Eielson’s epic mail flight

On February 21, 1924, Carl Ben Eielson flew Alaska’s first official air mail service. The 280-mile flight from Fairbanks to McGrath took just a few hours, compared to 18 days or more by dog sled. Eielson used a de Havilland DH-4 open cockpit biplane to carry the 164 pounds of mail, and he bundled up in caribou-fur socks, moccasins, a reindeer parka, a marten-skin cap, a wolverine-skin hood, and multiple wool layers, as well as goggles.

Born in North Dakota in 1897, Eielson flew in the U.S. Army Air Service during World War I. In 1922, he took a teaching job in Fairbanks but soon devoted his time to flying bush planes for miners and their cargo, quickly becoming one of Alaska’s most pioneering bush pilots. He died in 1929 while trying to rescue a ship full of furs that was mired in ice off the Siberian coast. Eielson is honored in the names of mountains, schools, and the Eielson Air Force Base southeast of Fairbanks.


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