L188 N1968R at Anchorage Int'l Airport, Alaska. May 1999

Reeve Aleutian Airways Lockheed L188C Electra N1968R sits on the ramp at Anchorage International Airport on May 10, 1999.

In late 1998 or early 1999 Mickey Bednar, aka "Air Nikon", and I started tossing around the idea of making a trip to Anchorage for the sole purpose of flying aboard one of the last Lockheed L188 "Electra" planes in passenger service. I'd never flown aboard an Electra; Mickey on the other hand regaled me with tales of flights aboard Air California Electras during his tenure with that airline in the 70s. I was a little envious as the last passenger Electras in regulary scheduled airlines service in the Lower 48 were on their way out the door when I started photographing airliners in earnest in 1978. I witnessed Air California and PSA Electras in service on just a couple of occasions...and then they were gone. A move back to Denver in 1980 allowed me to view Ports of Call's sole Electra, N8355C, on their ramp every time I visited the airport but I never once saw it fly. I was VERY tempted to join the travel club during that time just to try and get a ride on the last passenger Convair 990s in service in the US but that never came to fruition, so I never flew in that type either.

So, during the spring of 1999 we finalized our travel plans. Rumors were floating around the aviation enthusiast community that the Electras were going to be withdrawn from service during 1999. Calls to Reeve Aleutian Airways confirmed they were still flying Electras and the least expensive trip would be from Anchorage to Dillingham. The flight was $260 roundtrip...expensive but doable for two hours' worth of total flying...considering it was the cheapest route among the last passenger Electras on the planet. We both lived in California at the time but in different metro areas so we agreed the simplest plan would be for us to just meet at Anchorage airport. We arranged our flights to ANC so we would arrive around the same time. I was going to redeem some United frequent flier miles so I decided to drive down to LAX for my flights to Seattle and then Anchorage. Mickey was a big United Airlines flier too but I think he went via Salt Lake City on Delta...I honestly don't remember. At one time I had a spreadsheet of his flight log but I don't think I have it anymore. No matter. Our flights arrived very late in the evening and Mickey had already arranged the hotel room so I just followed him when we met. I think we picked up the rental car in the morning after we woke up and had breakfast.

We didn't allow for a lot of time in Anchorage...only three days. Mickey was still working for Boeing at Long Beach and only took a few days off, and I took several days of military leave. We arrived late in the evening on May 7th...May 8th for all practical purposes. Our Electra flight was May 10th and we both were flying out after midnight that night. So, we had only one real chance for our Electra flight. If our scheduled flight cancelled for technical reasons we would lose out. If we got to Dillingham and the plane didn't make it back from the ultimate destination of St. Paul Island, well, we'd be stuck an hour's flying time from Anchorage. And what a bummer it would be if they had ended up substituting a 727 jet for the Electra.

To make matters more interesting, of the three Electras in Reeve's small fleet, only one was airworthy: N1968R. N178RV was parked on the ramp outside their maintenance hangar, allegedly with a broken wing spar. The other, N9744C, was in the hangar with severe corrosion but at least it was being attended to. We didn't know the dire state of the Electra fleet going into the trip...so we were a little nervous about N1968R remaining airworthy during the couple of days we had after our arrival in Anchorage. And we certainly didn't know how serious the situation at Reeve was overall. Indeed, Reeve would be in business for only another 18 months; they shut down operations entirely on December 5, 2000.

40% of the Reeve fleet grounded in this photo.
Electra N178RV and 727 N831RV - 10 May 1999
A testament to the Lockheed L188 Electra and N1968R:

YouTube video of inflight emergency June 1983

I'd only ever been to Alaska once before, a brief layover in the middle of the night in January 1989. I was on my way home to California from a year-long military tour in South Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam. My ride home was on a Flying Tiger Line passenger 747-100, one of only a few in their (mostly cargo) fleet dedicated to passenger charters, typically government contract work. It was on that ride I learned Flying Tigers had been recently purchased by Federal Express. In that case I was doubly pleased to be flying on a three-leg Trans-Pacific journey on an airline that would, sadly, soon be no more. Our first leg was Osan Air Base, S. Korea to Yokota Air Base, Japan. The next leg after several hours on the ground was to Anchorage, where we arrived in the wee hours of the morning on a snow covered runway. I think I had a window seat near the front of the plane and I vaguely remember seeing swirling snow being reflected off the massive landing lights in the leading edge of the wing. We taxied to the terminal and pulled up next to one of the other Flying Tigers passenger 747s. We were allowed off the plane and true to my nature, I snooped out the observation deck. It was open...and it was snowing outside. But I checked it out anyway just to say I'd been there. Within two hours we were back in the air, on our way to my destination of Oakland, CA. I believe the flight eventually terminated at St. Louis, MO.

