Reeve Aleutian Airways
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Back in May 1987 I was planning a trip to Alaska and wrote a letter to Reeve Aleutian Airways office in Anchorage. I received a letter back from Margaret Weatherly saying that I was welcome and that Reeve was operating the YS-11’s, Electra’s and 727’s aircraft. I visited the downtown office and found it to be a small Reeve memorabilia museum. At the airport I received the grand tour and was able to photograph all the a/c on the maintenance ramp.
I visited Alaska again during June 1994 and was able to capture the Lockheed L-118 and B727 in action. Unfortunately my wish to fly onboard the Electra never materialized. Below are some of the pictures I made on a crisp cool day at Anchorage International Airport.
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. 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 9½ hours. Numerous round trips were made. Reeve would work all night on inspections and maintenance of his plane whilst at Spokane, and then fly back to Anchorage having had very little sleep. 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. Within a year, he was running a twice-weekly service, keeping all four DC-3s busy. It was during this time that Reeve Aleutian suffered its first accident. DC-3 N46567 being damaged in an accident during take-off at Merrill Field.
On March 24, 1947, Reeve Aleutian Airways was incorporated. The company was running scheduled and charter services all over Alaska, despite not having a formal CAA certificate. 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.), his 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.
Reeve sold two of these aircraft to Peninsula Airways (Pen Air) in 1977. In March 1949, four days notice was given that Shemya was to close. This base was vital to Reeve, as it was an all-weather alternative to Adak, Amchitka and Attu. Northwest Airlines also needed the base on its run to the Orient. Reeve and Croil Hunter (President of Northwest) flew to Washington to plead their case without success, but on their way back to the hotel, Reeve met Major General Sam Anderson, who had served with Reeve's brother Richard, and explained their predicament with the result that the military were persuaded to pronounce the field "militarily desirable" and thus Shemya was saved. In late 1950, the bank was reluctant to loan Reeve any more capital. Reeve flew to Seattle in an effort to get a loan, but was turned down. He ran into Elmer Rasmusson, an Anchorage banker whilst in Seattle, with the result that Rasmusson loaned him $125,000 to get going again. On the day he got the loan, Reeve heard that Pacific Airmotive, who was doing his maintenance, where going out of business in Alaska. Reeve flew back to Anchorage and bought the business, which was renamed Reeve Airmotive.
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. 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 installing 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 Reeve Aleutian. Therefore, 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 (DEW) line was being constructed, bringing a boom to Reeve Aleutian. In 1957 Curtiss C-46 Commandos N1302N and N10022 were purchased from Cordova Airlines and Grumman G-21 Goose N1513V leased from Interior Airways. C-46 N1302N was written off in an accident on May 31, 1958 at Driftwood Bay, Alaska. C-46 N9852F was purchased from Boreas Corporation in July 1958. DC-4 N63396 was written off in September 1958 at Great Sitkin Island, Alaska. DC-4 N91067 was purchased from Boreas Corporation in October 1958. Merrill Field proved too small for the DC-4, so Reeve Aleutian moved to Anchorage International in 1958. By the early 1960s, the DC-4 was proving outdated, and therefore a DC-6B was purchased in January 1962. This aircraft, N65L, had formerly served as SX-DAF with Olympic Airways of Greece and had been the personal aircraft of Aristotle Onassis.
Between December 1962 and July 1968 several aircraft mutation followed.
The late 1960s saw the emergence of the four engines turbo-prop Lockheed L-188 Electra, which was to be backbone of Reeve Aleutian's business from then on. The first, N1968R (ex ZK-CLX of Air New Zealand) was purchased from California Airmotive in February 1968. With the acquisition of the Electra’s, the DC-6s were phased out of passenger service. Electra N9744C was purchased in September 1970. Electra N7140C was purchased in April 1972. Reeve Aleutian still had DC-3s in service, and a replacement was sought. The twin engine NAMC YS-11A was decided on and the first plane, N172RV was purchased new in 1972. In 1973, the Electra was certified by the CAA to land on gravel runways. YS-11 N173RV was purchased new in that year. On November 11, 1974, there was a hangar fire at Anchorage, and two aircraft were lost - Electra N7140C and YS-11A N172RV. Another YS-11 N171RV was purchased from Toa Domestic Airlines (TDA) in January 1975.
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. A fourth YS-11 N169RV was purchased from the Gabon Government in February 1980. YS-11A N172RV was involved in an accident on February 16, 1982 at King Salmon, Alaska. It was returned to service. Electra N1968R suffered loss of No.4 propeller in-flight while en-route from Cold Bay to Seattle on June 8, 1983. Piloted by Jim Gibson, it landed safely at Anchorage, Alaska. It too was repaired and returned to service. Electra N7135C was purchased from Zantop International Airlines in September 1983 and withdrawn from service for use as a spares source, eventually being scrapped at Anchorage.
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, with three aircraft mothballed and one leased out (as of 1988). YS-11A N169RV was sold to Trinidad in February 1995. 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 Airways Inc., the oldest regional airline in Alaska, ceased operations on December 5, 2000, and about 250 people were declared redundant. Reasons given for the situation included increased competition and high fuel prices. At the end, only Electra N178RV and 727 N832RV were in service.
Logo’s & baggage tags provided by aviation globetrotter Chris Mak