2019 Alaska Propliner RoundUp
2019 Alaskan Propliner Round-Up
The past twenty years has seen the almost complete disappearance of Propliners in commercial service, with only a few isolated pockets of activity remaining. The best places to see these vintage aircraft in action are south Florida, northwest Canada, Villavicencio, Colombia and Alaska. While I haven’t been to Villavicencio, I’ve managed to travel to the other three locations and in May 2019 I decided to make my seventh visit to Alaska. My last trip to Alaska was in May 2015 and I’m happy to report that the Propliner population has held pretty much steady since that visit. There are still a significant number of aircraft earning their keep for Everts Air, TransNorthern Aviation, Alaska Air Cargo, Desert Air Cargo and Bush Air Cargo. In addition to the active aircraft, there are fascinating collections of stored aircraft at airports in Fairbanks (FAI), Anchorage (ANC), Palmer (PAQ) and Wasilla (IYS). I would highly recommend a trip to Alaska for any Propliner junkie…there’s no telling how much longer the show will continue.
Next on the agenda was DC-6 N666SQ, which Everts donated to the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club in 2009. The wings were removed and it was towed from FAI to the club’s headquarters on Bennett Road in June of that year. I photographed the aircraft in July 2011 but it was gone by 2013 and I’d been looking for it ever since. My friend Marty Hall tracked it down and gave me an address on Sunflower Loop in North Pole. Using my GPS I had little problem finding the airplane, which was sitting in an overgrown lot. I think just about everyone in Alaska has a large dog and two unfriendly neighborhood dogs greeted me with lots of barking and posturing.
I quickly took some photos of the aircraft, said goodbye to my new “friends” and got back on Chena Hot Springs Road for the 50 mile ride to Chena Hot Springs Resort where I hoped to photograph DC-6A N6174C “Good Grief.” Retired by Everts Air Cargo in 2016, the aircraft made its final flight from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs Airport on October 2, 2016. Three large steel pylons were erected during the summer of 2018 and the aircraft was hoisted in place atop them. The airplane looked gorgeous in the bright sunlight and was perfectly positioned for photos. I walked around the resort and stopped by the lobby to ask about plans for the aircraft. The desk clerk said he didn’t know for sure but had heard rumors that it might be used for a zip line or outfitted as a cocktail lounge. If they make it into a cocktail lounge, for sure they’re going to have to install an elevator!
DC-6A N12347 has been a fixture on the Old Steese Highway north of Fairbanks for many years. I first heard about it during my first trip to Alaska in 2005 but it wasn’t until 2011 that I found and photographed it for the first time. It sits on the side of the road without wings and appears much the same as it did back in 2011. While it’s parked in an equipment storage yard, I’ve never seen anyone there and it’s a mystery to me why someone would have gone through the trouble of moving it there.
Traveling to Alaska from my home in central Florida can be a challenge and my trip to Fairbanks was going to be a 15+ hour test of endurance. I was out of the house at 4:00am to catch the shuttle to Orlando Airport where I boarded an Alaska Airlines 7:30am flight to Seattle. After a two hour layover in Seattle it was on to Fairbanks, where I arrived at 4:45pm. While statistically May is the driest month in Alaska, the weather can be wildly unpredictable. I’ve been in Alaska in May when it snowed and the temperature never got above 42 degrees and I’ve been there when it’s been sunny with temps in the low 70’s. I arrived in Fairbanks to 61 degrees and partly cloudy skies…hopefully this was a good omen.
SUNDAY MAY 12, 2019 – FAIRBANKS AREA
It was Sunday and, since little was going on at FAI, I decided to chase down some former Everts DC-6s that are dispersed around the Fairbanks area. I didn’t have to go too far to see that the nose section of DC-6B N999SQ was still sitting atop a former ice cream store adjacent to the hotel.
It was still daylight and the sun was shining so I decided to head down Alaska Route 3 to Nenana to check on former Brooks Fuel DC-4 N82FA. The DC-4 was on a flight from Fairbanks to Nixon Fork Mine with 3,000 gallons of heating oil on January 7, 2007 when the #2 engine caught fire and the crew was forced to make an emergency landing on the tundra near Nenana. The damaged aircraft was disassembled and moved to Nenana Airport where it was stripped of its useful components. Other than an occasional visit from a curious aviation enthusiast, the aircraft has been pretty much forgotten.
