Taking Flight: Ketchikan's Commercial Aviation History : A collaboration with Don 'Bucky' Dawson with support from Chuck and A.J. Slagle to celebrate a century of commercial aviation in Ketchikan
Ellis Air Transport - Ellis Air Lines, 1936-1962

Ellis Air Transport was founded in Ketchikan on July 17, 1936 by legendary pioneer Alaska bush pilot Robert E. "Bob" Ellis (1903-1994), using a new 4-place red Cabin Waco YKS-6 (NC16210) mounted on Edo Mod. 3300 floats, with Paul Brewer as mechanic. When Bob Ellis decided to go into business for himself, he'd already earned his reputation as being one of Southeast Alaska's most reliable and experienced pioneer seaplane pilots in the Territory.

Ellis Air Transport's rival competitor at the time of startup was Herb Munter's Aircraft Charter Service, Inc., established the previous year. Both outfits soon began scaling up their operations with additional aircraft, facilities, and staff to keep up with growing demand, and began offering scheduled flights. Boeing mechanic Jack Sherman was hired as director of maintenance in September 1936, after Brewer left to work for Pacific Alaska Airways. In 1937, Don Wright joined as traffic manager. Don helped setup the popular West Coast Buyers shopping service for Ellis Air Transport customers, and a Lear Ham radio ground station. In 1939, Ellis installed a radio transmitter at their Craig station on Prince of Wales Island, and bought a second plane in December a big 6-place Bellanca 31-42 Sr. Pacemaker floatplane (NC11642).

On January 2, 1940, Ellis filed for incorporation. In March 1940, Ellis hired Gerald 'Bud' Bodding in Juneau to be chief pilot. In March 1941, another Cabin Waco (NC17705) was purchased, to give Ellis Air Transport three planes in service versus Aircraft Charter Service's fleet of four planes. At this time, Ellis and Munter decided to make a truce and try conducting join operations with their respective companies for the 1941 season. Initially named "The Ellis-Munter Air Service of Ketchikan," and later briefly as "Alaska Airlines," their short-lived experiment didn't prove profitable. On September 1, 1941, Ellis Air Transport announced the successful buyout of Aircraft Charter Service's assets, which included two hangars and four aircraft.

In March 1941, Bob Ellis, a U.S. Navy Reserve pilot, was called to active duty in Alaska, and Ellis Air Transport management was left to his wife Peg, and Jack Sherman. Shortly after the U.S. entered WWII, on January 18, 1942, the U.S. Navy commandeered three of the hangars and four airplanes were pressed into service for Ketchikan's defense. Many employees enlisted for duty, which nearly put Ellis Air Transport out of business. During the war, Ellis was stationed in Alaska at Sitka Naval Air Station, Kodiak Naval Air Station, and was Commanding Officer at Naval Air Station Attu. He returned home in October 1945 to resume control of the Company. With his loyal crew, Ellis successfully built back his company to evolve into Ketchikan's greatest air carrier, Ellis Air Lines, which shared grandfather rights for commercial aviation in Southeast with Juneau based and friendly rival Shell Simmons' Alaska Coastal Airlines.

In November 1945, Ellis Air Lines followed Alaska Coastal Airline's lead by acquiring its first two WWII surplus twin-engine Grumman G-21A Goose amphibians, which were put into service in 1946. Starting that summer, the Gooses were used to inaugurate the now famous 21-mile shuttle between the Ketchikan downtown waterfront over to nearby Annette Airport for connecting Pan American, Pacific Northern, and Western Airlines passengers. Ellis Air Lines owned ten Gooses with nine online at peak complement in 1957. At that time, Ellis employed over 100 people who enjoyed company profit sharing and benefits. In 1957, Ellis Air Lines served over 49 points regularly, hauling almost 60,000 passengers that year. Service included Prince Rupert, BC and remote logging, fishing, and mining camps. The Ellis Air Lines dispatch radio room was located in the top level of the large maintenance hangar, and served as the town's flight service station during the years before the new Ketchikan International Airport opened over on Gravina Island.

In August 1959, Ellis Air Lines added a large 24 passenger PBY-5A Catalina amphibian, sporting a 104 ft. wingspan. Soon afterwards, Ellis Air Lines totally got out of operating smaller aircraft after many years of flying a variety of Wacos, Bellancas, Stinsons, Aeroncas, Pipers, and Cessnas seaplane types. Most folks recall the classic bright 'peas and carrots' Willow Green and Cub Orange fleet color scheme and twin geese logo worn by Ellis planes flying around during the 1950s-1960s (versus the earlier Ellis Air Transport colors of Britton Blue and Cub Red from the 1940s).

