Story Time with Aunt Phil: The Glacier Pilot
One of Alaska’s most respected bush pilots died this week, 38 years ago. Robert “Bob” Campbell Reeve, known by many as the Glacier Pilot, passed away in his sleep on Aug. 25, 1980.
Reeve may be best known for building a successful airline that bore his name. Reeve Aleutian Airways served Alaskans for more than half a century.
The Wisconsin native had become intrigued with Alaska after hearing stories about the north while flying in South America. After a brief visit in the states, and a bout with polio that bothered one leg for years, he stowed away on a steamship in 1932 with only a few cents in his pocket.
He first arrived in Anchorage but found too many pilots were in town, so he moved on to Prince William Sound. A chance encounter with Valdez aviator Owen Meals started Reeve down his long and distinguished career in Alaska’s skies.
Meals had just crashed his single-engine biplane and Reeve, one of the nation’s first certified airplane mechanics, repaired it. Reeve then leased the plane, cleared an airstrip in a cow pasture and began a charter business.
His 2,000-plus glacier landings earned him the nickname Glacier Pilot. After starting his charter business, Reeve spent the next 15 years flying as a bush pilot around the Great Land. Along with his many glacier and ice field landings, he also pioneered new flight routes to get to hard-to-reach mines and developed a method for landing on mud flats with skis.
He bought his first plane, a Fairchild 51, in the winter of 1932. Four years later he bought a Fairchild 71. After moving to Anchorage in 1942, he winged his way across Alaska, the Aleutians and Western Canada while under contract with the military. Following the end of WW11 Reeve bought a surplus DC-3 C-47, converted it to civilian use and birthed Reeve Aleutian Airways Inc. to serve the people of the Aleutian Chain.
The bush pilot’s airline grew during the 1950s-'60s and soon DC-3s, DC-4s and other types of aircraft were added to the fleet. He turned the business over to his son, Richard, in 1978 and the company entered the jet age. But competition and deregulation spelled the end of the family business in 2001.
The Glacier Pilot died in his sleep on August 25, 1980, and was inducted into the Alaska Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2005.
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