Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Ellen Evak Paneok

Ellen Evak Paneok was interviewed on May 8, 1994 by Margaret Van Cleve at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska after Ellen gave a presentation at the Northern Alaska Aviation Symposium. In this interview, Ellen talks about her love of antique airplanes, a scary flight involving carbon monoxide poisoning, and several crashes she escaped from.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 94-13-16

Project: Pioneer Aviators Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 8, 1994
Narrator(s): Ellen Evak Paneok
Interviewer(s): Margaret Van Cleve
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Ellen's interest in flying came at a young age

Ellen's flying heroes and collecting old airplanes

A Fairchild mishap

Ellen's professional career

Flying in a man's world

Cape Smythe Airways

The places Ellen flew out of Barrow

Some accidents Ellen was involved in

Ellen's mechanical education

Ellen had CO2 poisoning while flying

Plane maintenance and mechanics

Planes are a lifeline for villages

Flying as an aerobatics pilot

Ellen's future plans

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Today is May 8th, 1994. This is Margaret Van Cleve. I will be interviewing Ellen Paneok, a Bush pilot from Barrow, very active in aviation circles, having just given a presentation at the Northern Alaska Aviation Symposium. This tape is made possible by the Oral History Department, Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska. We're recording at the Carlson Center in downtown Fairbanks. In listening to your talk, it sounds like Barrow is a really tough place to fly. How did you happen to get interested in flying? Was this a long time interest that you had as a child?

ELLEN PANEOK: Ever since I was 14. The only black sheep in my family that flies. Nobody else in my family does it. I picked up a flying magazine and decided I'd try it. And I got really interested in flying magazines and just got almost my family thought I was obsessed with it. And then I went and tried did the and they called them intro flights, introductory flight, for 20 bucks. And decided that's what I'd like to do.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And where were you living at the time?

ELLEN PANEOK: Anchorage.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there were other opportunities to talk to other pilots, and --

ELLEN PANEOK: I ended up going through Cook Inlet Native Corporation, Cook Inlet Regional Corporation, and getting onto a work study program at Merrill Field, working for one of the flight schools when I was 15, I guess, or 16. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: And I started flying when I was 16. That's how I got and I started flying at 152s at Merrill Field. Ended up flying a bunch of time in bigger airplanes, 207, then I got my license in a Citabria. I got my license in 1981. Click here to view film of training at Merrill Field.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So I heard somebody say you learned to fly before you learned to drive.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. I used to get teased relentlessly. Kids in school would think I was really weird taking a bus to the airport to go flying. Yeah. And I didn't didn't know how to drive. So finally somebody said, you know, you're doing this backwards, you better learn how to drive a car.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Learn to drive a car first. I guess it's quite expensive to take flying lessons. Did you well, when you worked there, I guess that was to work off the hours towards flight lessons?

ELLEN PANEOK: That was supposed to be what was supposed to happen, and then the flight school eventually shut down. And then, oh, I think it was a year later that Cook Inlet came up with a $1500 dividend.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so you used that -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- money, then?

ELLEN PANEOK: That's when I first started to fly with that $1500. I just went into a flight school, plunked it down on the counter, and said, teach me.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And about how many hours does that represent until you actually have your certificate?

ELLEN PANEOK: Well, I had -- MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- or years or however you measure it.

ELLEN PANEOK: I started flying in '76 and got my license in '81. I had about probably about 475 hours when I got my license.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. All the time that you were reading about flying, did you have any Alaskan pilots who were heroes to you, Bush pilots, for instance, or other or female pilots, anybody that really inspired you that you can think of?

ELLEN PANEOK: When I was a kid, no.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: It was just the mechanics of flying that --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. The beauty of it. I fly for the love of it. No other reason. Oh, let's see. I got Bob Reeve to sign he -- I got his book and got him to sign it. He's kind of like a --


ELLEN PANEOK: A mentor, so to speak. Any of the other older pioneer Bush pilots that have that actually braved being up here when I should have been up here doing it, I just got more into it late because that's the kind of flying I like to do is flying old, loud, smelly, oily, dirty airplanes that go slow.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. I read that you're also an antique collector of old airplanes and ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- recently

ELLEN PANEOK: I've bought -- sold ten airplanes and restored one -- restored two. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: I had a 1938 Fairchild 24 for a while, which happens to be in the museum in Alaskaland now.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, yes, I've seen that.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. I had a 1933 Stinson, and a conglomeration of other different airplanes, 10 all together.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Do you have your favorite?

