Category Archives: Alaska Warbird Museum

My non-profit museum project intended to honor those who have been willing to stand up and protect the freedoms we take for granted.

Rockin’ and a Rollin’

Over 20 earthquakes just rocked us here at the hangar in the past 10 minutes.  They are centered in Canada about half-way between Yakutat and Skagway.  Started with a 6.2,  with a bunch of 2’s and 3’s,  another big shake at 5.2,  ending with the last one at 6.4.  Looks like the aftershocks are still going on,  but not quite strong enough for us to feel them…

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The second floor of this old steel-framed building can definitely accentuate the swaying of an earthquake too.  Good enough to get our butts out of bed and check the earthquake center website.  I still wasn’t asleep after working the ACE mail flight.  Teen just checked the Anchorage Daily News and they are already reporting the power knocked out in Whitehorse.

An interesting morning!  Light rain through the early AM has given us a flow of 181 CFS on the Situk.  As of 630am,  the rain has stopped.  Just dark clouds and showers scattered across the horizon.

And last night as I came back to the airport after hitting the gym,  we had a visitor on the ramp…  An old 1947 DC3A Ozark Air Lines,  on her way to her new home in Anchorage.  Beautiful passenger config 3 with 32 seats and a lav!

This plane has the cowl flaps that wrap around the entire engine (mine just has them on the bottom cowl) and some really cool radio antennas along the belly.

A Busy Week at the Airport

Most of you know that I have been pretty distracted this season as we work toward getting the new airport fuel facility up and running.  This weekend,  we did just that!  We’re officially functional and we sold our first AVGAS!

This project has been 4 years in the making.  The main reason for the delays has been the financing.  No traditional banks were willing or interested in funding the project,  no matter how promising it is as a business because of the remote location and poopy economy.  Add the usual slow pace of getting anything done in Yakutat and we’re 4 years behind schedule.

Our electrician came into town (again) about 2 weeks ago and went to work pulling the final wires and getting everything connected.  We discovered some extra wiring problems with the hangar in the process,  but those have also been remedied now,  till we find something else to worry about.  I can not say enough wonderful things about Smokey Point Electric.  They have been such a pleasure to work with.  Also,  our local power company guys were a huge help in getting things hooked up and functioning too.

The tech guy from Mascott Equipment arrived last Wednesday night to do the final hook-up and system testing.  He discovered some of the pipes had been hooked up backwards on the AVGAS dispenser,  so it was a bit of a challenge to get that fixed with Yakutat’s limited access to parts.  He was able to piece it all together and get it running.  We are still operating manually though because the credit card system is having some challenges connecting through our limited phone system.  Hopefully that’ll be solved today though,  so people can swipe and fuel without me having to be there the whole time.

Our first customer was the perfect guy!  A non-local who comes through a couple times a year.  He has been pestering me for two years every time he passes through about getting AVGAS and we finally had the ability to meet his needs!  We’re far from done though.  Signs should be arriving this week and in the spring,  we will landscape around the pumps to make it all look nice.

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I need my plane back,  so I can update this photo with the facility showing.  The tanks are where the snow blob is immediately below the hangar

 

All the profits from the fuel facility will go to finishing the hangar renovation and to buying artifacts and aircraft for the museum.  It’ll take us a little time to recover financially,  but once we do,  the museum will grow pretty dramatically over the next couple years.  Nice to finally see some real progress on something!

Alaska Warbird Museum Posts

For those of you who would like to continue to follow what is happening with the hangar renovation and the Alaska Warbird Museum,  I’m separating that from the regular blog and it’ll have it’s own HomePage and blog.  Feel free to go to www.akwarbirds.org to stay in the loop with that.  You can easily subscribe to new blog posts and updates there.

In the meantime,  we are one week away from our 75th anniversary celebration and fly-in/air-show.  Commemorating the grand opening of the Yakutat Army Air Base.  They spent a year building it to be an advanced bomber base for a war we were not in and had their grand opening 3 months before Pearl Harbor…  What did we know and when did we know it…?

Tentatively scheduled to appear – Alaska Air National Guard,  a 1941 Navy Grumman Goose,  possibly 2 t-6’s giving rides and our Lt. Governor and weather depending,  we could see as many as 200+ aircraft flying into little ol’ Yakutat.  If that’s the case,  come see me completely melt down and collapse in a nervous breakdown!  If the weather is bad,  we could be having a quiet little family dinner in the hangar instead…

Events are scheduled to begin at noon Friday August 5th,  with hangar banquet dinner scheduled for 6pm.  Saturday morning starts early with Yakutat’s regular Fairweather Day celebration at Cannon Beach (home of our two 6″ Coastal Defense Guns).

Again,  new web site for the Alaska Warbird Museum is www.akwarbirds.org.

The 75th Anniversary fly-in/air show

75 years ago, war came to Alaska and Yakutat was at the leading edge of our defense of the territory.  The first Army Air Base completed in Alaska,  Yakutat for a time had the longest runway on the west coast and became the model for other early air bases throughout Alaska.

