Even Bloomberg seems to have discovered the Ruth Glacier venue of the new Sheldon Chalet despite the riff between family members the question remains should this new luxury venue without adequate sewage containment continue to exist? World class mountain climbers have to haul out their defecation in plastic bags or special containers while climbing Denali. What are the residents and guests of this recently constructed establishment required to do?
Robert Campbell (Bob) Reeve (March 27, 1902 – August 25, 1980) is best known as the founder of Reeve Aleutian Airways, but he had an extensive and colorful career in Alaska aviation, including development of the methods of landing on a mountain glacier.
In 1922 a picture of the aviator Carl Ben Eilson on the wall at the frat house at University of Wisconsin, Madison inspired Bob Reeve, to skip classes to spend time at Madison airfield, where Cash Chamberlain had a Curtiss Jenny. Six months short of graduation, all Reeve was expelled from the university. That only impelled Reeve farther into aviation.
Reeve headed to Florida, then to Beaumont, Texas where, in exchange for two months’ work at the airfield, Bob got three hours flying instruction (which was called five) and soloed. When the Air Commerce Act of 1926 came into force, he attained one of the first Engine and Aircraft Mechanic’s Licenses along with his Commercial Pilot’s License.
In 1929 Pan Am teamed up with W. R. Grace and Company to bid for an airmail contract in South America. The new airline, Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) flew weekly airmail from the US to Lima, Peru via the Canal Zone. A Ford Trimotor was purchased and Reeve trained with the Ford Motor Company on these aircraft, delivering the first to Lima in August 1929. Panagra offered Reeve the chance to fly Airmail Route 9 from Lima to Santiago, Chile, at this time the longest aviation route in the world at 1,900 miles (3,100 km). In 1930 the route was extended to Montevideo, Uruguay. During this time Reeve learned about bush flying, developing techniques to avoid coastal fog which would later serve him in Alaska and mountain flying skills. He established a speed record between Santiago and Lima, covering the 1,900 miles in 20 hours.
Reeve stowed away on a steamship, arriving in Valdez, Alaska with $2 in his pocket. At Valdez airfield, Owen Meals had a wrecked Eaglerock aircraft with a Wright J-5 engine that had been a spare for Sir Hubert Wilkins when he made his flight across the North Pole to Spitsbergen.
Reeve worked for a month at $1 an hour repairing the plane, and then leased it from Meals at $10 an hour. Reeve was in business. His first charter was to Middleton Island, where the beach looked fine to land on, but the aircraft sank up to its wheels in the soft sand. An old block and tackle was found and used to rescue the aircraft from the incoming tide. Reeve managed to take off, and attempted to fly back to Valdez, but was forced to land at Seward owing to a storm. When he eventually got back to Valdez his tanks were almost empty, and he hadn’t earned a cent. Reeve said this trip was worth $1,000 in experience. Reeve quickly learned that the bush pilot’s biggest worry was paying for gas, which could be $.25 a gallon in one place, and $1.50 in another.
That winter, Reeve was hired to fly supplies to Chisana. Oil in the aircraft engines had to be drained each night, and warmed up on a stove each morning before being returned to the engine, as it was so cold that the oil would freeze. Reeve made a $2,000 profit on the Chisana route and had heard of a Fairchild 51 for sale in Fairbanks. This was the type of aircraft he had used in the Andes. He bought it for $3,500, with $1,500 down and the balance within two years.
In January 1937 Reeve received a letter from Bradford Washburn asking if he could fly a party of climbers to the glacier at the base of Mount Lucania in Canada. Reeve agreed to undertake the task. In April, the bulk of the supplies were flown in. When he flew Washburn and Robert Bates to the site, the weather had turned unseasonably warm and the plane sank up to its belly in slush. It was over a week before Reeve could take off, after the temperature had dropped sufficiently for a crust of ice to form over the slush. The trip was described by Reeve as the “most hazardous” of his career, but he had set a new world record of 8,750 feet for the highest landing on skis, more than 1,800 feet higher than any in either the Arctic or Antarctic.
