As Alaska’s official balladeer Hobo Jim sang on Good Morning America back in 1995, “This is the land where legends are born!” The City of Kenai paid tribute to one of those legends last week at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting where Mayor Pat Porter read an official resolution proclaiming Bob Bielefeld Day in Kenai. One of only a few living Alaska Aviation Legends, Bielefeld went from an Alaska oil man to be the founding pilot of Kenai Aviation and has logged 42,000 hours of flying time mostly in the Cook Inlet region. Bielefeld got his first pilots license in California in 1958 and a year later moved to Alaska. “It never occurred to me to fly for a living until I ferried some gas line guys to a location during the time we were laying the Kenai Gas Line.” Bob started his flying business in earnest in 1962 after earning his commercial license and instructor certification. “I had my Tri-Pacer here and started flying commercial with it and a Piper Comanche,” he explained. Asked what he attributed his longevity as a pilot to Bob replied, “A little bit of luck and a lot of thinking during every trip what might take place, especially weather, in Alaska weather is the big thing. I’ve had a few close calls, but I don’t like to talk about those,” he laughed. His most challenging flight he recalls was a charter from Kenai to Ventura California to take a load of explosive drilling eggs for an oilfield service company. They couldn’t be shipped any other way and I had experience with them from my oilfield days, but I had to have written permission at every airport I landed at. At the time I didn’t think much about it, but later it dawned on me how this could have turned out.”
Bielefeld estimates that he has taught a couple hundred pilots their craft and agrees that the only way to truly see Alaska is from the air, “You can’t see anything from the highway, you’ve got to get up in the air. That’s why we do a lot of scenic flights to show the people the true beauty of Alaska. I’ve flown from Prudhoe Bay to Nome and St. Paul island, I’ve flown planes back from Pennsylvania all the way home to Alaska and I have to say the beauty of Mt. Redoubt and the ice fields or when we spot sheep in the mountains is really unparalleled and when people get a chance to see it they are always happy for having taken the flight,” said the octogenarian who says he won’t be flying solo anymore but plans to keep flying as long as he has someone with him. Bielefeld stopped commercial flying five years ago to concentrate on beating cancer. He remains director of Kenai Aviation and his son Jim serves as chief executive officer. For his exemplary career, Bielefeld was honored by the FAA in its national database for his contribution to aviation safety by his example. As a flight examiner according to his logbooks Bielefeld has given over 400 pilot’s licenses as their flight examiner, all of whom certainly wish him a very happy Bob Bielefeld Day.