When Paine Field was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, it was expected to become one of 10 new "superairports" nationwide...

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When Paine Field was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, it was expected to become one of 10 new “superairports” nationwide.

That never happened, though the question of having commercial-airline service there is being debated today, 69 years later.

Instead, the airfield on Everett’s southern edge went on to have a varied history, serving as an Army air base in World War II and an Air Force fighter base during the Cold War. In 1966, Boeing picked Paine Field as the site for production of its biggest plane, the 747.

That history is to be celebrated May 21 at a reunion as part of the Washington Pilots Association’s annual general-aviation appreciation day.

Dave Waggoner, the airport director, said he got the inspiration for the Paine Field reunion when he made a neighborhood presentation about possible airport marketing plans. Two women at the meeting had worked at the airport many years before, he said, and they began sharing memories.

“They were both here a long time ago,” said Waggoner, “and they were just fascinated with what is happening at the airport.”


A short ceremony honors the Army’s civilian employees at Paine Field during World War II. With little time to waste, crews returned to work on the P-38s in the background even as the band still played.

Then Glenn Humann, a Paine Field member of the Bellevue-based pilots association, compiled a history of the field, including the fact that Alaska Airlines operated its maintenance center there before moving it to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. That compilation is now on Paine Field’s Web site at www.painefield.com .

Those occurrences were enough to inspire Waggoner.

“Why not do a Paine Field reunion?” he wondered.

Waggoner began asking whether there’d be interest and was surprised by the response.

More than a dozen businesses and agencies have signed up, including a Museum of Flight restoration crew, the Air Force, Alaska Airlines, Tramco aviation technical services, the Army Reserve, Boeing, the Snohomish County Airport Commission and a center that reproduces Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters.

Waggoner is looking for additional groups to invite and isn’t sure how the event will be staged because it’s the first time such a gathering has been held. There’s quite a legacy to look back on, however.

Army planes flew from the field until 1946, and the airport was in county ownership by 1948. Then came the Korean War, and by 1951, Paine Field was back in federal control and renamed Paine Air Force Base. By 1961, fighter operations were being phased out, the field’s official history relates.

What’s described as the airport’s pivotal year was 1966, when Boeing began looking for a place to build the 747 and chose Paine Field. Now, the airport is the site of more than 55 businesses with an estimated 30,000 employees, most of them working for Boeing.

One element sometimes lost in discussions of the field is how it got its name.

The field is named after Lt. Topliff Paine, who grew up in Everett at 2020 Wetmore Ave. The two-story house is still there, though it is being rehabilitated and no one lives there now.

Paine was born in 1893 in Oswell, Ohio, and had an adventuresome life as one of the nation’s first air-mail pilots. His career is one of those remembered in the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

The museum displays relate how Paine attended the University of Washington from 1912 to 1914, joined the U.S. Forest Service, then enlisted in the Army in 1917. He took flight training at March Field, Calif., was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1918 and was discharged in 1919.

In 1920, he was appointed a pilot for the new Air Mail Service and was assigned to flying a route from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Salt Lake City. The museum contains this description of a flight he made March 7, 1921, from Rock Springs, Wyo.:

“His de Havilland 171 was serviced and he took off at 11:50 a.m. in a return flight to Salt Lake City. He arrived there two hours and 30 minutes later, according to a field manager, having ‘encountered heavy snowstorm which frosted his goggles and for over a minute he was flying blind. Landed at Salt Lake City nearly exhausted on account of nervous strain. He is the only pilot to make this treacherous run over the Rocky Mountains in such impossible weather.’ ”

Paine died of an accidental gunshot wound April 30, 1922. The airport name was changed in his honor at the suggestion of the American Legion in April 1941.

Now, Waggoner would like to know more about such episodes in the history of Snohomish County Airport, as the field is officially known, and invites people with an interest in the field to the May 21 gathering.

Information is available from Waggoner at 425-353-2110, dave.waggoner@co.snohomish.wa.us or the Snohomish County Airport, 3220 100th St. S.W., Everett, WA 98204-1390.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com