The two days we had to kill waiting for our Reeve flight were spent exploring the area around Anchorage. We visited Merrill Field, a small airport pretty close to downtown. My interest in trains was just beginning and I managed to find the Alaska Railroad headquarters. Even Mickey photographed some railroad equipment. We weren't about to miss Elmendorf AFB, and with Mickey's insistance, I tossed my old sneakers in a dumpster after buying some new ones at the base exchange. At Elmendorf we found some museum aircraft as well as a memorial to the ill-fated E-3 AWACS mission Yukla 27. The furthest we ventured from Anchorage was to Wasilla, an hour or so to the north, to visit the Transportation Museum there. Back at the Anchorage airport we found a spot near the approach end of Runway 14 and enjoyed photographing planes until it was time to head back to the hotel. Sunset was 9:22pm that night and it was only early May.

Merrill Field, Anchorage, AK - 8 May 1999

Yukla 27 memorial, Elmendorf AFB, AK - 8 May 1999

Yukla 27 memorial, Elmendorf AFB, AK - 8 May 1999

10 May 1999

The day of the Electra flight was filled with anticipation. Would the flight operate? And if so, would it be on time and would we make it back to Anchorage for our flights home? We stayed around the airport that morning, photographing cargo planes on the ramps through the fence and once inside, through the terminal windows. This was pre-9/11 so airport terminals were open to the general public. One could roam around with nary a concern that the average traveler wouldn't immediately think something was amiss or suspicious of people pointing cameras out the window at airplanes.

We were booked on RV flight 185 from Anchorage to Dillingham, scheduled to depart at 1110am. We got to the gate early and watched some planes arriving and departing on the east-west runway 07/25. Skies were mostly cloudy and our destination was 329 air miles to the west. Scheduled flying time: 80 minutes. After a stop at Dillingham the Electra would continue another 448 air miles further west to St. Paul Island. After a 30-minute turnaround, it would fly the same route in reverse.

In due course, Mickey and I were very pleased to see our Electra taxying towards the terminal and then turn and park at gate A5...right where we were waiting. All four Allison turboprops were shut down and soon after the plane was unloaded the boarding procedure started. Everyone went down the stairs and made the short walk across the ramp to the airstairs at the rear. Mickey was busy snapping photos with his Nikon and I was shooting VHS with my 1989-vintage Panasonic. We climbed the steps and entered the cabin, working our way towards the front so we could each try to get window seats near those big turboprop engines. The thing about this particular aircraft was the main-deck cargo bin took up a lot of space behind the cockpit. We were relegated to sitting over the wing.

The cabin was cozy but well worn. Like the more modern DC-9 and MD-80/90 series twin engine jetliners, the seating was 2+3, an indication the diameter wasn't quite as big as most modern single-aisle jets. The overhead storage wasn't enclosed bins...you just put your stuff on a "shelf" and hoped turbulence didn't dislodge it. One of the nice things about the Electra was the size of the cabin windows. They're nearly square and much bigger than those typically found on jetliners.

With everyone onboard, the flight attendants performed their routine. The cockpit crew started the engines and we pushed back from the gate, my video camera recording the events for posterity. We had a reasonable short taxi out to runway 32 and according to my notes we had wheels up at 11:20am. Not bad for a scheduled 11:10 scheduled departure. We were flying...on the Electra. Big grin here. After clearing the Anchorage airport we made a banking turn to the left and headed west toward Dillingham. I don't recall our cruising altitude but it probably wasn't above 20,000 feet.

Looking forward from my seat

Fellow passenger looking at the L-188 monograph

Another view forward

The sky was bright once we got above the cloud layer. After the seat-belt sign was turned off, Mickey and I wandered about the cabin snapping photos of this and that. This particular aircraft wasn't a full-blown "combi" with a main-deck cargo door, but it did have a reasonable amount of space for cargo storage up front. Loading of this cargo was through what would normally be the main entrance of a plane...the forward left front door. We probably got some inquisitive looks from the various passengers but the cabin crew were very understanding of our desire to document this trip with our cameras. We explained why we were flying with them today and that we'd made the trip to Anchorage specifically to ride an Electra. Michelle and Norma were our flight attendants. Through conversation, I learned Michelle's husband was also a Reeve employee and was flying onboard, too.

Forward Cargo and Cockpit Door

Looking aft

Norma and Michelle

Before too long we were back in our seats descending toward Dillingham. We flew our downwind leg to the north of the airport and made a left-hand turn onto final approach for runway 1. The flight crew greased the Electra onto the runway and we turned off the active runway and made our way to the terminal. Time enroute: 63 minutes...well short of the scheduled 80 minutes. After deplaning we were allowed to take a few photos of the Electra on the ground. The crew left the starboard outboard engine running so we didn't venture to that side of the N1968R. There were also some other interesting aircraft on the ramp at Dillingham and we snapped what photos we could of them before we went inside the small terminal building.

