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Inside Seattle’s forgotten aviation history at Magnuson Park

Historian Feliks Banel says Magnuson Park/Sand Point was the 1924 site of the famous Around the World Flight by the U.S. Army.

SEATTLE — The site of the most aviation history in the Northwest may be right here in Seattle.

Magnuson Park was once known as Sand Point Naval Air Station and has a long aviation history.

In the 1920s, King County wanted an airport run by the U.S. Navy. Sand Point became the first airport in Seattle and was one of the first places the Boeing Company assembled aircraft for delivery to the U.S. military.

It was the site of the beginning and end of the famous "Around The World Flight" by the U.S. Army.  Four Army planes left Sand Point in April 1924, and two of those returned in September having flown around the world. Thousands of people greeted the pilots upon their return to Sand Point.

"It's an amazing story of early, early flight and super long distances," said Feliks Banel, aviation historian. "And it all started and ended right there on that field."

Charles Lindbergh, who made aviation history by flying solo over the Atlantic, visited Sand Point in 1927 after completing his transatlantic flight. Lindbergh received a hero's welcome from thousands of people, including Seattle's first female mayor Bertha Landis.

In the 1930s, Boeing tested its famous "Clippers" - giant flying boats for passenger service - for over a year. Boeing used Matthews Beach Park just north of Sand Point to test the Clippers. Many of Boeing's early planes were built at Sand Point which functioned in part as a manufacturing facility.

During World War II, the base was a busy place, with "sub chasers" stationed there, making flights out over the Pacific to keep an eye out for enemy submarines. Military repairs were also made at the base.

After WWII and until the early 1970s, Sand Point was a Naval Reserve base, with weekend warriors taking part in training and keeping up their flying hours. In the 1970s, the base was decommissioned and became a park, now known as Magnuson Park. Former hangers and other buildings from the park's Sand Point days are still used today for indoor soccer, record storage, civic centers, and more.

"Everywhere you turn around there, there's aviation history to trip over," said Banel.

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