On April 1, 1962, the Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines merger was approved; creating the World's largest scheduled amphibian airline, with a fleet of 25 planes and 280 employees. Alaska Coastal-Ellis adopted a flashy new livery scheme of black and white trimmed with dayglo red trim that included a revamped twin geese logo. In June 1962, Bob Ellis retired from Alaska Coastal-Ellis, after having also served as an elected Alaska Territorial senator in 1950, and as Ketchikan's city mayor. The Alaska Coastal-Ellis name was abbreviated back to Alaska Coastal Airlines in June 1966, while retaining the new look.

On March 27, 1968, the large vintage amphib airline changed ownership one final time, when Alaska Airlines bought Alaska Coastal Airlines. Alaska Airlines continued to operate the venerable Gooses and PBYs for five more years as part of Alaska Airlines' "Golden Nugget Service", until the Jet Age took over with new Southeastern regional airports opening in Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell and Petersburg. Bob Ellis and his old pal Shell Simmons were honored with the title of Directors Emeritus on Alaska Airlines' Board. Ellis passed away at his Ketchikan home on May 8, 1994, and Simmons followed on November 16, 1994 in Juneau.

Aircraft Specifications:
9-place Grumman G-21A Goose. First Flight: May 29, 1937. 345 built from 1937-1945. Construction: Length: 38' 4"; Height: 12'; Wingspan: 49'. Weights: Standard Empty Weight: 5,425 lbs.; Gross Weight: 8,000 lbs.; Useful Load: 1,119 lbs.; Fuel Capacity: 220 gal. Performance: Air Speed: 175 mph cruise, 191 mph max; Service Ceiling: 21,300 ft.; Rate of Climb: 1,100 ft. per min.; Range: 640 mi. Engine: Two Air-cooled 9 Cylinder 450 hp Pratt and Whitney R-985-AN-6B Wasp, Jr. Propeller: Hamilton Standard 2D30 Metal 2-Blade CW or Hartzell 3-Blade Full-feathering. Occupancy: Crew: 1-3.

Consolidated PBY (Civil Desig. CV28-5ACF) Catalina. First Flight: March 21, 1935. 3,308 built from 1935-1945. Construction: Length: 63' 10.875"; Height: 21' 1"; Wingspan: 104'. Weights: Standard Empty Weight: 20,910 lbs.; Gross Weight: 35,420 lbs.; Useful Load: 3,920 lbs; Fuel Capacity: 1,750 gal. Performance: Airspeed: 125 mph cruise, 196 mph max; Service Ceiling: 15,800 ft.; Rate of Climb: 1,000 ft. per min.; Range: 2,990 mi. Engine: Two Air-cooled 14 Cylinder 1,200 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp. Propeller: Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 3-Blade Constant Speed. Occupancy: Crew: 3; Passengers: 24.

Grumman Goose Pilots (20):
Bob Ellis, Bud Bodding, Hank Aegerter, Max Anderes, Charlie Barnes, Joe Diamond, Rodger Elliott, Norm Gerde, Gene Heath, Jim Hickey, Paul Mattle, Ken Perry, Ray Peterson, Don Poorman, Hugh Ramsdell, Wes Sande, Bob Smith, Leon Snodderly, Lloyd Tilson, and Ed Zaugg.

Director of Maintenance:
Jack Sherman

Click to Enlarge
Bob Ellis with Ellis Air Transport WacoBob Ellis with Ellis Air Transport Waco
Bob Ellis, Don Wright, and Jack Sherman at Ellis Air Transport Hangar, 1936Bob Ellis, Don Wright, and Jack Sherman at Ellis Air Transport Hangar, 1936
Ellis Air Transport Hangars on Water Street in Ketchikan, AK, 1940Ellis Air Transport Hangars on Water Street in Ketchikan, AK, 1940
Ellis Air Transport SignEllis Air Transport Sign
Ellis Air Lines Goose at Beach in Metlakatla on Annette Island, AK, 1946Ellis Air Lines Goose at Beach in Metlakatla on Annette Island, AK, 1946
Ellis Air Lines Employees, 1949Ellis Air Lines Employees, 1949
Ellis Air Lines Grumman Goose in Ketchikan, AK, 1958Ellis Air Lines Grumman Goose in Ketchikan, AK, 1958
Ellis Air Lines Dock in Ketchikan, AK, 1961Ellis Air Lines Dock in Ketchikan, AK, 1961
Pilot Bud Bodding in Ellis Air Lines Goose, circa 1950sPilot Bud Bodding in Ellis Air Lines Goose, circa 1950s
Ellis Air Lines Shuttle Passengers Between Ketchikan and Annette AirportEllis Air Lines Shuttle Passengers Between Ketchikan and Annette Airport
Ellis Air Lines PBY at Annette Airport, 1961Ellis Air Lines PBY at Annette Airport, 1961