ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Former Sen. Ted Stevens' involvement in aviation before he was killed in a plane crash near Dillingham Monday dates back decades. He was a pilot during World War II, and has been a big advocate for aviation safety since the 1978 plane crash that killed his first wife, Ann Stevens.
While many Alaskans call him “Uncle Ted,” he's also known as the father and founder of the state’s aviation community.
Some say it's ironic that such a big advocate for aviation safety died in a plane crash, but many in the aviation community say it shows his love for flying continued until the end.
When it comes to aviation, the list of Stevens' accomplishments is endless.
“You didn't have the infrastructure in the early days that we enjoy today,” said the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum’s Norm Lagasse.
Some of it is on display in Anchorage, in the form of the four planes Stevens donated to the museum. A PBY Catalina flying boat, recovered with his help, was its first aircraft.
“He was the enabler that pushed to get that infrastructure upgraded, so we can enjoy that safety we have today,” Lagasse said.
Stevens brought in the dollars that allowed for lighting on runways, enabling emergency air access for almost all airports in rural Alaska. He also established an Alaska supplemental fund to provide construction capital to rural airports, and he initiated funding for the Capstone project, which uses the Global Positioning System to improve aircraft tracking.
“This is a GPS ADS-B technology that went into the Yukon-Kuskokwim Valley, reduced accident rates by 47 percent,” said Jim Derry with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Aviation Technology Division. “He had a significant impact for getting us funding in these things.”
The Medallion Foundation, now a major advocate for aviation safety, was also supported by Stevens. The organization provides free flight-simulator time for pilots like Howard Martin.
“You have an extra set of eyes: scenarios that you may only encounter once in your life, but may be the big one, so it's a tremendous help,” Martin said.
Stevens sought to instill safety into the state’s future pilots. Derry says the flight simulators and technology were made possible through Stevens’ push for federal funds.
“I worked with him on numerous projects with aviation security -- if it was safety-oriented, he supported it,” Derry said.
The former director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association, released a statement Wednesday on Stevens’ passing.
“As a former World War II pilot, Senator Stevens was an advocate for the flying public and over the years advanced aviation technologies, improved runway conditions and approved safety initiatives,” ??? said.
Stevens’ family has not yet released plans on a funeral service, but there will be a memorial Mass Monday at the Holy Family Cathedral, at 12:10 p.m. It is not Stevens’ funeral, but rather a way for the archdiocese to honor him.
The public is invited to attend.
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