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
Gorst Air Transport (Alaska Operations), 1929-1935

Founded by Pacific Northwest aero pioneer Vern C. Gorst (aka "Grandfather of United Airlines"), Gorst started seasonal operations in Alaska in the spring of 1929. Gorst, an Oregon bus line operator, taught himself to fly in 1913 at age 38 using a Glenn Martin hydroplane at Coos Bay, Oregon. He founded Pacific Air Transport in 1926, which provided the first airmail service between Los Angeles and Seattle. Pacific Air Transport's 1928 sale to Boeing Air Transport funded the formation of Gorst Air Transport of Seattle. A brand new Boeing flying boat was purchased and upgraded to Model B-1E specifications for commercial use. In 1929, Gorst bought a larger nine-place Keystone-Loening C-2C Air Yacht amphibian biplane that cost $27,900 new, for the company's ambitions to operate in Alaska. Gorst bought a second Loening Air Yacht that summer to launch Gorst Air Transport's Seattle-Bremerton Air Ferry shuttle service for Puget Sound.

America's vast rugged territory to the north was ripe for development. As an Alaska gold rush veteran, Gorst recognized the huge opportunities for commercial aviation in the still untapped region. The timing of his 1929 plans put him in a race with fellow Seattle based competitor, Alaska-Washington Airways, to get a plane there first that season. Alaska-Washington Airways was better prepared and ready to start working when their Lockheed Vega made its historic non-stop flight arrival in Juneau on April 15, 1929. Gorst's Loening Air Yacht was traveling there initially to conduct a route survey to test market potential.

Two days later on Wednesday, April 17, 1929 at 4:40 p.m., Gorst Air Transport's big, bright yellow and blue Loening Air Yacht (NC9728) landed in Ketchikan, completing a non-stop flight from Seattle. The flight was crewed by pilot Clayton Scott, copilot Vern Gorst, and flight mechanic Gordon Graham. The plane featured a two seat open cockpit with up to seven passengers riding comfortably below inside the enclosed cabin. After arrival, the plane taxied from the downtown docks over to the Thomas Basin tide flats for beaching, using its wheel landing gear. An enthusiastic crowd of officials and local residents welcomed the aviators.

After Ketchikan, they headed up to Juneau via Petersburg with passengers. They and had a profitable week of flying in Juneau and in Sitka, before returning to Seattle on April 24 after stopping in Ketchikan. Scott and Graham made a two hour commute back again with the Loening Air Yacht on May 3, 1929, destined to make Cordova their operating base. They barnstormed more business again in Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Juneau, and made $1,000 in one day giving flight-seeing trips.

On May 7, 1929, Scott and Graham flew the Loening Air Yacht (NC9728) from Juneau to Cordova in four hours and twenty minutes, becoming the first commercial plane to fly across the Gulf of Alaska while carrying paying passengers, and the first to deliver airmail there from south. Included was a letter of goodwill from Ketchikan mayor J. J. Bucey to Cordova mayor Dr. W.H. Chase, who both lobbied with postal authorities to inaugurate official airmail service for their towns. On June 3, 1929, after a month's work out of Cordova that included trips to Anchorage and Kenai, the Loening Air Yacht returned to Ketchikan and flew back to Seattle the next day.

In 1930, Gorst Air Transport kept their Loening Air Yachts in Seattle to use for the Seattle-Bremerton Air Ferry shuttle service, and henceforth dedicated the outfits' Boeing flying boats for Alaska duty. On Monday, May 5, 1930 at 3:20 p.m., Gorst's Boeing B-1E (NC115E) arrived in Ketchikan from Seattle, piloted by Clayton Scott and accompanied by mechanic Frank Wadman. The aircraft flew in unmarked, except for its tail registration numbers. Sometime afterwards, "Gorst Air Transport of Seattle" was painted on both sides of the nose. While in town, the Boeing operated off City Float and sometimes used the new Ketchikan Municipal Hydroport located north of the city limits. Air charter demand in the Panhandle region began to bustle. Gorst's flying boat competed right alongside Alaska-Washington Airway's busy fleet of Vega seaplanes, in addition to two new Stinsons pontoon seaplanes now fielded by the Ketchikan based Gorst and Claude Wright partnered startup outfit, Pioneer Airways. Gorst hired Stanley Adams as booking agent, with an office at the Ingersoll Hotel. Clayton Scott put the Boeing through its paces, flying almost daily for several weeks straight that summer to Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Loring, Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla, Hyder, and Prince Rupert, BC. - often shuttling anglers to all the popular fresh and saltwater fishing hot spots.

