Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
at Lake Hood (Anchorage), 2003

For the past 2 years I have indulged myself in reading books about those early aviation days (1920s and 1930s) in Alaska and (North)western parts of Canada. About aviation pioneers such as Grant McConachie (who built CPAir, later known as Canadian Airlines), Frank Barr (bushpilot in Alaska and the Yukon, later active in Alaska's politics), Jack Jefford (another pioneer aviator in Alaska, Chief Pilot CAA/FAA Alaska Region 1940-1972), Bob Reeve and the Wien brothers (starting out on single engine, building business to become established airlines), Joe Crosson, Don Sheldon and other famous names, some of who fell victim: Ben Eielson, Wiley Post.... I could go on and on !
Reading about them and others, I realised: truth is often stranger than fiction, esspecially on the Last Frontier !

The Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum is a good place to start, for finding the links to that rich history and I welcome reactions to the photos placed below, for there is a lot for me to learn about these early aeroplanes.


1928 Stearman C2B NC5415
In 1929, Ben Eielson purchased this Stearman from Noel Wien for the newly established Alaskan Airways, Inc. In November, 1929, pilot Eielson and his mechanic, Earl Borland, were lost on a flight in Siberia to the stranded fur ship, Nanuk. With only forty hours flight time, novice aviator Harold Gillam, flew the Stearman on this extraordinary search for the downed men. NC5415 was among the first to land on Mt.McKinley 1932, and also made historic flights to arctic villages with diphtheria serum in 1931 with pilot Joe Crosson.

The Stearman clearly shows that those early aviators had to be content with an open cockpit. Must have been a cold job. I remember reading about a pilot asking his boss, considering new planes to buy, for an enclosed cockpit; what he got was an open cockpit with the radiator positioned more closer to the aviator.... Another story told about pilot and passenger almost choking to death when they flew over one of those enormous bush fires; pilots navigated by the countryside below them, following rivers; this pilot almost suffocated and had a near-miss with a bridge but he did manage to land at Fairbanks and survived.

In the 1925's Lloyd Carlton Stearman (an aviation pioneer who was instrumental in founding the aircraft industry in Wichita, Kansas) joined with Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna to form Travel Air Manufacturing Company. The trio's efforts produced the first Travel Air bi-plane that year.
In 1926, Stearman formed his own company, Stearman Aircraft Co., in Venice, California, which he moved to Wichita the following year. About 1,000-1,500 of original Stearmans are still buzzing around happily, thanks to the loving care of the Stearman Restorers Association.


1929 Travel Air 6000B NC8159
The AAHM Travel Air came to Alaska in 1939 with "Mudhole" Smith's Cordova Air Service and later belonged to Peck and Rice Airways in Bethel. A number of pioneer aviators owned NC8159 including Albert Ball, Fred Goff and Al Jones.

The Travel Air 6000B series weighed 4,500 pounds fully loaded, with a useful load of 1,960 pounds. This workhorse was designed to lift off from the treacherous gravel, dirt, grass, snow and rut-filled strips miles beyond civilization. Considered by many to be a huge aircraft back in those days, the Travel Air was a graceful airplane that settled the frontier outposts, delivering the U.S. mail, food and sometimes even livestock.
The Travel Air Corporation of Wichita, Kansas produced this airplane as a "Dual-Type" utilitarian-both for comfort in long-distance travel and heavy-load, short-strip landing capabilities. By today's standards the airplane was box-like and poorly designed. Aerodynamically, she was poor because of the extremely large wing area, resulting in tremendous induced drag and retarding forward speed. Parasitic drag was also quite pronounced because of the large struts, wheels, shock absorbers and additional bracing of the wing membrane. Also, an engine that wasn't cowled produced unwanted drag. But, despite her design and subsequent problems involving such, she flew quite well. Travel Airs became trusted as a machine that could be relied upon for a safe flight in some of the worst weather that haunts the mountainous regions in the northwest wilderness. Density altitude, although hazardous, made the Travel Air work just a bit more for her keep. Built for short backcountry hops, the Travel Air 6000B was not efficient for a long-range trip. The company even offered Edo floats for pilots landing on the waters of Montana, Idaho or Alaska.


1934 Waco YKC NC14066
NC 14066 was flown to Alaska in 1939 by "Red" Flensburg to establish Dillingham Air Service. It was also owned by Bud Branham, who operated Rainy Pass Lodge in the Alaska Range. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Rasmuson.