MONDAY MAY 13, 2019 - FAIRBANKS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT/EVERTS TOUR
Today’s plan was to check out the seaplane and general aviation ramps on the east side of FAI, have lunch with my friend Marty Hall and tour Everts in the afternoon. Pikes Waterfront Lodge is directly across the street from the Runway 20R hold point and about 9:15am Everts Air Fuel C-118A N251CE taxied into position and went through its engine run-ups before departing. Propliner spotting from my hotel room was quite a treat!
As opposed to the high security west side of the airport, the general aviation and seaplane areas on the east side are totally accessible…at least for the time being. Former Fed Ex B727-225F N467FE was the only large aircraft on this side of the airport and wore complete Fed Ex colors, with UAF Community and Technical College titles. In addition to an interesting array of general aviation and floatplanes, the seaplane ramp provides a great place to photograph aircraft landing on runway 20R, especially in the morning when the sunlight is just about perfect.
While the weather had been somewhat overcast during the morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the clouds had broken up after lunch and the sun was shining brightly. Sunny weather is not something that can be taken for granted while visiting Alaska. After signing in at Everts, Scott Murdock and Sarah Paul greeted me at the front desk. Scott had been my escort on previous visits and knew exactly what I wanted to photograph, thus we wasted no time setting out to photograph Everts’ cornucopia of vintage Propliners.
First up was the ramp outside the main hangar and headquarters building where aircraft ranging from a WWII era C-46 to a 1960s era DC-9 were parked. All were airworthy, with the exception of C-118A N888DG, which appeared to be in the process of being parted out.
C-46D N54514 EAC “Maid in Japan”
C-118A N100CE EAC
DC-6A N7780B EAF “Aviator”
DC-6B N6586C EAF
C-118A N888DG EAC
DC-9-33RC N930CE EAC
Next stop was the famous Everts Fairbanks boneyard, which had been reorganized since my 2015 visit and included a lineup of eight wingless DC-6/C-118 aircraft. They had been arranged with military precision which made for an interesting photo op. Seven of the eight were former Northern Air Cargo aircraft with the eighth being a former Conifair DC-6A. The NAC aircraft were all timed out aircraft acquired by Everts shortly after NAC went all-jet in October 2008.
DC-6A N779TA NAC
C-118A N99330 NAC
C-118B N4206L NAC
C-118A N1036F NAC
C-118A N1377K NAC
C-118A N1027N NAC
C-118A N2907F NAC
DC-6A N3050P former Conifair
I was a bit shocked to find DC-9-32F N904CE parked without engines in the boneyard. It appears that DC-9s will have a relatively short tenure in the Everts fleet. Introduced in May 2011, the DC-9s are being retired in favor of more efficient MD80 type aircraft. Scott told me that Everts was currently operating two DC-9s and two MD80s in Alaska. Another interesting jet aircraft in the boneyard was former American Airlines MD82 N483A, which was acquired by Everts for spare parts. While the engines were gone, it had an almost intact passenger interior and cockpit and Scott told me it was being used as a procedures trainer to familiarize new pilots with the MD82 cockpit.
MD82 N483A AA colors, less titles
DC-9-41 N952AX full DHL colors
C-118B N810CS USN markings
C-118A N3047V Conifair colors
DC-6B N555SQ EAC
DC-6B N7919C NAC colors with wings intact
C-118B N951CE painted over USN markings
DC-6A N400UA EAC
C-118A N9148F partial Everts colors and USAF roundel
C-119G N8504Z “Known Fear”
A quick stop at the main hangar found EAC DC-6B N151 undergoing a routine check. This aircraft was fast approaching the point where it would require an expensive D-check and will be going to the Museum of Aviation History at Sola Airport in Stavanger, Norway. N151 flew for the Norwegian airline Braathens-SAFE as LN-SUB in the 1960’s and will be put on static display at the museum in period Braathens colors. If all goes to plan, an Everts crew is expected to deliver the aircraft to Norway in early 2020. (Note: N151 departed Fairbanks on June 1, 2020 and after a stop in Yellowknife, NWT, made an epic 5 hour 45 minute non-stop flight to Stavanger, Norway. For more information check out the Alaska-Canada News page of this website.)