ELLEN PANEOK: My Fairchild was my favorite. I think my favorite. So --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you actually -- ELLEN PANEOK: I'll -- I'll eventually buy another one.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you actually got them into working condition so you could --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Actually, I bought the Fairchild in working condition, and then I went caribou hunting with it and wrecked it.

So -- I had a brake quit on a 15 foot wide strip and the landing gear was 10 feet wide. So as soon as my right foot went to the floor, that was the end of the airplane.

And spent two months getting it tack welded together enough for me to fly it out of there. And I got it restored after that. That was the one longest one hour flight I ever made in my whole life.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And you were out in the middle of nowhere when that happened? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So I guess you carried some emergency equipment so you --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. There was a cabin there, too. I was stuck there for 11 days waiting to get picked up.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What time of year would that have been? In the fall?

ELLEN PANEOK: It was September. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: September. So it was starting to get a little of chilly.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. With a cabin there and everything like that, it was -- I was just like old home week. Just shot caribou outside the door and ate blueberries, and --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Subsisted that way.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it could have been worse?

ELLEN PANEOK: It could have been worse because it had -- it was just a really -- it was a very well rigged gold mining camp.

And it had a generator there, so I got to watch TV, and a microwave and a washer and dryer and a stove and running water. So it wasn't too awful bad in that --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Now, where was this located?

ELLEN PANEOK: Up on the headwaters of Talkeetna River.


ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. I was -- I saw this caribou by the side of the mountain, decided I had to have it. Got it, too.


ELLEN PANEOK: Got it stuffed. That just the head part. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: It was my $13,000 caribou.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I was going to say, that must have been a very expensive caribou. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And when did you first start flying as a profession in terms of earning money?

ELLEN PANEOK: '83. I got my commercial license in '83, and then then I started instructing in '84.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And this was still down in Anchorage area? ELLEN PANEOK: In Wasilla. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Wasilla? ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So that was your first paying job, then, is in Wasilla?

ELLEN PANEOK: In -- in flying, it was.


ELLEN PANEOK: I mostly subsisted on working on ivory scrimshaw. And in fact, that took me through a large part of my commercial flight training and other flight training. Rental of airplanes.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so you carved ivory and then would sell the pieces and -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So that was your livelihood?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. And it bought me several airplanes, too.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, so you must be very talented in ivory carving.

ELLEN PANEOK: I sell lots. They say I'm talented.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, I would think so if you have a lot of buyers out there.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. My first -- I instructed part time, freelance, until '86. And then, well, actually, I had a flying job in '85 up by Kotzebue.

I flew out of Kiana for a while, but the airplane was not the best of condition, and I wasn't ready to do that yet, apparently, because I went back to Wasilla and instructed full time at Elmendorf Aero Club in Anchorage for a year.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I guess a lot of pilots do that, give, like, lessons.

ELLEN PANEOK: A lot of people do that to gain time. I already -- when I went to work for that flight school, I already had 16 , 1700 hours. And the only reason I did it was because I was bored with what I was doing of flying or I was just working on the ivory.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. So you wanted to get really into flying? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: One way or the other, so you -- ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- gave lessons?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. And then I every time I've been hired it's been over the phone.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, I was going to ask you, I -- having interviewed female pilots in the past who are of a different vintage, as I mentioned to you earlier, one who was flying in the Second World War, did you find it difficult being female to get flying jobs?

ELLEN PANEOK: No. I was surprised.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Is it still a man's world? Don't you think --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- pretty much so?

ELLEN PANEOK: And I really figured that I would have a problem, and I never -- never had a problem. In fact, I've -- I've had people call me up out of the blue and wanting me to go to work for them.

And this one company in Anchorage calls me annually wanting me to get -- try to go to work for them. I did find out that in being a female in this man's world, you have to have one heck of a sense of humor. And so -- and lots of spirit. And I get by with that. And I -- I think that I've gained the respect of my peers, the male peers.


ELLEN PANEOK: So I -- I do -- I don't think I had a problem with it in that respect.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Of getting a flight job?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. In fact, I got more shock than anything else. I 'd fly in, land on a tundra or sandbar to come in and pick up some Eskimo fishermen or hunters or whatever, in the 185. A little 400 foot strip that has a dog leg in it, and I get out of the airplane and they look at me, a woman pilot? You know. And they just are in shock, but they'll get in the airplane readily.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you don't have any trouble getting them in?

ELLEN PANEOK: No. No. Never had any trouble like that. Pretty amazing. I mean, in this day -- even in this day and age. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And age. Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: I've had other female pilot friends of mine say that they have had trouble, but for some reason I never did. I don't know if it was just time and circumstance. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: But I never -- I really never did. To be honest.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Well, let's talk a little bit about your experiences with Cape Smythe Airways. You've been working for them for how long?

