About airplanes and flying in Alaska

Year – 1967

Alaska used leftover WWII Constellation Airplanes that were actually the workhorses in the air in the 50’s and 60’s. Alaska did not — and still does not — have many roads. We have many, many more than in the 50’s and 60’s, but flying to and from each community is still the way of life for lots of people today.

There are a bunch of stories about flying in the old Constellations in Alaska – lovingly called the “Connies.” This amazing airplane served in three wars — WWII, Korean and Vietnam.

For several years our retired Alaska Connie was on display in downtown Kenai. I have no idea where it went, but I bet it is in the Aero Museum in Anchorage. It always conjured up warm memories of all the times I flew on that great old plane.

At a lunch party with my good friends, we were entertained with the story of a certain uncle and his nephew flying to Anchorage on the Connie. Uncle was not a good flier and avoided flying for every reason in the book. But this was a must flight and Nephew just happened to be on the same flight, so they sat together. This story is a firsthand tale!

Being apprehensive and “scared out of his wits,” Uncle fortified himself with his favorite choice of liquid calm: a bottle of Calvert’s. As the plane took off and was in the air, the stewardess was walking down the aisle checking on the passengers to see if all the seat belts were in place and fastened. Seeing that Uncle did not have his seat belt fastened, she did her duty pertaining to the safety of the passengers and asked Uncle to fasten his seat belt.

His response was loud and clear: “No, little girl, when this plane goes down, I am not towing it to shore!” Then he crossed his arms and settled back in his seat, the look of stubbornness on his face, period, end of subject! She said no more to him about fastening his seat belt. Uncle thinking he had won that argument was more than comfortable the rest of the 25-minute flight.

(Note: To research the Lockheed Constellation, look at Wikipedia. There are pages and pages of interesting Constellation information. It was built in 1943. It hauled President Eisenhower around while he was President.)

My own story about flying in this great airplane was in 1967, when I came to Alaska with my three kids, three suitcases and $100 in my pocket.

We arrived in Anchorage, a wonderful flight on Alaska Airlines, from Denver, my first airplane flight ever! We were served Chicken Kiev, after being handed a very warm wet washcloth to wipe our face and hands. The kids were given little flight wing pins.

When we arrived in Anchorage, for some reason, there was no one to meet us. (That is another long story!) I marched up to the ticket counter that said Kenai. I asked for four tickets to Kenai.

“I am sorry but we are full, the next flight is booked too.”

Oh, great! Three kids, and me with just $100 in my pocket!

Standing next to me, with big grins on their faces, were two welders just off of the North Slope. They both, in a drawl I later was to recognize as Oklahoman, told the ticket lady that we could have their seats. No doubt they headed back to the little bar, satisfied that they were the heroes of the day.

I paid $7.00 – that’s right, seven dollars – for my seat, as the kids under 12 rode free on any airplane in Alaska in those days!

We were herded onto the plane, found our seats, buckled up and the propellers started turning and coughing and spitting and finally started to whirl. David was next to the window, next to the wing, with the big engine and propeller on it. Susan and Gail shared a seat and I was on the aisle seat.

That plane started to shake, then shimmy, then slowly rolled out onto the runway. The roaring got louder and louder, the shaking and shimmy got stronger and stronger, the wings where waving up and down (I am not kidding!) and slowly, ever so slowly we rolled on down the runway and up just a little bit and off into the sky over the biggest body of water I had ever seen: Cook Inlet! (Northern Colorado does not have huge bodies of water!)

David, age 8, shouted “Mom!” He pointed at the wing – “There was oil dripping off the back side of the wing!!”

I just knew we were going to crash into the big body of water, and I had killed my kids. I couldn’t even save them because I could not swim! I jumped up out of my seat and screamed, “There’s oil deerrpppppping off the engine!”

Every man on the airplane, started laughing at me! One kindly gentleman in a welder’s hat, Levis and cowboy boots, said “Ma’am, set down — that is how we know we are safe in this airplane. It is when the oil stop dripping off the wings do we get concerned!”

Oh my! What had I gotten me and my kids into?

We landed safely. The rest of the great adventure in Alaska was just beginning! I have been on many many flights since, but none as memorable as my first flight to Alaska!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more than 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at anninalaska@gmail.com.

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