I asked Scott if we could go to the north hangar and he said that would be no problem. The north hangar is where Everts performs much of the heavy maintenance on its fleet and the surrounding ramp was full of interesting Propliners. DC-6A N9056R was in the hangar getting its outer wings pulled for a wing bolt AD and C-46F N1822M “Salmon Ella” was getting a nose section transplant. The C-46 was involved in a runway overrun incident at Manley Springs in July 2016 and, while both pilots escaped injury, the nose section was severely damaged. The damaged nose had been removed and replaced, with much of the work being done by a specialty sheet metal mechanic brought in from Seattle. The damaged nose was sitting next to the aircraft and it’s a miracle that neither pilot was injured…they were very lucky!
DC-6B N444CE “Spirit of America” was parked in front of the hangar door and appeared to be undergoing parts reclamation. The ramp was full of aircraft including C-46 N7848B “Dumbo” which had recently undergone a total cosmetic makeover and was sporting a bare metal finish with red Everts Air Fuel titles. For many years this aircraft was operated by Everts Air Cargo in traditional Everts colors and was converted to a fuel hauler about five years ago.
Another interesting aircraft parked on the ramp was former Conair firebomber DC-6A N501ZS #46 in basic Conair colors with EAF (Everts Air Fuel) titles on the tail. This aircraft had been registered N651CE but there was no registration marks on the aircraft and it hadn’t yet entered into service with Everts Air Fuel. Parked close by were former Conair firebombers DC-6A N501XP #50 and DC-6A N501YP #51, both wearing basic Conair colors, less titles. Everts acquired all three aircraft in November 2013 and ferried them from Abbotsford, British Columbia to Fairbanks.
For a number of years Universal Airlines based three DC-6/C-118 aircraft at Kenai Municipal Airport during the summer month’s flying fish. Universal ceased operations at the end of the 2011 season after DC-6B N600UA was involved in a gear up landing at Cold Bay in June of that year. DC-6A N170UA and C-118A N500UA were stored in Kenai until Everts acquired both in 2015 and ferried them to Fairbanks. Both were parked on the north hangar ramp the day of my visit, still wearing their Universal Airlines titles. Parts and pieces were missing from both so my guess is they were acquired for their valuable parts.
Former Conair DC-6B C-GJKT #49 was acquired by Everts in 2000 as N60759 and spent 10+ years relegated to the Everts boneyard. It was re-registered N551CE and moved to the north hangar for restoration in 2011. While the aircraft was an ideal candidate for service with Everts Air Cargo, it fell victim to higher priorities and was moved outside on the ramp. Perhaps with the August 1, 2019 loss of C-118B N451CE at Candle, the restoration will switch back into high gear.
DC-6B N444CE EAF “Spirit of America”
C-46R N7848B EAF “Dumbo”
DC-6A N501ZS/N651CE EAF – former Conair #46
DC-6A N501XP former Conair #50
DC-6A N501YP former Conair #51
C-118A N351CE EAC
DC-6A N170UA former Universal Airlines
C-118A N500UA former Universal Airlines
DC-6B N551CE/N60759 bare metal with no registration
C-46R N1651M bare metal
Back in 2015, Everts seriously considered converting one of their DC-9s into a fuel hauler.
I remembered seeing the tanks in the north hangar during my 2015 visit and they were still there. A major problem with operating DC-9 tankers is that most fuel is delivered to smaller airfields with gravel runways that are not suited for DC-9 aircraft.
After thanking Scott and Sarah, I stopped by Karen Wing’s office to say hello. I asked her about the future of Propliner operations at Everts. She replied that the jet freighters are used to service all airfields that can accommodate them with Propliners providing service to the remaining destinations. She added that they would be operating these aircraft as long as avgas, parts and Part 121 airframes were available.
