Alaska provided the opportunity for many young men during the 1900’s to experience adventure and tempt fate high above the ground. One of those young men that accepted the Challenge was Carl Benjamin Eielson.
Eielson, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was born in Hatton, North Dakota in 1897. His love of aviation was harbored during his childhood and when the United States entered World War I, the young North Dakotan jumped at the opportunity presented to him. In 1917, gathered the knowledge of flight and gained valuable experience while in the United States Army Air Service. He spent a short amount of time preparing for a job with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. However, World War I came to a close before Eielson could complete his flight training.
With the war over Eielson decided to move on with his life. He moved to Washington, D.C. and attended Georgetown University Law School. Washington, D.C. offered the young man a chance to see and experience the Nation’s Capitol, but his not never truly left the skies.
Eielson became a police officer at the United States Capitol while enrolled at Georgetown. In a chance meeting his destiny became set. One day while on the job he ran into Daniel Sutherland, at the time the Alaskan Territory’s delegate to Congress. Sutherland gave his advise to Eielson. He told him he should move to Alaska to teach secondary school.
Once in the great Alaskan landscape, Ben diverted his course and once again became a pilot for the mail service. He flew the first air mail in 1921 from Fairbanks to McGrath. It took him just 4 hours. This same trip typically took dog sleds nearly 20 days to cover. Flying in Alaska was a dangerous business. Mountains often times flanked both sides of the aircraft. Cold temperatures made most flights uncomfortable and usually the runways consisted of
Eielson’s crowning achievement came in 1928. He and Australian explorer Hubert Wilkins flew from Point Barrow, Alaska to Spitsbergen. The trip took 20 hours and was the first flight across the Arctic Ocean. It was an exploratory journey that’s goal was to try and find any Islands that existed between Point Barrow and the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean.
His life was an exciting roller coaster. He was one of the integral figures in establishing Alaskan Airways.
On November 9, 1929, Eielson and mechanic Earl Borland were killed in an air crash in Northern Asia. They were trying to help personnel from the Nanuk, a shipping vessel that was trapped in the harsh environment of the North Cape.
Eielson made a huge impact not only on Alaska, but on the U.S. Air-force. His exploration of the North Pole from the sky, caught the eye of military officials. They could now see the advantage of controlling the sky’s above the Arctic Circle.
Many other Bush Pilots came to the Alaskan Frontier, but few made the impact of Ben Eielson.