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ANCHORAGE - The east ramp at Fairbanks International Airport may look to some like a graveyard of 1940s and '50s aircraft, but in reality, the aging planes supply Bush Alaska with fuel for heat and transportation. Many of the aircraft are no longer used for commercial flights in the country. Brooks Fuel Inc. acquired the planes as the key to its business.
Brooks Fuel run as a family-owned business in operation since 1986. The company has 11 employees who work year-round to supply Interior Alaska communities and business operations with heating fuel, aviation gas and jet fuel.
On a recent summer day, owner Roger Brooks had just returned from Fort Yukon, where he dropped off a load of fuel for the village. A 1950s DC-4 propliner sat on the ramp with one of its engine nacelles pulled off for a quick repair.
The company mechanic, donned in cutoffs, a T-shirt and lace-up boots, and covered from head to toe in black oil and grease, ran from the shop to the ramp with a part in hand, on his way toward what is perhaps the last DC-4 aircraft to be used commercially in the U.S.
He had to work fast. The aircraft was needed soon for another mission.
"We make one to two flights a day in the winter, and fly as many as four flights in the summer, depending on forest fires and game surveys," said Brooks. "We set up refueling stations at remote runways and locations, and supply those with fuel as needed."
The company has nine DC-4s laying in salvage to supply parts for the flying aircraft.
Brooks Fuel flies four other DC-4 aircraft. One currently is in Georgia, and another in Arizona. Two fly in Alaska to supply fuel for villages and remote mines far off the road and water systems. Communities near rivers and along the coast generally have a year's supply of fuel barged in during the summer months.
Those away from the waterways must rely on flight deliveries.
Brooks is also known as a supplier for mining operations.
"We supply mines with fuel and do some cargo hauling as a certified part 125 carrier," said Brooks. "We only due cargo on a long-term contract basis."
The flying fuel company is an outgrowth of Coghill's Nenana Fuel Co.
Brooks, originally from Idaho, took over fueling from the Nenana-based company when he was able to purchase the aircraft.
"I got my license in 1964, and have accrued 23,000 hours flying since then," said Brooks.
His curiosity and fascination with legacy cargo aircraft started when he was a crew chief on Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.
Brook Fuel's experience with its legacy aircraft is known worldwide.
"Roger's got a solid operations there and knows his aircraft, he has hand picked those DC-4/C-54s he is using because of known corrosion problems on some models," said Will Johnson, a commercial pilot and previous owner of Yute Air Alaska.
Brooks says the DC-4 is the perfect aircraft for Alaska.
"This is a self-contained aircraft that requires very little support, lands on short gravel strips, beaches and river drainages. You can't do that with jets," he said.