A shot out of the window of a small plane departing ADQ shows the main runway and the Grand Prize at the end, Barometer Mountain.  An aircraft, with its landing lights on, waits at the base of the mountain, ready to take off when we clear out of its airspace. October 1996 photo

The same runway in cloudy weather reveals its true danger, which only grows worse as the cloud cover gets lower.  There can be no overshooting of this runway, and an aborted landing would be tough to negotiate! Summer 1998 photo

 

A Look Back: NHB (the Navy Base)

           The runways at Kodiak’s main airport were built by the military in the run-up to World War II, and carried the designation NHB while under the control of the Navy.  Local lore said the designation stood for “Nice Hungry Bears.”  Once the Navy base was closed down and the facility transferred to the Coast Guard, the airport was changed to ADQ, its new civilian designation.  The vintage photos below help to tell the story of the Kodiak airport when it was NHB, with a few vintage photos documenting the military side of Kodiak’s airport..  

This beautiful winter shot from the early 1950’s shows a Navy transport, perhaps a DC-6, on the cross runway of NHB with beautiful Barometer in the background. Dept. of the Navy photo

Runways to Remember, Part One

(NHB and ADQ in Kodiak Aviation History)

This plane’s eye view of ADQ airport and part of the Coast Guard base in the early 1970’s is from the collection of Dirk Sundbaum, who provided many other photos in this article. Barometer Mountain (left) and Pyramid Mountain (right) are Kodiak landmarks.

 

Introduction: Coming In For a Landing

 

          In other articles in this continuing “How to Get to Kodiak” series on Kodiak transportation, I have concentrated on the Grumman amphibians (my first love, surely) and the Lockheed Constellation, both stars of a bygone era.  There will be a few photos of them slipped into this article as well.  But Kodiak has ongoing fame, including being featured in video games and articles on the “world’s most dangerous airports” because of the unusual placement of its main runway.  The famous Barometer Mountain is right at the end of it!  

          Shaped like a pyramid (but Pyramid Mountain is across the valley to the north), Barometer is the subject of perhaps the oldest Kodiak weather joke in existence.  Its first version is most likely carved on the wall of some prehistoric cave.  The joke goes: “That’s Barometer Mountain.  If there are no clouds around it, then it’s about to rain.  If there are clouds around it, then it is raining!”

           Until the early 1970’s, the Kodiak airport had the military designation NHB, which according to local legend stood for “Nice Hungry Bears.”  It would have been a lot more fun to keep that designation!  In part one of this article, a few of the best photos from my collection tell the story of the airport known as NHB better than my prose ever could, but my photo comments add the little details I’ve collected over the years.  Part Two chronicles the more recent history of the airport, after it changed to ADQ. PART TWO            Part Two also chronicles the little airstrip in the middle of town known as KDK, and the place it has in the history of Kodiak transportation.  The topics of this article (and any of the others on Tanignak.com) are not complete by any means, and are merely what I happen to have collected and researched.  So if you have any additions or subtractions, I will adjust these articles accordingly.  I want them to be as accurate as possible, while still telling a story rather than writing a formal history.  So contact me at Tanignak@aol.com with any comments you may have, and of course, if you have any photos or stories to share, that would be great, too.  You will notice the sources of many of the photos and stories, and I greatly appreciate those who participated!

 

Kodiak Airport: You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

The military end of the runway at NHB, and the reason it was built in the first place, was the Naval Communications Station (NavComSta).  Here one of the massive hangars dwarfs the transport planes that await their next mission in a photo from the Yule Chaffin estate.

This shot of the Coast Guard hangars at the Navy base (the whole base would become a Coast Guard facility after 1971) shows the big sister of the Goose and Widgeon, the Grumman Albatross.  Two of them sit on the tarmac waiting for distress calls, weather missions, and tracking foreign trawlers who strayed too close to American shores.  The military issue of the Albatross was easily identifiable due to the bulbous black dog nose, which housed antenna equipment. Later the amphibians were replaced primarily by Sikorsky amphibious helicopters.  But the late 1950s and early 1960s were clearly the era of the Grumman amphibian on Kodiak Island, both for the Coast Guard and for the commercial ventures such as Kodiak Airways and Bill Harvey’s Harvey Flying Service. (Yule Chaffin estate)

 

NHB: the Commercial Airport

 

          Along with the military traffic, Kodiak was also a commercial airport, as local canneries discovered that air transportation of seasonal workers was financially viable.  As the town grew, and the outlying canneries increased production, arrival in Kodiak by air (as opposed to by steamer) became more and more popular. Shortly after I was born, the airlines’ main competition, the Alaska Steamship Company, ceased passenger traffic to Alaska and became a freight-only outfit. Kodiak was by then a destination (direct flight from Seattle, no less!) for Pacific Northern Airlines’ Lockheed Constellations, and later, for Western Airlines’ Lockheed Electras and Boeing jets. The photos and memorabilia below help to document the story of Kodiak’s main airport in the early days of commercial service.