ELLEN PANEOK: Mostly off and on since '88.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And they're based in Barrow?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yes. And I've been flying for Barrow Air. Excuse me.

What happened was, I'd fly for Barrow Air for a while, then I'd get traded off to Cape Smythe and fly their fish camps for the summer, and then I went back to Barrow Air, and just kind of went back and forth. It was kind of --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there's two air companies, then, run in Barrow?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. At that time. And then I finally went back to work for Cape Smythe full time in '88. And in the interim -- I mean -- I'm sorry, last year, in April, I don't know what I was thinking of.

In '89 I became chief pilot for Barrow Air. And then I eventually became director of flight ops until a couple years ago. And then I went into a state of semi retirement for a couple for a couple years a year, I guess. And finally got bored with that and came back to work in Barrow.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it sounds like you really love flying up in Barrow. Click here to view film of flying in Barrow.

ELLEN PANEOK: Strange as that may sound, yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, it sounds like it's very dangerous flying, that you really can get into -- ELLEN PANEOK: It can be. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- some serious

ELLEN PANEOK: It can be, without prior planning.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Just tell about some of the things you have to do, have to consider there that would be different, let's say, well, in the Lower 48 or --

ELLEN PANEOK: Oh, there's it's a total world of difference. You've got, first of all, 10 months of winter, hard winter, extreme cold temperatures. Lots of whiteout conditions, blowing snow. It's totally flat, there's nothing to relieve your eye. Click here to view film of airplane being unloaded in Barrow in the winter.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Now, what is it like flying in a whiteout condition?

ELLEN PANEOK: Like being inside a ping pong ball.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That's a very good analogy. Total whiteness.

ELLEN PANEOK: It was the best one that I could come up with at the time. Or else the inside of a milk bottle. And I felt like that numerous times.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And this can come upon you quite suddenly.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You'd be flying and you --

ELLEN PANEOK: Very, very suddenly. And if you're not prepared to transition from flying with a horizon, an outside visual horizon, to flying instant inside on the instruments, you could die. It just takes control.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you really rely very heavily on instruments?

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah. The majority -- I would say at least during the spring and fall transitional periods of the weather patterns, you end up a lot of times on instruments flying in white outs.

Or in the wintertime, flying in the dead of night when it's two o'clock in the afternoon.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. You said that there are about two months of total darkness in the winter.

ELLEN PANEOK: Two months of near total darkness. Because you will at 12:00 or 1:00 get dusk. Or twilight. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, twilight.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah, twilight. But that doesn't last very long. And for the most part --

For the most part, the times that I'm flying in the wintertime, especially December, it's going to be dark. Especially when you have stratus or clouds, a thick cloud layer.

For the most part, you're essentially, if I flew 8 hours of of flying time that day, it was all nighttime that I logged in my log book.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. Oh, you differentiate flying -- ELLEN PANEOK: -- night and day. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- night and day? Oh.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah. And I never did really like flying at night, but somehow I got coerced into flying up there.

I used to fly for Ryan Air in St. Mary's, and I came up to Barrow just to visit, and Barrow Air found out I was up there. For some reason they had my business card, and they called me for three days before I finally relented to it -- to going in and talking to them.

Because I didn't want to fly in Barrow at first. Then he says, 10 bucks an hour raise. I said, okay.



MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there is a differentiation in pay and hours -- ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- according to day flying versus night?

ELLEN PANEOK: There's not a differentiation in pay. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: But in -- in --

ELLEN PANEOK: The differentiation in pay is normal parts of the state, a normal pilot gets $25 to $30 an hour. In Barrow, I started out at $40 an hour. And I'd make as much as $50 an hour when I was chief pilot and director of flight ops.


ELLEN PANEOK: The pay up there is you can't get paid like that anywhere else in the state.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And of course, the cost of living is higher, too, so I guess that's to compensate for it. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Where are some of the areas that you fly to from Barrow?

ELLEN PANEOK: From Barrow, I go to the smaller outlying villages: Atqasak, Wainwright, Point Lay. And then in the bigger airplanes we'll go Point Lay, Point Hope, Kotzebue to the west. And then Dead -- Nuiqsut, Deadhorse, and Barter Island to the east.

And then, of course, I do the -- the off airport work. Get paid extra for that, too, because it's difficult. And during the summertime. Land on the sandbars and the rivers or on the beaches. And that's a pretty viable thing every summer.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: This is for taking scientists or people in?

