The inaugural run of the Electra was a gala affair, with a lot of fanfare. The flight
crew, moments after the official photo was taken, stand in front of the new Kodiak
terminal, while various dignitaries (in the black coats) and airline workers (in
the hats) prepare for a small onboard reception. You’ll notice that the gantry has
been carefully tied to the side of the plane, because it doesn’t quite match the
height of the cargo bay! Months later, the Electras faded into history, before making
much of an impact. I took only a couple of flights on Electras before Western switched
exclusively to jets.
A collection of Western Airlines ticket folders and stubs document my yearly trips
to and from Kodiak in the 1970’s. A quick glance at my travel agency card reveals
that most flights in the northerly direction necessitated an “all nighter” in the
SEA-TAC airport after Western discontinued those direct flights to Kodiak. Since
I often flew on a designation called “student standby” and got bumped when flights
were full, I also had to spend an occasional night hanging around in the Anchorage
airport as well. It was all just normal travel for a college kid. Notice that the
ticket stub now lists Kodiak as ADQ - the Navy phased out the airport’s military
designation NHB when it moved out in 1971.
Commercial jet service to ADQ: this vintage photo (circa 1972) shows a Western Airlines
Boeing jet about to take off, with the famed Barometer Mountain in the background.
Western was absorbed into Delta Airlines a few years later, after canceling the
Seattle to Kodiak run that had been such a lifeline for island residents. Photo courtesy
of Dirk Sundbaum
Also arriving at ADQ: Wien Air Alaska! Stubs document that the Alaska-based Wien
also expanded into the Kodiak market briefly in the mid-1970’s. Wien’s routes had
been taken over by Alaska Airlines and ERA Aviation by the time my family and I returned
to Alaska in the 1990’s. Many of the State of Alaska’s destinations are so remote
and conditions so hazardous, especially in the off-season, that it is tough for airlines
to remain solvent if they are committed to regular service to outlying communities.
Kodiak has been regarded in that category many times in its aviation history.
ADQ Today (Recent Photos of Kodiak’s Airport):
Transitions: PNA Becomes Western, NHB becomes ADQ
Western Airlines bought out Pacific Northern Airlines sometime around
1967, and the transition to the Western name and Western aircraft began shortly thereafter.
One of their first acts was to replace the aging “Connies” with newer Lockheed Electras,
as documented by these photos of the inaugural run, in 1969. Since I by then had
an impressive-looking “twin reflex” camera, I was able to look official and snap
lots of photos. The second set of photos shows the flight crew and Western Airlines
dignitaries shortly after posing in front of the new terminal, and preparing for
a small reception in the cargo bay of the Electra. The Electras had much more freight
capacity, and were equipped with turboprop engines. According to many pilots familiar
with the plane, the Electras could easily have won their way into our hearts. However,
they were soon phased out in favor of Boeing jets. Then in 1971 the Navy base transferred
to Coast Guard, and NHB (the military designation) became ADQ.
The inaugural Western Airlines Electra flight lands, unloads, and prepares to take
off (with a Coast Guard plane beyond, waiting its turn) in this sequence from 1969.
Within months, the Electras were replaced by Boeing jets.
Runways to Remember, Part Two
(ADQ Then and Now, Plus KDK in Kodiak Aviation History)
No, I didn’t take this photo! This beautiful photo by Drew North in 2006 from the
summit of Barometer Mountain shows the runway, the base housing near Lake Louise,
and the town beyond, bathed in sunlight, with Pillar Mountain covered mostly by shadow.
Woody and Long islands are on the horizon. The photo was taken after Drew had climbed
Barometer Mountain; more power to him! It’s a journey I’d have to take by helicopter!
Hats off to the hardy souls who can clamber up that peak and experience such a sight
firsthand. The photo also tells you almost everything you need to know about the
dangers of the main runway at ADQ!
Steve Harvey’s Widgeon taxis on the runway in this October 1996 photo, taken from
beneath the wing of another aircraft. For some spectacular photos from Steve’s collection,
please see the new article, “Goose and Widgeon – Still Flying!”
Traffic jam? A big Alaska Airlines Boeing jet taxis on the cross runway below us
as we bank away from the airport in this 2003 photo.
In 1997, when Kelly and I flew down to Larsen Bay, the plane actually took off toward
the mountain! This is apparently no big deal in certain wind conditions, but it was
none too comfortable for me. The photo captures the foliage on Barometer just as
we banked, and Kelly turned to check on my reaction.
