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This project highlights stories related to the history of aviation in Alaska and the role aviation has played in changing our state's economy and transportation system. While there are many well-known pioneers in Alaskan aviation, we selected stories from some of the lesser known figures who also have left a legacy and who might otherwise go unheard. It includes recordings from the Oral History Collection at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as historic photographs and film clips from our collections, from other Alaska institutions, and from personal family collections. The Pioneer Aviators Project Jukebox was created in 2009 using Testimony Software format, and in 2015 was upgraded to Drupal. The information in this project reflects the context of the original creation date. Some information may now be out of date.
These are just a few of the oral history interviews about aviation which are available at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program. Click here to see an entire list of recordings related to aviation in Alaska in our collection.
Click here for a list of all the material relating to aviation available in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library's on-line catalog (once there, refine your search using the box that appears on the bottom of the page).
Click here for a list of all the photographs in the Alaska Digital Archives that relate to aviation.
John Andrews was a pilot in the US Army's 404th Bomber Squadron and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. He and Louis Blau safely landed a B-24D bomber during whiteout conditions when they couldn't see the runway in Adak. They spotted a hole in the fog and put the plane down further along the Aleutian chain on Atka Island near Bechevin Bay. The entire crew of 11 survived the crash landing on December 9, 1942 and both John Andrews and Louis Blau were awarded medals for... Read More
Jess Bachner was a throw back to the original pioneers of Alaska who were fiercely independent, loved Alaska, and wouldn't have considered living anywhere else. Jess was born in Fairbanks in 1919 to a pioneer mining family. He began working at the early age of 13 and by age 15 was driving truck for Alfred Ghezzi (Alaska Freight Lines). During his early adulthood, Jess made many trips trucking between Valdez and Fairbanks, Valdez and Nabesna, Fairbanks and Livengood, Fairbanks and Caribou.... Read More
Donald Bryant Bedford was born in Albany, Oregon in 1922. He became interested in flying as a boy and later studied aeronautical engineering and obtained his pilot's license. Around 1940, he began work as an airplane mechanic at Lockheed in southern California, but Don’s love of airplanes led him to enlist in the Army in 1943 as an aviation cadet. He logged many hours of flight training, but the commanders kept him on the ground, primarily as an aircraft repairman. Don came to Alaska in 1947... Read More
|Pearl Laska Chamberlain||
Born in West Virginia in 1909, Pearl was a Women's Air Service Pilot (WASP) in World War II, a pilot in Alaska following the war, and a flight instructor. Though she had humble beginnings growing up and learning to fly in West Virginia, she quickly turned her interest toward the north, coming to Alaska in 1944 after many years of flying, training and teaching. Her adventures as a pilot involved everything from Powder Puff Derbies to filling her tank with water instead of gasoline. In March... Read More
Born in 1923, Bill English spent the first eight years of his life in Wiseman, Alaska. His father, William English, Sr., was the storekeeper in Wiseman. The family moved to a ranch in Oregon, and Bill then lived with his aunt in California to finish his education while his parents returned to Alaska. After completing his education, Bill returned to Wiseman in the summers to visit and later as a pilot. Bill made his living as a commercial pilot, mostly for Wien Airlines, and also worked as a... Read More
Fred Hupprich was born in 1926 in Nenana, Alaska where his father was chief engineer on Tanana and Yukon River sternwheelers and later worked for the Alaska Railroad. His mother was from Germany and came to Nenana to work in the family’s bakery business. Fred's childhood was full of mischief and adventure. He was in the Army and held a variety of jobs, including working on the railroad, trucking, building airports, hauling wood, and operating a bar.
James Hutchison was born in 1901 and came to Alaska in 1919 with the United States Army. He became a noted aviation mechanic in Fairbanks, Alaska. He excelled at patching together aircraft at crash sites so they could limp back home. He worked with aviation pioneers like Noel Wien, Ben Eielson, Harold Gillam and Joe Crosson, and worked on Arctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins' Fokker airplane for the Detroit News Arctic Expedition. He repaired Wiley Post's landing gear, which was damaged on... Read More
Jack Jefford was born in 1910 in McGrew, Nebraska and grew up on a ranch. He worked for several outfits in the Lower 48 in Nebraska and Oklahoma before coming to Alaska in 1937 to be a bush pilot, where he worked principally for Hans Mirow's air taxi firm in Nome. His work included years of flying in all kinds of weather to help sick or injured people in remote areas and supplying the FAA's far-flung stations throughout the state. Jack was the chief pilot for the Federal Aviation... Read More
Originally from North Dakota, Art Mortvedt came to Alaska in January 1974. He was a teacher in the village of Shungnak, Alaska, moved to living a subsistence lifestyle in a remote location in the Brooks Range, has been a pilot, guide, and dog musher, and at the time of his interview in 2002 was running the Peace of Selby Wilderness Lodge at Selby Lake in the Brooks Range. He met Demaris (Dee), his wife, while working at Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota, when she was on her way to... Read More
|Damaris "Dee" Mortvedt||
Damaris "Dee" Mortvedt came to Alaska in 1967 as a school teacher. She taught in Cordova, Nome, Tok, Kenny Lake, Shungnak, and Manley Hot Springs. She met Art Mortvedt at a campground at Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota, when she was driving to Alaska. They married in 1978. At the time of the interview with her and Art in 2002, they were running the Peace of Selby Wilderness Lodge at Selby Lake in the Brooks Range.