ELLEN PANEOK: I've taken some scientists out. Mostly it's Eskimos going out to their fish camps. We have a map of established fish camps that we take people out to.

And that's -- that's what we do is mostly that. I've taken TV crews out, especially during the deal with the whales --


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: That was in 1988 or '89?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. And I've done some animal counts by air using a 185.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum. So you really have had quite a varied -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- amount of work.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. I used to fly floats, too, taking hunters and fishermen out on floats out of Anchorage and Kenai. Flying them out to remote lakes or rivers -- MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: -- and dropping them off fishermen. I was acting as a quasi pilot/guide, fishing guide.

And that was fun work, too. I've done that in previous years, just keeping my hand in everything.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yes. It sounds like it. Backing up about the whales, could you tell me a little bit more about it. How many times did you go out and what exactly -- did you have to land the crews on ice?

ELLEN PANEOK: No. No. What I did was the one time I took a Japanese crew out and they just wanted to fly over the Russian ship.

In fact, the two times that I -- the three times that I took crews out, they just wanted to look at the lead, the ice, and look at the Russian ship.

And when I took the Japanese crew out, we saw a 10 foot polar bear, and they were more excited about the polar bear than the whales.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So this is more flight seeing, then.

ELLEN PANEOK: It wasn't -- it was for their -- their film, their films that they were doing. Apparently they wanted an overview because they were also being able to go out there on land.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh. So they had some crews out there on the ground, too?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. It was a media nightmare. The town just blew up with people.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You know, how did they accommodate everybody? Just -- ELLEN PANEOK: Oh.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- a lot of bed and breakfasts spring up overnight?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Uh hum. Definitely. And they were charging people $80 an hour to take sleds -- snowmachines with sleds out to the whales and everything else. It was a bust.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: A real economic boom --


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- for Barrow.

ELLEN PANEOK: It was pretty interesting to get national coverage like that. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: And the Japanese crew did get the polar bear on film, too.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So that was a bonus -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- for them. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You've certainly flown in all kinds of conditions. Have you had any sort of close calls because of the weather or mechanical malfunctions?

ELLEN PANEOK: With mechanical malfunctions, I've had quite a few. And the only reason I say that is because my when I'm flying antique airplanes with engines that are old, you can have more incidents happen.

Like when I flew my Fairchild, it's a 1938 airplane, up to Barrow, I had to set it down four times due to problems.

So yeah, I've had lots of -- I've had engine failures. And I had one where I wasn't flying, but we ended up in the trees, broke my back.

And I was laid up for 9, 10 months. Almost a year. But as soon as I was able to walk around, I just got back in the airplane, kept on going.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Say get up and do it again.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you didn't have a fear of --

ELLEN PANEOK: No. It didn't bother me at all. In fact, I've had to set an airplane down in the trees again after that, in -- in a later year.

And that one I ended up repairing it myself and flying it back out because nobody knew where I was at. And unfortunately, back then it was -- I didn't file a flight plan, and I was just out goofing around, just sightseeing, and landed on this remote strip.

Then when I was taking off, the engine quit, and I had to put it in the trees, and I dragged it out of the trees and fixed it the best I could and flew out.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Now, this was up on the North Slope?

ELLEN PANEOK: No, this was down west of Wasilla, in the -- close to the MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh. ELLEN PANEOK: -- close to the mountain -- MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So they were big trees -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- and not little shrubby trees that you would have on the --

ELLEN PANEOK: Well, they were about that big around, I guess.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: About 5 or 6 inches? ELLEN PANEOK: 4, yeah, 5 or 6 inches, something like that.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Enough to scrape up the fuselage. ELLEN PANEOK: Enough to make a lot of noise when the wings hit them.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So how do you -- you just eased it out of the trees, then, onto the ground?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah, the tress weren't that big, they were probably 10 feet -- 15 feet high. And they were mostly new growth willows. And the airplane that I had that it happened with an Aeronca Chief. It was such a light airplane, it only weighed like 650 pounds, 675.

And it just kind of floated down in the tree. Floated down into the trees. And I was just more mad than anything else because, you know, dammit, my engine quit.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So what did you do to repair it?

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh, the spar was cracked from the lift strut all the way up to the tip. And the fabric was all torn off, and the last 3 or 4 wooden ribs on the airplane were busted up. And I tore the belly. You know, the trees tore the fabric on the belly.

And fortunately, I had a nice, big, fat roll of duct tape, and duct -- where the fabric was off the front of the wing, I just duct taped around the spars as much as I could. Where the crack was and where I could get to it.