Evidence that Kodiak aviation will always be a bit of an adventure: on May 2, 2010,
I took off from ADQ on an ERA Aviation flight, and the brisk wind direction out of
the north again dictated a departure toward the mountain. The pilot had us all sit
in the back half of the plane! I shot this photo as we passed the end of the runway
and the terminal. We’d already gained some altitude before we banked away from Barometer,
but my extra-wide-angle lens makes us look higher up than we actually are. The weird
color is due to the non-photographic quality of the plexi windows on the Era plane.
KDK: Kodiak’s Other Airport
(The Landing Strip in the Middle of Town)
I once considered the city airstrip to be a long way out of town. It’s
now between McDonald’s and the Safeway! There have been rumblings of closing it
down, but it’s a valuable asset, and it would be a shame to lose it. Not all the
small plane traffic in town is water based, and the big airport is not set up for
much private traffic. However, when I last visited Kodiak, all commercial enterprises
that flew wheel planes were headquartered out at the main airport at the base, near
the Alaska Airlines / ERA terminal.
Now that the seaplane port is operating, there’s been pressure to kill
float plane traffic in Lily Lake, too. But again, that would be a shame, and Kodiak
would lose some of its trademark charm if the community was completely isolated from
its aviators! On the other hand, I don’t consider a prop plane taking off to be
noise, so I suppose I’m in the minority on that one.
The historic photos of KDK airstrip come from Dirk Sundbaum, who worked
for Kodiak Western Alaska Airways (KWAA, formed when Kodiak Airways merged with a
carrier that serviced the mainland). Thanks to his excellent slides, we have a vivid
look back on the comings and goings of KDK when it was a major transportation hub
for access to “the bush”, and also a backstage pass to the inner workings of the
KWAA hangar, where skilled mechanics worked to keep their fleet, including the aging
Grumman amphibians, airworthy and spiffed up. It was amazing what the crew could
do with their machine shop and paint sprayers!
Classic photos from the collection of Dirk Sundbaum: the next eight shots from the
early 1970’s record some of the aviation history of the little municipal airstrip
in Kodiak, KDK.
This winter sunset shot shows Lily Lake covered with ice and snow machine tracks,
with the airstrip beyond. Notice that none of the houses had yet been built on the
north (left) side of the lake.
These photos from the early 1970’s show the interior of the Kodiak Western hangar
(on the far side of the airstrip) with a Widgeon (left) and Goose in various stages
of repair. Given the age of the planes, the mechanics had to do most repairs themselves,
often crafting their own replacement parts.
N85U is an example of a Widgeon that was built out of the pieces of several other
planes. You have to do such things when you are dealing with an airframe that predates
World War II! Here it is nearing completion in the Kodiak Western hangar at KDK.
The mechanics did a beautiful job on her. Fred Ball thinks this pretty paint scheme
was designed by Dirk Sundbaum. Please see “From Shore to Sky” for a detailed look
at what happened to N85U next.
The legendary N87U Goose comes in for a landing, seeming to hover in the air. This
plane (in Kodiak Airways colors!) is depicted in a photo display at the Smithsonian,
in the same building that houses the moon rocks and Lindbergh’s plane. See the article,
“Goose Stories” for that photo and more on N87U. This venerable plane now has original
Navy colors, and occasionally appears in movies and air shows. But in this photo,
it’s just another day in Kodiak, and another routine landing at the Kodiak Airways
terminal at KDK.
A Kodiak Western Beechcraft 18 Volpar comes in for a landing at the airstrip. The
“Volpar” designation refers to its nose wheel configuration, since it also was produced
with tail wheel models. According to one of the Goose pilots, this craft was flown
most often by less-experienced pilots, who could maneuver it easier than the tail
Dirk’s photo of a KWAA Cessna 421 landing shot shows the end of the runway and the
shore of Lily Lake, with both float and wheel planes in evidence. Just outside of
frame to the right is the KWAA hangar, where all the aircraft rebuilding was done.
Two Goose Accidents (Dirk Sundbaum photos)
The pilots and mechanics of KWAA were surely among the best and most innovative
problem solvers in the business. This section documents a couple of amazing emergency
repair operations that happened while Dirk Sundbaum worked for the airline. The first
two photos show a daring return flight for a Goose that lost one of its pontoons
when it hit an object while in the water at Akhiok, a village on Kodiak Island’s
In a routine flight to Akhiok,
...the left pontoon was nearly sheared off when it hit a log as the plane was taking
off. (It isn’t unusual to encounter partially submerged logs in the waters around
Kodiak, and they can do substantial damage to boats and skiffs, as well. Being almost
invisible and very heavy from being literally waterlogged, hitting one is almost
as bad as hitting a rock!) A Kodiak Airways mechanic and pilot removed the damaged
pontoon, stashed it in the cabin, waited for very calm water conditions, and carefully
flew the plane back to Kodiak. They took off with all the weight they could find
lashed down on the right side of the plane’s cabin, and making sure to angle the
Goose so that it would not need the missing pontoon.
