They called themselves the Arctic Eagles. For years, they flew Alaska Airlines passengers on the lonely routes from here to 20 remote outposts across the nation’s largest state. With limited instruments and little air-traffic control, they faced blizzards, bear heads, gravel runways and volcanic eruptions.
But after 25 years, the Eagles are being disbanded.
Alaska Air two weeks ago retired the last of its dedicated fleet of banged-up old Boeing 737-200s affectionately known as “mud hens.” As the airline expands its routes, it is sending the roughly 60 pilots onto newer aircraft that they’ll have to fly to California, Mexico and the East Coast as well as the Alaskan destinations.
Alaska is no longer their exclusive fief, either. Some of the airline’s other pilots will be able to fly the Arctic routes as long as they’re “checked out” on some of the most demanding airports.
I flew on one of these Alaska Air flights years ago, it took a few tries to land at the fogged in airport. Sat next to a woman who lost her husband – an air taxi pilot – in a crash.