“Ah, Distinctly I Remember…”

April 3, 2019

That quote comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” but also applies to many fond memories of airplanes and airports over the years.

One of my favorite memories was the second trip wife Gail and I took to Alaska, where I made five speeches and one TV show appearance for several aviation groups. It was winter, it was cold and beautiful, and the local people were absolutely delightful. We traveled by car, genav airplanes, and by airline to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Kodiak, and Kenai.

It could be argued that airplanes and airports are more important in Alaska than in any other state. Alaska has many airports, but some of them are sandbars, rivers, snow, lakes, and just about any other spot you can imagine.

I remember flying across the Cook Inlet—en route to Kenai—with Tom Wardleigh and Ginny Hyatt in Tom’s Cessna-180. I looked down at the ice chunks floating below us, looked back at how far over water we had come, then forward to see how far we had to go before being over land again.

“What,” I asked Tom, “will we do if the engine quits?” He smiled, waved his hand across the vista and said, “Ah, isn’t the scenery lovely?”

He was right—it was lovely.

I learned from Tom that all airplanes in Alaska must have a survival kit that includes a gun that will kill a bear!

On Kodiak Island, Tom Merriman took me for a ride in his Piper Super Cub (see picture).From time-to-time, I flew power line patrol in a Super Cub in Alabama, filling in for friend Ed Long, who flew more hours than anybody else during his lifetime—for all I know his record still stands. But a Super Cub flight in Alaska is far more awesome. We touched down on a black sand beach at one point and I felt like a real Alaskan bush pilot.

One night we stayed at an Anchorage hotel near Lake Hood—not named after me, of course, but after some British admiral of long ago—which was the busiest floatplane/skiplane base in the world. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was being run, and some of the sled dogs were tied up on the lawn of the hotel. Where else but Alaska?

Friend Mike O’Neill flew us in his Cessna-310 to Homer, where we saw more bald eagles than we knew existed in the entire world. They were everywhere—up close and personal! Unbelievable!

What a trip! Of all the places Gail and I have been, we agree that if we could go revisit only one of them, it would be Alaska.

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