Seven years after it was removed from the airport terminal in Fairbanks, the Curtiss Jenny once flown by Ben Eielson and Joe Crosson is again greeting passengers when they arrive in the Golden Heart city.
The Jenny was originally purchased in 1923 by city leaders and flown by Eielson in July of that year. It was involved in multiple incidents and accidents in the initial years of Alaska's flying history and ultimately purchased and flown by Joe Crosson in the late 1920s and 30s. Crosson is believed to have removed the aircraft's original and underperforming OX-5 engine and replaced it with the Hispano-Suiza which was mounted on it while hanging in the terminal.
The project to completely refurbish the long neglected aircraft was initiated by members of the Farthest North Chapter 1129, of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and also involved a rotating group of talented Fairbanks residents and UAF students from the Aviation Maintenance Technology Program who raised $26,000 locally to aid in their cause. Substantial donations of fabric and finishing material were received from Consolidated Aircraft Coatings of Riverside, California and machining work was done by Crisenbery Engineering and UAF. In the end the wings, which were from an unrelated Swallow aircraft, were removed and completely replaced and the Jenny was returned to airworthy condition for the first time in more than seventy years.
Some statistics on the Eielson Jenny today:
Wing Span: 44 feet
Fuselage Length: 22.5 feet
Height: 9 feet 10 inches
Aircraft Weight: 1,458 pounds
Propeller Length: 8 feet 4 inches
Aileron Length: 11 feet 8 inches
Engine: 180 hp Hispano-Suiza
EAA members reassembled the Jenny in the terminal on Sunday and it was hung in the baggage area on Monday. Repainted in bright yellow, it stands out as a unique and significant piece of history that has belonged to the Fairbanks community from its first hours in the air. EAA member Roger Weggel, who coordinated the project, was philosophical over its return to the building. "Finishing a project like this is like marrying off a child," said Weggel. "Sad to see them go, happy they are starting a new life."
The Swallow wings are still with the EAA membership and present a new future project possibility for this group of talented and determined Alaskans.
Colleen Mondor is a former dispatcher for a Fairbanks-based air carrier. Her book, The Map Of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska, details her years working in the Alaska aviation industry. You can contact her at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.