Alaska aviation historian Randy Acord dies at 89

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Interior aviation historian Randy Acord has died at the age of 89.

Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File
Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File

Acord, native of Clarendon, Texas, died Monday night in Fairbanks from complications due to pneumonia, said Keith Blanchard, director of the Northern Lights Mortuary.

Acord was stationed at Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, in 1943 as a test pilot. He flew planes with the Cold Weather Testing Station, trying out new heating systems and the effectiveness of landing planes with skis.

Almost 60 years after leaving the military as a major, Acord won the Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Award for his contributions to Russian-North American relations during World War II.

He was known for his vast knowledge of aeronautics, which he could rattle off with ease to visitors of the Alaska Air Pioneer Museum that he helped found at Pioneer Park.

In his later years, he recorded an oral history of the technical details of his flights. His wife, Marion, took detailed notes to pass on to future researchers.

"One of the things that really impressed me was his depth of knowledge about anything related to aviation," said Mike Cox, a former manager at Pioneer Park. "He was a treasure trove of information."

Acord began toying with the museum idea in the late 1970s when the military was considering closing Fort Wainwright. Acord and a small group began to lobby the military to at least save the original Ladd Field installation.

Wainwright stayed open, however.

The Pioneer Park museum opened to the public in 1992 after Acord spent thousands of dollars of his own money as well as dealing with numerous construction setbacks.

"There is so much history going away nowadays," Acord told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner at the time. "People don't record events, and then they pass on and it's gone. I would like to see this history passed on to the younger people of this country."

After flying for a small carrier for several years, he went into business for himself as a food distributor to villages off the road system. He pursued his love of flying until his early 80s when his health began to fade.

Almost a dozen of Acord's friends gathered to remember him Tuesday night at the museum that he worked so hard to build.

"He believed there was freedom up in the air because you're calling all the shots," said Corky Corkran, a longtime friend of Acord's and co-founder of the Alaska Air Pioneer Museum.

Acord is survived by Marion, his wife of more than 50 years.

Funeral arrangements are under way.

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