First Airplane Flight in Alaska
by The Alaska Life
On July 4, 1913, one hundred and four years ago, Alaskans had more than just Independence Day to celebrate. The day before, on July 3rd in Fairbanks, the first airplane flight in Alaska took place.
Two Fairbanks businessmen, Arthur Williams and R.S. McDonald, hired aviator and inventor, James V. Martin, to come to Alaska for an exhibition.
Although it had been ten years since the Wright brothers took off on their first successful flight on the North Carolina coast, aviation was still in its infancy. It wasn’t possible for Martin to simply fly to Alaska, so he and his wife, Lily, had to make a long and arduous journey over land and sea. They came via a steamship on the Inside Passage, then took the White Pass & Yukon Railroad to Whitehorse, and from there boarded a steamer that navigated on the Yukon, Tanana, and Chena Rivers till it eventually brought them to Fairbanks.
He was able to go 45 mph, and soared above the many spectators at an altitude of 200 feet.
Once they arrived in Fairbanks, Martin assembled his Gage-Martin Tractor biplane with the help of some local mechanics. A strip of land was plowed on the southern part of town near where the Noel Wien Library stands today—a library named after the founder of the first commercial airline in Alaska.
Many who came to watch the exhibition had never seen an airplane before and doubted that powered flight was possible. Those who didn’t believe it possible were almost proven right, because the fuel Martin needed for his plane didn’t arrive in time for the show. Although it was very dangerous for him to attempt take-off with a low quality fuel, Martin did it anyway. On his second try, Martin and his plane made it off the ground. He was able to go 45 mph, and soared above the many spectators at an altitude of 200 feet.
History was made and the residents of Fairbanks had an unforgettable Fourth of July.
If you enjoyed this article, check out “1913 – A Very Important Year In Alaska History.”