WORLD WAR II
In April 1941, Reeve was one of a few pilots in Alaska without a certified route, and was hired by the CAA to survey the many new airfields planned to be built as part of Hap Arnold’s master plan for Alaska’s defense. Whilst the Army and Navy concentrated on building bases at Anchorage and in the Aleutian Islands, the CAA was responsible for constructing the airfields in the interior.
The first to be built was the airfield at Northway, 100 miles east of Fairbanks. The contractors were the Morrison-Knudsen company (M-K). Supplies were trucked via the Richardson Highway and a summer trail to the Nasbena Mines, 60 miles from the airfield site, and then flown by Reeve to Northway, where an airstrip had been hacked out of the woods. Some items had to be cut into two or three pieces and re-welded at the destination as they were too big or heavy for the Fairchild.
Although Reeve was working from dawn to dusk, he couldn’t keep up with demand for supplies at Northway, and a backlog built up at Nabesna. M-K ordered a Boeing 80A and Reeve was sent to Seattle to collect it. It took five weeks to modify the plane, and when he returned with it to Northway, found a 3,000 feet runway at what was now Reeve Field. The 80A was designed to haul 4,000 pounds but Reeve soon found he could haul 7,000 pounds in it. Reeve was again flying from dawn to dusk, sometimes on only two engines.
With the money earned from the CAA contract, Reeve ordered three more aircraft. He bought another Boeing 80A, a Hamilton Metalplane and another Fairchild 71. The army wanted him to survey a route for a railroad from Prince George, BC, to Nome. Reeve took the surveyors along the route but on the return trip the aircraft – a Fairchild – broke through the ice on Kluane Lake. The aircraft was abandoned but the mission successfully completed. The pass was named Reeve Pass. It is located between Francis Lake and the Salmon River. The Fairchild was left at Burwash Landing, and Reeve hired a pilot to fly the Hamilton from Washington to Alaska. The plane crashed in Washington, killing the pilot and Reeve was broke again, not having enough money even to buy the fuel to fly the Boeing to Alaska. He managed to borrow money from the Pacific National Bank despite them having a rule never to lend to bush pilots.
Reeve flew back to Juneau unannounced, and was almost shot down because he didn’t identify himself. He returned to working for the CAA, now earning $80 an hour, with fuel provided, flying supplies, materials and workers to the new airfields being constructed at Big Delta, Tanacross, Galena, Moses Point and Nome, doing all the flying and maintenance himself and regularly working 15 hour days. In November 1942 Reeve signed a contract with the Alaska Communications System (ACS) and moved his family to Anchorage. The contract with ACS involved flying all over Alaska, the Aleutians and western Canada.
REEVE ALEUTIAN AIRWAYS
In 1946, Reeve formed Reeve Aleutian Airways and was its President until his death in 1980.
In February 1946, Bob Reeve received a call informing him that some ex USAAF C-47s and DC-3s were for sale. Reeve bought his first DC-3, N19906, for $20,000 with $3,000 down and the balance payable over 3 years. The cost of conversion to civilian standard was quoted at $50,000 but Reeve did the work himself at a cost of $5,000.
A strike by sailors on steamships operating between Seattle and Anchorage started on April 6, 1946. Reeve, along with Merritt Boyle and Bill Borland began flying between Seattle and Anchorage, with stops at Juneau, Yakutat or Annette Island. Each trip carried a full load of 21 passengers and took an average of 9 hours. In 53 days, 26 round trips were made. Reeve would work all night on inspections and maintenance of the plane whilst at Spokane, and then fly back to Anchorage having had very little sleep. Reeve earned $93,000 from this activity, enough to pay for the DC-3 and buy three more.
In July 1946, DC-3 N91016 was purchased from the USAF. In the winter of 1946-47, Reeve filed with the CAA for a license to operate on the 1,783 miles (2,869 km) run between Anchorage and Attu, and in the summer of 1947 he was making weekly flights down the chain. Within a year, he was running a twice-weekly service, keeping all four DC-3s busy.