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P-38 Lightening with hangar in background – this plane crashed on Attu 3 months after the photo was taken

 

2016 holds many 75th anniversaries to major WWII events,  most notably for the country is December 7th,  when Imperial Japan attacked the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor.  In Alaska,  they knew what was coming and began a massive build-up to defend the territory from what was to come.  Oddly,  some of the self-made obstacles toward Alaska’s defense became a tremendous advantage.

In early ‘42, there was really nothing the US could do to slow the Japanese advance throughout the Pacific.  Our best effort turned out to be a strategic failure called the Doolittle Raid.  Lead by Jimmy Doolittle,  we launched a handful of twin-engine land bombers off the deck of the carrier Hornet.  These aircraft were being ferried to China for them to use,  however all but two ran out of fuel and crashed.  On their way by Tokyo,  they dropped a handful of bombs that did little damage.  In other words,  the mission was a complete failure – except for that it had done to the Japanese psyche.  They had told their people they were invincible – that no one could touch them.  Yet,  here comes a collection of land bombers.

The only information the Japanese could glean from the Doolittle Raid was that Jimmy Doolittle grew up in Nome. This little factoid had absolutely no bearing on the raid,  but it fed into Japan’s obsession with Alaska.  As the Battle of Midway approached,  Japan had twice the carriers available,  along with the more experienced piltos and technologically advanced aircraft.  They divided their forces and sent two of those carriers to the Aleutians,  giving us an even fight.  In other words,  because of their obsession with Alaska,  we had 3 carriers and one island to their four carriers,  found their fleet first and sank all four of their carriers at Midway,  allowing the US more time to rebuild our devastated fleet and train our men.

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SBD Dauntless dive bomber parked on the ramp between the control tower and hangar – SBD’s are credited with sinking all 4 Japanese carriers at Midway

 

Up here in Alaska, we were at war with Japan,  but a war had been raging for years (or a century) between the US Army and US Navy.  They didn’t share information,  they fought over funding and jurisdictional control,  etc.  Since the President was a Navy man,  the Navy usually won these battles.  General Buckner,  commander of the Army in Alaska was told not to set foot in the Aleutians because islands are ships and therefore the jurisdiction of the Navy.

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Yakutat Air Base circa 1947

 

Initially in 1940, Buckner was given authorization and money to build three projects in Alaska.  Yakutat,  Annette Island and the Cold-weather Research Station in Fairbanks.  The Yakutat Air Base was supposed to have three runways and we only have two.  General Buckner secretly embezzled money from his three projects,  put it into a private bank account,  set up a private for-profit corporation and set out to build two “canneries” in the Aleutians.  When these “canneries” were done,  we had two new air bases.  Air bases so “secret” that the Japanese spy network didn’t have a clue because even the US didn’t know we had them!

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Typical layout of runways on WWII airbases in the lower 48 – Yakutat’s 3rd runway would have aligned with our westerly winds

 

When the Japanese struck Unalaska and the Navy Base at Dutch Harbor, they had three times as many men to land as the US had to defend the entire territory.  Suddenly,  they were hit by a P-40 fighter response so much stronger than they expected that they decided to withdraw and land their people on Attu and Kiska – a thousand miles away.  Yakutat’s third runway on Umnak and Cold Bay saved Alaska from that eminent invasion.  Had these bases been financed in the open,  Japan would undoubtedly have been prepared and Alaska’s role in the war could have been far different.

 

Although the first bomber landed at the new air base on May 8th (that is our official “establishment date”),  the formal grand opening ceremony took place August 6th,  1941.  This year,  Fairweather Day falls on that date,  so we moved our official Grand Opening Anniversary celebration to Friday August 5th,  2016.  We are celebrating with a state-wide fly-in and air show,  complete with aircraft from the National Guard and possibly the Canadian Air Force.  There will be WWII aircraft from up in Anchorage that weather permitting will give rides for a fee.  The event will close with a 6pm hangar banquet dinner (for a $30 donation PP) and speeches from General Hummel and Lt. Governor Mallott.

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The KWAAN BT-13 Valiant where it crashed near the mouth of the Situk – notice the train tracks in the background

 

This will be a busy weekend, with the new Sandy Beach Park dedication Friday at noon,  our events begin an hour later at 1pm with a paper airplane contest (we’re going for distance across the hangar bay floor when launched from the 2nd floor balcony),  short-field landing contest at 2pm and flour drop (the pilot flies over the target and tries to drop his baggy of flour as close to the mark as possible out the window) at 4pm.  Aircraft static displays will be on the ramp for visitors to explore.  Yes,  we need volunteers to help with logistics,  airport security and set-up.  Contact me at the fly shop if you want to lend a hand.

OK, here is my disclaimer…  We are obviously still a long way from being the museum we hope to become.  We just couldn’t let this particular 75th anniversary pass by without marking it in some way.  My grand hope right now is just to have a few toilets that flush and the hangar bay relatively clean for the event.  If it rains,  we’ll probably have no one from outside Yakutat show up,  but a beautiful day could bring in dozens – if not hundreds of aircraft from around the state.  As our first event,  our learning curve has been steep,  but we’ll get better over the years as we have more and more air shows under our belt.  Ultimately,  this event is about honoring those who serve our country,  not just the Greatest Generation,  but all the vets and active servicemen and women who protect our freedom.  Freedom doesn’t come from the promises of politicians,  or the words on old dusty documents.  It comes from the people who stand with their bodies as our shields,  to protect us from those who wish us harm.

