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
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.
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,
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.