What started as a daring idea to fly a Boeing Stearman bi-plane from Bellingham, Washington, to Alaska and then across the Bering Strait to Provideniya, Russia, evolved into a project of international proportion. Seeking the safest way to Alaska, a long-forgotten air route originating in Great Falls, Montana was re-discovered. It has been called by many names: the Lend-Lease Air Route; the Northern Route; and, the Alaska-Siberia Air Route, among others. Few people had ever heard of it or know of the key role it played during World War II.
The ALSIB series of flight projects got underway in 2013 by doing a test flight using an AT-6F Texan piloted by Alan Anders and Jeff Geer. The purpose of the flight was to prove to the BRAVO 369 team that it was feasible to do the flight safely while flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in a restored 70 year old aircraft. The flight also helped determine the stamina of the pilots flying a vintage warbird in less than comfortable conditions for extended periods of time. The Texan was developed as an advanced military training aircraft and was not considered to be used for long, cross-country flights of this nature.
The flight also tested the crew’s ability to deal with adverse weather conditions as well as forest fires – something that is as challenging today as it was 75 years ago. There are very few airports to land in case of an emergency or bad flying conditions. In case of trouble between Dawson Creek, BC and Fairbanks, Alaska, the Alcan (Alaska) Highway was, and still is, the best emergency landing strip. Just like the pilots of the past, the highway was never too far out of sight for the BRAVO 369 team.
Upon landing in Fairbanks, AK the reality of what it took to ferry these aircraft along the Northern Route became apparent. Pilots flew in all kinds of weather, year round. Once they landed, they climbed on a transport back to Great Falls to do it over and over and over again.
Alan Anders (L) and Jeff Geer (R) at Great Falls, MT With Alan's T-6 in front of an original World War II hangar at Gore Field