top of page
  • Writer's pictureLCHS

Up, Up and Away!

This article first appeared in the March/April 2024 edition of Home & Harvest magazine. By Kaitlynn Anderson, Museum Curator

The Moscow Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors greeting a flyer upon arrival at the airport. LCHS ID: 30-13-131

When thinking about the Palouse, several images come to mind. The rolling hills of green fields and crops being harvested. People greeting each other and seeing familiar faces everywhere they turn. Farmer’s markets, festivals, two land-grant universities, and historical downtowns and homes. However, one aspect of the Palouse that stands out in juxtaposition to the landscape is the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport. This outlier is similar to two large companies that also call the Palouse home: Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Alturas Analytics. Albeit small in size, the commercial airport is an unforeseen structure most would not expect to see while traveling through the winding roads and hills. The presence of the structure begs the question of how the idea to add an airport in the Palouse transpired, as well as the use of airplanes within the region. These questions and answers are important to understand how today there is a new airport terminal being built down the road from the current terminal.

It was evident that airplanes played a large role in the agricultural scene within the Palouse, as well as a fun hobby for some. With planes serving both recreational and operational purposes, what was the reasoning for the current terminal? Were there enough people to utilize a commercial airport, or were private flights sufficient for local and visiting flyers? In an attempt to determine the answers to these questions, we must go back even further to when airplanes arrived in Moscow and how they were used.

Left to right: Airplane flying over the mountains. LCHS ID: 30-13-127; A high wing prop plane coming in for a landing at the airport during the 1940s. LCHS ID: 30-13-204; The ‘Kelly Special’ homebuilt plane in the summer of 1928. It was a 1919 modified McMahon monoplane with a Heath Henderson engine. LCHS ID: 30-13-151

It is no secret that the wonder of flying was on the minds of individuals throughout the world. Once the Wright Brothers were first in flight in 1903, similar models were created throughout Europe and Canada, but none of them were as successful as the Wright Brothers’ handiwork. It was not until years later when Orville and Wilbur held public flying events in Europe that people began to fully realize that the future had arrived.

The Palouse was no exception when it came to utilizing the new invention. During the 4th of July celebrations of 1911, aircrafts would fly in to show off the skills of the pilot by doing barrel rolls and flying upside. Individuals would line up to ooh and awe at the tricks pilots would display, which led to some folks becoming highly intrigued by flight and airplanes. A few locals began to create home build airplanes, which is essentially as it sounds – building an aircraft from scratch from the comfort of your home or at a hangar. Although some of these planes appeared to be functional, some of them never even left the ground for flight. Similar to participating in other hobbies together, home builds could serve as a bonding opportunity for families and friends, while also challenging the technical skills of individuals. Aside from the tricks and home builds, locals utilized airplanes for more practical uses – agriculture. Planes allowed farmers to better take care of their crops and view their land from a new perspective. Crop sprays could be attached to the wings of planes, allowing farmers to effectively fertilize and protect their crops from pests. It was no surprise that planes were a new tool for several of the farmers in the Palouse.

Left to right: Moscow Chamber of Commerce Flying Pea Weevils at the airport ready to greet flyers once they land. LCHS ID: 01-11-163; The 1941 opening of the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport. Vehicles are lined up all along the passing roads to view the airport. LCHS ID: 30-13-200; Vehicles lined up at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport during the 1960s. LCHS ID: 30-13-146

As the number of airplanes in the Palouse increased from the 1910s to the 1930s, it was evident that a dedicated space was required for the planes to safely come and go. Until 1932, a dirt landing field a mile north of Washington State University was utilized by many of the local flyers. The landing field served as the closest thing to an airport in the area, which made it a high-traffic area. It was at this time that the idea of building a local airport was created. Three main reasons supported the creation of an airport: an increase in security concerns, community belief that an official airport was necessary, and the current landing field not being able to meet the needs of incoming visitors for a Washington State College football game. Five potential sites were reviewed, with option two, where the present-day Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, was selected. This location was ideal due to the number of approaches it provided, however, the road in the area would need to be rerouted. In 1934, fifty acres of land were purchased from the Whitlow family and Nellie Courtney. As the project relied heavily on federal resources, especially during the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Civil Works Administration aided in the construction. Unfortunately, federal aid was removed, leaving the airport unfinished. After years of communication with the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, Washington State College, University of Idaho, and local officials, the airport officially opened between 1940 and 1941. For the opening, over 5,000 people attended, as well as a long line of around 200 cars.

Left to right: Dean Kelly and Waldo Hennan in the 1930s with their homebuilt plane named ‘Earthbound.’ The plane was a modified and powered 1910 Morgan hang glider. Appropriately named, the plane never left the ground. LCHS ID: 30-13-152; The first plane to fly in Moscow during a 4th of July celebration in 1911. LCHS Photo ID: 30-13-010; Johnson’s Flying Service workers inspecting sprayers on an airplane during the 1940s. LCHS ID: 25-02-351

As the years went by, changes were made to the airport. Drainage was added to the airfield, the runway was expanded, and a new terminal was added. These changes were important as they allowed for safer flights and increased travel to and from the region. The new visitors to the area did not go unnoticed by the communities. The Moscow Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors often would greet individuals at the airport when they landed to welcome them to Moscow. Another group was formed by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce Aviation Committee - the Flying Pea Weevils. Being formed in 1964, the purpose of the group was to tour Idaho to promote Moscow and the University of Idaho. Suffice to say that their efforts were beneficial.

With the size of Moscow and Pullman growing over the years due to new residents and higher enrollments at the universities, the demand for more flights became prevalent. In order to solve this so-called positive problem, a new terminal was required. The new terminal was one of the components of the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport capital improvement plans. Realizing that the new terminal would allow for an increase in incoming and outgoing flights, this meant that an expanded runway was necessary. The expanded runway project began in 2018 and opened for use in 2019. Another one of the major tasks to complete for the improvement plan included the new terminal. Beginning in 2022, the ground for the new terminal was broken. Several factors played into a new terminal being included in the improvement plan. Between airlines switching to jet service, the addition of new flights, and an increased number of travelers, it was clear that the current 8,785 square foot terminal would no longer fit the present and future needs of flyers. The new terminal is projected to be 47,500 square feet with amenities including a restaurant, new baggage claim area, courtyard seating, and over 450 parking spaces. Perhaps from the courtyard area, you can delight in the scenic view of the iconic rolling hills of the Palouse while enjoying a meal from the new restaurant before or after your flight.

With this brief timeline and history of airplanes and the airport, it is unmistakable that they have left their mark on the Palouse. Students from all over the world can attend either university, visitors from near and far can fly in to visit family members or athletic events, and private pilots and medical services all serve as a few of the notable benefits of the airport.

Packet of information presented to the Civil Aeronautics Board to justify the need for the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport. LCHS ID: PAM 1981-007

As the May 15th official opening date for the new PUW terminal draws near, are you excited to see all of the new amenities that it has to offer? Have you already booked a flight to enjoy the new jet bridges? Are you eager about the new possibilities the terminal has to offer? The potential for increased and improved travel, increased visitors to the Palouse, new students at the universities, and economic benefits? Or does the sound of less parking in town and crowded streets make you weary? Either way, the new airport terminal is here to stay and will bring a variety of heightened elements already present in the Palouse. For more information on the history of airplane uses in the Palouse and Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport history, visit the Latah County Courthouse to view the accompanying exhibit. Additionally, if you have any stories related to the airport or flying within the Palouse, LCHS would be interested in conducting oral histories to add to our collection.


44 views0 comments


bottom of page