The second photo sequence features an even more hair-raising repair scenario.
Goose N88U sank in a lake and was retrieved and repaired on site. According to internet
sources, the plane had a leak, which added enough water to shift the center of gravity
when it took off, causing it to stall. By the time the plane was fished out of the
lake, it was winter. The plane was repaired on site, on the ice. That had to have
been one of the toughest assignments ever! It took 21 days and three guys, living
beside the frozen lake, in a tent, in January!
Once they thought N88U was airworthy, Dale Moore flew it out using wheels
only, making sure the lake was sufficiently frozen, which explains why they didn’t
replace the pontoons (which usually strip off in accidents such as this). “Airworthy”
in this case means good enough for these guys to coax it back to town, but most of
the systems on board were still offline, and only the engines and controls were fully
functional. The Goose was flown back to town, but with another crew in a “chase”
Goose following, providing radio contact with Kodiak and watching carefully in case
there was trouble on the way home.
The accompanying “chase” Goose is visible in the photo, observing the landing from
above the airstrip. If the damaged plane had experienced any difficulty on the way
back, it would have had to attempt a beach landing, since the wheels were locked
in the down position! When I was examining this photo, the landing Goose looked more
and more “wrong,” and it was unusual to see a second plane so close behind. I sent
the photo to one of the pilots, who filled me in on the amazing story behind these
This angle shows not only no pontoons, but substantial damage to the bow (sorry,
“nose”) of the Goose. Also visible are the bent wing tips from the impact of the
hard landing. This plane was later sold, completely rebuilt, and flew again. According
to Internet sources, N88U is now owned by a pilot in Indiana, who added all sorts
of modern avionics gear and special modifications to it, making it one of the best
equipped Gooses flying today.
Some more recent photos of KDK from my visits to Kodiak:
An Island Air flight prepares to depart for Ouzinkie in 2003. The pilot is holding
his aluminum clipboard, and the tie down cable is clearly visible beneath the plane.
The white strips at the lake end of the runway are barely visible in the sunrise,
2004. King’s Diner is only steps away to the right of this photo.
The famous King’s Diner is a few feet from the strip; I stood near the extreme west
end of the runway to get this photo. Always order the sourdough pancakes and something
with reindeer sausage and eggs, from a place that should be a lot more famous than
The interior of the diner shows a loyal clientele on a Saturday morning in May, 2010.
Eleanor King runs an excellent place!
My wife Debbie and I are ready to pig out at King’s Diner. I ordered sourdough pancakes
and a reindeer sausage omelet. Debbie has an order of blueberry pancakes. The truck
stop ambience of the place is augmented with cool aviation art and a clear view of
the airstrip 100 feet away. This is where the locals hang out. Food Network, are
you paying attention? 2007 photo
A view over the pilot’s shoulder down the runway toward Lily Lake in this 2004 photo
My destination, my hometown of Ouzinkie, appears through the plexiglass of an Island
Air plane as a skiff pulls into the bay below. Our trajectory is taking us to the
KOZ landing strip.
Conclusion: Unique (Daily) Adventures
This affectionate photo essay will hopefully bring back a lot of memories
for old-time Kodiak residents. Of course, it’s all just normal Kodiak stuff. But
as the scarcity of the Grummans and the passing of the Connies has shown us, it is
also constantly changing. It’s good to slow down and appreciate the grand spectacle,
and to see the daily comings and goings of Kodiak as the unique adventures they are.
As someone who now lives within blocks of two major freeways, surrounded by traffic
lights, I can tell you it’s wonderful to watch Kodiak people getting around! And
on those rare occasions when one of those departing flights includes me, don’t be
surprised if my camera is constantly in use, as I attempt to capture however imperfectly
the essence of one of Kodiak’s everyday adventures. The companion piece to this
article can be found at this link: “From Shore to Sky: Kodiak’s Planes that Float”
Welcome to Kodiak! We end this photo essay where we started, at Kodiak’s unusual
main runway and the ever-present Barometer Mountain, with this 1996 photo taken from
one of PenAir’s planes.
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.