Long synonymous with aviation's “golden age,” the Weaver Aircraft Company (WACO) was founded in 1920 in Lorain, Ohio by George “Buck” Weaver, Elwood “Sam” Junkin, Clayton “Clayt” Bruckner and Charles “Charlie” William Meyers. For the next 26 years, the WACO name would be associated with a popular line of versatile open-cockpit and cabin biplanes.
WACO built the UKC/YKC/CJC series of cabin aircraft in 1934. WACO continued to refine the aircraft design and accessories on an annual basis, but retained the basic configuration to maintain quality and avoid the high costs of wholesale redesign; as a result, selling prices remained stable and affordable.
WACO ceased producing aircraft in 1946, another victim of the post-war general aviation bust, but the brand still enjoys enormous popularity among aviation enthusiasts.


1944 Stinson AT-19 Reliant N79548
This model was built by the Americans for the British during WWII. It was the last of the famous "gullwing" design for Stinson. After WWII the Stinson became available to the commercial market in the United States. Northern Consolidated, Wien Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Munz Northern Airline all used AT19s. This aircraft was purchased from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California by Don Rogers and Bob Wagstaff of Anchorage and donated to the aviation museum, where it was fully restored by museum volunteers.


1943 Beechcraft UC45F N1047B
One of the most famous twin engine aircraft ever built, the "Beech" was used as a training and liaison aircraft of the WWII era. Alaska UC45F's were used for search and rescue by the Army Air Forces. After the war, N1047B was operated by Ward Air Service in Juneau. A photo of this aircraft in flight appears in the Time-Life series titled The Bush Pilots.

It was involved in an incident on Friday, July 13, 1979 at Drake Island,AK while operating for Ward Air : an aerosol can made contact with unprotected wiring and a fire resulted (cabin, cockpit, baggage compartment). The (probable) cause was put to the pilot's inadequate preflight preparation, having things improperly secured. It happened in flight, during climb to cruise, and the damage was described as "minor".
NTSB Identification: ANC79IA069




Dave Morgan, the Curator of the museum, provided the following information in Nov.2006:
"This front fuselage is a Sikorsky S-43, NC15062, serial #4302 and was owned by Reeve Aleutian Airways. "

1929 Ford Trimotor (wreckage) "NC8034" (false).
This trimotor was the first of its type to come to Alaska. Operated by aviation pioneers, Frank Dorbandt and Don Glass, d.b.a. Ptarmigan Airlines, the Ford arrived in Anchorage in 1934. After ground-looping at Flat, Alaska in the fall of 1934, the Ford was used as a tool shed for the Willow Creek Mine, Fuselage and wing center section were recovered and brought to the museum in 1990 with helicopter assistance of the Alaska National Guard & Markair C-130.

The Ford Trimotor was robust and easy to maintain. It had a fuselage of rectangular cross-section, rounded off fore and aft, built around a structure of multiple longitudinal spars, which together with the frames and skin carried most of the structural forces. The thick profile wing, also multi-sparred, was entirely made of metal including the skin. The aircraft had a wingspan of 22' 55 metres and its length was 15' 20 metres.
The empty weight was 3.150 kilos and its maximum takeoff weight was 5.000 kilos. It was powered by three Wright J-6 300 hp radial engines. With a crew of two (pilot and radio operator or flight engineer) its cabin could accomodate up to 12 passengers, comfortably seated on wicker chairs, at a cruising speed of 182 kilometres per hour over a range of 850 kms.
The above information and registration was published on the Museum's website; however Dean Bird of Jacksonville,FL had doubts about the identity of this bird:
"Enjoyed your photo of the Ford Tri-Motor. Have been up in three, and briefly flown one.... occasionally search the internet for info on them.
Looks like you have Alaska Ford on your site as "NC-8034", should be, I believe "NC-8403" (4-AT-E, 65) which was built 5-1-29, delivered 10Jul1929 to Mamer Flying Service. Operating as "Ptarmigan Airlines, the planes was about destroyed 26Oct1934. A former Mamer pilot remembers flying over it during WW II, and seeing a stovepipe sticking out of it!
(Source: Larkins, The Ford-Tri Motor)".

Lars Opland sent me this photo. More...
Ford trimotor
Photo:
Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry
Mr Bird also referred me to a website for the discussion on the Ford Tri-Motor, which is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FordTriMotor/.
A posting on this group led to a reply by L.Blyly, referring me to www.aerofiles, Ford registrations, which confirmed (together with the book by Mr William T. Larkins) the identity of this plane to be NC8403.
This Ford Tri-motor is also featured on my page: Vintage Transport Photos by Others
Another nice website for Ford Tri-motors, Bushmasters and Stinson Tri-motors is the "survivors-list" by Arthur B. Wiggins.
The remains of this Ford Tri-motor moved to the Lower 48s, for restoration by Greg Herrick; NC8403 arrived in Minneapolis Thursday, February 10th, 2005.