TUESDAY MAY 14, 2019 - FAIRBANKS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIRSIDE TOUR
Everts Air Fuel must dispatch a daily morning flight from Fairbanks because at 8:25am DC-6A N7780B “Aviator” taxied up to the Runway 20R hold area and performed an engine run-up before departing. I had previously contacted the airport operations folks at FAI and they had agreed to give me an airside tour of the west side of the airport and emergency responder training area. I met up with airport ops officer Rachael Webb at the Airport Response Center and told her my main interest was getting a photograph of former Everts DC-6 N4390X in the training area. By this time the weather was beginning to brighten up and I photographed the DC-6 and the remains of a shot-up Beech 18 that I wasn’t able to identify. If anyone knows the identity of this aircraft, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next stop was the Brooks Air Fuel, where I photographed the stored aircraft from the taxiway. With the exception of two DC-4s that went to Alaska Air Fuel, the aircraft population pretty much was the same as in 2011 when the FAA shut down Brooks. The most interesting aircraft was DC-7C N90251, which Roger Brooks converted to a fuel hauler back in the day. For a number of reasons, the 7C didn’t work out and was only in service for a short time before being parked. Former NASA DC-4 N438NA was also parked in the compound and still had spray bars from its days as a sprayer in Arizona. Roger bought it in early 2010, made it airworthy and ferried it from Arizona to Alaska in August 2010. Rounding out the population were three wingless DC-4s and a wingless DC-3 wearing Air North titles. It’s been eight years since the FAA shut down Brooks and I’m curious to how much longer it will be before the airport evicts Roger and makes him clean up the compound. (Note: It finally happened with the airport taking control of the compound in March 2020 and selling four DC-4’s, assorted engines and other equipment at auction in April. Roger managed to move DC-7C N90201 and DC-4 N438NA to the Everts area before the state took control. For more information check out the Alaska-Canada News page of this website.)
DC-4 N67018 – wings removed
DC-4 N90201 – wings removed
DC-4 N99212 – wings removed
DC-3 N95460 – wings removed
While returning to the Airport Response Center, Everts Air Fuel DC-6B N6586C landed and taxied back for another takeoff. It was followed shortly by DC-6A N7780B, which had picked up another load of fuel and was making its second run of the day. It’s not too often that one gets to witness two DC-6s taking off in rapid succession and Rachel agreed to wait until both had departed.
I thanked Rachel for the tour and, as I was leaving the building, I noticed that N6586C was still doing circuits so I drove to the seaplane ramp at the east side of the airport. It was shortly after 12 noon and the sun was in near perfect position for photographing aircraft landing on Runway 20R. I was somewhat surprised to hear a woman’s voice on the radio and it turns out that the pilot flying N6586C was a woman named Mikaela Young. While there are many women flying airliners and corporate aircraft these days, I wonder if Mikaela is the world’s only woman DC-6 pilot.
After spending an enjoyable couple of hours photographing landing aircraft, I headed to the terminal to drop off my rental car and catch an afternoon flight to Anchorage. N6586C was still out doing pilot training and I watched it do a couple of landings from the terminal. My Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage departed 20 minutes early and was only ¼ full…a rare treat these days! The mountain scenery on the flight was absolutely spectacular.
It was bright sunshine in Anchorage and, before heading to the hotel, I took a short drive around Anchorage International Airport (ANC) checking out the Everts, TransNorthern and Desert Air ramps along with former Northern Air Cargo C-118A N43872, which is on display at the airport entrance. I also drove to “The Hill” and photographed the runway 15/33 construction project before checking in at my hotel. The runway construction wouldn’t be complete until the fall of 2019 so there would be no photography from “The Hill” during this visit.
WEDNESDAY MAY 15, 2019 - ANCHORAGE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OPERATORS
I arrived at Everts Air Cargo’s Anchorage freight terminal at 8:15am and met up with Bob Wyatt, who would be my escort. I’d met Bob on previous visits and, after getting signed in and badged, we headed out to the cargo ramp to take some photos. Unfortunately yesterday evening’s bright sunshine had been replaced by clouds. This seemed to be the pattern during my time in Anchorage…cloudy mornings that evolved into bright sunshine during the late afternoon. There were two C-118s, two MD80s and a DC-9 on the ramp, with one of the MD80s and C-118A N747CE scheduled to depart at about 9am. C-118B N451CE wasn’t scheduled to fly until later in the day. (Note: This aircraft that would be written off a few months later in a landing incident at Candle, Alaska on August 1, 2019.) Shortly before 9am the flightcrew arrived and began their preflight checks. It wasn’t too long before all four engines were running and the aircraft taxied out for departure.