And then duct taped all the holes as best I could. And then I just started the engine up. Actually, I didn't start the engine. I had to get in there and figure out why it quit.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, I was going to say, why did it quit?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. And what happened was the fuel line collapsed. It was apparently too old, and a piece of it inside of the fuel line went and lodged itself up against the carburetor.

And I had to tape that fuel line off and suck that thing out. And it was, like, yuck. Nothing like the taste of gas to start your day. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Ooh.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. It was gross. But I got it out of there, put it back on the carburetor, took off.

And I realized then that as soon as I got flying speed -- I only flew it 60 mile an hour all the way back. It was a long flight.

The tip bow was made out of wood and it was busted. And it came back and it lodged itself against the aileron like -- like --like this.

And I discovered that I couldn't really turn the airplane. And so I had to yank the wheel to get the carb -- the aileron out from behind the tip bow to make it turn. And that was kind of scary.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you really didn't feel you had total control?

ELLEN PANEOK: I felt like I had control, yeah. I did. It was just more -- to me I don't know if maybe I'm warped or not, but it was more like an inconvenience than anything else. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: And when I got back, and everybody laughed at me as I came taxiing up, you know.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: A patched plane.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. I bet you carried duct tape with you ever since.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. If you can't fix it, duct it.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, it's certainly a wonderful material to have. So you really have to be part mechanic --

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- to fly in this country.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And if you don't know, you learn in a hurry.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah. I've had to do some fixing jobs.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Did you take some mechanical courses along with your flight? ELLEN PANEOK: Huh uh.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Just on the job?

ELLEN PANEOK: Just a normal major or normal flight training type stuff.

Through the years, I've just learned about on hands experience on engine and stuff like that. I worked as a mechanic's helper for a little while, for about six months. And --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then you share your stories with other pilots, too, so you learn from each other.


ELLEN PANEOK: One time I -- I came in and the mechanic -- what the heck was going on. Somebody was working on the airplane, and I forgot who, and I came in and they were trying to put the valve spring in.

And the valve spring on this particular airplane, you can't just kind of push it in, you have to -- they call them valve -- valve spring compressors.

And that's the way you normally do it. But they were sitting there trying to do it, and I came in, oh, yeah, I see that, and I just rigged up a little jerry rigged thing, got it in there. And they were, like -- and they were all shocked. How did you do that?

How did you figure that out? I said, I don't know, I just looked at it.

I must be kind of mechanically minded, I suppose, because I had to work on my Fairchild quite a bit because mechanics don't want to touch antique airplanes. Some of them don't. Modern ones.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And it would be expensive, too, it's just more -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Excuse me. I had to set up -- set the air -- my Fairchild down once because the oil -- one of my oil lines collapsed. And it failed, actually, and all the oil started coming out. It was a breather line.

And it started coming out all over my window. And luckily I was by Cantwell. And I land there to fix that. One of the hose clamps broke, it failed.

And while I was sitting there -- I had another hose clamp -- while I was sitting there putting that on, I heard "sisssss," and my tail wheel went flat.

And I'm out here in the middle of nowhere. And luckily there was a couple of houses, I went knocking on the door, and one guy there just happened to have a car. So we went to the store and I got some of that silicone Fix -It-Flat. I mean it -- Fix-It-Flat. Got a couple of bottles of that, put it inside the tail wheel, and then had some silicone. And it was the valve stem that broke.

And then I just jerry rigged it enough to where I could get it to Fairbanks. And then there I just got another tail wheel tube. Put it in there.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: It's kind of a panicky feeling to be stuck where you don't think you can get help.

ELLEN PANEOK: I wasn't panicked as much as just disgusted. You sit there, and you -- I was just -- I just sat there, it's a beautiful, hot, sunshiny day, scratching my head.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What do I do now? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. You were talking earlier in your presentation about the time you were flying in to Barrow from Wainwright when you -- your hands got numb.

ELLEN PANEOK: The carbon monoxide poisoning?

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yes. Yeah. Tell about that. It was --

ELLEN PANEOK: It was one of the most scariest times I've ever had in an airplane. Is having that carbon monoxide poisoning.

I was hauling mail in the 185 by myself when I -- I flew into Wainwright and then came back to Barrow, flew out to Atqasak, and when I was on the ground in Atqasak, I realized that I didn't have any strength.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And you didn't have any idea at that point?

ELLEN PANEOK: I didn't have any idea at that point, no. Atqasak was a half mile, or half -- half an hour flight away from Barrow, one way.