|Ellen Evak Paneok||
Ellen Evak Paneok was born in 1959 in Bedford, Virginia to Bernice Evak and Ron Burgandine. Her mother was from Kotzebue, Alaska and her father was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Alaska. She mostly grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. She is known as Alaska’s first Native woman bush pilot. Through hard work and dedication, she learned to fly at age 16, and began flying mail, medical patients and freight, accumulating more than 15,000 flight hours. She is known not only for her aviation skills,... Read More
Born in Trondheim, Norway on January 29, 1919, Einar Pedersen became interested in the Arctic as a youngster when he was inspired by the expeditions of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. His own arctic experience began as a teenager working on a seal-catching expedition in Greenland. He spent time in both the Norwegian and British Armies where he was trained in air navigation, geography, meteorology and flew in the North Atlantic, ferried new aircraft across the Atlantic, and safely... Read More
Originally from upper Michigan, Urban Rahoi came to Alaska in 1947. He learned to fly in 1934 and joined the United States Air Force in 1942 where he flew B-17's during World War II. He is a pilot, big game hunting guide, lodge owner, and Fairbanks business man. Urban has been a licensed hunting guide in Alaska since 1950, and in the early 1950's he built Ptarmigan Lake Lodge in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains near the Canada/Alaska border. He has used this as a base of operations for his... Read More
Bob Reeve was born in Waunakee, Wisconsin in1902 and was interested in flying from a young age. By 1917, he was bored with school, and wanted to be involved with the war. The 15 year-old ran away to enlist in the U.S Army and was accepted on his second attempt at Davenport, Iowa. By 1926, he had earned both commercial pilot and aircraft mechanic certificates. Finding work as a pilot was difficult, so he re-enlisted in the army. He made his way north to Alaska in 1921. He began his bush-... Read More
Ralph Savory was born in 1910 in the Santa Rosa area in California, and graduated from high school in 1928. His mother died when he was 13, so six years later, his father decided to re-marry. Ralph was 19, so he moved to San Francisco where he got a job and learned to fly. While in school, Ralph became interested in airplanes because of Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight over the Atlantic. Ralph began flying in San Mateo, California on a big grassy lot at a flight school called “Speedy Johnson... Read More
|Ransom Tony Schultz||
Ransom Tony (R.T.) Schultz came to Alaska in 1938, the same year he bought his first plane and obtained his pilot's license. He began flying for Star Airlines (later Alaska Airlines) in 1940, and in 1950 was chosen as their first chief bush pilot. He also flew in Alaska for Northern Consolidated Airlines, Wien Airlines, Interior Airlines, and as a bush pilot for the Bureau of Land Management. Tony also worked with Hawkins & Powers, who had the forest firefighting contract with the Bureau... Read More
Chuck West was born November 27, 1914 in Des Moines, Iowa and began his career in aviation working as a traffic salesman for United Airlines. With the start of World War II, he enrolled in the military's civilian pilot training program and worked for the Air Transport Command flying planes and supplies to Alaska. He later flew air transport in China. After the war, he returned to Alaska and flew for Wien Airlines, and then started a travel agency and tourism business in Fairbanks. Chuck West... Read More
Frank Whaley was born in 1906 and moved to Alaska from Seattle in the 1930s. He came to Alaska because there was no business for a pilot during the Great Depression, but Alaska was demanding more pilots because of the gold mining and other operations. Frank worked as a pilot for Noel Wien during the Wien Air weekly flights to Nome in 1933. While self-employed as a pilot, he damaged the wing of his plane and had to find another job so this pushed him toward working with the Wiens. The life... Read More
Homer O. "Red" Williams was born in 1915 and came to Alaska in the 1930's in search of work and adventure. His first job was working in the mining industry. He became interested in flying and enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He then advanced to the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. Throughout his many years in Alaska, Red was a school teacher, a bush pilot, and a mechanic. In the late 1940's, he began flying tourists around Circle... Read More