WASILLA — Planes mostly seen only in the pages of history books these days will soar over the Valley Saturday as part of the Centennial Celebration of Aviation from 1 to 3 p.m., July 27 at Wasilla Airport.
Jane Dale, with the Alaska Air Show Association, said the air show was rescheduled after weather kept the pilots on the ground in Fairbanks July 5. The air show includes a pair of T-6s, a Japanese Zero and an American Pilgrim.
Dale said the Pilgrim is the one they know of worldwide that is still flying. She said the plane began working in Alaska along the Kuskowkim in 1936 and was purchased and restored by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage.
Longtime Willow pilot George Murphy says he also plans to fly down in his 1948 Aeronca Sedan, tail No. N1283H. It’s the only plane he’s ever owned and he has flown it for years in support of his business, Alaska Bush Expeditions. Murphy’s also been an Iditarod Air Force pilot since 1981 and has earned both his private and commercial certificates.
Today, a row of a dozen or so hangars line the Willow Airport, but in 1979 when Joe Stanger built the Eyak Air facility, his was the only hangar on the old military air strip.
Stanger will be at the air show flying his classic Gull Wing Stinson, which was once owned by Noel Wein and then Alaska Airlines.
The Gull Wing was built in 1943 and was the 45th of 500 planes build by Vultee Aircraft Corp.
Stanger said Wein bought it as military surplus and flew the plane back to Alaska where he used it Fairbanks for six years before he sold it to Alaska Airlines. From there, Munz Northern Airlines out of Nome owned the plane for about 15 years. It was one of a fleet of eight or so Gull Wings the company flew, but this one was the owner’s personal plane, Stanger said.
He said he purchased the plane from the Fairbanks museum, restored it and has been flying it since 2000. Stanger said he even flew the Gull Wing down to Arizona where he used it for flight-seeing trips for three years.
“It flies like a DC3,” he said. “It feels exactly like it to me. Control-wise, I can’t get over it. It’s just so easy to fly. I call it an old man’s airplane.”
Stanger has loved planes since he was a young boy painstakingly gluing together small plastic parts to build models of the classic flying machines and war birds he’d later grow up to work on and help design.
He started working on full-size planes in the U.S. Army in 1946. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
His first air service business was on Eyak Lake, which is how a Willow flying service came to be named for a lake in Cordova.
“I knew Mudhole Smith. He was a good friend of mine,” Stanger said of the legendary Bush pilot who flew for Cordova Air Service for 43 years.
He said since its introduction in Alaska, the airplane has served a unique role — especially for residents in remote locations without road access.
“As long as we have the airplane with the amount of people in the state, we don’t need roads,” he said.
Dale said the air show is the last of a series of shows around Alaska this summer in celebration of Alaska’s 100th anniversary of flight.
The association will provide posters for pilot autographs, and for a fee, people can purchase rides in the vintage aircraft and war birds.
She said she’s also hoping members of the Commemorative Air Force will participate in the show and be on hand to tell people more about the organization, how they can get involved and how they can learn to fly its old war birds.
For more information, contact Jane Dale at 715-6708.