#TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Wien Air Alaska

(Photo provided by Eduard Marmet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Wien Air Alaska was originally formed by Noel and Ralph Wien who started by ordering a single Fokker F-III plane in 1921 as a way to teach themselves how to fly. After learning how to fly, Noel and Ralph started taking requests from local customers for help if they needed any bush pilots. The company quickly expanded in 1927, starting passenger service between Nome, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Although the carrier started in 1927, the Wien company claimed to be the second oldest airlines in the United States, using the agricultural side of the company as a way to give the company a few extra years. The company started well, but in 1930 Ralph died in a plane crash leaving Noel alone to carry on the airplane business.

Over the next few years the company slowly expanded, still doing bush pilot and commercial aviation service while also adding aerial photography work done by the third brother Sigurd Wien, who started flying in 1937 as Noel was slowly working his way out of Wien. The airline continued to fly though the 40s, adding more flights and starting routes to the continental United States. Wien worked its way south, reaching as far south as Phoenix and Albuquerque as they added destinations. The flights were operated though the 1940s-1960s with Douglas DC-3s. The carrier became one the best when it came to landing on grass and dirt runways since most Alaska runways were not paved yet, especially those north of the Artic Circle.

However, expansion came at a big price as the company neared bankruptcy in the early 1960s.The company reorganized and returned to making a profit again while also merging with another Alaskan carrier called Northern Consolidated Airlines. Wien started jet service with the addition of the Boeing 727 and Boeing 737 service throughout their route map. The airline became a pioneer at landing aircraft on gravel runways and also was the first carrier to receive a Boeing 737-200Combi which allowed the carrier to switch out seats for cargo pallets. The carrier leased various aircraft as well; with Douglas DC-8s being utilized for long haul flights from Seattle to Miami and Atlanta as well as other Boeing 737s being used to add flights from Juneau and Ketchikan to Seattle.

The 1970s saw Wien go though a branding change; the carrier kept the traditional colors of yellow and blue, which matched the Alaska flag, but switched the design. The original design was a mostly white fuselage with a blue streak running down the fuselage above the windows. Below the blue streak was white and above was yellow. The words “Wien AIR ALASKA” were behind the cockpit in white on the blue streak. The new livery was less focused on being an Alaskan carrier, with the world Wien being in a larger font between the front doors and the words “Air Alaska” stacked behind “Wien.” The carrier switched the livery to a mostly blue color, with the yellow on the belly of the fuselage and then climbing the back half of the tail. The rest of the plane was blue with the word “Wien” written diagonally on the tail in white.

Rebranding the company didn’t help as the rising price of fuel once again forced Wien into bankruptcy in 1979. The carrier landed in the hands of corporate raider Jim Flood, who shut the carrier down in 1983 and liquidated the remains for personal profit. Wien was officially shut down in 1985. The son of Noel Wien, Merrill, held a 75th anniversary of Noel’s first flight, flying a biplane from Anchorage to Fairbanks in remembrance of Wien Air Alaska’s start. Most of Wien’s history doesn’t remain. Most of the carrier’s fleet has been retired and scrapped except for one Boeing 737-200, which continues to fly for the Indonesian charter airline Jayawijaya Dirgantara. The only other major historical landmark of Wien is their Fairbanks hanger, which is currently the Everts Air Cargo hanger just north of the commercial terminal on the airport, which on the northeast side of the terminal still reads Wien Air ALASKA in faded baby blue with the Wien “W” below it.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry