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
Roy J. Davis Airplane Company, 1925

Former Ketchikan resident, Roy J. Davis was the son of New England Fish Co. plant construction manager, Arthur A. Davis. Davis shared Roy Jones' dream and was inspired by his pioneering efforts to startup an Alaska based aviation enterprise in the territory. Davis was himself a pioneer airman/mechanic, whose career started in 1909. He was famous American aviator Lincoln Beachey's mechanic in 1911, and served with the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI.

After moving down to Portland, Oregon, Davis flew there commercially for 5 years. He bought himself a military surplus Curtiss Model F flying boat and formed a partnership with a veteran U.S. Navy pilot Russel H. Merrill. Their plan was to fly north and establish a base in Wrangell to run logistic charters to nearby goldfields in Canada's Cassiar District. Davis and Merrill, accompanied by mechanic Cyril Krugner, made an inauspicious morning arrival in Ketchikan on May 26, 1925, after alighting on the water at Saxman and getting towed into town by a Native fisherman to moor at the NEFCO (New England Fish Company) dock. Snags with the authorities in Ottawa forced the men to change plans; electing to remain in Ketchikan to try their luck at renewing the market demand for local commercial air services that Jones had created previously in the region, and were encouraged in getting immediately engaged with a variety of lucrative charters. By June, plans were initiated to bring up Davis' 4-place Curtiss Oriole biplane on Edo pontoons, along with spare motors and a stock of repair parts. Davis sailed south to initiate the necessary arrangements.

Over the next several weeks, initially working from the Coast Guard dock, Merrill flew the F-Boat from dawn to dusk logging revenue flights, including putting on a splendid aerial demonstration for Ketchikan's 4th of July festivities. Unfortunately, business eventually slowed down and a decision was made to barnstorm up the Inside Passage to seek more charter work up in Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau, and then return to Ketchikan. Merrill flew north on July 18, accompanied by his wife Thyra. They were met with great enthusiasm from residents at each town, arriving July 26 in Juneau. While making repairs there, Davis returned from south, and noted they wanted to operate year round from Ketchikan, but unless business greatly improved, they'd likely have to seek new prospects elsewhere.

Soon afterwards, contracts were secured with several Bering Sea canneries. The plane left Juneau on August 1, destined for their new base of operations at Seward, where they arrived three days later, after flying across the Gulf of Alaska, making two stopovers for fuel at Yakutat and Katalla. Merrill made numerous flights around Seward and the Cook Inlet communities of Anchorage and Kenai. Then good fortune came to an end after a trip from Seldovia to Kodiak with salesman Gus Gelles aboard. While heading back to Seward on September 3, the men encountered stormy weather, forcing an offshore landing at Chugach Island to secure the plane up on the beach. The Curtiss was wrecked by the surging surf, with the salvaged remains sent to Anchorage for storage. Russ Merrill returned to Portland dejected, where he and Davis contemplated their situation and the future status of the aero company, with Davis' Oriole remaining as their sole remaining airplane. It never made it to Alaska, having only gotten as far as the shipping dock in Seattle. The flyers remained resolute and determined to find the means to try again.

Aircraft Specifications:
Davis and Merrill's single-step Curtiss F Flying Boat biplane was an earlier version of Roy Jones' Curtiss MF Seagull. Engine: 150 hp Curtiss-Kirkham K-6; Inline 6 Cylinder. Occupancy: Pilot: 1; Passengers 2.

Roy J. Davis and Russel H. Merrill.

Roy J. Davis and Cyril Krugner.

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Russell H. Merrill with Curtiss F Flying Boat in Portland, OR, 1925Russell H. Merrill with Curtiss F Flying Boat in Portland, OR, 1925
Curtiss F Flying Boat Arriving at Metlakatla, AK, 1925Curtiss F Flying Boat Arriving at Metlakatla, AK, 1925
Curtiss F Flying Boat on the Beach in Seward, AK, 1925Curtiss F Flying Boat on the Beach in Seward, AK, 1925