Bush flying in Ketchikan

Similar to Canada, Alaska has a rich aviation heritage dating from early post-WWI days. Every  settlement in the state remains dependent on air transportation. Aviation hounds consider Alaska one of the world’s best “hunting grounds” for photographing old planes, from Beavers and Otters to C-46s and DC-4s.

The Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage and the Alaskaland Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks tell the story of Alaska aviation through the decades. The Norseman, of course, has its place. Many US Army UC-64s served in Alaska during the war. Civil examples operated postwar, several with Wien Airlines. In 2014, however, Alaska didn’t have a single airworthy Norseman. You’ll find museum examples N725E in Anchorage and N55555 in Fairbanks. There also are 2 or 3 “project” Norsemans around Alaska awaiting restoration.

The town of Ketchikan has produced this gem of a video honouring its bush flying lifestyle. Here it is and you won’t regret taking a look:

Ketchikan: The Bush Pilots from Laurel Lindahl on Vimeo.

One of my Alaska aviation pals comments after watching it: “Great footage and what good quality! Ketchikan is a pretty special town, lots of old style bar life going on. The houses in the red light district had hatches in the floor, so the customers could arrive under the house unseen in skiffs.”

Here are three shots I took on August 3, 1993, when Sandy Parker flew me up to Ketchikan from Prince Rupert in his Wagair Beaver. It was a perfect summer’s day for such a swan.

Ketchikan 1

Shown above is recently-converted Turbo Otter N51KA of Ketchikan Air. Note the Turbo Beaver in the distance. To this day Beavers and Otters remain at the heart of bush and coast flying in this region. In 1957 N51KA came off the production line at DHC in Toronto as Otter 270. It was delivered to the US Army as 57-6128. Its Army days over, in 1978 it became C-GLFK back in Canada with Air Saguenay in Quebec, then migrated to Alaska, sporting a PT6 turbine engine. By 2014 N51KA had been re-registered N270A of Pro Mech Air, also of Ketchikan.

Ketchikan 4 N4787C of Yes Bay Lodge began as Beaver 1330 in 1959, then spent its entire career on the West Coast. It last was in the news on July 24, 2013. While on a Pro Mech Air flight-seeing trip from Ketchikan, the engine failed. N4787C crashed into trees, but all four aboard were rescued.

Ketchikan 2

Here’s a typical view from town looking across to Gravina Island, site of Ketchikan International Airport. An Alaska Airlines 737 is on final approach.

Special note to serious fans: The Regina Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society is hosting the 2014 CAHS national convention in early June. For info, here’s the link: http://cahs.ca/Convention-2014/2014-agm.html

And … Check out Steinar’s Hangar for a fabulous website about one of history’s great little bushplanes/sportplanes — the Republic RC-3 Seabee. Visit www.seabee.info — don’t skip this one or you’ll really be missing out! Steinar also covers such topics as Norway’s Otters and Twin Otters, so there’s plenty of Canadian content.

Lately I dug out some Seabee photos I took 50+ years ago and sent them to Steinar. Now everyone can see these nifty old shots, uselessly buried in my files for so many years. So … if you have any Seabee photos or info, kindly share with Steinar at steinar.saevdal@gmail.com. Thanks … Larry

People sure do need their Norseman fix! Readers keep getting in touch to order Norseman books and tell me a bit about their Norseman connections. Eric Boyce in Alaska writes on February 14, 2014:

I worked on CF-FQI when it was owned by Sept-Iles Air Service in Sept-Iles, QC. That was in 1961 and ’62. I was 14. FQI was the first airplane I ever got to fly — I got to hold the controls for 30 minutes from Lac Manitou to Lac Des Rapides. 
In 1999 I brokered CF-GUE to Bear Lake Air, a company in Seward Alaska. I flew it back with my engineer buddy and fellow Canadian, John “Alan” Wakefield. I flew GUE a bit here in Alaska for the last operator, Renfro Air. I modified it by putting Sikorsky S-58 axles, wheels and brakes on it (just like having Otter wheels). I sent Gordy Hughes a copy of the FAA approval and blueprints. Renfro said he could beat the Cessna Caravans hauling freight into the Eskimo villages, because the Norseman was fast and a lot cheaper to operate. He said the wheels and brakes made it taxi, takeoff and land with great control. As you may know Renfro’s engine quit and he rolled it up in the muskeg trying to make the airport.
Anyway, I love the Norseman and have since 1961. So I need the books to complete my love affair. Thanks a million for making these books available.

Canada’s Cadet Program … One of our country’s best organizations for teens is “Cadets”. Th Cadet movement is under attack from the Harper Government (our great pals in Ottawa, right). Not only is the HG campaigning to destroy our post services, etc., now they’ve put their sights on the Cadets. Please look at this item. Please sign the petition and forward. Thanks again … Larry


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