Artifact of the Month
Artifact of the Month: April 2020

Flight of the Northbird

It was July 17, 1922. A huge crowd gathered on the waterfront to watch the spectacle of Roy Jones arriving in Ketchikan from Prince Rupert. The flying machine Northbird circled Pennock Island once and glided onto the Tongass Narrows, arriving at exactly 2:02pm.

Roy Jones learned about Ketchikan while serving with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in Southeastern Alaska before World War One. A few months prior to his famous flight, the Army Air Corps veteran made Ketchikan his home. Jones combined his own money with funds petitioned from the Ketchikan Commercial Club (forerunner of today's Chamber of Commerce) to purchase a modified Curtis MF flying boat from Navy surplus. The Northbird became the first aircraft to be used for commercial flying in Alaska, connecting Ketchikan to the outside world.

Jones immediately went into business under the name Northbird Aviation Company. He carried sightseers, salesmen, mining engineers, and government officials all over Southeast Alaska in his frail, open craft. In August of 1923, Jones crashed the Northbird in the hills above Ketchikan on a takeoff from Heckman Lake. The pilot was unhurt, but the plane was a total loss.

Terry Richardson's scale model of the Northbird is on display at the Tongass Historical Museum in our new exhibit, Into the Wind: Aviation as Southeast Alaska's Lifeline.

Object credit:
Ketchikan Museums, KM 2001.2.39.1

Photo caption & credit:
The Northbird on the beach at Ratz Harbor, Prince of Wales Island on May 12, 1923.
Ketchikan Museums: Tongass Historical Society Collection, THS
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Northbird modelNorthbird model
Northbird at Ratz HarborNorthbird at Ratz Harbor