Teens Explore Alaska’s Aviation History at Anchorage Museum

AKontheGO intern Isabella recently visited the Anchorage Museum’s hottest exhibit, Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation. Below are her impressions and recommendations for other teen travelers. 

Credit: Eric Long/Smithsonial National Air and Space Museum

Aviation is an integral part of Alaska’s culture, dramatically affecting the state over the past century. From humble beginnings in 1913— the first flight in Fairbanks was a spectacle rather than a legitimate means of transportation—air travel has become fundamental to Alaska’s economy, and caused an explosion of both adventure-seekers and entrepreneurs. In recognition of this bond between survival and excitement, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center has unveiled their newest exhibition, Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation, focused on the connection between Alaska and aviation over the past 100 years.

Upon entering, visitors are greeted by the exhibition’s centerpiece, a Stearman C2B biplane. First bought to Alaska in 1928 by legendary bush pilots  like Joe Crosson—the first to land an airplane on Mount McKinley—and Noel Wien, founder of the state’s first airline. The Stearman is a wonder and serves as a testament to the strength of Alaskan bush pilots, with a completely open cockpit exposed to the elements.

The exhibition is full of other interesting media and hands-on displays, moving beyond the stereotype of boring museum field trips and creating an experience that is engaging rather than just viewed. Visitors can utilize iPads at every station to find additional information on a certain subject and various types of media from different eras is shown to supplement the other visuals and to add even more interest.

Too cold for ya? See many examples of comic strips depicting Alaska air travel in its early days. Courtesy Anchorage Museum

My favorite piece is the large mural illustrating an Alaskan Bush Pilot comic, a common theme for Hollywood to explore in both print and film. The mural truly shows the deep interest by the United States toward the idea of exploring the Last Frontier and the ideals of a Bush Pilot; heroism, an adventurous spirit, and physical prowess are highlighted in the adventures of these bush pilots—both in the comics and in the lives of the actual Alaskan bush pilots—and are placed in the center of national interest.

Pilot Don Sheldon in the mountains of Alaska. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.

The exhibit follows Alaska’s history with aviation, flowing through the 20th century with information from the first commercial flights in Alaska, to World War II and the army base constructed on Attu Island, concluding with the monumental boom of flight and tourism within Alaska. Old flight advertisements for Wien Air Alaska, Pan Am, and other airlines are displayed, accompanied by old commercials shown on American televisions to stimulate travel into Alaska.

Who remembers these bags? Courtesy Anchorage Museum.

For children and those still young at heart, the exhibit includes many interactive stations, like a soundboard to simulate the sound of various different planes taking off, landing, or passing by. Additionally, there is an air cannon aimed directly at paper airplanes hanging from the ceiling. By pulling back and releasing the rope mechanism, the cannon directs a rush of wind and will move paper airplanes suspended from the ceiling. Each paper airplane is a different essay from a student in the Anchorage School District, all written about flight and aviation. Finally, a scaled down version of a bush plane allows children climb inside and pretend to take the controls while parents wait “in the wings” and snap pictures of kids flying their own plane.

The exhibit is not only co-curated by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, it features objects from the Smithsonian and several Alaska museums, including the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage, and the Pioneer Air Museum.

Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation will be on display through August 11th, Tickets cost $12 for adults, $9 for students and $7 for children, with toddlers ages 2 or younger getting free admission. Tickets can be purchased at the museum website or via (907) 929-9201. A supplementary event titled “The Wrangell Mountain Skyboys” is also taking place May 3rd through August 25th.


AKontheGO intern-junior bush pilot Isabella. She's got this down, don't you think?

AKontheGO student-intern Isabella Sellers lives in Anchorage, Alaska and is a senior at both Polaris K-12 and the King Career Center. She has enrolled in the Tourism and Hospitality class, where she was introduced to blog and travel writing. Isabella will be contributing a valuable teenage perspective over the next several months. Welcome, Bella!

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