Episode 100: Alaska’s Aviation Legends
There’s nothing like getting a tour of a museum from someone who has lived its history. For this episode of Frontiers, photographer Will Mader and I spent an afternoon with Orin Seybert at the Alaska Aviation Museum, just outside the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. If you haven’t had a chance to spend some time there, I highly recommend it.
There’s a great backstory about everything in the museum, and it was fun to hear some of those stories, as well as learn a little about Seybert, who launched PenAir in 1955 – the year I was born. This gave me pause for thought. While I was growing up, Seybert was pioneering an airline that served the Aleutian Islands. And to think it all began with $600 in savings to buy an airplane. Today, PenAir is the oldest family-run airline in the country.
The story about what motivated him to become a pilot will bring a smile to your face, but you’ll have to watch the show to find out about that.
Seybert, who recently turned 80, just finished his biography, “You Fly, I Breathe.” Al Bolea, a former Alaska BP Executive turned leadership trainer, says Seybert’s story is really a leadership story. Click here to read his review of the book.
Alaska, as a state, is also a leader in aviation innovation. Seybert showed us many of examples of how Alaska’s early pilots applied technology in different ways – like Bob Reeve, who used airplane skis designed for the snow to take off from the Valdez mudflats.
Some of the week’s highlights from this week’s show:
- Tour of Alaska Aviation Museum with Orin Seybert.
- A look at this year’s inductees to the Alaska Aviation Museum Hall of Fame.
Our featured guests are Gail Phillips and Rob Stapleton. Phillips once worked for Wien Air, one of Alaska’s first airlines. And Stapleton has spent many years interviewing Alaska bush pilots about their colorful histories.
Those early pilots cut dashing figures in their cable sweaters and woolen bloomer pants as they flew into remote communities to bring medicines and goods people needed.
J. Vic “Bud” Brown, one of this year’s inductees to the Alaska Aviation Hall of Fame, said bush pilots were the closest thing to God — and he wanted to be like them.
Another of this year’s honorees, Holger “Jorgy” Jorgenson, said he’ll never forget when one of Alaska’s first pilots, Noel Wien, landed in his village. Kids talked more about Wien’s leather jacket and laced-up boots than they did his airplane. But at 6-years-old, Jorgenson knew in that moment he wanted to grow up and be a pilot.
Pilots still have a special place in the hearts of Alaskans, even though we may take for granted our ability to crisscross the state in airplanes in relative ease.
This program opened my eyes to Alaska’s rich aviation history – and I hope we can do more shows on this in the future.