After taking photos of the remaining aircraft we walked over to MD83 N965CE. I was amazed that it didn’t have a toilet and Bob said that none of the Everts aircraft had toilets. We talked about Everts’ DC-9s and Bob confirmed that the DC-9s are on their way out. The MD80s are more efficient with one DC-9 in the boneyard in Fairbanks and another parked. He said Everts Air Cargo has four airworthy DC-6s...two in service, one on backup and one usually in maintenance. He said that there are times when three DC-6s are at the Anchorage cargo terminal but that doesn’t happen very often. He also said that he believes the DC-6s will continue to fly as long as avgas is available and they can find parts to keep them going.
Desert Air Alaska has been operating DC-3s out of Anchorage International Airport since the 1990’s, when it began flying fish on a seasonable basis. In 2001 Desert Air began year-round charter air freight service to destinations throughout Alaska. Today the airline serves 200 rural communities around the state and its DC-3s can operate on unimproved gravel and dirt runways as short as 2,800 feet. There has been a recent change of ownership, with longtime owner Dennis Gladwin selling the airline to 32 year old Joey Benetka in February 2019. A Colorado native, Joey is no stranger to Alaska as he first arrived in 2006 to attend college. College didn’t work out and Joey alternated between Colorado and Alaska until 2011, when he started at Desert Air as a sales intern. Joey was a quick learner and he rapidly grasped what it took to operate a small Part 135 cargo airline in Alaska. During the slow winter months he would take leave and head to Colorado, visit friends in Europe and otherwise keep himself busy. He was teaching English in the Ukraine in May 2016 when Dennis called him and convinced him to return to Alaska full time. Dennis was looking to retire and on February 22, 2019 Joey became the new owner of Desert Air.
Desert Air’s office is only a short distance from the Everts freight terminal and on arrival I was greeted by Joey and a couple of large, but friendly dogs. I told him I was amazed that a 32 year old would be interested in taking over a DC-3 operation that flew to the Alaskan outback and he replied that he had been well schooled by Dennis and the other old-timers. He added that he understood the market and was confident he could make a go of it.
I asked about CV240 N153PA and he said that it hadn’t flown for at least ten years and, while it was still in good condition, it didn’t fit his target market and was for sale. As far as I know, the only operational CV240 is Miami Air Lease N150PA, which flies freight to the Bahamas out of Opa-locka Airport in Florida. Spare parts are scarce since there is little commonality with the CV340/440 and, while he has a warehouse full of parts in the lower 48, he’d have to inspect, inventory and transport them to Alaska if he wanted to use them.
With a visitor badge in hand we drove through the security gate to the ramp where two Desert DC-3s, the CV240 and a DC-3 painted in Ozark were parked. The weather had definitely improved but the sun had yet to make an appearance…at least it wasn’t raining! I photographed the aircraft and asked about the Ozark DC-3. He said that it hadn’t flown for some time and was owned by Nico Von Pronay and a partner. They plan to eventually fly passengers and provide flight training.
With the approach of summer, business was picking up and Joey told me that a flight would be going out on Friday and promised to contact me when the plans firmed up. He said I could get some nice photos of the aircraft’s departure from his area. I told him that I planned on stopping by TransNorthern Aviation (TNA) next and he said that Jason Dusel was the operations manager and I should call him to arrange a visit.
DC-3 N763A – Ozark Airlines colors
I called TNA and Jason answered the phone and said it was OK to stop by for a visit. I arrived at TNA a short time later and waited a few minutes while he finished up a meeting with a group of employees. Like most Alaskans, he was very friendly and volunteered to give me a tour of the TNA facility. Wes Larson and Allan Larson were both in the office and I chatted with them for a few minutes before heading outside. Wes had shown me around on previous visits and Allan is the owner of TNA. We exited through the hangar, where the Volpar Turboliner N404CK was receiving some TLC. DC-3S N30TN was undergoing a wing inspection and its wings had been removed. This aircraft is used during the busy summer months to shuttle passengers to the outback for fishing and hunting expeditions and is painted in Douglas company colors. Jason told me that it would be making its first flight of the season in a few weeks. C-117D N28TN was parked nearby and is used for hauling cargo throughout Alaska. The third Super DC-3 is former Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD) C-117D N29TN and it’s still painted in LCMCD colors. It had recently been acquired by an organization that planned on participating in the June 2019 “Daks-Over-Normandy” event in Europe. While the event’s website listed the aircraft as a participant, it didn’t appear to be in any condition to make the long trek to Europe and indeed was a no-show.
