High in the sky

Early peninsula aviators to be honored

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

Americans thought Alaska was for the birds in 1867 when Secretary of State William Henry Seward purchased the state for $7.2 million.

Anyone who lives here knows they were wrong, and Saturday the city of Soldotna is commemorating one bird that is special to the city -- A Starduster SA-100 single-engine airplane.

If that species is hard to locate in a birds of North America field guide, the explanation is simple: A Starduster is a bird of the nonplumed variety. Instead of flappable and feathered, its wings are static and metal.

The Starduster was first introduced to the area in 1963 when Harry Reger of Reger's Garage in downtown Soldotna decided to purchase plans that would help him build the first experimental plane in Soldotna.

He and a friend flew Outside and bought a new vehicle, trailer and all the parts necessary to build the plane. Then they hauled it all up the Alaska Highway.

After completing the assembly of basic parts, such as the fuselage and wings, Reger and Jim Adams of Bear Paw Aviation put the plane together.

In 1967, Dr. Paul Isaak, one of the first physicians in Soldotna and Kenai, purchased the plane from Reger.

Isaak was a seasoned pilot and for years flew patients from the area to Seward if they needed hospital care. He did aerobatics with the Starduster in Alaska air shows, fly-ins and even during Soldotna Progress Days until 1992.

Paul Reger, now an employee for the city of Soldotna, bought the plane back, and together he and Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, came up with the idea of putting the plane on display at the Soldotna airport.

"It is really just the last little piece of the puzzle," Lancaster said about the plane and his plans for the airport's future.

Improvements to the airport began under Lancaster during his terms as mayor of Soldotna.

"We wanted to make the airport a little more inviting, make it more attractive" he said.

The plane was installed last Saturday by Lancaster and Reger who welded it to the top of a 20-foot pole. It now rests atop a pedestal at the entrance and serves as a symbol for all of the early aviators from the peninsula such as Al Hershberger, Ed Back, Jess Shelman, Jim Adams, Virgil Dahler, Ray McNutt, Walt Pedersen, Andy Anderson, Shell Bear, Harry White, Bud Lofstedt, Jerry Thompson, Frank Mullen, Charlie Parker, Phil Wilson, Dr. Elmer Gaede, Burt Carver, Dan France and Jack Bradford.

The dedication of the plane in its new home will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the airport.

"Anybody that wants to come, we look forward to seeing them," said Lancaster.

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