1944 Noorduyn Norseman NC725E
Manufactured by Canadian Car and Foundry Co. to transport troops during WWII, the Norseman later joined the US Fish and Wildlife Service before coming to Alaska with Northern Consolidated Airlines in 1951. Interior Airways purchased the aircraft in 1955 to use during the construction of the DEW (Distant Early Warning, a defense system) line and for other bush flying. Donated by the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Jim and Dottie Magoffin.

The Norseman was the brainchild of Robert (BOB) .B.C. Noorduyn. Born in Holland, he worked as a young engineer in England for Sopwith and Armstrong-Whitworth. He emigrated to the US in 1920, to work for Anthony Fokker. He organized the Atlantic Aviation Corporation, which became the Fokker Aircraft Corporation. Together they conceived the Fokker Universal, later followed by the Super Universal. He was also instrumental in the design of the Fokker Trimotor. In 1928 he joined the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation and worked on the famous Bellanca Pacemaker.
In 1934 Bob Noorduyn and Walter C. Clayton went to Montreal,Canada and started Norseman Aircraft Ltd. The prototype Norseman first flew November 14, 1935. Many Norseman were used during WW II by many countries, but chiefly by the US Army Air Force as a utility cargo plane designated UC-64A. It became the popular replacement of the Fairchild and Bellanca bush planes of the North.
Bob Noorduyn passed away in 2008.
Specifications:
Engine: 550 hp Pratt & Whitney
Wing span: 51 ft. 8 in.
Length: 32 ft. 4 in.
Maximum T\O weight: 7400 lb.
Cruising speed: 141 mph.
apacity: eight passengers or freight


How it all started for Alaska Airlines ! This present day airline (with whom this satisfied passenger travelled to Anchorage on this trip) was formed by a merger between Star Air Service and McGhee Airways (which started in 1932). Upon this merger it was renamed Alaska Star Airlines in 1943 and after takeovers of other small airlines gave the airline a large share of the services in Alaska.
The name Alaska Airlines was taken in 1944.
What a way to advertise: "Fly an hour or walk a week!"

These are the sad remains of a DeHavilland DHC-4 Caribou of Greatland Air Cargo.
Which one could this be ? The curator of the museum told me it was dumped on their doorstep one day ! He had no idea of the identity of this wreck.

Greatland operated several Caribou's:
N700NC (cn 126), was reregistered N702SC South Central Air, crashed 29Jan97; had no Greatland titles, AFAIK
N2225C (cn 215), painted in straight grey livery; crashed at Port Alsworth,AK on 29Aug2001 (see photo by Antti Hyvärinen), its nose demolished.
N9984 (cn 254), has been unaccounted for, no photos on the internet (AFAIK)
N800NC (cn 98), is a candidate, but is alive & well in Philippines (2004)
My present theory would be, based on this NTSB report at New Stuyahok,AK:
Registration: N800NC

On August 2, 1996, about 1100 Alaska daylight time, a deHavilland DHC-4 airplane, N800NC, registered to and operated by Greatland Air Cargo, sustained substantial damage while landing at the New Stuyahok airstrip, New Stuyahok, Alaska. The commercial certificated captain and first officer were not injured. The 14 CFR Part 135 cargo flight operated in visual meteorological conditions.
During a telephone interview with the NTSB investigator-in-charge on August 5, the captain related that during the landing roll at New Stuyahok, the nose gear suddenly collapsed. The captain said the landing was normal and uneventful until the nosegear collapsed. He also said that the green, gear down and locked light, was appropriately illuminated, and that he was uncertain why the nosegear collapsed.
The airplane was returned to its maintenance base and repaired. According to the pilot, the nose gear hydraulic drag strut actuator malfunctioned, and failed to remain in the down locked position. He said the part was changed, and the nosegear operated properly. He also indicated that the drag strut actuator service life is "on condition." The failed part, part number 5460-3, had approximately 1400 service hours at the time of failure. The pilot, who is also a certificated aviation mechanic, believes that additional inspections of the drag strut and associated hoses are warranted.


ANC96LA115

I think N9984 could have been used to repair this damage, N800NC was thus put back in operation and when Greatland Air Cargo went bust, someone cleaned house and put N800NC's old forward fuselage section. Comments will be greatly welcomed.
When I revisited this museum in June 2012 nobody remembered this part, so the mystery continues: where did it go..?


Back to Propliners on the Last Frontier, Anchorage
More museums: Pioneer Air Museum (Fairbanks), 2003
Enjoy a flight on a vintage DC-4: Bliss with Brooks !

REVISIT TO THIS MUSEUM IN JUNE 2012!

Sources:
www.alaskaairmuseum.org
Airline Histories
Ford Trimotor story
www.geocities.com/all_about_stearman
www.aviation-history.com/travelair/6000b-1.htm
WACO Aircraft Corporation
Norseman history



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Created: 1-09-03
Last updated 18.9.2006