KODIAK — The ferry Tustumena recently became an aircraft carrier.
James Jackson and Jay Wattum wheeled one of the most unusual vehicles to ever travel aboard a state ferry across City Pier 1 and onto the Tustumena’s cargo lift on Jan. 22.
Jackson’s four-seat Aeronica Sedan, an airplane built in 1948, was bound for a maintenance shop in Talkeetna. “They do it pretty cheap up there,” Jackson said of having the plane resurfaced on the mainland.
Wrapped in plastic, with its wings and propeller removed, the plane resembles a wheeled visqueen burrito. About the size of a family car — it lives up to the “Sedan” name — it’s light enough to move with just four hands pushing.
While the plastic-wrapped plane drew plenty of stares and questions as it waited for its spot aboard the Tustumena, it isn’t alone in its unusual amphibious voyage.
Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the Alaska Marine Highway System, said Jackson and one other pilot have booked airplanes on the ferry this year. Last year, one plane rode the ferry, according to the ferry system’s reservations office.
“They confirmed that this is a rare occurrence,” Woodrow said.
Aboard the Tustumena, crewman Dave Bell needed a moment to figure out how to secure Jackson’s plane to the Tustumena’s car deck.
Bell said this isn’t the first plane he’s seen aboard a ferry, though in his experience, most move during the summer, when the ocean is calmer, and over longer distances. The route from Bellingham, Wash. to Haines or Whittier is a popular one, he said.
Though he’s put planes on a ferry deck before, it still isn’t a common thing. “I get nervous because I know how expensive they are,” he said.
Aboard a ferry, an aircraft is treated just like any other vehicle, Woodrow said. “As long as it has wheels and they can roll it on or roll it off, they’ll accommodate it as they can.”
The plane still has to fit within a car deck lane, which means the wings must be removed. There’s no extra charge for a ticket, either. Planes are billed the same as cars, based on the length of the vehicle.
Jackson, who bought the plane in 2005 shortly after receiving his pilot’s license, said it has been stored in Wattum’s hangar for the past two years, and corrosion made it unsafe to fly.
Before it went into storage, Jackson — a Fish and Game biologist — flew it across the archipelago and to the Alaska Peninsula. After seeing remote airstrips at his hands, the plane is getting a glimpse of scenery few other aircraft experience.