On March 24, 1947, Reeve Aleutian Airways was incorporated. The company was running scheduled and charter services all over Alaska. About this time, Reeve was ordered to get authorization to use the wartime Chain bases he was using. Reeve flew to Washington and leased Dutch Harbor field and acquired landing permits for Kodiak, Adak and Attu.
In April 1948, Reeve Aleutian Airways was granted a temporary, five-year airline certificate. With the need to run the business on proper business lines (maintain an office, publish schedules and tariffs etc.), the Beechcraft and Electra were traded in for two Sikorsky S-43 amphibians. In October 1948, Port Heiden was de-activated, followed by Dutch Harbor, Attu and Umnak. Reeve took over Umnak and conceded Attu, which was not vital to his operations. About this time, the Naval Air Transport Service began selling tickets to Adak in competition with Reeve. Reeve went to Washington and met with Louis Johnson, who granted all the business in the area to Reeve. In 1948, DC-3 N49363 was purchased from Arnold Air Service, Sikorsky S-43 N53294 and Grumman G-21 Goose N95468 was also purchased.
In 1952, the new Anchorage International Airport opened and all the other airlines moved there. The CAA was going to close Merrill Field, but it was retained for use by Reeve Aleutian and private operators. in 1953, final military deactivation of the Aleutian airfields occurred. Reeve obtained leases on Shemya and Cold Bay. Shemya closed in 1954 and all flights were switched to Cold Bay. In January 1957, DC-3 N49363 was sold to Twentieth Century Aircraft. During the 1950s, St. George and Chernofski were served by airdrop. Reeve installed salvaged bomb releases in his DC-3s to enable this.
By the mid 1950s, it was apparent that the DC-3s were not big enough for what Reeve Aleutian Airway’s business had become. The DC-4 was selected to supplement the DC-3s, eventually replacing them. Reeve’s first DC-4 was N63396, Purchased in March 1957 from Twentieth Century Airlines, which was going out of business. The first scheduled DC-4 flight was on March 12, 1957. The route was Anchorage-Kodiak-Cold Bay-Adak-Amchitka-Shemya-Attu.
In 1957, the Distant Early Warning line was being constructed, bringing a boom to Reeve Aleutian Airways. In 1957, S-43 N53294 was traded in, Curtiss C-46 Commandos N1302N and N10012 were purchased from Cordova Airlines and Grumman G-21 Goose N1513V leased from Interior Airways and a C-46 N9852F was purchased from Boreas Corporation in July 1958.
The late 1960s saw the emergence of the Lockheed L-188 Electra, which was to become the backbone of Reeve Aleutian’s business from then on. The first was N1968R (ex ZK-CLX of Air New Zealand) purchased from California Airmotive in February 1968.
With the acquisition of the Electras, the DC-6s were phased out of passenger service. Electra N9744C was purchased in September 1970 and Electra N7140C was purchased in April 1972.
In 1979, Reeve Aleutian started a service from Cold Bay to Seattle-Tacoma. This service lasted for three and a half years. During that time, only seven flights were cancelled due to weather and two due to mechanical reasons out of 458 scheduled flights.
In December 1983, Reeve Aleutian purchased two Boeing 727-22QC aircraft from Wien Air Alaska. They were N831RV “RCR” and N832RV “Tilly”. During the Christmas 1985 holiday, there was a large backlog of mail at Seattle-Tacoma, and Reeve Aleutian contracted with the USPS to relieve the backlog.
The airline entered the 1990s on a relatively tight budget. In August 1999, Reeve Aleutian entered into a code-share agreement with Alaska Air on the route between Seattle, Anchorage and Petrovpavlosk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Reeve Aleutian ceased operations on December 5, 2000. Reasons included increased competition and high fuel prices. At the end, only Electra N178RV and 727 N832RV were in service. 727 N831RV was sold in March 2001, with N832RV following in June. YS-11A N171RV was sold to Mexico in March 2002.
Reeve received an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the University of Alaska in 1963. Reeve was named “Alaskan of the Year” in 1972 and inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1975. He was made honorary Mayor of Shemya in 1978. He died on August 25, 1980 and in that year was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame. The Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum inducted Reeve into the Alaska Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame on February 25, 2005. The Bob Reeve High School in Adak, Alaska was named after him.
