2013 Alaska Air Carriers Association’s Community Service Award:
The Alaska Air Show Association was recognized by AACA with the Community Service Award for a spectacular event honoring 100 years of Alaskan aviation. The Alaska Aviation Centennial: 1913-2013 barnstormed communities across Alaska, bringing an aviation event for the first time to many of these rural communities. This award recognizes an individual or organization for outstanding service to the community through improvements to cargo, mail or passenger service to a specific site or a region. The award can recognize a particular single action, or for service in a consistently outstanding manner for a period of time.
After the initial kickoff and feasibility meeting in November of 2012, and months of initial planning, the Alaska Air Show Association announced its commitment to lead, organize and fundraise for a barnstorming event in 25 communities to celebrate the 100th anniversary of flight in Alaska. This was the first time the Alaska Air Show Association had taken on a project outside of the Elmendorf Airshow, in fulfillment of its strategic vision to spread aviation awareness and education throughout the state.
The first list emerged with over 80 communities to visit and was later finalized to 21 locations having paved airfields. The two-and-a-half month event began with the Valdez Fly-in weekend, May 8th -12th, and was concluded at the end of July 2013, with events at the Alaska Aviation Museum’s annual Salmon Bake and Fly-by on Lake Hood and with a fly-in at the Wasilla Airport. ASAA organized, as part of the event, a “traveling museum” that accompanied the aircraft, and was displayed at each community visited.
The planning was intense and multi-faceted, consisting of selecting the participating aircraft, ensuring their air worthiness, working the logistics of the flying routes, pilot swap outs, publicity, preparing educational materials, and raising cash and in-kind contributions to defray operational costs. At times, it seemed like a perpetual effort, and eventually the planning was completed and the round-engine, oil consuming WWII war birds and classics were thought to be launch ready for what would become an adventure lasting over four months. The aircraft included one of the last flying 1942 Japanese Zero’s, the only flying 1931 American Pilgrim, a 1943 and a 1944 T-6 Texan, a 1943 BT-13, a 1945 L-13, a 1952 Harvard, a 1942 Beechcraft Staggerwing, and a Cessna 206 Safety aircraft.
Behind the scenes, there were numerous issues: the Pilgrim rebuild was just being completed and test flights, piloted by Terry Holliday, resulted in a continuous punch list that required countless hours to remedy. Then the Zero was grounded. The zero pilots, Chuck Miller and Cricket Renner, struggled with the antiquated aircraft brake system. During WWII, the time to develop a good braking system that ensured a safe landing just wasn’t a priority.
The Zero flew on a couple trips, and needless to say, when the Zero did fly everyone watched, as the approach was lightning fast! Once, while watching the Zero bank and turn base, the wings flashed the bright “red meatballs” and spectators reacted. Indeed, there were powerful moments in every community that was visited, but the Zero had an overwhelming impact.
Then there was weather. Thankfully, the flight plans relied on two very competent volunteer safety officers who made the difficult, costly, and necessary weather calls. The Safety Officers included John Hartke and Ed Kornfield.
Eventually, the Centennial Celebration crew launched with the aircraft operational at the time. The scheduled provided for day-stops, over-nights, and places where the aircraft were stored. The crews were greeted by hundreds of people in every community. Collectively, the team shared stories about Alaska’s first flight in Fairbanks, Alaska’s WWII history, notable Alaskan pilots, and the need to inspire the next generation of pilots. The participating community residents, whose daily routine often included flying in an aircraft, not only asked the pilots for autographs, but also help into and out of the war birds and classic aircraft. Some never wanted to leave the pilot’s seat.
It was the event of a lifetime for all participants, and the community residents felt the same way. This was the first time for many in rural Alaska to host an air event and it was greatly appreciated. It wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for volunteers who offered their time to celebrate Alaska’s heritage and inspire young and old along the way. The Association is also thankful to the many corporate, non-profit and community sponsors and partners, who together raised over $90,000 in cash contributions, and thousands more in in-kind donations which made the Centennial Celebration a once in a lifetime, world-class event.