Among Alaskan pilots Dave Wilder is as well known as Jay Hammond, Babe Alsworth and Fred Chambers. Wilder came to Alaska from the north side of Chicago in 1967 and wound up at Lake Iliamna where he married his wife Jacque and started his first air taxi service with her father in 1969. Dave and Jacque then started what is now known as Lake and Peninsula Airlines or Lake Pen Air in 1991 serving lake villages with air transport to and from Anchorage from their home base at Port Alsworth. June 7th Lake Pen Air officially cut the ribbon at their new counter at the Kenai Municipal Airport and will be offering regular commuter service from Kenai to Anchorage’s Merrill Field and other locations. “We’ll be providing the opportunity for bear viewing, back packing, kayaking and transportation to a number of bed & breakfasts in the Lake Clark area from right here in Kenai at very affordable rates,” said Wilder.
Lake Pen Air is a true family airline business with Dave’s son Lyle being one of the lead pilots, “I was born in the back of an airplane almost literally flying back and forth from Anchorage to Lake Clark and when I was 14 and had a good fishing season down in Bristol Bay, Dad said Hey why don’t you buy an airplane and what 14-year-old wouldn’t say yes to that so we bought a little T-Craft and Dad taught me how to fly on ice and eventually moved over to the runway and I’ve been flying ever since and it’s what I love to do,” Lyle told the Dispatch. Lyle’s sister Laura does most of the booking for LPA and while she knows how to fly she prefers others have the pilot’s seat, “I do the dispatching and will book your flights but I prefer to ride rather than fly. We are really a customer service orientated business and we really do our best to cater to our customers,” she happily said. Dave’s daughter-in-law Heidi loves and is also part of the family business, “I’m not a pilot yet but I’ve thought extensively about becoming one someday until then I’ll play airline stewardess as best I can,” she said.
Lake and Pen Air’s fleet based in Kenai includes a Cessna 206 and a 5 seat Beech Bonanza. Many of LPA’s customers are hunters and fishers who charter planes to visit southwest Alaska lodges and camps or those perhaps seeking a sighting of the famous Iliamna Lake Monster known affectionately among locals as “Illie.” Illie has been the subject of TV documentaries such as Animal Planet’s “River Monsters.” A $100,000 reward was posted in 1979 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence proving that the creature existed. While sporadic sightings continue evidence is yet to be provided or the mystery solved.
For those needing to catch connecting flights at Ted Stevens International LPA offers a shuttle service for their customers. At the grand opening celebration State Senator Peter Micciche, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and Wilder family friend and former Lt. Governor Loren Leman welcomed the family to Kenai and expressed enthusiasm for the new service Lake and Pen Air will now be offering the community. To make reservations or charter arrangements call the Kenai Airport counter at 907-283-2227.