Top: a graphic from a mid-1950’s map touting Pacific Northern Airlines’ long distance routes featuring their new fleet of Lockheed Constellations.  Kodiak stands out as the destination that crosses the most open ocean!  Above: this beautiful shot of a Pacific Northern Airlines “Connie” (Lockheed Constellation) on the tarmac at SEA-TAC in Seattle was purchased on eBay.  In the 1950s and 1960s thousands of passengers made their way to Kodiak on those great old planes, and in the summer months, there were direct flights from Seattle to Kodiak. (For the sake of this article, we’ll pretend that’s where this one is headed)

More memorabilia: this composite graphic from a 1955 Pacific Northern Airlines brochure advertises the new “Connie” service with a package of tours and cruises based on PNA’s flight routes.  During the years when the “Connie” served Kodiak, there were regular direct flights from Seattle to Kodiak, although PNA never really capitalized on any tourism connection for Kodiak. That route was mainly to service the many canneries that operated up and down the Kodiak Archipelago, and to provide regular commercial service for the Navy and Coast Guard bases in Kodiak.

This very rare photo of the Kodiak airport, circa 1961, shows two Pacific Northern Airlines “Connies” and a Reeve Aleutian plane. Most likely this was a time when the demands for out of state workers for the canneries around Kodiak Island prompted a sudden rush of incoming passengers.  Workers from out of the country would arrive at west coast ports and make their way to Seattle, the “Gateway to Alaska,” and catch a flight to Kodiak and the other fishing communities. Courtesy of the estate of Yule Chaffin. This and all the other Chaffin photos was scanned from an ultra-rare 1962 book called Alaska’s Kodiak Island. It documented Kodiak as it was just before the earthquake and tidal wave of 1964, and is full of rare photos of island life as it was before the great disaster wiped so much of it away forever.

Arrivals and Departures: For the better part of two decades the “Connie” was the link to the outside world for thousands of visitors and residents of Kodiak Island. In these photos, the arriving passengers include several uniformed Navy personnel, and the departing passengers include my older sister Jerilynn (turning and waving to the camera) heading off to college in Oregon.

Top: my pathetic first camera didn’t do justice to this historic scene: one of the last PNA Connies prepares to depart from NHB in the late 1960’s.  Oh for a long lens and color film! Above: this lovely shot of a Connie with mountains behind could have been taken at Kodiak, but was actually taken in Yakutat.  It’s what the previous photo should have looked like!  This photo was provided by Norm Israelson, who sent me other great photos (and a lot of stories) for my article, “PNA Connie Tales.”

Steve Harvey took this photo out of a Pacific Northern Airlines DC 3, which the company used for their shorter flights within Alaska.  The photo from around 1960 or 1961 shows the first Kodiak boat harbor in center left, below the flap. Most of Kodiak’s downtown and shoreline was destroyed in 1964 by the tsunami.  

Tragedy: a Kodiak Airways Widgeon crashes on takeoff near the end of the NHB runway in May 1969 (photographer unknown).  Thankfully this is one of the few times the runway’s emergency equipment has ever been put to use.  Kodiak pilots are among the best on the planet.  This plane became one of the pieces for N85U (see Part Two in the section on KDK for what happened to that ill-fated airframe).

My brother Kelly stands atop Pillar Mountain snapping a photo of Woody and Long Islands in the distance. The famous Kodiak Airport appears in mid-photo, its main runway a horizontal gray stripe. Part Two of this article continues the story, as NHB became ADQ, and tells tales of the Kodiak Airstrip, known as KDK, when it was a major link to the outlying areas.

 

Link to Part Two:

(NHB’s Transition to ADQ, and The KDK Airstrip)

 

Acknowledgements:  

 

I wish to thank Dirk Sundbaum, a Kodiak Western Alaska Airlines (Kodiak Airways) employee in the early 1970’s, for the photos which contributed so much to this essay.  

 

I also thank the estate of Yule Chaffin for the use of several photos from Yule’s first book, Alaska’s Kodiak Island, published in 1962 (written with G. C. Ameigh, Jr.)

 

Finally, I wish to credit Fred Ball, master Grumman amphibian pilot, who helped me identify aircraft, correct mistakes, and clarify wording throughout.  His photos (and my photos of him in action) are featured in the new article “Goose and Widgeon – Still Flying” here at Tanignak.com. Timothy Smith, web author, July, 2011.

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