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The Father of Alaska Bush Flying

On March 30, 1867, the United States paid Russia $ 7.2 million for the state we know and love, Alaska!

The purchase was negotiated between U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward and the Russian minister to the U.S., Edouard de Stoeckl, for the almost 600,000-acre territory of Alaska.

It was laughingly called "Sewards Folly" until gold was discovered in 1896.

Copy of U.S. Treasury Warrant (Check) for $ 7,200,000 for the purchase of the Alaska Territory in 1867,

In 1896, over 100,000 people from all walks of life abandoned their homes and embarked on a harrowing journey to the Yukon territory in Alaska to pan for gold.

Less than half of those who began the trek made it to the Klondike Gold Rush, and few who did arrive there safely found much gold.

By 1920 the population of Alaska was 55,036, with Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Seward as the three largest cities in Alaska.

Aviation In Alaska

The first airplane flight in Alaska took place in Fairbanks in 1913, and by the 1920s, air travel in the interior of Alaska was blossoming.

In 1923, the entire town of Anchorage pitched in to clear a strip of land that had been set aside as a park in the original Anchorage township plat. By the summer of 1940, the cleared strip of land hosted a nine-hole golf course, a firebreak for the town, and an airstrip named the Delaney Park Strip.

On July 4th, 1924, a pilot named Noel Wien performed aerial stunts in his Hisso Standard biplane that he named "Anchorage" to commemorate the opening of the Delaney Park Strip.

Noel Wien and his Hisso Standard Biplane in Nome, Alaska in the 1920s
Noel Wien and his Hisso Standard Biplane at Nome, Alaska

Noel Wien

Noel Wien was born on June 8, 1899, in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin. 

In May of 1921, he learned to fly a JN-4 in 8 hours but couldn't afford the bond required to solo the aircraft.

Hooked on aviation, Wien took a job with barnstormer E.W. Morrill, helping to fly and maintain his Standard J-1. After a few more flying jobs, he wound up working for Clarence W. Hinck's Federated Flyers Flying Circus, where he earned $300 a month.

In  May of 1924, Wien was hired by Jimmy Rodebaugh to fly a pair of J-1 Standards for his Alaska Aerial Transportation Company. By this time, Wien had 538.5 hours of flying.

Keep in mind he still did not have a pilot's license! 

 Wien logged a number of firsts, the first pilot to fly from Fairbanks to Seattle, the first pilot to fly from Fairbanks to Nome, the first pilot to fly beyond the Arctic Circle, across the Bering Straight, and the first pilot to make a round-trip flight between Alaska and Russia.

On his first flight north of the Arctic Circle, he ran out of fuel returning to the airport and was forced to land on a gravel bar.

This forced him to walk 70 miles over three days, crossing ice-choked rivers with only three biscuits for food!

A pilot License At Last!

In 1925 Noel Wien finally had his pilot's license, No. 39, signed by Orville Wright, then an official of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

But, the adventure had just begun for Wien. In February of 1925 Wien purchased a Fokker F. III and had it shipped to Rodebaugh's newly formed Fairbanks Airplane Company.

It was still an open-cockpit airplane, but five passengers could ride in an enclosed compartment with the fuselage.

By this time, Wien brought his brother Ralph to Alaska to work as a mechanic on the aircraft. Noel and his brother Ralph made the first commercial flight from Fairbanks to Nome, Alaska, in June 1925.

The Fokker F. III purchased by Noel Wien and placed in service in Alaska with the Fairbanks Airplane Company.
Noel Wien's Fokker F. III airplane

In 1927 Noel and Ralph went into partnership with Gene Miller, purchased a used Hisso Standard, and established Wien Alaska Airways, servicing Candle, Deering, Kotzebue, and Point Hope.

At the end of the summer of 1927, Noel went into business for himself, purchasing a Stinson Detroiter he could fly year around.

Wien Alaska Airways started a regular weekly round-trip flight between Fairbanks and Nome, Alaska.

This was what their first aircraft looked like:

A Stinson Detroiter like the one purchased by Noel Wien when he started Wien Alaska Airways.
A Stinson Detroiter like the one Noel Wien purchased in 1927.

On October 20, 1928, Wien Alaska Airways, inc. was incorporated as the first airline in Alaska and one of the first airlines in the United States.

On May 19, 1929, Noel married Ada Bering Arthurs of Nome, Alaska, after which Wien moved his company headquarters to Fairbanks.

On April 4, 1930, their son Noel Merrill Wien was born in Minnesota.

By the end of 1928, Noel had accumulated 1,290 hours of flying time in Alaska, for a total flying time of 1,940 hours. At the time, he was one of eight pilots in Alaska, and his brother Ralph was one of twelve mechanics.

They operated three of the seventeen aircraft in Alaska.

In 1935 Noel contracted polio, but he survived with only a limp in his right leg, so he continued to fly.

Later, in 1938 he received a piece of metal in his right eye, and the botched operation to repair the damage left him blind in that eye and his ability for depth perception.

Nonetheless, Noel Wien continued to fly. He stopped logging hours after he had logged 11,600 hours, and his last forced landing occurred in 1956.

Wien Air Alaska continued operating until November 23, 1984, when it was operating as Wien Airlines.

Wien Air Alaska pioneered the use of jets from gravel runways, as well as innovative ways to carry both cargo and passengers in Boeing 737 jetliners.

Death of a Legend

Noel Wien passed away on July 19, 1977, at the age of 78.

He was given many nicknames over the years, including "the Arctic Ace", "the Lindy of the North", and "the father of Alaska bush flying."

In the meantime, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you Hersch!

 

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