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Aviation

Nearly ten years after the 1903 successful flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright in North Carolina, some merchants in Fairbanks decided that a demonstration flight there could pay for itself. They arranged for James V. and Lilly Martin to bring their airplane from Seattle for such a flight on July 4, 1913. The Martins shipped their crated airplane from Seattle to Skagway by ocean steamer and from Skagway to Whitehorse to Fairbanks by steamboat. This first appearance of an airplane in Alaska demonstrated how interdependent various means of transportation were and would be in the future.

Once at Fairbanks , Martin and his wife, who was England's first woman aviator, assembled their airplane. On the evening of July 3, Martin took off from a ball park and flew the plane over Fairbanks at an altitude of 200 feet and speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Later the Martins lectured on flying at the Fairbanks opera house.

In all, the couple made five flights in three days at Fairbanks. During that time they tried unsuccessfully to sell their airplane. Since it could not be sold, they crated it up again and shipped it via St. Michael to their home in San Francisco.

Aviation in Alaska has a distinct history. Since the road system is largely confined to the major population centers, air service to the Interior and western Alaska, as well as the Aleutian Islands, allowed for the influx of settlers, the year-round contact of villages with the state's larger cities and services, and rapid transportation of people and goods throughout the state.  For almost 100 years, pilots here have contended with the hazards of mountain flying, the unpredictability of weather, and the vast, wild spaces to be crossed.

Although many improvements to airplanes were made in the following years, it was not until after World War I that significant aviation developments occurred in Alaska. Among the first of those developments were demonstration flights made by the United States military. In 1920, a flight of army bombers reached Alaska from Long Island, New York. The flight was significant because it demonstrated that airplanes capable of carrying heavy loads could fly to and across Alaska. Two years later, the first commercial service began between Seattle and Ketchikan.


 

 



 


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