PAST ALASKAN AVIATION LEGEND HONOREES
George Tibbetts, Sr.
Kimball Forrest & Kitty Banner
Robert “Bob” Bielefeld
While some brag about their exploits as a pilot in Alaska, instructor/examiner Bob Bielefeld quietly signs logbooks and goes about his business. He didn’t begin his career as a pilot but was lured to Alaska not to fly airplanes, but to work on drill rigs in the oil fields around the Kenai Peninsula and Swanson River. Bielefeld came to Alaska with a Piper Tri Pacer in the late 1950s, but later was lured into flying oil field hands across the Upper Cook Inlet as part of his job. The need for this type of flying later led to the beginning of Kenai Aviation which is still in operation today. After a career of flying mainly in the upper Cook Inlet, Bielefeld logged 42,000 hours of flying with a legendary career of safety and stability.
Bob “Jake” Steuban Jacobs
Known to his friends as Jake, Bob Jacobs came to Alaska in the late 1930’s to work as a mechanic for Alaska Coastal in Juneau. Within months Jake was in demand and offered another job with Alaska Star, which later became Alaska Airlines. Jake was sent to Nome for a three week stint to repair a Stearman that had lost power and nosed over as it plowed through snow drifts. It would be 14 years and thousands of flying hours before Bob would leave Nome.
Jake continued to fly out of Nome and Kotzebue with Alaska Airlines and later Wien Air. He flew the Gullwing, Pilgrim, Norseman and twin Cessna and delivered mail to all the local villages where he met and later married, Neville Abbott. Neville was visiting friends and traveling around Wales by umiak. At Cape Prince of Wales, Bob circled overhead in the Norseman while Neville and her friends cleared the debris off the beach so he could land. Bob left Alaska for a 10 month stint in Los Angeles flying DC-3’s and C-46’s. In 1959, Bob was hired by Interior Airways to fly the twin Beech to resupply the DEW sites out of Point Barrow and Barter Island and later Frontier Flying Service to resupply troops at Clear AFB. Over the course of Bob’s career he amassed over 19,000 hours flying in bush Alaska and over 6000 hours flying all over the world as a C-130 First Officer and later Flight Engineer. Today, Bob is 97 years of age and lives in Fairbanks with the love of his life, Neville Abbott.
After graduating high school in 1941, Ketch Ketchum started out as a civilian airplane mechanic for the Navy in San Diego. Rather than wait to be drafted into World War II, Ketch was accepted as a cadet into the Army Air Corps pilot training program during 1942. After graduating as a Second Lieutenant, Ketch launched his aviation career flying C-46 transports in the South Pacific, Philippines and Okinawa and then at the wars end into Atsugi Airfield in Tokyo. Ketch flew briefly with the Philippine Airlines and then in 1948 spent two years flying DC-3’s for a civil airline on the Burbank to LaGuardia run.
After World War II ended Ketch was recalled back to the Air Force and accepted orders to fly C-54’s to transport food and miscellaneous supplies over blocked highways, canals and railroads leading into the U.S. occupied sector of West Berlin. The flights were part of the “Berlin Airlift” and U.S. pilots uplifted over 2.3 million tons of supplies over the course of a year to West Berlin. Following the Berlin crisis, Ketch continued to fly C-47’s with the Air Force throughout England, Europe, and Africa. Once back in the states Ketch joined the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and flew B-36 Bombers and then completed staff work until his retirement in 1964 as a Major. Before the love of his life, Marguerite, and their three children settled in Alaska they lived many places in the world including England and Germany. In 1965 the Ketchum’s went on a family road trip up the Alcan to Alaska for a vacation and never looked back. Their entire family still calls Alaska home. After Ketch retired from an extensive military aviation career, he and his wife Marguerite then started and grew their own air taxi. Ketchum Flying Service was a successful family owned and operated air taxi based at the largest sea plane airport in the world, Lake Hood. Eventually they also operated out of other Alaskan locations including Valdez and Cordova. Ketch Ketchum retired a second time as a very experienced and sought after Alaskan bush pilot.