And I get out there and all of a sudden I just practically collapsed. I just sat on the tailgate and I said, you guys finish unloading the airplane. And they were shocked because I always unload the airplane.

And then I got back in it, took off, and about halfway back, the windows just started fogging up with frosty -- frosty kind of that stuck to the window.

And I was sitting there scraping the window, the windshield, going, what in the world is going on? I couldn't figure it out.

And then I don't know how much time it entailed, but all of a sudden I couldn't breathe. And I -- I started getting really scared. And my -- I couldn't feel my face first, and then after that I couldn't feel my arms or my legs.

And I was so scared, I was crying. And then when I -- I -- I didn't sound bad on the radio, otherwise they probably would have said something, but they never did. I got on final and I was starting to -- to gray out. And --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: By "gray out," what do you mean?

ELLEN PANEOK: "Gray out," it's like the -- precedes blackout. It's where you start losing your vision, but you can still hear what's going on.

I could kind of feel the airplane and everything, but -- MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You still --

ELLEN PANEOK: I'm still conscious, but I'm starting to lose my vision. Everything's starting to turn fuzzy.

And I got the airplane on the ground. I don't know how in the world I did it. I don't remember.

And got onto the ramp, and it as soon as I got out of the airplane, I just passed out.

And nobody -- it was about 25 below, 28 below. And I woke up. Nobody even knew I even passed out.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it was just momentarily?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. The guys in the flight service station -- the place I was working at was right by the flight service station, and they didn't see me until I was just getting up. They didn't realize that -- that I had just passed out. And I don't know how long I was out.

And I go inside, hit the warm temperature and passed out again. And they took me to the hospital. And the doctor misdiagnosed it, and another pilot went out and almost got killed in the same airplane. And --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So what did the doctor think it was at that point? Just exhaustion or flu, or just --


ELLEN PANEOK: He just thought it was like a teenage girl that was hyperventilating because I was all excited and, you know. Hee hee. You know.

And the mechanic was pretty disgusted, because they brought me in a fireman's carry. Here I am in my pilot clothes, got my airport tag on me and everything like that, and wouldn't you have a natural assumption that you just got out of an airplane and you could have CO in your system, if you were a doctor? A good one?

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. That would be --

ELLEN PANEOK: You -- you'd think so. The thing that he -- the thing that made him think that I didn't have carbon monoxide poisoning is when you first start to get the -- get that, your face turns cherry red. Your -- your skin turns cherry red.

And then -- I don't know the physiological reasons why. And then after 30 or 40 percent of CO in your system, your face turns back to normal color.

And apparently I had already gone through that stage.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Through the cherry stage. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And so you looked normal color.

ELLEN PANEOK: And the doctor looked at me just like this, and says,"She doesn't have any, she's not cherry red."

And so he just made an assumption. And after that, I made a big stink, got involved -- I got Anchorage involved. It was the Native Hospital and everything like that. And they came down on the doctor. Of course, nothing ever came of it.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Isn't there a blood test where they could have readily --


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- what was wrong?

ELLEN PANEOK: But he never called for that. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh.

ELLEN PANEOK: And I could have done -- sued him and stuff like that, but I'm not that kind of person. I don't like to --

I mean, even though I almost died and somebody else almost died because of that.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And it was the same problem with the other person? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: With the muf -- was it the fuel line? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah -- no, the muffler. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: The muffler.


ELLEN PANEOK: It was the same airplane.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, the same airplane. So, yeah, it wasn't --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. What happened was the doctor misdiagnosed it.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So they didn't think to look --

ELLEN PANEOK: So they didn't think to look at anything. They just said, okay, you know, she must be all right.

Whatever. And so they sent the pilot that -- that -- a different pilot on the flight that I was supposed to do to Deadhorse in the same airplane.

So he does it and he succumbs in Deadhorse. And they were smarter than Barrow was because they did the blood test and put him in an oxygen tent. And they realized then it was carbon monoxide poisoning.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then they checked back to see why -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- and it was the muffler.

ELLEN PANEOK: It was practically out of its bracket. It was -- it was -- it was not any kind of a maintenance error or anything like that. I want to stress that very highly. It was the manufacturer of the muffler. And that particular manufacturer had a lot of -- about 500 incidences of CO poisoning due to failures.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it was a model defect?


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- they were recalled after that?

ELLEN PANEOK: A lot of people weren't quite as lucky as I was. Or this other guy -- the other pilot.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So there were deaths from that?