Donald “Don” Edward Sheldon is a famous Alaskan bush pilot who pioneered the technique of glacier landings on Denali (Mt. McKinley) and throughout the Alaska Range from 1947 until his passing in 1975.
Born in Mt. Morrison, Colorado in 1921, Don Sheldon lived at time of American innocence, when the American West still held onto some of its mysteries. Bush flying, such as it was, had only began the year before in Canada and Alaska (an American Territory purchased from the Russians) and it was only a few years into the great Gold Rush of the Yukon and Nome. Though born in Colorado, Don Sheldon grew up in the wilds of Wyoming, on a ranch near the small town of Lander.
At the age of 17, Don made his way out to Seattle, and then up to Anchorage by way of the inland passage on a passenger ship. Don’s first job in Anchorage was at the Step and a Half Dairy where he worked 16 hour a day shifts, 7 days a week, for which he earned a flat $40 per month. After six weeks of this, Don was driving a dairy delivery truck down an Anchorage street one morning when he spotted a sailor friend, Jim Cook, that he had met in Juneau on his boat trip up to Anchorage.
Don and his re-found friend decided to pool their money and see how far north they could get. The $12 they had between them paid for 2 one-way train tickets to Talkeetna, AK, where 10 years later, Don Sheldon, with partner Stub Morrison would form Talkeetna Air Service.
Talkeetna Air Service struggled for several years to earn profits, but it seemed that Don and his partner Stub would succeed where many others had failed. It was the years of 1950 and 1951 that would really test the young Sheldon, for he would crash and destroy an aircraft in 1950 and then his partner, Stub Morrison, would be killed in a crash in radiation fog in 1951.
Don’s business sense was good and he would soon have a paying flight or two each day. It wasn’t only Don’s flying skills that became apart of legend, but it was his strong sense of knowing which jobs to take and which to turn down that led him to a success in this very demanding business, where four out of five people failed.
It was in 1955 when Don met the head of a surveying team from the Boston Museum of Science, Bradford Washburn. Washburn was looking for a suitable pilot (with plane) to assist at the museum’s long term survey and mapping of the area surrounding Mt. McKinley and the mountain itself. Don had just recently installed only the second set of retractable skis ever built on one of his Super Cubs, and this intrigued Washburn, because their survey/mapping work would require landing at very high altitudes on the upper glaciers of Mt. McKinley and its neighboring peaks. (Brad Washburn admitted later that after he had inquired, both in Fairbanks and Anchorage, on hiring a bush pilot for the work they needed to do, the name Don Sheldon came up almost every time.) When Washburn offered Don the fee of $100 for each glacier landing, Don jumped at the offer, but on the second day and after Don had made eight separate landings on one glacier (moving equipment and men), Brad Washburn suggested that maybe paying $100 for each landing would soon run the Museum out of money. They settled on the normal Talkeetna Air Service charter fee of $25 per hour, plus a $50 bonus for each new area landing.
This relationship between Don and Brad Washburn would continue for the next 15 years and Don Sheldon would become one of the world’s most proficient pilots at landing on glaciers. Bob Reeve (founder of Reeve Aleutian Airways) was the first to attempt and perfect the art of glacier landing (in the early 1930s), with his Fairchild 71, which was outfitted with a pair of homemade skis. Because Bob’s homemade skies were non-retractable, he couldn’t land his Fairchild on any hard surface, so Bob landed on the mud bogs near his base in Valdez.
Over the years, Bob had relayed what he learned glacier landing to Don, and Don improved on the necessary techniques even further during the 15 years he flew for Brad Washburn (Don and Bob Reeve’s relationship went beyond friends, as Don’s wife was Bob Reeve’s oldest daughter, Roberta).
Before you can attempt to land on a glacier, you must first make a low pass to look for depressions in the soft snow, as these depressions can be masking a crevasse which could easily swallow up a freight train, not to mention a little Piper Super Cub. Another problem often encountered is when there is a slight cloud cover that blends in with the surface of the soft snow in daylight. The human eye cannot distinguish where the surface of the glacier is and landings are all but impossible in these conditions. Don Sheldon carried several small Spruce tree limbs that he would throw out in a line, which would provide a noticeable dark line of points to mark the glacier surface elevation.
