By John M. Dahlen

This year began with the passing of a friend of ours. George Murphy and his iconic yellow 1948 Aeronca Sedan, N1283H, were known by multiple generations of the Alaskan general aviation community he first became a part of nearly 60 years ago when he moved up to Kodiak from Montana. A short time later, he bought his iconic yellow bird, and began helping to develop our state’s transportation infrastructure. Early on, he worked for the BIA in Southeast AK and in Southcentral at Tyonek, creating roads and sidewalks. He later got a job with the AK Department of Public Works’ Division of Aviation. He was hired to design and oversee construction of airports in selected communities that didn’t yet have one, and to upgrade other airports that had first been constructed in the very early days of Alaska’s aviation history, some back in the 1930’s, for airplanes that hadn’t needed much room to land and depart. Aviation infrastructure needs had come a long way since then! In 1969 George identified a suitable site, designed the boundaries and runway alignment, surveyed it, then was the supervising engineer for the crew that built the Klawock airport. He also surveyed and designed the conversion of the Navy field at Umiat into a civilian airport that was served by Wien Consolidated Airlines and Interior Airways, and designed and built the crosswind runway at Naknek, among other aviation engineering and design projects in Alaska. Given that his early work was done where there were frequently no designated landing areas, before the advent of GPS or electronic distance measuring equipment, and when state-of-the-art computers still used punch cards or punch tape for memory, illustrates the extent that George had to rely on his own wits and flying ability to solve problems and get jobs done.  

When his late wife Dorothea Taylor had remote teaching jobs, he would arrange jobs flying in the same region, which allowed him to also fly in and see her. They were married for 48 years, until she passed away in 2020. George credits her with saving his life in one event that gave them both their proverbial 15 minutes of fame worldwide back in the winter of 2012. While bringing their dogs back to the truck, George was attacked and was being stomped by a moose. Dorothea, who heard the commotion of the dogs barking as she sat in the truck staying warm, thought the moose was stomping one of the dogs. So this 87-year-old wilderness woman who was all of 5 feet tall and 97 pounds grabbed a grain shovel from the back of the truck and went after that moose, whacking it with the grain shovel until it left. Only then did she see George in the snowbank, profusely bleeding. She was able to try and stop the bleeding and summon help. George was airlifted to the hospital in Anchorage where he was admitted to the ICU after treatment in the ER. He had sustained a long gash on the side of his head, another large gash on his leg, and 7 broken ribs. Thankfully, he recovered fully from his physical injuries.  

George was also a community-minded pilot. In 1981 he began volunteering as a pilot in “The Iditarod Air Force,” flying supplies, dogs, support personnel, and the news media up and down the trail in his trusty yellow bird during the annual 1,100-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. It was in this capacity that I first met George in 1988, when I worked the remote checkpoint at Cripple for 2 weeks, also as a race volunteer, then made my way up through several other checkpoints and eventually to Nome via The Iditarod Air Force. The trip with George and Dorothea in 83Hotel was remote winter flying at its finest! We both continued working with the Iditarod in our respective roles for several more years after that. Flying for the Iditarod Air Force sometimes involved using “airstrips” like the one that two of my colleagues and I once stomped out on the frozen Innoko River in snowshoes and marked with fallen trees and smoke from the bonfire we built and maintained for the mushers. At other times that would qualify as a luxury landing zone. Flying for the Iditarod Air Force is not a job for just any pilot! But George flew with them for nearly three decades, even serving as the Chief Pilot for at least one year.  

Continuing with his community-minded volunteer service while promoting general aviation in Alaska, he also went on to volunteer as a pilot for the Junior Iditarod (an approximately 150-mile, overnight, qualifying race for mushers not yet old enough to compete in the Iditarod) and served as that race’s Chief Pilot as well. But George’s community service for Alaska’s general aviation community wasn’t a one-note samba. I also had the pleasure of working with him when we both served on the Board of Directors for the Alaska Airmen’s Association. His commitment to protecting, preserving, and promoting general aviation in Alaska seemed endless. But as George Harrison of the Beatles used to sing, “All things must pass.” And so now it is that George Murphy has flown west, and Alaska’s general aviation community is far better for him having been here. Blue skies and tailwinds, George. And give my best to Dorothea! 

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