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PIONEER AIR MUSEUM

The Pioneer Air Museum, housed in a large gold-domed building at Alaskaland, chronicles the development of flight in Alaska.

Farthest North Air Museum in the U.S.A., the Gold Dome is filled with authentic antique aircrafts and memorabilia of Alaska's aviation heritage. The stories chronicled here in the interpretive displays focus on solo piloting adventures, as well as the early commercial cargo aircraft that operated in the bush.

The Pioneer Air Museum is home to old aircraft like this bush plane that once flew the skies of Alaska.

Photo from Lulu Fairbanks Collection, courtesy of UAF Archives.

Included in the museum are over 500 photographs of aviation activities (beginning with the first aircraft in the Territory), including the Alaska/Siberia lend lease discussed on our Fort Wainwright and Eielson AFB pages. There are also fourteen aircrafts and over 20 aircraft engines, including the largest piston engines produced.

Remnants of the wreckage of Carl Ben Eielson's plane, recovered in 1991, are among the most popular exhibits. The plane crashed in 1929 off the coast of Siberia. On Feb. 4, 1948, the Air Force changed the name of 26-Mile Post to Eielson Air Force Base in honor of the Arctic aviation pioneer, a famous "bush pilot" in the Interior during the 1920s.  

It was he, along with Australian explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins, who, in 1928, made the first flight over the polar ice cap from the North Slope to Spitzbergen, Greenland, a 2,200-mile route. The flight earned Eielson the Distinguished Flying Cross and the 1928 Harmon Trophy for the greatest American aviation feat of the year.

Sadly, he did not have very long to savor his award. Eielson and his mechanic, Earl Boland, were killed only one year later, during a flight in a blizzard in 1929. They were trying to rescue stranded passengers and $1 million in furs aboard a freighter caught in the ice off the Siberian coast. Their bodies and the wreckage of their plane were found 79 days later on a small island off the coast of Siberia.

The Interior and Arctic Alaska Aeronautical Foundation started from a dream in 1977 to preserve the early history of Ladd Field, an Army Air Corps base near Fairbanks. They succeeded in having the original quadrangle designated as a historical site in 1987. They fully organized in 1982 and began collection material for a museum.

It was in 1984 that the City of Fairbanks offered the I.A.A.A.F. an unoccupied building located in the Alaskaland Centennial site. The building is a large tetrahedron structure with a diameter of 134 feet and 38 feet tall. It is known as the Gold Dome.

There was a lot of pressure to have the Museum open by 1992 for the 50th Anniversaries of the Alaska Highway, the Alcan Pipeline, the Alsib Lend Lease program, among other celebrations. At that time, only 10 aircraft and thirteen engines were on display, along with about 300 pictures and other small artifacts. Admission was free, with donations being solicited. There were 84,000 viewers (counting children) that year, even though the Museum was open only 101 days of 10 hours each.

For the 1993 season, a display case of early aircraft radios was added, along with more of everything and three other large display cases. An admission fee of $1 and the requirement for adults chaperones for children under 12 lowered the season attendance to 16,000.

In 1994, a heating system was added to the Gold Dome, making it more comfortable for visitors on cool, overcast days. Many building code deficiencies were corrected at that time, and a sprinkler system installed to bring it up to Alaska state fire code.

The Pioneer Air Museum is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and costs only $2 for adults, $5 for families. All proceeds go to support and preserve the Museum.

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