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Alaska Aviation Legends: 2014 class looks beyond cockpit

Alaska Dispatch staff
Bud Rude made a name for himself among the dozen airlines, maybe more, that jockeyed on Merrill Field for lucrative Bush Alaska flying charters. Pictured: The first plane he flew to Alaska. Courtesy: AACA

Alaska’s history is irrevocably entwined with the rise of aviation. We live in a state with nearly 300 airports but fewer than 15 real highways. Communities cling to a rocky geography that stretches from British Columbia to the Arctic Ocean. Aviators deliver everything to everyone from life-saving drugs to holiday dinners to snow machines and boat motors. They return with insights into the many cultures and customs that populate the Alaskan geography.

Fuel and food, friends and family – all is delivered via airplane to roadless Alaska, 80 percent of the state - thanks to the entreprenuerial spirit of all who take part in manned flight. These men and women embody the "living history" of Alaska, says Joy Journeay, a leader for the state's air carrier industry. She and others helped establish the annual autumn celebration of Alaska flight.

Living Legends of Alaska Aviation culminates this year with a banquet and ceremony in Anchorage. This year's class included Glenn Alsworth Sr. and John Hajdukovich, among other legendary Alaskans selected to the 2014 class of nine men and women who will be recognized for their contributions to Alaska at a banquet on Nov. 1 in Anchorage.

2014 Living Legends of Alaska Aviation: Richard 'Bud' Rude

Not everyone is disciplined enough to chase their childhood dreams. Richard "Bud" Rude decided he wanted to fly airplanes back during junior high school in Tacoma, Wash. Over his 82 years, Bud has flown more than 40,000 hours, much of it spent in the skies over Alaska. He's piloted 200 different kinds of aircraft: land, sea, fixed wing and helicopters ranging from some of the earliest aircraft in Alaska to modern jets.

Bud was introduced to Alaska when his father got a job at Red Devil Mine. His parents later settled on D Street in Anchorage, on a plot that's now home to the JC Penney Store in Fifth Avenue Mall. Bud got his commercial pilot's license at the young age of 18 and wanted in on the burgeoning aviation industry that pilots were literally fighting to establish at Merrill Field in Anchorage.

The competition was fierce – Seward Air, Gentry Schuster, Jack Carr, Northern Consolidated, ATA, New England, Mt. McKinley, Reeve (scheduled), Arnold, PNA and others operated from Merrill. Arriving in Alaska, he got his first flying job ferrying aircraft for Gentry Schuster-Safeway Airways. Bud ferried Howard aircraft from Texas to Alaska, and Pipers and Stinsons from Pennsylvania. Flying the long and lonely trip north, Bud would follow the Alaska Highway, landing his plane on the highway occasionally.

Bud also flew bush aircraft in Alaska hauling hunters to remote areas and construction workers to build roads and bridges throughout Alaska. He would land construction teams as close to a roadway as they needed to get.

Bud made a name for himself on Merrill Field fueling aircraft for Northern Consolidated Airlines, working his way up to maintenance forman. At the time, Bud was the best—and only—lineman at Merrill Field. Everyone got fuel and Bud facilitated extra time to make payments if that was needed. His books always balanced and he was always paid.

He was learning aviation in an unforgiving world. For many Alaska pilots, the path was less than easy and the price was high—very high.

Father of the double fail ax maneuver

Flying jobs became sparse in Alaska during winter, leading Bud outside Alaska to keep flying. He worked several different jobs over the years: Civil Air Movement (CAM) flights extensively throughout the U.S. Contract Air Force flights flown across the world.

Bud also flew for the noted aircraft seller Eli Graubart in the Midwest, who is said to have resold one out of every 10 general aviation aircraft. Bud's job for Eli was to ferry aircraft all over the country, gaining a lot of exposure in the aviation industry as part of the process.

While flying DC-3s for NCA, Bud was asked to pilot the NCA's Ray Peterson and his financiers from Anchorage to King Salmon, Alaska, on a routine fishing air taxi. It's a flight that's since become legend.

In bad weather and on instruments and while crossing from Iliamna Lake toward King Salmon in mountainous Southwest Alaska, both of Bud's engines quit at the same time. Bud worked through the checklist to make sure his copilot hadn't erred preparing the props, mixture, fuel and throttle. His propellers had begun to windmill and engines were showing 2,000 RPM. Manifold pressure was good, Bud recalled years later; all they were missing was power.

Bud worked through the checklist again and again, flummoxed. At one point Peterson poked into the cockpit to ask what the hell Bud was doing.

“What are you doing?” Bud replied. "I'm trying to start the damn engines! Now go sit down!"

Bud rechecked everything once again. The plane was losing altitude and Bud saw a hill ahead between the occasional breaks in overcast. In a situation like this, timing is everything. As the treetops came into view, ever closer, Bud recalled trying to figure out how to put the airplane down on that hill with minimal damage. At that moment a valley opened before them and Bud instinctively rolled the aircraft in that direction.

Still descending and in desperation Bud grabbed an ax, the only tool at arm's reach, and started to bang on the master switch.

A few moments later, both engines purred back to life. Bud flew low through the valley to Big Mountain, landed, and discovered a broken spring inside the master switch. He pulled it out and got the flight back on its way to King Salmon. Everyone got to fish except for Bud, who instead spent the afternoon answering to the FAA over his decision to continue the flight. Since Bud held an A&E license, he was capable essentially of repairing his own plane, then deciding whether or not to continue.

'Alaska can dish out whatever you think you are man enough to take'

Bud’s life reflects what it takes to survive in Alaska especially in the early days. There have been many valleys and peaks, but despite those ups and downs, he didn’t give up. He always picks himself up and keeps going. That is the true Alaskan way—the tough keep going.

Certainly, the early years in Alaska were not easy years. There were many tough times which meant long hours in brutal conditions. Bud has always said, “Alaska can dish out whatever you think you are man enough to take.” The equipment, navigation and communication aids, or lack thereof, certainly added to the challenge. There were many good and rewarding times, and the satisfaction of surviving in a majestic land.

Bud embraced the rugged, independent, no-nonsense people and the freedom of Alaska. Bud made lifetime friends in Alaska. He respects the pilots he has known, and the challenges they have faced. Bud’s love for Alaska and her people is part of his soul.

Each of the 2014 Living Legends of Alaska Aviation will be recognized by Alaska Dispatch over the coming weeks. Stories of the nine men and women honored in this year's project are provided by the Medallion Foundation and the Alaska Air Carriers Association.

Send your stories, videos and multimedia of flying wild to bushpilot(at)alaskadispatch.com