San Juan Aviation Museum

800 Franklin Drive,
Friday Harbor , WA 98250
(360) 378-4724


Every day 7:00 AM - 5:00 PM


Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The history of aviation in the San Juan Islands is illustrated in an interesting and accessible display located in the Roy Franklin Passenger Terminal at the Friday Harbor Airport on San Juan Island. The museum may be small but the development of aircraft into an integral part of the island community is a fascinating component of the larger story of aviation history in America. This is a living museum with displays changing annually, featuring different periods as well as the pilots of the San Juan Islands.

In the south wing of the passenger terminal, detailed interpretive panels and photos along with related artifacts tell the story of the pilots, passengers and planes that eventually became part of the fabric of this many islanded archipelago. The technological development of planes and navigation is interwoven with the stories of pioneering airmen and pilots returning from a world war finding new challenges sometimes as harrowing as they faced in combat. Stories of emergency medical flights through stormy nights and beach landing rescues were unusual but not necessarily rare.

The passenger terminal is appropriately named for Roy Franklin who dreamed of an island airline and airport for Friday Harbor. He began with a borrowed cow pasture illuminated at night by the lights of a parked car. Ice covered grass in winter and lethargic herds of cows in summer were just two of the many obstacles to regular landings and take-offs. Later he purchased a large plot of timberland which he painstakingly cleared and improved over the years to develop what was to become the Friday Harbor Airport. Through boom and bust he continued to develop the airfield and eventually sold it to the Port of Friday Harbor. He stipulated in the sale that the airport never be named Franklin Field after him, as some had proposed.

The pilots that came later were often just as interesting; such as a doctor who learned to fly so he could visit patients in desperate need. Also the arrival of pilots retiring from their work with major airlines; having discovered this relatively obscure airport when they found it to be the only fog-free landing field on the Northwest Coast. The frequent blue skies a result of the rain shadow effect that extends across much of the San Juan Islands. Another characteristic of interisland flights are their typically short duration. One mail flight between Center and Decatur Islands was in the Guinness Book of Records for the shortest scheduled flight in the world at slightly less than one minute. Mail pilots often remarked how they could make 30 to 40 landings in an eight hour day. Some of the landing strips only temporary, normally used for driveways and pastures.

In addition to visiting the museum in the terminal, several nearby pathways on the west and south sides of the airfield provide opportunities to enjoy exceptionally scenic views of aircraft landings and take-offs. A varied selection of planes reflecting the many needs and requirements of island flying can frequently be seen. Some pilots prefer float planes, a logical alternative for an island community; their freedom from the necessity of airfields being their greatest asset (though many can also be landed on runways). Other pilots fly specialized airplanes modified for extremely short take-offs and landings with landing gear adapted for rough terrain.

A visit to the museum is a pleasant experience but not just for those interested in airplanes. The fascinating history of the evolution of aircraft, the iconic pilots who fly them, and the island community they serve is of interest to anyone wanting to know more about island life in the San Juans.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 6/30/2011


Follow traffic from the State ferry dock, on San Juan Island, for one block and turn left up Spring Street. Continue on Spring Street out of Friday Harbor and in less than a mile take the airport exit on your left, then bearing right onto Franklin Drive to the Roy Franklin Passenger Terminal at Friday Harbor Airport. Follow directional signs to short term parking which usually has free parking spaces available. On foot, follow the driving directions but transition onto the Airport Trail just before Spring Street takes a sharp left curve as it leaves town, about a half mile from the ferry.


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