quarters. Modifications and improvements continue throughout the War, and the field see's heavy use by aircraft constantly coming and going. Bellingham Army Air Field becomes a War Asset in 1946 and is slowly turned back over to the county.


The Heritage Flight Museum acquired US Army Corps of Engineer blueprints of this air field several years ago, and now hope to identify and interpret what features remain from those WWII years. We hope to make this a community project - with shared stories and recollections submitted by those who lived here, grew up here, have heard stories from family members, and so on.

Enjoy, and stay tuned! We're always learning something new and look forward to sharing it with you here. [KS]

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