Tag Archives: Yakutat Airport

Overcoming Reputations

Yakutat is a truly incredible place.  Incredible fishing,  incredible mountains,  incredible glaciers…  even incredible surfing and many other “incredibles”.  But it is far from perfect.  One of our shortfalls has been in aviation and the services available here at the Yakutat Airport.

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Teen and I started Yakutat Aviation Services as a means to change our local reputation as being a black hole for services.  We have a reputation within the aviation community as a place to avoid and we have been lugging this rep around for decades. It isn’t any one business’ or person’s blame,  but a build-up of a lot of horror stories and dissatisfied pilot visitors.

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That said…  tonight we had a “Queen Air” stop in for fuel.  The pilot said he was planning to fly non-stop from Ketchikan to Homer without refueling,  but another pilot in Ketch told him what we are trying to do here and he decided to stop in and support us.  Bought 140 gallons of fuel that would not have been sold here had we not started YAS.

A year ago,  there was an article in AOPA Pilot magazine about flying the coast from Anchorage to Juneau.  They did NOT stop here,  but most of the photos illustrating their article were taken within the Borough.  OK,  they definitely stopped several times in Yakutat,  but they avoided the airport and didn’t spend a dime here.  In the “letters to the editor” in the following issue,  someone wrote that he understood how they wanted to avoid buying fuel in Yakutat…

I don’t want to point fingers at the old traditional supplier,  but they are principally a wholesaler and not a retailer.  They don’t provide retail “service”.  But that is what we are doing now.

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On my flight down to Juneau for my heart test,  the Alaska Airlines pilot came back to our row and handed me a magazine that featured a cover article he wrote.  Burke Mees is a neat guy,  although I don’t know him well.  He flies the CAF BT-13 up in Anchorage most weekends for tours in their great old WWII trainer.  I first met Burke a few years ago when he and another pilot burned through some of their ground time and walked over to the hangar from the AS jet.  I told them about what we were planning to do with the hangar and museum,  etc.

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This past spring,  Burke flew with the owners of an experimental “Gweduck” up to the Anchorage Airmen’s Show.  They stopped in at Yakutat for fuel briefly.  The Gweduck is basically a modernized kit Grumman Widgeon with all composite parts,  so landing in saltwater doesn’t corrode the hull.  Really neat plane.  Their stop in Juneau was featured as the headline front cover story on the Juneau Empire at the time.

Burke said he mentioned us in the article,  but to my surprise,  he does a LOT more than mere mention…

“YAKUTAT

For those of you who have made this trip,  you’ve probably avoided landing at Yakutat because of the imposing Mount Fairweather-sized gas prices that loom large on the horizon and cast a long shadow on the coast route.  I can report that this is no longer a problem.  Bob Miller recently started Yakutat Aviation Services,  and now prices are considerably lower for both 100LL and Jet A.  Bob is a local entrepreneur who lives with his family in the old WWII hangar on the field,  and he also owns the 1941 DC-3 in the hangar.

This airplane is a piece of history;  it started out as a military C-47 and saw wartime service in North Africa,  Sicily,  and over Normandy on D-Day.  After the war,  it spent a lot of time flying commercially in Alaska,  including with Cordova Airlines,  which later merged with Alaska Airlines.  The airplane’s story is written on its airframe in patched German bullet holes and corrosion from making Alaska beach landings.  Bob plans to use proceeds from the fuel sales to get the plane flying again.  If you’re in Yakutat you should make a point to check it out.”

How’s that for cool?!?!  Granted most of you have probably never seen or read Water Flying magazine (I know I hadn’t…),  but it is the bimonthly publication of the Seaplane Pilots Association and a really nice/interesting magazine.

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Nice to see we’re starting to make a difference.  Yet another weird risky thing Teen and I are doing in little ol’ Yakutat.

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The Bears this Year

Most of you have probably already seen this,  but it is worth posting here too…  Cody,  who guides for the Yakutat Lodge was driving along the airport road and this happened…  This is right next to Situk Leasing!  Sorry for his f-bomb,  but you’ll appreciate why…  This is about 200 yards from the fly shop and it has charged several other cars,  including most recently Greg who runs the fish plant when he was driving out here to pick up our load of fish…

The comment section is pretty funny too…  The people who insist this is fake and obviously have never been to Yakutat.  One said it was animation…  Dorks!  Best comment though is the following:

Gabriel Martinez1 week ago

in my opinion, the initial charge looks like a bluff charge, the bear comes at you bouncing off with the front paws, then it stops. Then, it charges again, as you hit the gas. This demontrates that you should never run from a bear, your best chance is to stand your ground, use bear spray or fire arm, but never run from it, or it will come after you. Great video, glad you were inside a car”

One guy with a lot of common sense…  If you run away from a charge,  it’ll chase.

