First plane lands at the new Snohomish County Airport on September 14, 1937.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 9/19/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8287

On September 14, 1937, a hot summer day with temperatures hovering around 95 degrees, a small, private, two-seated monoplane makes an emergency landing at the Snohomish County Airport, which is under construction near Everett.  The landing surprises the airport ground crew and precedes the airport’s 1939 opening.         

Unexpected Aviation 

One of Snohomish County’s largest work relief projects during the Great Depression was the building of a first-class airport that eventually became Paine Field.  Construction began in 1936 and in the fall of 1937 an additional sum of $225,000 in federal funds was requested to complete work on the 1,000-acre airport.  Washington State WPA administrator Don G. Abel estimated that the emergency runway would be completed by year’s end.   

Only the worst humps on the 1,500-yard emergency runway had been smoothed when on September 14, 1937, commercial pilot Mark E. Thorley of Seattle discovered his plane was overheating.  He and passenger E. Lasher, a radio operator at Boeing field, had intended to land at the Everett airport on Ebey Island, but that was still miles away. 

A Safe Landing

Circling the new air field, pilot Thorley signaled to the crew below.  Snohomish County Airport field superintendent O. R. Belles tried to wave him off and to let him know that the field was not ready.  Instead Thorley took this as a “come ahead” sign and landed.  To the surprise of the airport crew, Thorley made a safe landing.  His subsequent takeoff was equally successful.   

The Snohomish County Airport was completed in stages. Its first plane based there in June 1939.


Sources: “Private Plane Is First to Land at Airport,” Everett Daily Herald, September 15, 1937, p.1;   “WPA Asks $225,000 for Super Airport in County,” Ibid., September 9, 1937, p. 1; “First Plane Bases at County Airport,” Ibid., June 16, 1939, p. 3.

Related Topics:   Aviation

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