Spokane’s Felts Field is one of the oldest municipal, federally recognized airports. The historic airport also played a key role in the development of scheduled passenger service across the country.
Northwest Airways, later Airlines, founded in 1926 in Minnesota as a mail service, had pilots in open-cockpit planes traversing the country carrying mail bags in bad weather and, sometimes, the dark of night. Passenger service started the following year. Following a scandal over how airmail contracts were awarded, Northwest received the U.S. Postal Service northern airmail route in 1933. Spokane became a refueling and repair base, connecting St. Paul and Chicago to Seattle and Portland.
In that era, Northwest used the Ford Trimotor and the Hamilton H-45, carrying 7-14 passengers.
Spokane pilot Nick Mamer, famous for the 1929 nonstop transcontinental flight using mid-air refueling with gas cans and hoses, was hired by NWA. Flying one of the new Lockheed 14 Super Electra aircraft from Seattle to Chicago, Mamer and nine others perished in a crash near Bozeman, Montana, in January 1938. The crash, blamed on poor design of the tail section, halted all flights temporarily until improvements were made. Several tragic NWA crashes helped advance aviation knowledge and spurred new safety technology. An Art Deco-style clock tower near the Felts terminal building has honored Mamer since 1939.
During World War II, Northwest carried personnel and cargo in the war effort.
Even before the war, Northwest had planned flights to Asia via the “great circle route” over Alaska. Northwest hired celebrity aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart as advisers. When Northwest finally began commercial service to Japan in 1947, the name became Northwest Orient. Around the same time, local operations moved from Felts to Geiger Field, which would later become Spokane International Airport.
Over the next 40 years, Northwest stayed on the cutting edge of new planes and equipment.
Northwest merged with Republic Airlines in 1986 and retired “Orient” from the name. In desperate financial trouble, Northwest merged with Delta Airlines in 2008. Honor Point Military and Aerospace Museum at Felts has an extensive display of NWA memorabilia and Felts Field history.
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