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"Alaska's aviators pay tribute to a living legend"

Sunday, March 25, 2001

Alaska's aviators pay tribute to a living legend
PILOT:Ray Petersen will be honored for his part in state's airline industry.
By Rose Cox
Anchorage (AK) Daily News

Ray Petersen came to this state as a stowaway on the steamship Victoria when
Alaska aviation was in its infancy. Within days of his arrival on April 1,
1934, he'd landed a job as a pilot.

In the next 10 years, he started a flight service out of Bethel and then
consolidated a number of other air carrier operations into Northern
Consolidated serving Central Alaska.

In 1952, he implemented the nation's first pension plan for airline
employees. He merged Northern Consolidated with Wien Air Alaska in 1968 to
form the state's largest airline -- Wien Air Consolidated -- and served at
its helm until 1978.

"I like to refer to him as the king of the bush pilots," said Ted Spencer,
former director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum and founder of the
Alaska Historical Aviation Institute, a nonprofit organization that records
Alaska's aeronautical history. "He really deserves a top spot in history,
not just for what he did, but for his longevity."

On March 30, Petersen, 88, will add Alaska Aviation Hall of Fame to his
accolades, which include Alaska Business Hall of Fame and the OX5 Aviation
Pioneers Hall of Fame for "men and women who risked life and fortune to
establish the great aviation industry" in planes powered by the
Curtiss-built Model OX5 engine.

"I was inducted into Pathfinders at the Seattle museum a few years ago, and
that was a great feeling," Petersen said. "This feels better because it's in
my own hometown. It's nice to be recognized by your neighbors and
competitors in business."

Petersen regards providing a pension plan for employees as his finest

"I put the first fully funded and company-paid pension in the airline
industry before there were any airline unions in the country. That really is
my big pride," he said.

Petersen started a second career of sorts in 1950 when he secured
concessionaire rights from the federal government to build fishing lodges in
what was then Katmai National Monument, jump-starting the fly-in fishing
business in Alaska and providing another good reason for folks to fly.

In 1999, the state legislature declared him Father of Alaska's Sportfishing

Petersen and son Raymond F. "Sonny" Petersen still run Kulik Lodge,
Grosvenor Camp and Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park and Preserve
southwest of Anchorage.

"There were a lot of heartaches, but it was really rewarding," Petersen said
of establishing the lodges. "When I look back, I'm glad I did it, but there
were times it interfered with my airline business quite a bit."

Petersen said he knew within weeks of his arrival in Alaska that he'd never
leave. He put the Lower 48 and its struggling airline industry behind him
and forged ahead.

"The thing that brought me to Alaska was it was one place where an airplane
was useful. In the '30s in the States, the airlines were struggling along
with mail contracts and trying to get passengers to ride."

Alaska, with its tremendous natural resources and dearth of roads, offered
early aviators boundless opportunity, he said.

"Suddenly here was a place where an airplane was a useful means of
transportation. You felt useful. You had a job. That's what Alaska did for
me. Hopefully I've paid it back a little bit."

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