Alaskan Aviation

.. made a timed distance run with a stopwatch and compass, and dropped bombs on an unseen target. This became known as dead reckoning bombing or “DR” runs. Eareckson also began using time-delayed fuses on his bombs that prevented the bombs from exploding under the low flying aircraft that had just dropped its ordnance (Garfield 106). His experiences in Alaska were to contribute significantly to the air war in the Pacific. Having flown in the worst weather imaginable, Col. Eareckson was more than capable of handling a few enemy fighters. Another unique aspect of the war in Alaska was the Lend -Lease program.

The Lend- Lease program was established to send supplies and equipment to the embattled Soviet Army. There were three primary routes used to accomplish this task. The first was a 13,000-mile route around Africa, up the Persian Gulf and across Iran. The second and least used, was a north Atlantic route which ran the North Atlantic to Archangel. This route was dangerous because of German submarine activities. The third route was through Alaska. For aircraft, this meant a flight starting in Great Falls, Montana and following the route of the newly constructed ALCAN (Alaskan- Canadian) highway.

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With refueling stops along the way, the flights traversed 1,900 miles and ended in Fairbanks where the aircraft were turned over to Soviet pilots for the remainder of the flight to Russia. Throughout the war, nearly 8000 aircraft were delivered in this method (Mills 73). Again the contributions of pilots familiar with Alaska and its unforgiving weather and terrain played a major role in the war effort. Many of Alaska’s bush pilots played a role in the lend- lease delivery system. Bush pilots Bob Ellis, Kenny Neese, Bert Ruoff, Murrell Sasseen and Clayton Scott ferried aircraft to Alaska.

A major role was to be played by another Alaska bush pilot. Allan Horning, a former military aviator before flying the bush in Alaska, was ordered to active service as a guide pilot to select locations for army air bases throughout Alaska and the Aleutians. Elmendorf airfield was one of the locations chosen. Horning later joined the Civil Aeronautics Administration and prior to and during the war was instrumental in promoting navigation aids, other safety features and regulating air traffic (Mills 81). The Alaskan Theater was officially closed with the retaking of Attu and Kiska Islands. A constant cycling of aircraft for bombing runs over the islands had kept the Japanese weak and without supplies for months.

The bombardments by both the Navy and the Air Corp had made it impossible for the Japanese to complete their landing strips. When the liberation of Attu began on May 11, 1943, the Japanese were without resupply capabilities and without any chance of reinforcement. The Japanese were outgunned and outmanned yet the invasion of Attu would go down in history as the second costliest battle of the Pacific Theater, second only to the blood shed of Iwo Jima (Mills 93). The invasion of Kiska Island was another story. Having been cut off with the retaking of Attu Island the Japanese command decided to evacuate the beleaguered troops on Kiska. When the Army landed on August 15, 1943, they found only a dozen dogs to greet them.

The Allied Air Service had lost 471 aircraft in the Aleutian Campaign. The Japanese losses were 69 aircraft lost in combat and 200 lost due to fog or storm (Mills 104). July 10, 1943, saw a new development in the war with Japan. Using Attu as a base to launch raids, the Army Air Force began to pound the Japanese Naval facilities in the Kuriles Islands. Bombing raids were limited, although the presence of hostile aircraft required the Japanese to defend their islands with numerous aircraft and ships that could have been useful in other areas of the war. The bombing raids convinced the Japanese that the invasion of the Japanese mainland lie somewhere in the near future. They attempted to prepare for an invasion which never materialized.

A history of aviation in Alaska, especially the war era, can not be concluded without a detailed study of the contributions to the war effort by the pilots and aircraft of the Navy PBY squadrons. These “flying boats,” were a reconnaissance platform which was used to locate enemy forces. During the Aleutian campaign many of these aircraft became involved in offensive combat which they were ill equipped to do. Throughout the remainder of the war the PBY squadrons continued around the clock operations as the watchful eyes of the north. The pilots and squadrons were awarded numerous citations for valor and heroism including the Flying Cross and Air Medals (Freeman 177).

Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell said, “Alaska is the most central place in the world for aircraft, and this is true either of Europe, Asia or North America. I believe in the future. He who holds Alaska will hold the world, and I think it is the most strategic place in the world.” This was to hold true throughout the war and into the 21st century. With the end to the war Alaskans quickly turned back to their normal way of life. This included their continued love affair with the airplane.

The wars residual effect was that many new innovations were left in place which encouraged and benefited future fliers. These included but a not limited to airports, navigational aids, radio communication, and up to date charts of most of Alaska, including the Aleutian chain (Mills 145). Tourism began to be a major economic resource for Alaskans. Aircraft allowed the sportsman, fisherman and explorers to reach places yet unexplored. Entirely new businesses began to emerge in and around the aircraft industry.

Some of these new businesses were flying schools, charter sightseeing flights, mechanics, parts and services, fuel and oil sales. Anchorage soon became the air cross roads to the orient. International air carriers refueled for international flights over the pole or using the great circle route. In 1960, with the dedication of the Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage became the country’s fifth busiest terminal for freight and passenger traffic (Mills 146). Alaskan aviation has also moved into the future with the introduction on the rocket. NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratories use the hangars of Ladd Field, now Ft.

Wainwright, to conduct tests of the upper atmosphere. The research conducted aids in the future understanding of upper atmospheric wind and weather conditions. The University of Alaska, Fairbanks launches and retrieves data from launches at the Poker Flats Research Range, just 30 miles north of Fairbanks. The Poker Flats facility is the only non-federal, university owned and operated range in the world and the only high-latitude, auroral-zone rocket launch facility in the United States. More than 1,500 meteorologic missiles and 236 major high-altitude sounding rocket experiments have been launched by scientists and technicians.

Studies are conducted by universities and agencies from around the world on topics such as the aurora, ozone layer solar protons the electric and magnetic fields and ultraviolet radiation ( These results enhance our understanding of the aurora borealis and the effects that this phenomenon has on communication, navigation and other flight related sciences. Alaskan’s have always had a deep love for the aircraft and the people that fly them. With the invention of the plane, adventurers sought uncharted areas to explore and limits to be pushed. This drive to go higher and faster has opened Alaska to the whole of North America and the world. Today, thanks to the efforts of many pilots, Alaska’s remote villages and communities have emergency services at their disposal.

They purchase needed supplies that hold them over for the winter. They communicate with the outside world and travel to lobby state government for changes needed in their environment and towns for their continued well being. Aviation has brought new sources of commerce to towns that would have long ago disappeared. Tourism, Alaska’s third largest industry, is greatly indebted to the aircraft. Planes bring millions of travelers annually to the farthest reaches of Alaska and with these travelers comes the needed income for thriving communities. BIBLIOGRAPHY Freeman, Elmer A.

Those Navy Guys and Their PBY’s: The Aleutian Solution. Spokane, Washington: Kedging Publishing Co., 1984. Garfield, Brian. The Thousand Mile War. N.Y.: Bantam Books, 1988. Levi, Steven, and O’Meara, Jim. Bush Flying.

United States: McGraw-Hill, 1992. MacLean, Robert Merrill, and Rossiter, Sean. Flying Gold: The Adventures of Russell Merrill, Pioneer Alaskan Aviator. Fairbanks, AK: Epicenter Press, 1994 Mills, Stephen E., and Phillips, James W. Sourdough Sky. Seattle, WA.: Superior Publishing Co., 1969.

Mills, Stephen E. Arctic War Birds: Alaska Aviation of WWII. Seattle, WA: Superior Publishing Co., 1971. Potter, Jean. Flying Frontiersmen. N.Y.: The MacMillan Co., 1956 Wachel, Pat.

Oscar Winchell: Alaska’s Flying Cowboy. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison and Co. Inc., 1967.

USAF Museum. Aleutian Islands 1942-1943: The Aleutian Campaign. [Online] available Http:// tm, July 1998. Poker Flat Research Range. General Information.

[Online] available, July 1998.