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TBT in Aviation History: Reeve Aleutian Airways
From its official start in 1947 to its tragic downfall in 2000, and for years beyond, Reeve Aleutian Airways has always had a unique legacy. Known for buying its aircraft from other airlines, rather than purchasing new airplanes, Reeve Aleutian maintained a small fleet, often consisting of rugged turboprops. The Anchorage-based airline had a special purpose: to connect cities all across Alaska, which would otherwise be isolated, and to connect some Alaskan cities to the mainland U.S.
Prior to the actual start, founder Robert C. Reeve had been flying over the harsh Alaskan terrain for years. In February 1946, Reeve purchased his first DC-3 for $20,000. Two months later, a strike by sailors sailing between Anchorage and Seattle gave Reeve a transportation advantage. He commenced transporting passengers between the two cities on his newly acquired DC-3. Each trip carried 21 passengers and produced over $93,000, enough money to buy three more DC-3’s. A fifth was later added to the growing fleet.
After the official launch, the young airline received a temporary five-year operating certificate. Finally, in October 1948, Reeve Aleutian Airways was granted all the business in the area. In that same year, an additional DC-3 was purchased, alongside a Sikorsky S-43 and a Grumman G-21 Goose.
In 1950, Reeve received a $125,000 loan for his airline, terrific news after being denied on multiple occasions. However, the money was actually spent in part later that same day in order to counter more negative news. Pacific Airmotive, the company that performed repairs on the airplanes, announced that it would go out of business. Reeve acted quickly, buying the company and renaming it Reeve Airmotive. In the mid-1950’s, Reeve Aleutian’s DC-3’s were no longer effective for the airline’s purposes. The rapidly expanding airline selected the next generation airplane, the DC-4. Eventually, the newer model replaced the DC-3’s completely. Multiple important fleet changes came upon Reeve Aleutian in 1957, further shaping the airline. The S-43 was traded in, two Curtiss C-46 Commandos were purchased, and a Grumman G-21 Goose was leased from Interior Airways. In the early 1960’s, the DC-4, now considered outdated, was replaced with a DC-6B. In the late 1960’s, the Lockheed L-188 Electra dominated Reeve Aleutian’s fleet. Unfortunately, in November 1974, a hangar fire destroyed two of the new Electra’s.
Reeve Aleutian started non-stop service between Cold Bay and Seattle using an Electra in 1979. The three-year service turned out.very successful, with very few cancelations despite the weather. After this route was called off, Reeve Aleutian gained interest in a tri-engine jet, the Boeing 727. They purchased two of these airplanes from Wien Air Alaska in 1983. The jet engine airplanes were a change from their rugged turboprops. In 1985, USPS suffered a severe backlog of mail during the holiday season. Reeve Aleutian stepped up and assisted in the painstaking delivery process, further improving their image.
Despite the airline’s positive reputation, trouble came upon the airline in the early 1990’s. They suffered serious financial problems in many aspects of the airline. Their fleet of seven aircraft, many of them turboprops, was not sufficient enough to accommodate all of their routes. In 1994, an incident with one of the Lockheed Electra’s en route from Cold Bay to Seattle revealed brave and heroic pilots upon the safe landing, but did not change their financial crisis. Yet the airline continued to hold on, losing routes for their aircraft and aircraft to the desert along the way. On December 5, 2000, Reeve Aleutian Airways submitted to its problems and completely ceased operations. All that remained of the airline was one line turboprop and a single 727.
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