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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Clark County History: Carlton Foster Bond

By , Columbian freelance contributor

Visitors to Pearson Air Museum often mistake the bronze statue there as a tribute to Alexander Pearson, the park’s namesake. However, inspecting the plaque, they discover it represents Carlton Foster Bond. Unlike Pearson, Bond was closely connected to the airfield, serving as its commander twice, first as a lieutenant (1929 to 1932) and later as a captain (1939 to 1942). His career took him from an enlisted foot soldier to commander at Pearson Field. He also led the reservist 321st Observation Air Squadron.

Upon his death, Bond’s time at Pearson Airfield went unrecognized. His 1980 obituary in The Columbian identified him as a retired Air Force colonel but omitted mention of his two tours here, focusing instead on his affiliations with the Masons and St. James Catholic Church.

Bond first served as an infantry sergeant along the Mexican border, where he chased outlaws and fought border skirmishes. Before he was an aviator or a balloonist, he first appeared in this region when he attended an ordnance class at the University of Oregon in 1917. He graduated from pilot school in 1918. Then he received an officer commission. By 1920, he had his pilot’s license. Later, he added a free balloon license (No. 863).

In 1922, Bond and Maj. Oscar Westover competed in the Gordon Bennett Race in Geneva, Switzerland. Their balloon drifted 490 miles in under 17 hours. After crossing the Alps at 35,000 feet, their gas bag dropped suddenly to 18,000 feet over Hungary, causing a valve to crack. To ascend, they threw out empty oxygen tanks that exploded like small bombs upon impact. The commotion below stirred 200 Hungarian peasants to pull on the balloon’s dangling rope, grounding the craft and disqualifying Bond and Westover from the race.

In 1929, Bond commanded Pearson Field, a premier Air Corps base on the Pacific Coast. The airfield’s aircraft included Curtis JN-4s, DeHavilland DH-4s and Consolidated PT-1As. Bond upgraded to newer planes, such as PT-3As, Douglas O-2H, and O-38s, by the early 1930s. To keep his pilots airborne, Bond introduced a flying baseball team, the Pacific Coast’s first air-minded ball team. Nine pilots flew to Prineville, Ore., to play their first game, which they won 7-4, before returning by air.

Between 1929 and 1932, Pearson expanded its airmail service. Portland secured more contracts, diminishing Pearson’s commercial importance. In 1929, the Russian aircraft “Land of the Soviets” made an unexpected landing at Pearson due to a pump breakdown. The 321st Squadron’s aviation mechanics repaired the pump, enabling the Russian fliers to continue their Moscow-to-New York flight.

For both humanitarian reasons and to log flight hours, Bond sent his fliers on search-and-rescue missions, including hunting for downed airmail pilots Russell Cunningham and Walter Case. Cunningham hiked out safely, while Case’s deadly crash site required a weeklong search. Bond flew supply missions to a remote Geodetical Survey team and circled the Pendleton Rodeo with an aerial photographer, then sped 195 miles to Portland in 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Bond served at various air bases, including ones in Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana and Kansas, where he organized a fighter gunnery school and commanded a heavy bomber base. He transitioned from the Army to the Air Force in 1947 when Congress created the service. He ultimately retired as a colonel, and lived about 50 years in Vancouver.

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Columbian freelance contributor