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So when you fly, you really depend on, first of all, good equipment, and then the work of mechanics.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. And we have a really good maintenance system where I work now. It keeps my --


ELLEN PANEOK: -- they have some of the best equipment in the state.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And I guess now, safety record -- well, statewide is very good because of improvements in equipment. ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Because the old Bush pilots -- ELLEN PANEOK: -- died.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yes. A lot of them didn't live a full life because --

ELLEN PANEOK: I've had my share of shoddy equipment even in my lifetime.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it's still a problem? Somewhat?

ELLEN PANEOK: Years ago. Not now. It's really difficult to find somebody that's not maintaining an airplane properly because they would be discovered nowadays.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So they have these regular checks, tune ups ELLEN PANEOK: Yes.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- after so many hours, then.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Every 100 hours we have an inspection, and then every an -- annually we have a big inspection of the airplane.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Is it more stringent in Barrow because of the conditions or is it more or less the same throughout the industry?

ELLEN PANEOK: We're pretty stringent. I don't know -- I think any of the remote areas are pretty stringent with their maintenance.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Because of the nature of the --

ELLEN PANEOK: Yes. Because it's the primary mode of transportation and we have to have it.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Really, without air service -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- you'd be cut off most of the time.

ELLEN PANEOK: I've gone into villages after week and a half of storms, and they're starving for fresh vegetables or even just the mail. Milk. I've had villages run out of milk for babies. And stuff like that.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you're really a lifeline.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Have you brought injured or sick people into Barrow hospital? ELLEN PANEOK: Yes.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you've had some emergency situations? ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And you probably save people.

ELLEN PANEOK: I took a couple of pregnant women that were in the stages of labor, and I -- you know, I didn't know how close they were because I'm not -- I've never had kids, never been around anybody that had them. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So --

ELLEN PANEOK: So I don't know what kind of stage they were in.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You got them there in time?

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah, I did. Click here to view film of flying in a patient.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So your work really entails just about everything -- ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- in terms of serving the communities? ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You say you do regular mail runs and groceries.

ELLEN PANEOK: Groceries. Yeah. Passenger runs. I've delivered Pizza Hut pizza to Atqasak several times and Wainwright several times. They order it.

And Pizza Hut freezes it, brings it up on Northern Air Cargo, and then I take it out to the villages.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So pizza comes from Barrow? Is it --

ELLEN PANEOK: No, it's from Fairbanks. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Oh, from Fairbanks to Barrow.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Northern Air Cargo brings it up to Barrow and then we bring it out to the villages. People get desperate for pizza, apparently. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Pizza.

ELLEN PANEOK: Or even McDonalds. A girlfriend of mine in Barrow went down with a cooler and ordered as many Big Macs as she could stuff in that cooler and froze it. And brought it on as baggage.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So that's the next best thing to having your own McDonalds and -- or pizza parlor.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. Yeah. I thought about doing some expediting like that, but I never did.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah, a weekly pizza run from Fairbanks. Oh.

I noticed in reading about you in Bush Pilots of Alaska that you are also an aerobatic -- aerobatics pilot.


MARGARET VAN CLEVE: What does that entail?

ELLEN PANEOK: I have been heavily involved in aerobatics in the past.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So these are shows that -- where you perform?

ELLEN PANEOK: I did a couple. I didn't get to do very many. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: Actually, what I was doing -- actually, to begin with, I had one of the top people in the country teach me how to do aerobatics.


ELLEN PANEOK: Duane Cole. He used to do aerobatics in a Taylorcraft. He's done air shows all over the country. He's nationally known in aviation circles.

So I went down to Texas to get the training from him. And after that, I started practicing 2 or 3 hours a day. I was gearing myself up for competition aerobatics.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And what plane would you fly for that? Any particular one?

ELLEN PANEOK: I was flying a Super Decathlon. I've flown a T-6, which is a World War II trainer plane. I've got about 30 hours in one of those. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: I did a lot of aerobatics in my Luscombe, although it's not really aerobatically rated, but it can do anything you do to it.

And I had a Citabria that I did aerobatics with. It didn't have an inverted fuel and oil system in it, though.

I used to just take that one up and -- up to 5 or 6,000 feet in summertime and shut the engine off, and then just do aerobatics just by gliding. And to me, that's the epitome of real flying.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You actually shut off the engine to do that? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And then do rolls?

ELLEN PANEOK: Do rolls, do everything. Do everything. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Sort of like --

ELLEN PANEOK: Down to maybe, you know, 500 feet. And I started getting my low level aerobatic waiver.

And I -- with the power on, I could do aerobatics down to 100 feet. I wasn't quite brave enough to do them down lower than that.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And you had faith that the engine would start each time?


