Celebrating a Hundred Years of Alaskan Aviation

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.