Off Beat: Pearson Field soars past Kitty Hawk in one area of recognition

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Pearson Field has joined the ranks of some distinguished aviation landmarks, including the most significant takeoff and landing spots in the history of manned flight.

On Saturday, the Vancouver airfield was honored as a historic site by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Two of the 61 sites really stand out. In 1903, the Wright Brothers launched their first flight — all of 12 seconds and 120 feet — near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Tranquility Base represents a much longer voyage. That's where the first manned flight to the moon landed on July 20, 1969.

It's tough to match either spot for historical significance, but Pearson Field leads both in terms of recognition. Saturday's ceremony at Pearson Air Museum included the unveiling of a monument. A bronze plaque from the aeronautics institute was installed by Gregg Paull, of Guinett Masonry, on a 31/2-ton piece of basalt quarried locally.

The institute still hasn't placed a plaque at Kitty Hawk. The location of the first flight now is a federal site, the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The AIAA hopes to work with the National Park Service on a plaque ceremony.

And Tranquility Base? The moon is a really tough place to schedule an event, said Emily Springer, institute spokeswoman.

"We've never come up with a clever idea for what to do until we can actually get a plaque up there," Springer said.

Righting an old wrong

We goofed Friday in identifying Lt. Alexander Pearson as a graduate of Vancouver High School … and it's a mistake that goes back 87 years, said local author Bill Alley.

The field was named in 1925 for the pilot who'd died in a 1924 flying accident.

We reported in 1925 that he was a Vancouver native, which made sense because the field was being named in his honor. Pearson actually attended high school in Kansas.

You still can find the name of a one-time Vancouver resident on the list of 61 historic aerospace sites, however. It is NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Its plaque notes that Marshall was Army chief of staff during World War II, U.S. secretary of state and author of the post-war Marshall Plan.

The former Vancouver Barracks commander also hosted the three Soviet aviators in 1937 after they landed at Pearson.-- 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.