George Pappas is a quiet man. Ask him to talk about himself, and his words are few. Ask him about aircraft recovery, though, and the stories flow with enthusiasm.
Pappas grew up in Bridgeport, Neb. In 1941 at the age of 11, he was hospitalized for a bone infection which left him immobilized in a body cast until penicillin became readily available during World War II, which was able to cure him.
His first job was in Denver at Vest Aircraft, now known as Univair, where he met a man who routinely ferried aircraft from Colorado to Alaska. Pappas saw a business opportunity; in 1953, he packed up his belongings and drove to Alaska. On Merrill Field, he was quickly hired by Herb Mensing, another aviation enthusiast. Soon he was taking flying lessons in a Cessna 140A.
Pappas eventually earned a commercial pilot license and multi-engine land and seaplane ratings. He earned his commercial rating while flying a cub owned by George Kitchen, and he traded 100-hour inspections for flight instruction and aircraft time.
Pappas partnered in 1959 with Ben Werner, and together they created Aircraft Rebuilders at Merrill Field. Together they rented Bud’s hangar and began repairing the Grumman Goose. Pappas was now self-employed.
Over time, Pappas became known as the “Wizard of Sheet Metal.” He and his business partners were committed to owning the right tool for the right job. He earned a good reputation because of them. He crafted needed parts and pieces that no one had the tools or knowledge to make. He was, and still is, in high demand.
Pappas closed his company 10 years ago and just sold a shop on 88th Street. His son-in-law comments that he will become a mechanic when he retires from dentistry and has acquired most of Pappas' tools. He expects to spend the rest of his life learning to use them.
Retired, as a concept that implies “leisure,” does not define Pappas. He still maintains a wonderfully-equipped T-hangar at Merrill Field off Orca Street and continues to fabricate needed parts. Pappas is currently working to restore brakes on a Japanese Zero that Wings of Freedom Flying Museum acquired.
In addition, Wings of Freedom is now located in the old Hangar.Net building on Merrill Field off Fifth Avenue. The building was once owned by George Pappas.
For more on Pappas and other Alaska aviation legends, consider attending a banquet, to be held in their honor on Nov. 1. For more information, check out the Alaska Air Carriers Association website.