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Airport History 

Salem Municipal Airport has a rich history.

Historical data was retrieved from Microfilm records in the Capitol Journal and Statesman Journal. Photos courtesy of the Salem Public Library Internet files; staff photos; and SeaPort Airlines.


Home built aircraft - 19101910
Airplanes first used the State Fairgrounds race track as an airport in 1910 until an airport was built.

Ben Taylor and Dr. H.H. Scovil - Salem's first home built airplane at Lone Oak - Salem's fairgrounds 1910.  Photo  courtesy Ben Maxwell.


Boarding aircraft 19301928
The American Legion played the lead role in getting the
Salem Municipal Airport developed in its present location. An airport site committee was created to evaluate locations for a new airport to be constructed.  The site committee evaluated several sites around Salem before singling-out its present location on May 2, 1928. George F. Vick was the chairman of the site committee. The Joint Committees included the American Legion, City Council, and Chamber of Commerce members.  Chamber members: George F. Vick, H.R. Crawford and F. A. Erixon, City Council members: Watson Townsend, Paul V. Johnson, and George J. Wenderoth, and American Legion members: Brazier C. Small, Jack Elliott, and Carl E. Nelson, all met to discuss a location to site the airport.  Criteria for the site was to be approximately 200 acres, and have room for at least three runways, a hangar and a shop.  One of those sites was southeast of the City and was owned by the State.

Citizens went to the polls on May 18, 1928 and approved Measure 100 for a bond of $50,000 for airport development.   Although the bond was approved, it was up to the State legislature to approve the sale of the land. The agreement was for the State to sell approximately 160 acres of land for $150 per acre.

One year later on
May 1, 1929, there was an issue of bond to cover property acquisition and construction.  In August of 1929, the Statewide Convention of the Legion assembled in Salem and the airport was dedicated during a ceremony on August 8, 1929 at 4:00 pm.  The American Legion took out full page ads for the ceremony which took place on a platform located at the intersection of the three runways.  Nine Army pursuit planes from San Diego took part in the celebration. Members of the American Legion that planned the convention were: Carl Gabrielson, H.G. Maison, J.J. Elliott, Brazier Small, Lewis Campbell, Willis Vincent, Frank Moore, Walter Zosel, C.R. McCullough, and H.E. Shade.

Lee Eyerly (a member of the American Society of Aeronautical Engineers) purchased land adjacent to the airport along Turner road and formed Eyery Air Transport company where he taught flight instruction. On his property, he built an 85' x 98' machine shop, an administration building and office, and a 44' x 30' building for teaching students how to fly. Flying here was first incorporated under the name "Pacific Airplane Service," which later became "Eyerly Air Transport Company".  Lee Eyerly became the first Airport Manager for the Salem Municipal Airport.


Grazing cows1929-1941
From the Great Depression in 1929 until the Stock Market crash in 1941, the airport stood virtually vacant until America's entry into World War II. 

The property expanded from 220 acres to 458 acres during this time and was primarily used to graze cattle. 


Direct airmail 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 service here.  Prior to United Airlines flights into Salem, the airport needed to have runway lights for night departures and arrivals.  All electrical conduit for the lights were in place and the airport had the lights in storage, however, grading needed to be completed prior to the light installation.  The airport used kerosene flare pots to light up the runway for aircraft to land until the new lights were installed. United Airlines used the hangar on the Northeast side of the airport as a terminal until a new one could be built.
In the spring of 1942, the Air Force leased the airport from the City. In early June 1943, the 356th fighter squadron of the 354th fighter group were in Salem to train.  The military purchased 165.85 acres of land to be added to the existing land that the City had purchased for the airport.  In addition, the military built a control tower.

The airport committee, made up of Alderman Tom Armstrong, chairman, David O'Hara, and Kenneth Perry prepared a resolution to City Council on March 5, 1944 renaming the airport as McNary Field in appreciation of the late Senator Charles L. McNary (1874-1922), a Salem attorney who served in the US Senate from 1918 until his death.  City Council enthusiastically approved the resolution.  

Salem was the first in the State of Oregon to gain use of the airport from the U.S. War Department on January 28, 1946. The permit granted to the City immediate possession of the airfield provided it would be used and maintained as a landing area and airport facility. The order states the airport must remain open to the public and unrestricted to public use.  United Airlines freight service between Salem and other cities from coast to coast was started February 1, 1946. DC-3 Cargo liners flying freight of 6,300 pounds capacity each inaugurated the service over United's nation-wide system.

