Special Series: Legends in Alaska Aviation

Brice Banning,Alaska Dispatch staff,Joy Journeay,Jane Dale

"Build a mile of road, it takes you a mile out of town … Build a mile of runway, it takes you to the world."

Flying has become a chore for many Americans, but here in Alaska it's the best way -- sometimes the only way -- to get around. Eighty percent of Alaska communities off the road system depend on some 10,000 registered Alaskan pilots for everything from fuel and food to medicine and fresh water. 

Pilots offer a common bond to folks from Nome in the northwest part of the state to Ketchikan in the southeast. A select few will be remembered for helping settle some of Alaska's wildest places. They're longtime Alaskans with deep ties to the land and the people who call this state home. 

On Friday, 14 legendary aviators are being honored by state leaders and their industry peers as living Legends in Alaska Aviation, a project coordinated by the Alaska Aviation Museum and Alaska Air Carriers Association (AACA), to recognize a few quintessential Alaskans, whose stories would be unbelievable elsewhere in the world.

Aviators are Alaska's living history, explains says Joy Journeay, AACA executive director. "We are excited that many of the men and women who have built the foundation of aviation in Alaska are still with us, and we're honored to have the opportunity to recognize them and to capture their unique personal qualities."

The Legends in Aviation project accepts nominations through March 1 each year. Nominate your hero in the skies here.

The 2012 class:

  1. 1 Legends in Alaska Aviation step out of cockpit for spot in limelight

    Per capita, Alaska has more pilots than any other state in the U.S. Friends of the aviation community come together each year to recognize the Living Legends of Alaskan Aviation.

  2. 2 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Harold Esmailka

    Harold Esmailka, born in a wood cutting camp in 1930, has lived a long, adventurous life that has undeniably contributed to Alaska aviation.

  3. 3 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Al Wright

    Talking to Al about his career in aviation was like stepping back in time, to an era where one did not simply hop into their airplane and go sightseeing or fishing for the day.  This was a time when a pilot accomplished his mission by sheer willpower and a little bit of luck.

  4. 4 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Bill Stedman

    Bush Pilot Bill Stedman, a living legend of Alaska aviation, was well on his way toward an illustrious career in skies over the 49th state while still in high school.

  5. 5 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Rod Judy

    Rod Judy has personally flown over 37,300 hours, averaging about 1,000 flight hours each year except for the last five years of his career. He has more single-engine float time than any other pilot in Alaska.

  6. 6 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Glen Alsworth

    Lake and Peninsula Borough Mayor Glen Alsworth has more than 30,000 flight hours logged in 25 countries on six continents. He founded Lake Clark Air in the headwinds of public opposition back in 1979. 

  7. 7 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Orin Seybert

    Orin Seybert started in aviation by giving rides to people from one village to another for fun. Today, Penair, the business he started has over 550 employees and 40 aircraft.

  8. 8 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Richard Wien

    Richard Wien is a walking encyclopedia of Alaska aviation history, and much of it lies in his family’s legacy. 

  9. 9 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Oren Hudson

    Oren B. Hudson came to Alaska in 1948, falling in love with the country, people and the flying, in that order.

  10. 10 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Rex Bishopp

    Rex Bishopp was one of the first helicopter operators in Alaska, traversing the Last Frontier from the late 1950's until his retirement in 1995.

  11. 11 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Holger Jorgensen

    Born in 1927, Holger Jorgensen became one of Alaska's most well-known pilots. And despite every adversity and the loss of his eyesight toward the end of his career, he continued his flying until he retired in 1994.

  12. 12 Legends in Alaska Aviation: John Hajdukovich

    John Hajdukovich didn’t care much for flying until his riverboat broke down and he got a ride back to Fairbanks with a bold pilot. The rest is Alaska aviation history.

  13. 13 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Bill English

    Alaska aviator Bill English's story is a tale of how new technology lifted him from a largely pre-industrial way of life to one of piloting some of the most sophisticated machines of the modern era.

  14. 14 Legends in Alaska Aviation: Cliff Everts

    “When I came to Alaska I had $78 in my pocket,” Cliff Everts recalls. Today, Everts runs Everts Air Fuel with a fleet comprised of a Curtiss C-46 and a Douglas DC-6. His planes and pilots serve as a critical transport link between urban and rural Alaska, providing fuel to remote areas.