ELLEN PANEOK: Of course, aerobatic airplanes are very highly maintained because of that.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Because of that particular feature.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Even when I did rent one from an air -- from a flight school or whatever, I went in there and inspected and pre-flighted that airplane with a fine tooth comb before I would go up and do anything in it.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you knew what to look for? ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: I guess, well, some of the stunts that you would perform in aerobatics, you might have to -- I mean, in terms of starting an engine in a -- in -- when it's pitched in a certain way.

The skill on maneuvering would be very valuable.

ELLEN PANEOK: It would have to be -- it would have to be second nature.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. So, really, aerobatics is not only fun, but very practical from the standpoint of --

ELLEN PANEOK: Adds greatly to your piloting skills.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah. Add to your skills. Right.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. And it teaches you how to get out of bad situations if you ever got into any.

Like if you -- let's say, for instance, you somehow bumble into the wake of a 747, and the air -- it will air -- the vortices, wing tip vortices kind of go around like circles behind the airplane and kind of go out and down. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Uh hum.

ELLEN PANEOK: And you hit one of those and it's like hitting a bomb or a wall. It'll just flip you right upside down or do something. And a friend of mine from years ago died from that. He ended up getting into the vortices of one -- of a 747 at International in Anchorage and crashed his Citabria.

And in this -- in this respect, aerobatics helps you to recover the airplane. Like, say the airplane gets turned upside down, and you know what to do instantly.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So if you hadn't had that training, you -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- might not know what to do. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Right.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Or it wouldn't come as second nature to you.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Unfortunately -- well, actually -- I don't want to say that.

You don't want to get in that situation in the first place.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Right. Yeah. Avoidance, of course, is the best -- ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: -- but sometimes that's not possible.

ELLEN PANEOK: Uh hum. I don't know how that guy -- in fact, they didn't -- they didn't discover him for a few hours. That he'd -- you know, his -- his wreckage. And I -- you know, I don't know, but aerobatics to me has fine honed my skills in -- in a lot of ways.

And -- and also it's fun.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So you do it really for both? Or I guess you don't have time to do it --

ELLEN PANEOK: I do it for fun.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: For fun mostly. And the other is --

ELLEN PANEOK: And actually, I did teach aerobatics for a short time. And that's more exciting than it is fun. You never know what that --

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: You don't have controls.

ELLEN PANEOK: -- poor guy is going to do in front of you. What they're going to do to the airplane. And you're sitting there -- as an instructor, you have to have, like, iron steel nerves.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yes, I bet. Yeah. Because you're not in control of the plane when they're out there. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, it sounds like you've certainly had quite a career. And in many respects, flying in different areas, your aerobatics, being a Bush pilot. Do you have any other plans, future plans?

Are you happy with what you're doing now, or do you see that as something you will be doing for some time to come? Or --

ELLEN PANEOK: Mentally, I'm very happy doing what I'm doing right now. I love flying in the Bush. I love the adversity. Not as a challenge, but just because it's something you don't get to do down in the states. I love the beauty of it up there. But physically wise, I have arthritis, which is getting to the better part of me.

Especially from having my back broken and everything like that, it's now migrated into my hips and my neck, my shoulders. So I don't know how many winters I'm going to be able to last now.

Because if I sit 5, 6, 7 hours in an airplane, my joints feel like they get coagulated. And so I've already planned ahead for that when that does come to the point where I just can't take it anymore, I'd like to get a ranch with my own airport and a hangar and restore and sell antique airplanes. And that's what my future plans are, at least at this point in time.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: So it will always be airplanes.

ELLEN PANEOK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. In fact, probably what will happen before that, like at this present time, I'm getting checked out in a DC-3 as a copilot, and that, to me, is a real airplane to fly.

I plan on getting lots of time in that. And it makes me hirable in warmer climates. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: So that's what I have intentions of doing, at least getting the old airplanes. Doing things that most people don't want to do, because it's too labor intensive.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: But that's what you love. ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. Yeah.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, I've enjoyed talking to you, hearing about --

ELLEN PANEOK: I've enjoyed talking with you, too. I get to sit here and listen to myself talk.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: And you are going to be interviewed by Good Morning America in another month or so?

ELLEN PANEOK: The 18th of this month. MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Yeah.

ELLEN PANEOK: Yeah. They called me up, sent me a ticket to Sitka, and said, be there at six o'clock in the morning.

MARGARET VAN CLEVE: Well, I'll be sure to watch you on TV when -- when the program comes out. Thank you very much.

ELLEN PANEOK: You bet. Thank you.