Volpar Turboliner N404CK
The day was still young so I decided to drive to Palmer Municipal Airport to see John Reffett’s C-119s and to check out the airport for other interesting aircraft. I arrived at 1:30pm and found Bart Tiernan working on DC-3 N59314 at the north end of the airport. He told me that the DC-3 was physically ready to fly but he needed to get FAA approval to add it the Bush Air Cargo Part 135 certificate. They had given him approval to begin flight training but he couldn’t start flying freight until the maintenance and ops plans were signed off by the FAA.
I drove by DC-3 N305SF on my way to the south end of the airport where John Reffett’s C-119F N8501W was parked along with former Missionary Flights International (MFI) DC-3 N400MF. N305SF has been parked at the airport for many years and is slowly rotting in place. John said that N400MF has pretty much remained idle since arriving from Florida a few years back. The owner had recently received a substantial offer for the aircraft from an individual who wanted to take it to the Daks-Over-Normandy event. The offer was turned down and the aircraft remained parked at Palmer with its #1 prop missing.
Relaxing in the cockpit of N8501W, John and I discussed the current status of his two C-119Fs. N1394N is parked at another location on the airport and will most likely be used as a spares airplane for N8501W, which he plans on getting back flying. John and a small group of volunteers continue to make slow progress towards a first flight and he said they would be running the engines in a few days.
DC-3 N305SF – derelict
DC-3 N59314 – Bush Air Cargo
DC-3 N400MF/N377DK – former MFI
John and I met up with Dave Ciocchi, Rob Collard and John Will at a pizza joint in Eagle River and enjoyed sharing pizza, beer and war stories for the next couple of hours. Dave is a good friend of John’s as is Rob who will co-pilot John’s C-119 when the time comes. John Will is the driving force behind the Rolling Boxcar project, which will mount the fuselage from former RCAF C-119 N5216R onto a bus chassis. The plan is to make it into a rolling exhibit and take it on tour. The aircraft had been stored at Battle Mountain, Nevada for many years and during the summer of 2019, the two Johns and Dave successfully de-mated the fuselage and transported it to McArthur, California, where the conversion will take place. All and all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a day!
THURSDAY MAY 16, 2019 - ANCHORAGE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIRSIDE TOUR
One of my goals for this trip was to visit Kenai Municipal Airport, where Everts Air Fuel normally bases a DC-6/C-118 and a C-46. I’ve driven the 3+ hours to Kenai a number of times and the roads aren’t all that great so I decided to book the 30 minute Ravn flight instead. The Everts Air Fuel terminal is conveniently located adjacent to the passenger terminal and that sealed the deal for me. What I hadn’t planned on was an 80% chance of rain forecasted for the next few days in Kenai. The weather never improved during the rest of my time in Anchorage and my Kenai visit will just have to wait until my next visit to Alaska.
I had previously contacted the airport operations folks at ANC and they, like their counterparts in Fairbanks, had graciously agreed to give me an airside tour of the airport. My tour guide was an ANC airport operations officer who also happened to be a fellow aviation enthusiast. I had met Harald at “The Hill” during previous visits to Alaska and a few minutes after I arrived at the North Terminal, he picked me up in an airport ops SUV. After going airside through the gate adjacent to the Desert Air ramp, we worked our way past the South Terminal where we noticed Omega Air Boeing 707-338C N629RH parked on the transient ramp. While I’m a Propliner guy, Boeing 707’s are becoming extremely rare and seeing this former Qantas Airways example was a real treat. It would get even better a short time later when we witnessed it taking off on Runway 7L.