Out on the Akwe,  the bears have been just as bad.  No video though…  Tanis and I had a really skinny sick-looking bear come down to the edge of the water and pull on our corkline when we were in the boat about 30 feet off shore (holding to the same corkline).  This week,  he and his brother tore Tanis’ net to shreds and skinned several dozen sockeye.  They look for hens and just suck the eggs out of the belly.  A few humpies were also bitten,  but it looked more like they realized it was a mistake and spat the humpy out as fast as they could…  If you have sockeye,  why dirty your taste buds with humpy?!?!

In addition to having my Honda ATV seat eaten,  one of our fish cans we load into the plane was chewed up last weekend and leaks fish goo all over the plane floor.  Not anything life threatening though.  Just a Nuisance.  Around the cabin on the Middle Italio,  there is a big male that has chased off the sow with three cubs.  She is now over at the New Italio/Akwe confluence.  She is a good bear mommy though and is training her kids to run away as soon as they see us.

Life in Yakutat!

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!

Progress!

Yesterday was a good day around here.  Besides having overcast and dry weather for fishing,  business through the fly shop was brisk and…  we finally got the fuel tanks moved!  The city’s Bull was repaired and they brought it out to the airport to lift the tanks into place.

 

This was a stressful event,  but all went well.  Just a few scratches on the paint.  That’s all.  Electricians arrive next weekend with final install middle of next week.

For such a big beast with no brakes on rough lumpy ground,  they did an amazing job of placing them on the spot!  Huge thanks to Ron and Sampson for their work as well as a big thank you to Sonny for getting the Bull fixed before the rains hit and turned the ground into much.

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In another week and a half,  we should be ready to pump fuel.

A Crowded Week

If you have felt I’m a bit distracted this year,  you’d be right…  We’re finally moving forward with the “new business” and it has been a long-time coming.  We rolled the hangar storage and renovation into the Yakutat Aviation Services,  LLC moniker a couple years ago and separated it from the fly shop.  It took us 4 years to piece together the financing for the project,  but that finally came through last fall.  We took delivery of our shiny new tanks in April,  but we’ve had delay after delay this summer.

Yesterday,  we finally poured concrete.  Three more days and we should be able to set the new tanks on their foundations.  We are building a brand-new state-of-the-art airport fuel facility to service the airplanes that pass through Yakutat airport.  The location is the empty field between the northeast side of the hangar and the approach end of runway 11.  It is a good open location,  where we were able to put the Jet-A tank about 80 feet from the 100LL AVGAS tank,  so a helicopter can land on the site far enough away from the Super Cub fueling at the other dispenser not to flip it.

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Fuel tanks will go where that snowpile is immediately below the hangar in this photo…

 

Always great with timing…  starting a new business in the heart of an economic crisis meant no banks wanted to loan us money for fuel tanks in a remote Alaskan village.  4 years later,  we had the Frankenstein of a financing package together.  In the meantime,  we also bought a Jet-A truck and have been fueling turbine aircraft since January.

All profits from fuel sales will go toward the Alaska Warbird Museum and for finishing the renovation of the hangar.  There should be enough cash flow from this to eventually finish the hangar properly with 8 retail shops (including the fly shop),  a year-round restaurant,  “War Department” movie theater,  two lane bowling alley and buy artifacts and (hopefully) airplanes for the museum.  All this,  while lowering the cost of aviation fuel in Yakutat by $2.99 from what it was last year…  Yakutat now has the cheapest Jet-A in all of southeast Alaska…

So…  here are some photos from the summer’s progress:

They were delivered in mid-April right in the throws of steelhead season.  We had KNIK Construction offload the tanks from the trailers,  since they are here resurfacing the runway this summer.  Each tank weighs on at about 30,000lbs empty.  Double-wall Fireguard tanks,  which means two layers of steel with concrete between them.  Double-walled,  so they qualify as their own secondary containment.  Plus both tanks are also epoxy lined doe added protection.

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Peaking inside the Jet-A dispenser,  with a weather-proof housing and roll-up door.  Side doors to access the filtration and do maintenance.

 

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Tanis playing with the Bobcat,  burying the conduit trench for the electricians.  All the trenching photos are on Tanis’ camera…

 

Leaning on a shovel handle as the first of 5 truckloads arrived yesterday morning…  Rebar every 12 inches,  Tanis adding some extra shovels of concrete to the low spots,  smoothing the top,  on to another foundation,  I’m no concrete finisher and it shows – but it’ll hold these heavy 12,000 gallon tanks even if it is ugly…

It lightly sprinkled through most of the pour,  then the sun came out in the afternoon.  So did the bugs,  but we were done by then.  And here are the photos off Tanis’ camera…

Trenching and building the forms

Because no job goes as planned…  we took a day “off” to have the sewer pumped and snaked.  Toilets may flush,  but that doesn’t guarantee the poop makes it to the septic tank.  Wherever that may be…  This is one of three manholes in and around the hangar that were full to the brim…

Teen and Tony on the first load,  second load and final load in the 5th foundation…

Now back to fishing…

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…)