January 1948, the government officially turned the airport back over to the City.  President Harry S. Truman flew into the Salem Airport on June 11, 1948 (photo-right: courtesy Marion County Historical Society).  The first jet to fly into Salem was an F-80 flown by Captain C. A. Curtin from Williams Base in Arizona on August 20, 1948.  July of 1949, a lease was signed giving the Navy use of the hangar on the east side of the airport and the use of other facilities on that side of the field. The Navy used the airport as a training center. Dedication ceremonies for the Salem Naval Air Facility were held here August 5, 1949


The Airport Overlay Zone was established in August 1950 for protection of the airport surfaces. Today the Airport Overlay Zone falls under Salem Revised Statue Chapter 125.

The present day Airport Administration Building was dedicated on Sunday August 7, 1950.  Those in attendance were Mayor Robert L. Elfstrom, City Manager J.L. Franzen, and Airport Manager Charles Barclay.  Mayor Elfstrom commented that a metropolitan city must have air service and directed everyone's attention to the industries in the area depending on air transportation.

State Board of Aeronautics moved into their own building in October 1955.


President JFK1960
Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy flew into Salem on September 7, 1960. On October 14, 1960, an agreement was entered into 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 (MSP-PA).  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. Salem 60%, Marion County 30%, and Polk County 10%.  The purpose of this 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.

Rules and RegAirport Restaurant 1967ulations were published in July 1965 for McNary Field from the Marion Salem Polk-Port Agency (MSP-PA). Board members of the MSP-PA were: W. Frank Crawford, Reynolds Allen, Charles W. Mills, M.D., A.H. Flicker, Donald H. Wells, R. Frank McKennon, A.H.

Fire Department construction at the Airport was completed in 1966. The facility was large enough to house three fire trucks. A restaurant was built at the Salem Airport that same year.   Construction of the aviation and restaurant building at the Salem, Oregon Airport also began in 1966

The City of Salem again assumed ownership of the airport facility after the Marion-Salem-Polk Port Agency disbanded in July 1967. 

Don's Airport Restaurant, located at the Salem Airport, opens.  Several people are pictured (seated at tables) in the restaurant and through the glass windows one can see several airplanes and in the distance the foothills. 


FAA Tower1973
Salem was without a control tower until 1973 when the current control tower was built. It went into operation on August 30th. The new tower 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.

United Airlines operated out of the Airport Administration Building along with the U.S. Weather Service installation, a car rental service, and a limousine service which operated to and from the Portland Airport.


Please contact us if you have photos from the 1980s Airport


The 9th World Helicopter Championships were hosted here on August 14-19, 1996. "Competitive helicopter flying is like polo with aviation fuel. Both sports require highly specialized skills, lightning reflexes, stamina and practice. and They also require lots of money, a big support crew of experts and a huge playing area." (
Oregonian, 08/18/96)

13 Countries attended: United States, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, England, South Africa, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Japan. Russia claimed the gold.

"The Helicopter Club of America lobbied hard to get the competition to America, and Oregon has more helicopter use than almost anywhere else in the country,'' said Capt. Dan McCabe of the Oregon National Guard. "Salem was chosen because we have this perfect field and because Portland is too dense for an event like this.''


2007 Delta Flight 2007
On June 7, 2007, Delta Air Lines began offering passenger air service in Salem.  SkyWest, Delta's connection carrier, offered twice-daily flights between Salem and Salt Lake City, where travelers could catch connecting flights.  It was the only regularly scheduled passenger air service at the Salem Airport.

On October 9, 2008, Delta Air Lines ended commercial air service in Salem.  Delta spokesman said the airline decided to cut service in Salem for a number of reasons, including the cost of fuel.  "We had situations where the flights in or out of Salem were booked to full capacity at times, but even with that and the cost of the tickets, we still weren't making a profit," said the Delta spokesman in Atlanta. "In situations like that, a full aircraft doesn't matter if you're not making a profit."


SeaPort airplane2011
On April 20, 2011, SeaPort Airlines, an Oregon-based airline, begins operation of 11 weekly trips between Newport, Salem and Portland.

July 18, 2011 SeaPort Airlines discontinued passenger service at Salem Municipal Airport, citing that market trends and high prices could no longer sustain profitability.

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