We continued to the airport’s firehouse where former Northern Air Cargo (NAC) B727-46F N190AJ has been parked for many years. After checking out the Fed Ex and UPS areas, we worked our way back past the South Terminal and noticed an Aloha Airlines B737 taxiing to the NAC freight terminal. NAC is owned by Saltchuk, which also owns Aloha and the Hawaiian airline has been flying some NAC flights due to a shortage of aircraft. Kalitta was also flying cargo for NAC on an as-needed basis as were Desert Air DC-3s. All of NACs B737-200s have been retired and Harald stopped at the NAC hangar so I could photograph NAC B737-232 N322DL. The aircraft had been stripped of its useful components and was most likely awaiting a date with the scrapman. This hangar is the oldest building on the airport and is still in use by the airline. NAC currently operates three B737-300s and a B737-400 along with a couple of B767’s based at Miami.
After a quick stop at the TransNorthern ramp to photograph two Metros and the Super 3s, we headed to the south side of the airport to check out DC-3 N19906 and C-119L N9027K. Both aircraft are longtime airport residents and were moved to an isolated ramp at the south end of the airport a few years ago. Acquired in 1946, the DC-3 was Reeve Aleutian’s first DC-3 and it still wear’s faded Reeve colors and Salair titles. Salair operated the DC-3 in the 1980’s and it was acquired by Desert Air in February 2000. I don’t believe Desert Air ever operated the aircraft and it’s reported to be currently owned by the Alaska Aviation Museum. A quick look inside showed a cargo interior and a cockpit totally devoid of instruments and other equipment. This DC-3 is an historical Alaskan icon and hopefully the museum will see fit to restore this aircraft one day.
The C-119 was once owned by Roger Brooks and is currently owned by the Alaska Aviation Museum. The aircraft is essentially complete and a look inside revealed a cabin full of “stuff.” It was interesting to note that the door had a faded notice about the aircraft being sold at public auction. Another aircraft of interest at the south side of the airport was the fuselage of C-130E 64-0541, which was parked in the former Alaska Air National Guard area and used for emergency responder training.
Timing is everything when photographing aircraft and we lucked out with the Omega Air Boeing 707. As we were ending the tour, Harald noticed that the Boeing had started its engines and was ready to taxi for takeoff. After photographing the aircraft taxiing, we got into position adjacent to the active runway for some takeoff shots. Even with hush kits installed, the Boeing makes some very impressive noise (some say music) on takeoff.
I thanked Harald for a great tour and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring nearby Lake Hood and photographing some of the interesting general aviation (GA) aircraft that call it home. Lake Hood is directly adjacent to Anchorage International Airport (ANC) and includes not only a seaplane base but a gravel runway. GA aircraft and airliners co-exist in harmony, which can probably only happen in Alaska. The police and security folks at ANC are familiar with and tolerant of aircraft enthusiasts. I’ve visited the airport many times and have never been hassled by the police, nor have I seen anyone else being hassled. Just as long as everyone behaves themselves, all is well.
FRIDAY MAY 17, 2019 - DESERT AIR DC-3 DEPARTURE AND WASILLA AIRPORT
Joey Benetka has told me earlier in the week that he expected a flight today so I stopped by the Desert Air offices where I met his pilot Mike Congdon along with Joey’s parents, who were visiting from Colorado. I explained to Mike who I was and he was familiar with my articles. Mike issued me a security badge we drove to the Desert Air ramp where Joey and the co-pilot were finishing up loading two cable reels onto DC-3 N272R. With the load secured, engines were started at 12:30pm and, after a brief warm-up, the aircraft taxied to runway 7L and took off. I asked Joey if he had any plans to replace the DC-3 and he said that, while he would love to operate a turbine DC-3, he plans on flying the DC-3 until he can no longer get engines or avgas. While the weather wasn’t totally cooperating, I did manage to get some decent shots of the departing DC-3.
It was early afternoon so I decided to drive to Wasilla Airport to see if I could catch Alaska Air Fuel DC-4 N96358 at its home base. The aircraft spends much of its time in other parts of Alaska hauling fuel but I lucked out and it was sitting on the ramp alongside DC-4 N3054V. While N3054V had been active during my 2015 visit, she was missing two engines and had some minor damage in the tail area. The weather was much better in Wasilla with bright blue sky and puffy clouds…perfect for airplane photography. Aviation folks in Alaska are almost universally friendly and I chatted with a mechanic named Dennis who was working on N96358. He had just replaced a starter and was working on replacing the nose steering valve. These 75 year airplanes need constant attention but still can make money for their owners!
