It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park. Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.
The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.
The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot. Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps. After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach. By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company. Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.
In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia. The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs. The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain. A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash. Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.
This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.
This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles. It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area. The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.
The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant. “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs. The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats. In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass. It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.
The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets. This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks. Both pilots survived the crash.
The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe. Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22. This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.
Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam. During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing. After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army. The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.
A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War. Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H. He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above. Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.