Off Beat: Biplane visit to Pearson reminds of Northwest’s aviation roots

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When a restored Boeing 40C biplane recently made its first visit to Vancouver’s Pearson Field in 83 years, it was a reminder of commercial aviation’s deep Northwest roots.

And in a bit of happenstance, an exhibit at the adjoining Pearson Air Museum shows how Boeing also was an early leader in a commercial practice that has created some issues for another Seattle-spawned business giant.

The 1928 open-cockpit biplane that landed at Pearson Field this summer is the world’s oldest airworthy and still-flying commercial aircraft.

The biplane was part of the Pacific Air Transport fleet that flew airmail routes out of Pearson Field, Columbian reporter Andrea Damewood noted in her Aug. 28 story.

The plane crashed into an Oregon mountainside in 1928, and Addison Pemberton spent 20 years looking for the wreckage before he was able to restore the aircraft.

While the biplane is back in the air under Pemberton’s stewardship, its previous owner hasn’t exactly faded away; it’s just doing business under a different name. Again, we’re talking about a giant in the industry that has deep Washington roots.

In 1931, Pacific Air Transport joined forces with Varney Airlines, which also flew mail into and out of Pearson Field. They joined forces with Boeing Air Transport and National Air Transport to become — what else? — United Airlines.

First stop: Astoria

Another milestone Boeing product is part of a Pearson Air Museum exhibit featuring Pan Am’s flying boats. The Boeing 314, which could land in (and take off from) water, was the largest commercial plane in scheduled use until the modern-era jumbo jets appeared.

But not all the water landings were in exotic destinations like Hawaii. According to the museum exhibit, the dozen “flying clippers” built by Boeing all were scheduled to land on the Oregon side of the Columbia River near Astoria.

It’s the same issue that has drawn Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer, into a debate recently with revenue officials in California: the collection of state sales taxes.

Pan Am wanted Boeing to deliver the flying boats to Oregon so the airline wouldn’t have to pay Washington sales tax.

— By Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.