Preserving Alaska's Aviation History.
We rely on air transportation in Alaska, and we always have. Whether bringing in food and supplies, transporting us to warmer climates during the cold winter months, or protecting our borders, aircraft and their pilots have long shaped the state we call home.
Since July 4, 1913, when James and Lily Martin flew their Martin Tractor to Alaska, airplanes have been a part of our history. It is the goal of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum to protect and celebrate that history.
Since 1967, efforts have been made to preserve Alaska's aviation heritage. In 1977, Ted Spencer, the founder and current executive director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, succeeded in forming a non-profit organization dedicated to historical aviation issues in Alaska. This group, the Alaskan Historical Aircraft Society, was successful in surveying wreckage sites, obtaining national historical status for two structures, influencing state and, federal development of downed aircraft policies, and raising the public awareness of Alaska's aviation history.
Despite numerous attempts and failures to obtain sufficient funding for their program from local government sources, the society succeeded in securing its present site on Lake Hood in 1986 using private donations. Additional private donations, loans and grants from the State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage allowed the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum to open its doors to the public in July of 1988. However, keeping those doors open has proven to be a struggle.
This winter was the first in 11 years when the museum was not able to welcome visitors on a regular schedule. While it has been open during special occasions, for example during the start of the Iditarod, and has been available to rent for private functions, the museum has lacked sufficient funds to maintain regular open hours. Spencer estimates a current annual budget of $325,000, and visitor admission fees cannot cover expenses.
For Ted Spencer, the battle to keep the museum open has been personally demanding. "Alaska's aviation pioneers," Spencer says, "defined mining, trapping and community development." He wants them to be acknowledged and remembered for their sometimes heroic and always enduring efforts. He is proud of the extensive collection of World War II and other historical aircraft (25 total) housed at the museum. There are also hundreds of historical photographs and other aviation memorabilia he and other museum members have compiled, restored and preserved. However, keeping the museum functioning on a season of roughly 130 days per year has taken its toll.
In January, Orin Seybert, a member of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum's board of directors for one and a half years, was installed as president of that board. Seybert, also president of PenAir, is excited by the potential he sees in the museum and the resources he believes it offers the community.
The museum board also gained five new members in January, people who are heavily invested in the aviation industry and community--Dee Hanson, the new secretary, is executive director of the Alaska Airman's Association; Susan Bramstadt is director of public affairs in Anchorage for Alaska Airlines; Chris Phillips works for BP Exploration and is a private pilot; Rick Wilson is the director of development at Anchorage International Airport; and. Joe Crosson, who works for Northrim Bank, is the grandson of pilot Joe Crosson, who flew diphtheria serum to arctic villages in a 1928 Stearman C2B during the 1931 diphtheria out-break. They join a board committed to making the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum a valuable asset to the State of Alaska and the city of Anchorage, said Seybert.
Seybert sees the museum as having two major focuses: early Alaska aviation history and World War II history. The museum has aggressively begun to network with other aviation museums around the nation. There is talk of lending and borrowing flyable aircraft and working with outside resources to establish a place for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in the worldwide World War II museum community. Both Seybert and Spencer look forward to working together to sustain and build on the museum's s extensive collection.
Currently, the museum board is working on obtaining funding and financing for a new building, one designed and built as an aviation museum. They are hoping to keep the collection under one roof and make it an integral part of the of the aviation neighborhood. In addition, the management will be taking on a new look and building on the energy of the new board members.
Board members are hoping to increase museum attendance by increasing public awareness, including promoting more school and tourist tours. Seybert says that they have met with tour operators about plans for this summer, and Spencer has long thought of the museum as an "educational tribute to our pioneers." Ed Brewer, a sixth grade teacher at Inlet View Elementary, believes the museum could be a real asset to his students during their World War II social studies unit.
Cherri Odens, a fifth grade teacher at the school agrees: "(The museum) would be very useful if there was someone there who could talk about some of the unusual things the individual planes did[ldots]The times that (the students) got to talk to some mechanics or guys working on restoring the planes were the most memorable for the students."
While Ted Spencer, whose contract coincidentally expires in May, will be taking a well-deserved sabbatical, Seybert expects him to return to the museum in some capacity. With his passion and obvious expertise regarding Alaska's aviation history, it's hard to imagine him staying away for too long, said Seybert.
Like many non-profit organizations, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum has struggled. However, not all organizations enjoy the caliber of resources, historical and human, that this museum possesses. In the spirit of Alaska'a aviation pioneers, the board of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum plans on making the museum a world-class facility.
A 1934 Waco YKC, currently under restoration at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection of aircraft and hundreds of historical photographs and other aviation memorabilia. The museum has aggressively begun to network with other aviation, museums around the nation. There is talk of lending and borrowing flyable aircraft and working with outside resources to establish a place for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in the worldwide World War II museum community.