State pioneer aviator dies

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Ray Petersen, a pioneer Alaska aviator, has died at age 96.

Petersen died Tuesday morning at his Anchorage apartment.

Petersen ran Wien Air Alaska, then the largest airline in the state. He also built some of the state's first fly-in fishing lodges.

Born in Nebraska, Petersen arrived in Anchorage aboard a steamship in 1934 and took a job with Star Air, flying to the Lucky Shot Mine near Hatcher Pass.

Petersen told reporters he decided to become a pilot as a high school student near Chicago in the 1930s when he had a job bucking hay. A biplane landed in the field and the pilot asked to use the field as a base for a flight school.

"The farmer said 'Okay if you take this kid up for a ride. So he took me up and the first thing I noticed was how cool it was. Here I was, far above the earth, and it was cool. Well, it didn't take me long to decide that flying was for me," he said in a 1978 interview with the Anchorage Daily News.

Petersen worked in Alaska flying supplies and personnel for the military during World War II. In Anchorage he met his wife, Toni Schodde, and they would go on to four children.

Peterson's trips often included stopping for fishing and that launched him into the tourism business.

He formed Northern Consolidated Airlines in 1947, merging his Bethel-based air service, Ray Petersen Flying Service, with other small airlines. He brokered a deal with the National Park Service in 1950 to build lodges in what is now Katmai National Park.

In 1968, Northern Consolidated Airlines merged with Wien Air Alaska, which Petersen ran until the late 1970s.

Funeral plans are under way.

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