When a group of Fairbanks merchants transported a biplane by steamboat from Seattle to their hometown in 1913, it was with the intention of putting on a show for ticket-holding locals. When that biplane took its first flight over Weeks Field in Fairbanks, traveling at 45mph, it’s unlikely that anyone there could have predicted what impact the technology of air travel would have on the lives of Alaskans. One hundred years later, Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation, and to mark the occasion, the Anchorage Museum’s special display, Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation, will be on show from February 9 through to August 11, 2013.
By means of video footage, photographs and artifacts, the Anchorage Museum’s exhibit helps members of the public to understand the conditions that pioneering bush pilots dealt with in those early days. Flying in open-air cockpits, without the benefit of maps or up-to-date information on weather conditions, these intrepid pilots brought welcome provisions and news of the outside world to communities that may otherwise only have been reached by boat in the summer months and by dog-drawn sleds in the winter.
Visitors will be able to see some wreckage from the 1935 crash in which Will Rogers and Wiley Post lost their lives, as well as a WWII military flight jacket and a 1920’s Stearman C2B biplane. Children will have the opportunity to play in a replica antique cockpit, as well as to conduct experiments to help them understand the physics of flight.
Today up to 80 percent of Alaska is still inaccessible by road, highlighting just how important aviation is to people who rely on pilots to bring them fresh provisions, medical supplies, mail and other essential items. These pilots have the benefit of modern technology, maps and GPS, but still often have to brave treacherous weather conditions experienced in remote regions, and their dedication to their jobs are surely appreciated by those who rely on them. Aviation also plays an important role in the tourism industry, contributing significantly to the state’s economy.
Co-curated by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, the exhibition at Anchorage Museum includes items on loan from the Smithsonian, as well as other museums in Alaska, including the Pioneer Air Museum and Alaska Aviation Museum.
In 1964, Champion Aircraft Corporation rolled out the first Citabria, a two-seat high-wing airplane based on the Aeronca Challenger which had come out shortly after World War II. The fabric-covered Citabria is an excellent aerobatic and training plane, but bush pilots also favor its short takeoff and landing (STOL) characteristics whether it’s on wheels, skis, or floats. When used with floats, as with any other plane, the Citabria cannot be used for aerobatic maneuvers.
Champion Aircraft Corporation sold the manufacturing rights to Bellanca Aircraft Corporation in 1970. At that time, the Citabria had only a 115 HP 0-235 engine installed. Two versions of the Citabria were then available: the 7CGBC Citabria 150S with trailing edge flaps and an increased wingspan, and the standard 7GCAA Citabria 150.
In 1971, the 7GCBC Scout was introduced. This was a utility version of the Citabria and could be optionally fitted for agricultural spraying. The Scout’s wheels could be switched out for skis or floats. Bellanca manufactured the Citabria for the next ten years.
When Bellanca Aircraft went out of business in 1982, manufacturing of the plane went into limbo for several years. Later, a succession of companies purchased the Citabria’s design plans, including Champion Aircraft Company which had no relation to the original Champion Aircraft Corporation.
In 1988, American Champion Aircraft Corporation purchased the type certificate to the Model 7 and Model 8 Champion Line of the Citabria, Super Decathlon, and the Scout. In 1990, American Champion Aircraft Corporation resumed production of the planes two years later. At the same time, they redesigned the airplanes with aluminum spars instead of wood spars, improving the performance and reliability. Older Citabrias can be retrofitted with the newer aluminum spars.
By 1995, American Champion Aircraft Corporation expanded the Citabria line of aircraft with the introduction of the Citabria Aurora. They also now manufacture the Citabria Adventure and the Citabria Explorer.
Maximum speed: 162 mph
Cruise speed: 126 mph
Range: 500 miles
Length: 22′ 9″
Wingspan: 33′ 5″
Height: 6′ 9″
Maximum weight: 1,650 pounds
Empty weight: 1,110 pounds
Engine(s): One 150 HP Lycoming O-320-A2B
Rate of climb: 1,120′ per minute
Crew: One pilot and up to one passenger
A floatplane (also known as a seaplane or hydroplane) can have one or more floats. The floats, or pontoons, are usually mounted beneath the fuselage but can also be mounted beneath the wings. (A flying boat uses its fuselage to create buoyancy in place of floats.) An amphibious plane has floats with retractable wheels, which make it capable of landing on water or on land.
Floatplanes, in particular the PBY Catalina, were used in World War II for reconnaissance purposes, rescuing downed airmen, and as a defense against submarines. Ship catapults launched the floatplanes. After landing in the water, hoists lifted them back onto the ship.
Some of today’s most popular floatplanes are the Single Otter, Norseman, and the Beaver, all of which are used heavily in northern bush operations to ferry people and gear in and out of remote lakes. Bush pilots refer to these planes as “work horses” because of their reliability and short take off and landing (STOL) characteristics. Some aircraft are converted from wheels to floats. Any floatplane should have a strong engine to compensate for the added drag of the floats.
Pilots must obtain a license endorsement to fly floatplanes. Floatplanes are limited to daylight flight because of the difficulty of landing on water in darkness. Because a floatplane lands, takes off, and taxis on water, the floatplane pilot must be proficient in nautical rules and seamanship.
I live at a latitude that’s north of 60 degrees. Winter held its grip on us even longer this year than usual. It’s only been in the last few weeks that the ice has melted on the lakes. Several times a day now I watch float planes pass overhead. Many of them are seasoned bush pilots who make a hard living hauling people and supplies into and out of various camps. Others are simply pilots who live for those moments of flying.