TransNorthern Super DC-3 N27TN has been parked at the airport for a number of years. Acquired for parts 10+ years ago, it was flown to Alaska from the lower 48 and has been stored in Wasilla ever since. Although it’s missing its #1 prop and #2 engine, it appears to be in good condition and perhaps might one day again become a flyer. There was also a Grumman Albatross and Republic Seabee parked on the ramp. I don’t believe either has flown recently.
Grumman HU-16D Albatross N20861
Republic RC-3 N82283
I drove back to Anchorage, where the sky was beginning to clear at 3:45pm. By this time it was bright and sunny…the pattern of cloudy morning and sunny afternoons continued.
SATURDAY MAY 18, 2019 - C-119 ENGINE RUNS AT PALMER MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
I was staying at a Microtel near the airport and at 8:50am Everts Air Cargo C-118B N451CE took off on runway 7L followed at 10:20am by C-118A N747CE. The deep throaty roar of those Pratt & Whitney R2800’s is becoming increasingly rare and was music to my ears. I received a text from Dave Cocchi saying that they would be running the engines on C-119F N8501W later in the day.
I picked up Rob in Eagle River and we arrived at Palmer Municipal Airport just as they were getting ready to do the “burp run” on the #2 engine. I had never heard of a “burp run” and John Reffett explained that it involves running the engine with some of the lower plugs removed. This is performed when an engine hasn’t been run for some time and ensures that there is no oil in the lower cylinders. It only lasted about 30 seconds but it’s spectacular with lots of smoke being generated. With this completed the engine cowlings were installed and, with Rob at the controls, the engine runs were performed. They lasted about 20 minutes and went well, with one engine performing flawlessly and the other having some dead cylinders, as the result of fouled plugs.
With the engine runs successfully completed I drove to the firebase and photographed Conair firebomber CV580 C-FKFA Tanker #52, which had arrived in Palmer a few days earlier. The firebase gets very busy during fire season with multiple firebombers fighting fires in the local area.
C-119F N8501W – engine runs
CV580 C-FKFA Tanker #52
MONDAY MAY 20, 2019 - WOLF LAKE AND PALMER MUNICIPAL AIRPORTS
The only aviation activity on my schedule was to drive to Wolf Lake Airport and photograph C-123K N4254K. It was a bright sunny day, which normally is good but the C-123 is highly polished and reflections off the skin make photographing the aircraft in sunny conditions a bit of a challenge. The aircraft hasn’t flown since the owner was killed in the crash of C-123K N709RR on the southern flank of Mount Healy, Alaska in 2010. The aircraft had departed Wolf Lake and was on a flight to Unalakleet carrying a large generator.
Since I was flying home the next day, I stopped by Palmer Airport to say goodbye to John Reffett and his crew. As so often it does, the wind was blowing hard in Palmer and there was an impressive cloud of fine glacier dust being blown along the Matanuska River. Locals told me that blowing glacier dust from the nearby Matanuska and Knik Glaciers can be a real problem at times.
TUESDAY MAY 21, 2019 - ELMENDORF AFB AND MERRILL FIELD
It was my last day in Alaska but my redeye flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until midnight so I decided to pay a visit to Elmendorf AFB. I was impressed with the variety of military aircraft parked on the various ramps including F-22, F35, C-17, KC-135, C-130, E-3 and C-2 aircraft. By far the most impressive sight were the three F-22s and two F-35s taking off and immediately making steep right turn to avoid Merrill Field and downtown Anchorage. I also found it interesting that the base still has quite a few older hangars that appear to be of WWII vintage.
The last stop on my 2019 Alaskan adventure was Merrill Field, which is full of general aviation aircraft. Tucked in on the east side of the field I found retired FedEx B727-227 N492FE and tri-gear Beech 18 N11DA, which definitely had seen better days.
Tri-gear Beech 18 N11DA
With my camera and valuable memory cards safely packed away, it was time to head to the airport, have dinner and wait for my flight back to Florida. The folks in Alaska have always been very friendly and accommodating and this trip was no different. I’d like to thank all of them for sharing a bit of their world with me. It was a very memorable and enjoyable trip.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Ralph M. Pettersen, Richard Toft, Joey Benetka
----Created 11 June 2020----