Tentative Schedule of Events:

1200hrs Rasmuson Sandy Beach Park dedication

1300hrs Paper Airplane Contest

1400hrs Short-field Landing Contest

1600hrs Flour Drop

1800hrs Hangar Banquet

1900hrs Speeches

2000hrs Wrap/clean-up

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1942 original propaganda poster from our collection (hopefully will be displayed for the event…)

Well Put

Hope your Memorial Day is a good one.  Teen had to work,  but I took the kids out to the cabin for the weekend to prep for commercial fishing in three weeks.  Gorgeous weather,  but I have never seen so many bugs!  That’ll be a post all its own…

In the meantime,  this just about sums up this day as well as anyone can.  I don’t do Twitter,  but I did see this post and would share:

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Scanned through the headlines when I came back – something I should know better than to do by now…  Some of the comments were so unbelievably ignorant and embarrassing – should have been embarrassing if the person had any shred of self-awareness…

Thank you to all those who are serving to protect my family and our freedom.  Freedom does not come from the promises of politician,  nor from dusty old documents.  It comes from the men and women who put their bodies in the path of those of us at home and those who wish to do us harm.  Thank you to all who have served that cause over the more than 2 centuries of American freedom.

To those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,  there is nothing we can say to honor their work on our behalf.  The least we can do today is remember that sacrifice and help future generations to understand why they have the right to be complete idiots online.

Enjoy your BBQ,  for those who can’t.

We found a Date!

Follow-up to the hangar fire story…  Charlie Russell located an aircraft damage report that showed a PV-1 Venture twin-engine bomber was damaged by “army handling” during a hangar fire in Yakutat.  The date of the incident shows April 16th,  1944.  Still don’t know the cause,  but I’m working on that as well…

Lockheed Hudson of the 406th stationed in Yakutat - the damaged Ventura is the same basic design,  just improved

Lockheed Hudson of the 406th stationed in Yakutat – the damaged Ventura is the same basic design, just improved

Soldier with rifle at Cannon Beach

Soldier with rifle at Cannon Beach

Soft-top Jeep in front of the fly shop...

Soft-top Jeep in front of the fly shop…

Ingrid Bergman visits Alaska and stopped by here

Ingrid Bergman visits Alaska and stopped by here

The coffee shop sign at the airbase

The coffee shop sign at the airbase

The coffee shop,  where Leo's Vehicles is now...

The coffee shop, where Leo’s Vehicles is now…

Just received a patch in the mail today – Alaska Territorial Guard patch.  Pretty cool!

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Big thank you again to Levi,  for sending these photos.  I’ll share more later…

A HUGE Surprise about the Hangar!

I have been in this hangar,  tearing it apart and rebuilding for years now.  I thought In knew most of its major history,  but I was wrong!

A couple weeks ago,  a guy named Levi in Fairbanks contacted me asking if some photos from WWII he had were from Yakutat.  He e-mailed a batch and they were…  He acquired an album 4 years ago containing nearly 200 WWII photos most of which were taken here through the entire war.  One of them caught my eye as strange:

The completed ramp, Dauntless and PBYs and a hangar without windows

The completed ramp, Dauntless and PBYs and a hangar without windows

I LOVE the line of 7 SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers lined up in front of the hangar,  along with the two PBY Catalinas behind them.  But the hangar isn’t “right”.  I have seen photos during construction where the windows and siding were not installed,  but the ramp wasn’t paved at the time.  This photo shows all the windows from my office and the fly shop missing.  Later in the deluge of photos he sent,  there were two more showing a catastrophic fire that devastated this side of the building:

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I have never heard of any fire.  No one else I have talked to around here knew of a fire.  Renovating this side of the building has been easier because the walls were all covered with Masonite instead of the concrete/asbestos siding for the hangar bay and northeast side.  That is because this side had to be completely rebuilt a couple years after the hangar was erected.

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That must have been an incredibly intense fire,  to twist the “I” beams like they did and burn through the “unburnable” concrete/asbestos siding.  The damage lessens toward the fly shop end,  so the fire must have started right where the old ambulance is parked now.

Levi just received two batches of photos from a dealer in Massachusetts that are also from Yakutat.  The condition of these is pretty poor,  but remarkably both photographers took pictures of some of the same aircraft and events.  The album had come from Arizona.  I’ll be posting more of Levi’s collection shortly,  but the Great Hangar Fire was such a shock to learn about.  Figured I’d share that with you first…

B-24 on the Yakutat Airbase ramp

B-24 on the Yakutat Airbase ramp

Navy PBY with the hangar in the distance

Navy PBY with the hangar in the distance

My favorite plane!

My favorite plane!

A B-17 lumbering into a parking spot

A B-17 lumbering into a parking spot