Dillingham's small terminal had an upper level shop with a window Mickey and I could open and take photos through. We took advantage of this by snapping some pictures of the Electra and some of the other planes, Indeed, we waited long enough up there to watch N1968R takeoff for St. Paul Island.

Both planes I flew in that day - Dillingham, AK

Reeve Aleutian Airways N1968R - Dillingham, AK

Back on the main floor of the terminal we had a lot of time to kill. My records show we landed at 12:23pm and we weren't scheduled to depart until 5:05pm. What else to do? If I'd been "birding" back then I'd probably wandered around outdoors looking for new species to photograph, but that wasn't the case. We snapped photos of the airline ticket counters and some more of the planes outside on the ramp. As is typical of many smaller "air-taxi" and "commuter" operations, the planes are pretty small and with quaint-sounding names like "Larry's", "Yute Air", "Arctic Circle Air", "PenAir", and "Ace." We snapped photos of whatever was in range.

Larry's Flying Service U206G N734CM

Yute Air C206A N9933M

Yute Air U206F N35952

PenAir C208 N9602F

PenAir PA-31 N27663

PenAir PA-32 N8470Y

In the terminal, time was crawling. At some point a burly fella stopped by to talk to us. Turns out he worked for Arctic Circle Air and, sensing our boredom, offered one of us a ride on his next flight. Mick and I looked at each other and he told me to go for it. I grabbed my camera bag and followed the fella out to the ramp. We were going to fly onboard Cessna T207A N7305U on a roundtrip cargo flight to the village of Togiak, some 67 air miles to the west. We did a quick pre-flight and I took my seat next to the pilot. He didn't mind if I did some video as well as photographs. We took off form runway 01 at 2:41pm and cruised at about 1000 ft. The landscape was covered in snow and he even did some maneuvering to try and locate some larger wildlife (bears) for me. The flight was fun and it took us 34 minutes to reach Togiak. We lined up on runway 02 and he set it down like the professional pilot he was. We parked and a truck pulled up to receive the cargo we delivered. My notes indicate we were only on the ground about five minutes...taking to the air again at 3:23pm from runway 02. After another 34 minutes of flying, he landed N7305U on Dillingham's runway 01 at 3:57pm. It was a fun way to unexpectedly kill 76 minutes of ground time.

Jim at the controls

On final to Togiak, AK runway 02

Unloading at Togiak, AK

Unloading at Togiak, AK

Climbing out of Togiak

Empty rear cabin

Eventually, our Electra found its way back to Dillingham from St. Paul Island. We were soon onboard flight 186 and after a quick taxi to runway 01 we were airborne at 4:58pm and cruising our way back to Anchorage. A nice treat for both Mickey and I was a visit to the flight deck. Unheard of today, back then you could occasionally recieve permission to check out the "front office" while in flight. We snapped the obligatory photos and I even got all the flight crew to sign my Lockheed Electra monograph I'd brought along for the occasion.

Enroute Dillingham - Anchorage

Enroute Dillingham - Anchorage

Before too long, we were back in our seats and descending toward Anchorage. This time we were on final for runway 14, the opposite direction we'd taken off from. At 6:01pm and after another 63 minutes of flight time we were back on the ground. Our Electra flights were over, but it was worth every penny spent.

Once we were back in the terminal we still had some time to kill as my flight back to Seattle wasn't until after midnight. We decided we'd go check out the Reeve Aleutian maintenance hangar. I'm glad we did because we were allowed to wander around outside and get some photos of the two stored YS-11s, the 727, and Electra N178RV. Electra N9744C was inside the hangar and we got to go onboard for some photos. My inside photos on K64 slide film turned out pretty poorly and the outside photos were quite dark as well, even for print film. It was still pretty cloudy so we didn't have the benefit of nice sunlight for our photos.

To see some better photos of all three Reeve L-188s we saw during our trip, take a look at: AirNikon ANC L-188 Photos at Airliners.net

In the end it was a great trip...and the first of many adventures Mickey and I would experience over the next seven years. While we never flew together again on a trip, we met up numerous times for various times to photograph airshows, airports, trains, and just do some travelling around. You can read more about our adventures on my Air Nikon tribute page. The trip back to LAX from Anchorage was rather round-about. I took advantage of the situation when I'd book the flights and instead of a nonstop from Seattle back to LAX, I connected via Denver. Not only did I get to see my Mom at the airport during the layover, I got to fly a 747-400 from SEA to DEN, and a 777-200 from DEN to LAX. It wasn't my first time on either type but it sure beat a direct A320 or 757 nonstop.

Birding on Attu

Please click the link above to read about Attu

About the background image. N1968R sits on the ramp at Dillingham, Alaska on 10 May 1999.


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