Honoring former Gov. Hammond

Group hopes to restore rare seaplane flown by 'Bush rat' governor

Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006

Juneau city leaders endorse a plan by history buffs to honor the late Gov. Jay Hammond by restoring the airplane he first flew to Alaska 60 years ago.

Friends of Alaska Aviation and Maritime History seeks to preserve Jay Hammond's rare Loening Aircraft plane. It needs some $235,000 to restore it to standards of the National Air and Space Museum, group coordinator Barbara Wilmot said.

"Aviation is a huge part of our heritage here in Alaska," Wilmot said. "The restoration and exhibit of this rare, vintage aircraft in Juneau will be a fitting tribute to the pioneering spirit of Jay Hammond and a testimonial to his record of public service as Alaska governor."

The Juneau Assembly authorized Mayor Bruce Botelho to prepare a letter of endorsement after hearing testimony from Wilmot. Last week she asked the city to endorse a $235,000 proposal in the Legislature to assist in the restoration.

It will take about three years to restore, with the possibility of placing it on display at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, she said. The aircraft is a 1929 Keystone Loening Commuter, one of only two surviving examples of the aircraft in the world. The single-engine amphibian biplane was flown by Hammond when he first came to Alaska in 1946.

"I always thought Jay Hammond was a practical man who had many good ideas, so I believe he should be honored with this tribute," Juneau Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said. "I actually voted for him in college."

Hammond served as governor from 1974 to 1982 and died last August at age 83. The self-described "Bush rat" governor was instrumental in the formation of the Alaska Permanent Fund and the dividend program, and worked as a Bush pilot and even flew his own Cessna when governor. He was a Marine combat pilot in World War II.

The aircraft is owned by the Alaska State Museum and is stored at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at Lake Hood in Anchorage. The project is supported by the Alaska State Museum, Juneau aviation historian Jim Ruotsala, Alaska aviation archivist Ted Spencer, and some 75 other Juneau residents.

"This aircraft is very significant historically and its association to Jay Hammond really adds to the significance," said Bruce Kato, chief curator of the Alaska State Museum. "The aircraft has the potential of being the central figure of an interpretive display outlining the importance of Alaska aviation in the early 20th century."

Hammond flew the plane to the territory in the late summer of 1946. It was one of forty of its kind. That October, it experienced an engine failure and he crash-landed near Shirley Lake at Rainey Pass. The airplane was recovered in 1967.

Today Hammond is best remembered as the father of the Alaska Permanent Fund and the permanent fund dividend.

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"He (Hammond) was an outstanding leader and governor of our state," Wilmot said. "The restoration and display of his Loening seaplane would be a fitting tribute to his pioneering spirit and a testimonial to his record of public service for all Alaskans."

Wilmot said as soon as her group gets the letter of endorsement from the Assembly it will add a letter for the Legislature, and take it first to Juneau's legislative delegation.

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