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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Aviation in Spokane

Spokane has always had business leaders intent on stoking economic development and bringing attention to their city.

Since the early 20th century, boosters have focused on aviation as a way to attract economic growth to the region.

In 1920, the city designated one of the nation’s first airports, Parkwater Aviation Field. Before the airport, the open land had been a seasonal golf course. One of the country’s first National Guard air units, the 116th Observation Squadron, was founded there in 1924. The field was recognized by the federal government in 1926 and the name changed to Felts Field in 1927.

Before that, planes had been flying in and out of Glover Field in Peaceful Valley, sometimes staging daring airshows in the Spokane River gorge and over downtown Spokane. Federal authorities put a stop to informal air shows over population centers and ordered them confined to airports.

The Chamber of Commerce wanted Spokane in the forefront of this new technology, so they organized local air shows in 1925 and 1926. The show included a “balloon sniping” competition where a pilot and observer attempt to shoot down 2-foot balloons with a handheld shotgun. Tragedy struck on Sunday, Sept. 20, 1925, when two National Guard pilots trying to shoot balloons crashed into the city waterworks plant nearby.

Local ministers bemoaned that organizers had ignored their pleas not to fly on Sunday.

On May 20-21, 1927, a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone in a single-engine plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, flying from New York to Paris. He became a national hero.

Spokane hosted the National Air Races in 1927. Local boosters raised $60,000 for prize purses and expenses. Pilots and planes raced to Spokane from various cities around the nation. Thousands came to Felts Field to see the airplanes and meet the daring pilots.

Lindbergh stopped in Spokane a week before the races on his national publicity tour. After landing the Spirit of St. Louis at Felts Field, he gave a speech at the Spokane County Fairgrounds. “We have today advanced to a stage where the airplane is entirely practical. Commercial aviation compares in safety with all other forms of transportation,” he said.

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