During the later part of the 1950s and into the ’60s Don flew countless trips, most often moving supplies, equipment, and people. Don also performed rescues of mountain climbers or hikers in trouble along with searches for military and downed aircraft. Don’s first experience at assisting the military came on particularly bad weather day in 1953 (February 4th), when the Tenth Rescue US Air Force in Anchorage had received an urgent radio call from a C-47, inbound to Anchorage, that was in extremely bad turbulence and was receiving structural damage and icing. The last radio contact the with C-47 put them about 70 miles north of Talkeena, so Don volunteered to fly up and take a look. Because a strong winter weather front was moving through, Don experienced very poor visibility, freezing rain, and extremely severe turbulence. Because of the poor visibility, Don flew low up the Susitna River and twice he had to land on a sand bar to wait for a moment of clearing to continue. About 60 miles up the Susitna, Don got a momentary break in the clouds that allowed him to fly up to 5,000 feet and along the side of a mountain slope that Don calculated would be the most likely place for a downed aircraft working its way south.
Don’s fuel status was getting serious, then the weather closed back in, so Don had to go back to Talkeena. The weather got very severe, so he waited it out, back home, all that day and into the next, when finally at about noon on the 5th, he took another shot at it and this time he hit pay dirt. He found tracks, and soon after found two survivors dragging an injured third. Don wrote a note on a brown paper bag, tossed a couple rocks into the bag (Don carried small rocks for this exact purpose) and tied a red ribbon to the bag. He flew over the survivors and tossed the bag down to them, explaining that he was going back to Talkeetna to pick up a USAF Flight Surgeon and some supplies (warm blankets, hot coffee, food, etc.) and would return. Don had also spotted a small clearing about 1,500 feet down slope from these guys (where he felt he could land), so he told them to head for it.
Returning from Talkeetna with a load of supplies and the Flight Surgeon, Don learned that these three crew members had been sucked out of the back of the C-47 when its tail broke off. Two of them got their chutes open in time, but the third crew member’s chute opened just as he hit the ground and he had suffered a serious laceration from his neck all the way down his back to the top of his ankle.
The C-47 had completely broken up in midair at 12,000 feet, so when the wreckage of the aircraft was finally located, a couple of days later, three more survivors were found. Ten of the sixteen man crew had perished. Among those that had died was one British Colonel that was a director of the Canadian Cold Weather Test program and was an extreme weather survival specialist. The Colonel had safely parachuted down, but had died from exposure in the cold Alaska winter. Don received what would be the first of many a citation from the US Air Force for his efforts in this search and ultimate rescue of the survivors of this downed C-47.
Most often though, Don’s flights were less extreme, like the times when Don delivered supplies (from a case of dynamite to a case of Jack Daniels) and there were no places to set his Super Cub down, so Don would fly very low and throw the items out and more times than not Don’s aim was very good. Though there were one or who miner’s cabins with a hole in the roof throughout the territory.
Over the years, Don Sheldon distinguished himself for his uncanny skills at flying his bush planes and the stories of his lifesaving flights are too numerous to list here, but Don maintained an extraordinary understanding of aerodynamics and this combined with a complete understanding of meteorology and the topography of Denali and the surrounding areas made for a unique individual among many unique individuals. Many trapped mountain climbers, hikers, or survivors of downed aircraft released a sigh of relief when they heard the putter of Don Sheldon’s Super Cub overhead. Just when everyone said no one could get through, that’s when Don Sheldon would appear in his Piper Super Cub.
Don Sheldon never thought of himself as a hero, as he felt that he merely understood how to profit at operating a charter air service in the wilderness of the Alaska. Considering all of the near death close calls and crashes he survived, it seems unfitting a man, such as Don Sheldon passed on from cancer at the age of 53 in 1975. Don Sheldon was a father and husband and he was truly an American hero, but above all he was a bush pilot’s pilot!