Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Loud Brilliance

There are a few sounds that will make a guy stop and take notice, one being a Harley as its rider throttles up. Another example is the sound of a siren or maybe the report from a weapon. The one that always makes me stop and take notice is the rumble of a DC-6 aircraft as it taxis down the runway. It may have just arrived or is preparing to take off. The four powerful radial engines that move this beautiful bird will put any Harley to shame. The rumble vibrates your chest with every turn of the blades.
Working in Alaska has provided me with many opportunities to view these 50’s vintage workhorses. No where else in the United States are aircraft of such a proud heritage flown. They are still used in Alaska although the company which once boasted a large number of DC-6 aircraft, Northern Air Cargo, retired its last DC-6 in September of 2008. It will be on display at the flight museum in Anchorage next year. The building of the Trans Alaska Pipeline was accomplished with the help of the DC-6.
One company in Alaska that still widely uses this aircraft is, Everts Air Fuel Service. They are used to haul fuel to the remote sites in Alaska.
Deadhorse Alaska Airport, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is the hub of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field complex. A small airport by most standards, but also a busy one. Air traffic comes and goes on a regular basis. Alaska Airlines has a terminal here which accommodates about eight thousand tourist a year, most of which are members of the Princess and Holland America Tours. They either fly in and take a bus down the famous Hall road or come by bus, and leave by Alaska Airlines.
I recently was at the Deadhorse Airport when I recognized the sound of a DC-6 landing and shortly there after taxing to a small fuel dock area next to the Northern Air Cargo terminal. She was the most beautiful DC-6 I had ever seen. Grey and blue color scheme adorned her fuselage. Extremely clean and there was something else about her that was different. She belonged to Everts Air Fuel but there was an extra marking on the nose that I had not seen before. I got a little closer and was thrilled to see the likeness of Howard Hughes, on the nose with the familiar Fedora hat.
I had heard about this DC-6 back in 2001 while I was a Police Officer with the North Slope Borough. I was told that one of the DC-6 aircraft then owned by Northern Air Cargo, was purchased from the Howard Hughes estate back in the early seventies. When they went to pick it up in Nevada, it was stored in a hanger in like new condition. It was like new because it had only 9.5 hours and this plane was built in the mid to late fifties.
I called Everts Air Fuel to get some more info on the aircraft. The gentleman that answered was more then happy to talk about the plane that he affectionately referred to as Bravo-80. I was told that the aircraft was bought by Hughes who wanted it basically as a base line to help him design his own aircraft that was to be used by “Trans Word Airlines,” or TWA. He wanted to make sure that the design for the Constellation exceeded that of the DC-6 which was flown by the competition Pan Am. The original 9.5 hours on this DC-6 had been flown by one of America’s most interesting figures and is a true piece of aviation history.

Randy J. Cole