Historic Pearson Field

The oldest airfield in the metro area and one of the oldest in the country, Vancouver’s cool little Pearson Field (VUO) saw its first arrival in 1905, an airship that flew over from the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. Today, the general aviation airport (no commercial flights) is the closest place to Portland to earn a pilot’s license.

The three-runway Hillsboro Airport (HIO) serves Nike and Intel traffic and is home to a flight school, an aviation museum, air ambulance services, and (most years) the world-class Oregon Air Show. Another claim to fame? On May 2, 1986, a despondent Douglas Thomas hijacked a 19-seat Metroliner en route from Eugene to Portland. Quick-thinking pilots landed at Hillsboro, where they persuaded Thomas to let the passengers go. The pilots escaped through the emergency exits, and Thomas was arrested shortly thereafter.

The longtime headquarters of now-defunct helicopter operator and cargo airline Evergreen International Aviation, McMinnville Municipal Airport (MMV) has seen its share of interesting aircraft over the years, including the arrival by air of the 747 now used as a slide at Wings & Waves Water Park, just across Highway 18. It’s not uncommon for McMinnville-based Potcake Aviation to serve long-range business jets and single-engine propeller planes back to back, for all those oenophiles and pilots who want to skip the slog of 99W. 

Troutdale Airport (TTD) is home to one of the largest helicopter flight schools in the country: the Hillsboro Heli Academy provides professional training for students from all over the world. Our topographical diversity lets students practice their maneuvers in mountains, desert, and grassland, and at the beach. Back in 1962, a DC-8 en route from Chicago’s O’Hare to PDX accidentally landed on Troutdale’s petite runway. No one was hurt when the pilots had to brake unusually hard, and they even flew the plane out safely for the hop over to PDX.

The Aurora State Airport (UAO) hosts two traditional flight schools. But at Aerometal International, the more historically inclined can be trained on a DC-3, the airplane that helped win World War II and would return home to bring air service to small towns across the country. It isn’t cheap (and you have to already have a private license), but it’s an extraordinary opportunity to cruise the valley imagining a time before radar, reliable radios, and airport security lines.

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