Swan Island Hosts Portland’s Very First Airport

A 1929 aerial view looking southeast at Swan Island Airport, showing 4 runways.

In 1925, like many growing urban areas, Portland insisted on having an airport. Aviation interests proposed that the swampy Swan Island (northwest of downtown Portland on the Willamette River) be used as an airport, and the Port of Portland purchased 2 acres.

Construction of the airport began in 1926.  Though the airport was not yet completed Charles Lindbergh flew in & dedicated the new airfield in 1927.

The earliest photo located of the Swan Island Airport was a 1929 photo, showing a total of 4 runways.  Construction of the airport was actually completed in May of 1930.

A circa 1930s plan depicted Portland Airport as having a total of 4 runways squeezed onto the narrow Swan Island. The airport’s services included airmail & passenger service.

A circa 1930s aerial view looking northwest at the Swan Island Airport.

A circa 1930s photo showing an unidentified monoplane airliner in front of the Swan Island Airport terminal building.


An undated postcard view looking southeast, captioned “The Port of Portland Airport, Formerly Swan Island Airport”.

By 1935, it was becoming apparent to the Port of Portland that the Swan Island Airport was becoming obsolete. The small airfield could not accommodate the larger aircraft , passenger loads were expected to become common to Portland, and the Airport couldn’t be expanded easily (due to its location on an island). Plans were conceived to replace the airport with a larger municipal airport (a few miles to the northeast).

An aerial view looking south at the “Portland Municipal Airport”, from The Airport Directory Company's 1937 Airport Directory (courtesy of Bob Rambo). The directory described the airport as consisting of a rectangular sod field, one which were 4 runways. A hangar was said to be marked with “Portland” on the roof.

The original Portland Airport on Swan Island was still depicted as an active airfield on the November 1941 Portland Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).

A 1945 aerial view looking south at the shipyards which covered Swan Island by that time with not a trace left of the former airport.

The Swan Island Airport evidently was closed at some point between 1941-43, as it no longer was depicted at all on the March 1943 Portland Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy). However, an adjacent seaplane facility was still shown.

A May 2, 1962 photo of Wes Lematta flying a Columbia Helicopters Hughes 269 over the frame of his new Swan Island headquarters.

However, Swan Island had a second period of aviation use; in 1962 Columbia Helicopters moved their operations from Troutdale Airport to Swan Island (as reported in the Fall 2003 issue of Rotor magazine).

A July 18, 1962 aerial view of the grand opening of Columbia Helicopters' Swan Island facility, showing a Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a Bell 47, and a Hughes 269 on the ramp in front of their hangar. Was the Kaman operated by Columbia, or a visiting military aircraft?

An August 8, 1963 photo of Wes Lematta providing flight instruction in a Columbia Helicopters Hughes 269 at Swan Island.

Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:

Northwestern Oregon

© 2002, © 2010 by Paul Freeman. Revised 10/9/10.


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