It took eight decades for Paine Field’s original plan to take off.

Construction on Snohomish County Airport — Paine Field’s original name — began in the fall of 1936, according to an article in the Seattle Daily Times. The 640 acres of land was cleared by 300 laborers employed by the federal Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. It would have four runways and commercial flights.

The airfield was under construction when the first plane landed. The pilot, whose aircraft was overheating, signaled to the crew below, who tried to wave him away. The pilot mistook that as permission to land, according to HistoryLink. Fortunately, he did so safely.

As World War II heated up, the aspirations for commercial flights at the new airport changed along with its name.

In a Times article from Dec. 13, 1940, the War Department said up to 1,856 Army Air Corps troops would be stationed at Snohomish County Airport in 28 barracks and officers quarters. The site would include a hospital, infirmary, hangar, control tower and theater. The Army installed night lighting, paved more of the field and added fencing.

The airport was renamed in honor of Lt. Topliff Paine, a World War I Air Corps pilot from Everett. Paine was one of the country’s first airmail pilots.

A 1941 photo page gives a glimpse of the daily life of troops stationed at Paine Field.
A 1941 photo page gives a glimpse of the daily life of troops stationed at Paine Field.

Alaska Airlines began to have a presence at Paine Field in the early 1940s, doing repair and maintenance on planes at the airport.

After the war ended, the military began turning over operation of the airport to Snohomish County. A March 23, 1946, Seattle Times story said a veteran Navy pilot would be the field manager. County commissioners telegraphed then-U. S. Rep. Henry Jackson to say, “The war is over and the field has served its purpose to the Army and should and must now serve the public.”

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But then came the Korean War.

With the Air Force stationing a defense aerospace command unit at the airport in 1951, it was renamed Paine Air Force Base. Businesses, including Alaska Airlines, had to play second fiddle to the military. The base was expected to defend the entire Northwest against air attacks.

In 1966, Boeing announced that it had chosen a site next to Paine Field for its 747 assembly.

Boeing rolls out its first 747 on Sept. 30, 1968, at Paine Field. (Larry Dion / The Seattle Times)
Boeing rolls out its first 747 on Sept. 30, 1968, at Paine Field. (Larry Dion / The Seattle Times)

Two years later on Sept. 30, 1968, the first Boeing 747 was rolled out from the Everett plant at Paine Field.

By that year, military operations at the field again declined, leaving room for business and the potential for a regional airport to be created.

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During the 1970s the area surrounding Paine Field grew, as did concern that the airport could host commercial flights. On April 11, 1978, Snohomish County commissioners voted to declare “general aviation as the primary role at Paine.” Restrictions on noise were included in the plan.

The debate to have commercial flights at Paine Field would continue until 2012, when the Federal Aviation Administration gave its approval.

Years later, after many more reviews, a new terminal opened. Alaska Airlines began commercial flights at Paine Field flights on March 4, 2019.