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Alaska pilot named to National Aviation Hall of Fame

Joshua Saul

Noel Wien stands in front of a Stinson Detroit.
Wien Collection; Anchorage Museum, B85.27.698
Noel Wien stands in front of a Stinson Detroiter in Candle in 1927. A wind storm had blown snow through the engine cover and packed it hard on the outer surface of the engine.

Noel Wien, the founder of one of the country's first airlines and the first man to fly nonstop from Anchorage to Fairbanks, has been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1923 an Anchorage businessman organized the town and cleared a field of trees and stumps in order to create an airstrip for bush pilots. The strip of land became what is now the Delaney Park Strip. On July 4, 1924, Noel Wien performed as a stunt flier in a ceremony to commemorate the new strip, and he named his plane the "Anchorage" in honor of the occasion, according to a Municipality of Anchorage website. After a few test flights from the landing strip (which doubled as a 9-hole golf course) Wien installed an extra gas tank and made the first nonstop flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

wien-first-commercial-flight





Wien Collection; Anchorage Museum, B85.27.701
Noel Wien before he flew the first commercial flight between Fairbanks and Nome. In this photo Fairbanks Mayor Dr. de la Vergne hands Wien a letter for personal delivery to the Bering Sea city 560 miles away. The Fokker monoplane left Fairbanks June 4, 1925 and made the flight in 7 hours and 40 minutes. Cost of that first charter was $1,500.00.
Wien's airline was one of the first in the country. In 1924 his pilot license (No. 39) was signed by Federation Aeronautique Internationale Official Orville Wright. Wien began flying passengers that same year and went on to found Wien Alaska Airways in 1927.

A Time Magazine story published in 1968 tells a few more stories from Wien's early days, including the flights he made in his Misso Standard biplane carrying gold miners from Fairbanks to Nome. Time also tells a few tales from the period, including pilots delivering babies while they flew with their feet and the cutthroat competition between flying outfits.

In 1968 Wien Alaska merged Northern Consolidated Airlines and went public in order to buy three Boeing 737s.

Other inductees include Alan Bean, an astronaut who was the pilot on the second moon landing, and Warren Grimes, who invented aircraft navigation instruments.

Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.