On July 3, 1930, Scott and mechanic John Selby flew from Ketchikan up to Cordova via Port Althorpe for 4th of July holiday activities, arriving the same day to land at Eyak Lake. While there, the Boeing was dubbed "Nugget", and numerous charters were logged. During their July 10 return flight bound for Ketchikan via Juneau for a movie film charter, the plane suffered an engine failure (valve and piston head), necessitating a forced landing at Icy Bay, where the Nugget was destroyed by surf while beached. Scott and Selby were rescued 3 days later by Bob Ellis and Frank Hatcher in the Alaska-Washington Airways Vega "Taku". The setback stymied Gorst's hard won success to date, but he eventually resumed his efforts by sending up another Boeing flying boat. In June 1934, pilot Murray Stuart flew Gorst Air Transport's five-place Boeing 204 (NC974E) to work Southeast Alaska that season. Gorst and Frank Knight brought it back again in May 1935 for following season to set up base in Juneau.

Aircraft Specifications:
9-place Keystone-Loening C-2C Air Yacht amphibian biplane (NC9728 and NC58K). First Flight 1928. 36 built (all variants). Dimensions: Length: 34' 8"; Wingspan: 46' 8". Weights: Gross Weight: 5,000 lbs.; Useful Load: 2,006 lbs.; Fuel Capacity: 160 gal. Performance: Airspeed: 130 mph max; Service Ceiling: 14,000 ft.; Range: 550 mi. Engine: Air-cooled 9 Cylinder 525 hp Wright Cyclone Radial. Propeller: 2-Blade Fixed-Pitch. Occupancy: Crew: 2 (Pilot + 1 in open cockpit); Passengers: 7.

5-place Boeing B-1E Flying Boat (NC115E) and Boeing B-1E, Model 204 Flying Boat (NC874E). First Flight: 1928. 10 built. Note: NC115E was the same Boeing plane previously used by International Airways for their SEA-KTN-JNU McCarthy charter flight in March 1929 with pilot Paddy Burke. Dimensions: Length: 30' 9" (Model 204: 32' 7"); Height: 12'; Wingspan: 39' 8.25". Weights: Standard Empty Weight: 2,442 lbs. (Model 204: 3,298 lbs.); Gross Weight: 3,442 lbs. (Model 204: 4,940 lbs.). Performance: Airspeed: 80 mph cruise (Model 204: 95 mph), 95 mph max (Model 204: 115 mph); Service Ceiling: 12,000 ft. (Model 204: 9,000 ft.); Rate of Climb: (Model 204: 1,000 ft. per min.); Range: 175 mi. (Model 204: 350 mi.). Engine: 9 Cylinder 425 hp PandW R-1340 Wasp B Radial. Propeller: Wooden 2-Blade Fixed-Pitch pusher type.

Vern Gorst, Clayton Scott, Murray Stuart, Ray Howard, Gerry Smith, Frank Knight, and Ray Renshaw (Seattle).

Gordon Graham, Frank Wadman, John Selby, Murray Stuart, Eric Schutte, and Ray Renshaw (Seattle).

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Gorst Air Transport Annual Pass Seattle-Bremerton Air Ferry Shuttle ServiceGorst Air Transport Annual Pass Seattle-Bremerton Air Ferry Shuttle Service
Gorst Air Transport Pilot Clayton L. Scott, Seattle, WA, 1929Gorst Air Transport Pilot Clayton L. Scott, Seattle, WA, 1929
Gorst Air Transport Arrives in Ketchikan, AK, 1929Gorst Air Transport Arrives in Ketchikan, AK, 1929
Gorst Air Transport at Thomas Basin Tide Flats in Ketchikan, AK, 1929Gorst Air Transport at Thomas Basin Tide Flats in Ketchikan, AK, 1929
Gorst Air Transport at Mirror Lake, Ketchikan, AK, 1930Gorst Air Transport at Mirror Lake, Ketchikan, AK, 1930
Gorst Air Transport Boeing Flying Boat on Beach in Ketchikan, AK,1930Gorst Air Transport Boeing Flying Boat on Beach in Ketchikan, AK,1930
Gorst Air Transport Delivering Mining Equipment in Juneau, AK, 1935Gorst Air Transport Delivering Mining Equipment in Juneau, AK, 1935