September 10, 2008

Celebration is in the Air

By Mai Hoang

Once in a while, Yakima Air Terminal officials receive calls from nearby residents complaining that the airport is too close to the city's residential areas.

Such calls make longtime assistant airport manager Jerry Kilpatrick chuckle. "When the airport was built, we were three miles from town," he said.

When the airport opened in 1928, the area was a large hunk of sagebrush.

Over the past 80 years, the airport has grown along with the Valley it serves, going from 80 acres in the 1920s to more than 825 acres today.

To mark its big birthday, there is an all-day public celebration Saturday, which will include a pancake breakfast, airplane displays, free flights at the McAllister Museum for those ages 8 to 17 from the EAA Young Eagles, aviation movies and an evening concert.

Kilpatrick credits the airport's success over the years to a loyal group of aviation lovers who have used the airport for a variety of uses such as commercial air service, flight training and hobby flying.

"Yakima has a long history of aviation," he said.

From sagebrush to aviation innovation

In the 1920s, the empty plot was a take-off and landing area for aviation enthusiasts. In 1926, Charlie and Alister McAllister opened a flight school, which is now the McAllister Museum of Aviation.

Yakima County, sensing some potential for a general airport, invested $7,000 to purchase the 80 acres that became the Yakima Municipal Airport. (The airport was called Yakima Air Terminal by the late 1960s.)

That potential was certainly realized over the years as the airport served as the venue for business innovation, key historical events and the changing aviation industry.

The airport provided jobs in the 1930s and 1940s when it was the site for Works Progress Administration projects that brought new runways to the facilities, the paving of those runways and construction of new hangars and a control tower.

The expansions came just in time for the beginning of World War II. For several years, the airport was exclusively a training ground for pilots fighting in the war.

From agriculture to Horizon Air

After World War II, the airport was the site of manufacturing innovation.

In the late 1940s, Economy Pest Control built its business developing helicopters for aerial spaying.

About the same time, Central Aircraft worked in developing the Lampson Air Tractor, the first aircraft designed solely for agricultural use. The plane never went into mass production, but it still spurred the arrival of several aerial pest spraying businesses, stimulating traffic at the airport in the 1950s and 1960s.

"(The airport) had a lot of comings and goings," said Eugene O'Dell, a retired Yakima fire battalion chief who has been flying planes since the 1960s.

Indeed, the 1960s and 1970s were the age of jet service and Yakima was at the center of the action. Airlines, including Air West and Cascade Airways, offering service to small and large communities such as Boise, Idaho, Denver, Pasco and Wenatchee.

Some of those airlines disbanded or were bought out a few years after the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978.

But in 1981, the Yakima airport was the first destination of an airline startup called Horizon Air. The Seattle-based airline would later become one of the country's largest regional carriers.

What's next?

Horizon Air is again the sole air carrier in the airport after Delta Air Lines ended service last month after a little more than a year in operation.

While more commercial air service is desired, Kilpatrick stresses that the airport will not survive on that alone.

The airport earns much of its income leasing property to companies such as CubCrafters, an aircraft manufacturer, and Wide Hollow Development, which is using the property to build Creekside West, a mixed-use development.

And like the hobby pilots who flew on sagebrush more than 80 years ago, the Valley's general aviation community is essential to the airport's success.

"Yes, we want air service and we will fight tooth and nail to keep air service, but it's the community that keeps the airport operating," Kilpatrick said.

Mai Hoang can be reached at 577-7685 or [email protected]


What: Yakima Air Terminal 80th Anniversary

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Plane rides are scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Yakima Air Terminal, 2400 W. Washington Ave., and the McAllister Museum of Aviation, 2008 S. 16th Ave., Yakima.

Cost: Free


The airport was 80 acres in 1928. It's now more than 825 acres.

Yakima County spent $7,000 for the airport in 1928. Just to purchase the land (without any improvements or buildings) today would cost somewhere in the vicinity of $39 million (at $1 per square foot for industrial property.)

SOURCE: Yakima Air Terminal, Yakima Herald-Republic archives.

Yakima's airport throws 80th birthday party this weekend

Mai Hoang

Yakima Herald-Republic

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