Jim Rowe's life in Alaska has been one of adventure, hard work, big chances and huge rewards. While perfectly suited to the position of CEO, Jim never set out to fulfill that dream and still doesn’t see himself in that light, it just happened. At 16, Jim soloed from his hometown airport, Harbor Springs in Petoskey, Michigan. During his senior year at Western Michigan University he and a partner purchased a 1954 Cessna 195. After graduation Jim and three college buddies, each with $400 in their pockets, embarked on a long cross country flight. The group traveled from Petoskey, Michigan to Baja, Mexico, then followed the shoreline to Barrow and finally Nome, Alaska taking two months to complete the journey. “We arrived in Nome at 4pm on July 3rd, 41 years ago with a flat tail wheel, out of gas and between the three of us remaining we had $0.78 in our pockets." “That night, after receiving a $100 money order at the post office from my partners’ father in Iowa, we were having dinner at Mike Murphy’s newly established Uncles Pizza.” While there the phone rang, it was Dick Galleher, owner of Munz Northern Airlines, a local air taxi. Dick had looked up the owner of the 195 and asked for “Jim Rowe” and then quickly offered him a job. Jim and Chris raised their two sons Ben and Russell in Nome and together, along with long time employees and friends, quietly grew Bering Air into a major regional schedule, charter, fixed wing and helicopter business based in Nome, Alaska. Jim insists that without his partner and wife Chris and many dedicated employees who became friends none of this would have been possible. Jim had many firsts along the way including the first to offer passenger air service to the Russian Far East. Still today, after over 4,000 flights to Russia, Bering Air continues to operate year around service to that isolated region. “The early year’s weren’t all the glamor you see today flying turbo prop airplanes, flying at altitude, great runways, GPS and the like. My first 20 years, were mostly all off airport operations flying single engine otters, beavers, beech 18’s, and a lot of search and rescues, in a lot of ways they were also the best.” Today after flying over 30,000 hours Jim and Chris share their time between Harbor Springs, Michigan and their real home in Nome, Alaska.
Nancy Jane Miller Livingston Stratford
During her extensive career in aviation, Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford was a trailblazer for women seeking to enter aviation at a time when it was still considered a man’s world. In 1942, twenty-three year old Nancy Jane Miller joined a group of American women hand-picked to volunteer as a pilot with the British Air Transport Auxiliary. During her time while serving the ATA, she delivered over 50 different types of aircraft without instruments and in all kinds of weather. When Nancy and her husband Arlo moved to Juneau in 1960 she became the very first and only woman helicopter pilot in Alaska at that time. She was the second woman to be a licensed commercial helicopter pilot in the United States and fourth woman licensed in the world.
“I loved all the flying, the freedom, doing what I liked to do. It was “wild and wooly” at times. I was a lucky person in my career. I smile. I have absolutely no regrets.” -- Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford
Lowell Thomas Jr.
In 1943 Lowell Thomas Jr. began flying as an Aviation Cadet in a Boeing Stearman. For the next 66 years, piloting more than 10,000 flight hours, Lowell Jr, would live his dream flights, including a honeymoon flight round-the-world and later a record breaking jet flight North Pole to South Pole. During WWII Thomas trained and flight instructed in the B-25 Mitchell. His passion for flying and photography took him across the US and all over the world on filming adventures. Lowell and his wife, Tay, moved to Alaska in 1960 and raised their young family in Anchorage. He owned Talkeetna Air Service and became known for his glacier landings and high altitude flights to Denali in a turbocharged Helio Courier.
Larry Thompson was born in a farm house in Southeastern Iowa before World War II . His father always had an airplane around so he doesn’t remember exactly when he learned to fly—but does remember that he purchased his first airplane while in the seventh grade. Later working as a commercial pilot flying for American Airlines in Chicago, he moved back to Alaska and took a job with the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller at the Center on Boniface in Anchorage. While working air traffic he applied with FAA Flight Service. After being transferred all over the state he eventually settled in Homer. While working at the Homer FSS he worked part-time for Homer Air. Eventually he bought Homer Air in the early 1990s but later sold it in 2001 after turning it into an operation with dozens of aircraft. Under the direction of Thompson, Homer Air is considered the pioneer of bear viewing in the Kachemak and Kamishak Bay areas of Alaska. Logging over 30,000 in his career of flying Thompson also has roots in commercial fishing, plumbing and construction.