Swan Island Municipal Airport

The Swan Island Municipal Airport was a joint civil-military airport that was operational on Swan Island in Portland, Oregon. It opened officially in 1927, but the United States Postal Service had been using the field for a year. After the Portland–Columbia Super Airport was completed in the late 1930s, Swan Island Municipal Airport had little use since its runways were too small for newer aircraft and the low altitude made it difficult to land and take-off. It was operational for nearly two decades, but due in part to the advances in aviation, the airport became obsolete soon after its construction. During World War II, a Kaiser shipyard was located at Swan Island. The shipbuilding facilities were acquired by the Port of Portland after the war.

Swan Island Municipal Airport
Swan Island Municipal Airport terminal.jpg
Swan Island Airport from the air.JPG
Airport typemilitary/public
Owner/OperatorPort of Portland
ServesPortland, Oregon
Opened1926 (USPS), 1927 (commercial)
Passenger services ceased1940
Elevation AMSL20 ft / 6.1 m
Coordinates45°33′42″N 122°42′53″W / 45.56167°N 122.71472°W / 45.56167; -122.71472Coordinates: 45°33′42″N 122°42′53″W / 45.56167°N 122.71472°W / 45.56167; -122.71472


Oakley G. Kelly, the commanding officer at Pearson Airfield in Vancouver, Washington, was one of the first to seriously propose using Swan Island as an airfield.[1][2] In 1926, the Port of Portland, assisted by the United States Postal Service (USPS), organized a committee to look for a location for a new airport in Portland. The group chose Swan Island which was a peninsula along the Willamette River.[3] Objections over the airport started almost immediately, as postal workers who were using Pearson Airfield claimed Swan Island might flood. A plan was drawn up to raise the elevation of Swan Island to keep floodwater out.[4] W. L. Thompson spearheaded the commission and was the project's chief engineer. James H. Polhemus was the Port of Portland's general manager and chief engineer at the time.[5]

The airport photographed in 1935

In a proposal to the Port of Portland, the west channel of the Willamette River next to Swan Island would have to be widened, and a dike built to keep high water out.[6] The project extended its timeline in May 1926, forcing the USPS to keep using Pearson Airfield in Vancouver to deliver mail to the city.[7] Most of the accommodations for the USPS at Swan Island Municipal Airport opened in September 1926, but commercial services were still being readied. The airfield only took-up a fraction of the land on Swan Island. The other areas were cleared and leveled so industrial growth could take place.[8] During its construction, the Port of Portland requested that the Swan Island Municipal Airport be the future site of the Pacific Coast Air Derby, which was approved.[9]

Swan Island Municipal Airport was officially dedicated in September 1927 by Charles Lindbergh, who flew the Spirit of St. Louis onto the airstrip. Although the field was not officially complete, most of the facilities like hangars and landing strips were finished. Adjacent from the airport was Rankin Airfield, which was a private strip owned by a North Portland resident.[10] Upon its completion, the airport cost US$557,073 (US$8,045,099 adjusted for inflation).[11] The official opener for the Swan Island Municipal Airport came on September 27 during the Pacific Coast Air Derby where six army planes performed for 10,000 paid spectators.[12] A gravel runway was installed in 1928, replacing the old dirt one.[13] In 1929, Varney Air Lines started passenger services between Portland and Boise, Idaho and later that year from Portland to Salt Lake City, Utah and Portland to Pasco, Washington.[14][15]

An aircraft at Swan Island Municipal Airport, parked at the terminal

The Port of Portland and the Portland City Council held meetings in 1935 to investigate a possible renovation of the Swan Island Municipal Airport. They determined that it would not be cost effective to rebuild the airport to accommodate larger aircraft.[16] By 1936, citizens were petitioning the city council to fund a larger airport at a higher elevation.[17] I. E. Oakes, the Works Progress Administration director for Portland, announced in 1937 that he would look to secure US$627,781 (US$11,164,911 adjusted for inflation) in funds from the federal government to build a new runway to accommodate large airlines.[18] However, the federal government condemned the site and offered up funds to build a new airport.[19]

After the Portland–Columbia Super Airport was constructed, the Swan Island Municipal Airport still operated, although in a diminished capacity. Flying students were banned from using the airport in their training programs due to the low altitude.[20] The military removed their facilities from the airport and most commercial liners had moved their services to the new airport.[21] During World War II, Swan Island was the location of a Kaiser shipyard where T2 tankers, Liberty ships, and Victory ships were produced in support of the war effort. After the war, the shipyard became the center for Port of Portland operations.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Swan Island approved". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 24 January 1926. p. 14.
  2. ^ "Swan Island urged as aviation field". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 18 January 1926. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Advice on air port here being asked". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 10 July 1926. p. 12.
  4. ^ "Swan Island site offered air mail". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 15 May 1926. p. 1.
  5. ^ "Swan Island site ample". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 11 September 1926. p. 9.
  6. ^ "Causeway feature important for Swan Island". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 14 November 1926. p. 30.
  7. ^ "Air field plan alters". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 20 May 1926. p. 27.
  8. ^ "Swan Island improved". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 5 September 1926. p. 14.
  9. ^ "Swan Island selected". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 7 July 1927. p. 3.
  10. ^ "Swan Island field ready for planes". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 11 September 1927. p. 74.
  11. ^ "Toy balloons tell secrets of skies". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 24 February 1929. p. 62.
  12. ^ "Fliers arrive in Spokane". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 18 September 1927. p. 2.
  13. ^ "Greys harbor men's visit". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 24 May 1928. p. 16.
  14. ^ "Direct air route to east to start". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 9 March 1929. p. 10.
  15. ^ "Air services comes here". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 8 May 1929. p. 8.
  16. ^ "Swan Island defended". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 11 December 1935. p. 7.
  17. ^ "Campaign pushed for super airport". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 12 January 1936. p. 16.
  18. ^ "Air line chiefs inspect airport". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 24 October 1937. p. 4.
  19. ^ "Airport pledge held shattered". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 8 May 1938. p. 1.
  20. ^ "Air training site shifted". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. 3 August 1940. p. 14.
  21. ^ Jones, Richard (3 August 1941). "Old air field remains busy". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. p. 40.
  22. ^ Willingham, William F. "Swan Island". Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved 11 January 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit