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Valdez has a long transportation history. Since it was founded over a hundred years ago, it has served as a hub for road, sea, and air travel.
Valdez pioneer, Owen Meals, is responsible for bringing flight to Valdez. Meals came to Alaska with his family in 1903 – the same year that the Wright brothers made their first successful powered flights in the Lower-48.
Meals was an avid engineer and mechanic from an early age. He worked with his father as a surveyor and studied engineering in school. As an adult, he owned the first Ford dealership in Valdez, ran a garage, and started and operated an electric utility plant. It was not surprising when he took a keen interest in airplanes.
In 1926, Meals traveled to Fairbanks along the rough Richardson Road in one of his Fords. There he took his first flight in a small aircraft. The next year he signed up for flight lessons in Denver and bought his first plane, the “Spirit of Valdez”.
In June 1928, Meals took the first-ever flight from Valdez’s brand new airstrip. During Meals’ first month of flying, adventurous Valdezans paid $10 each for the exuberance of taking off at sea level and rising to what must have felt like dizzying heights over the Port of Valdez. One of his early flights soared to 11,000 feet – far above the tallest peaks surrounding Valdez.
A serious crash onto a Copper River sand bar later that summer put Meals out of commission for the rest of the year. He purchased a second “Spirit of Valdez” and flew for several more years. Meals also assembled many of the Alaska-bound airplanes that were shipped to Valdez aboard steamers.
A model of Meals’ Spirit of Valdez, Meals’ aviation gear, and more can be seen at the Valdez Museum’s aviation exhibit.