Talkeetna’s history is full of aviators. Most pilots today know of Carl Thomas, or at least of his private airstrip, Carl’s Landing. KTNA’s Katie Writer, an aviator herself, spoke with Carl Thomas and his wife Brenda about their lives in Talkeetna.
by: Katie Writer–KTNA, Talkeetna
One of Talkeetna’s colorful aviators, Carl Thomas, maintains his own airplanes while his active lifestyle maintains his youthful 82 year old spirit.
Carl and his adventurous wife, Brenda moved to Talkeetna in 1986 and established Carl’s Landing, a private airstrip south of town.
Carl served in the US Air Force as a jet engine mechanic all over the world. The need for reciprocating engine mechanics brought him to Elmendorf Air Force Base to work on the C-130’s.
“I retired in ’76…I was in the military for twenty-two-and-a-half years.”
At a young age, Carl’s desire to be a flyer started with model airplanes, where he learned aerodynamics and theories of flight from the ground. He daringly taught himself how to fly solo before accepting the offer of having a flight instructor check him out. Shortly thereafter, he purchased his first airplane, which he kept at the picturesque Vermont dairy farm where he worked. From then on, Carl knew he would fly his entire life.
Carl Thomas’ independence and self-motivation have allowed him to maintain a trapline near his remote cabin near Mt. Susitna into his 80’s. With the support of his equally capable wife, Brenda, who holds the fort down and keeps the runway clear of snow at their Carl’s Landing home, he is out flying 3 days a week throughout the winter months.
“I tend to try to go out every third day to check my trap line. I get on my snowmachine and run my line out there, and it’s about a twenty-mile line. By the time I get to the end of the line, it’s time to get out of there because it’s getting dark on me, so I fly home.”
When asked if he has ever been stuck, Carl responds with a smile.
“I spent a night out [at] Alexander Lake. It got warm that day and started raining –got wet, and I could not get off. The snow got so wet it just froze the skis in and everything. I had to wait until the next day until it got cold enough to make the snow colder so I could get off.”
After taking a look at Carl’s fleet, which includes a Piper Super Cub, a PA-14 and countless model airplanes, he is a true perfectionist.
When asked if he has had any engine failures, he says no. Perhaps his years working on engines has contributed to his good track record.
“Take care of your airplane; the airplane will take care of you.”
And his high standards of keeping three important things in check.
“The three things you want to know when you’re flying, when you start out –and use this all the way up through your livelihood—know your airplane, know your stimulations, and know the area….Once you got that down pat, you can fly forever, and everything will work great for you. Those are the three things you really need to put in your mind and keep there…My airplanes, I keep them better than I do my cars. In other words, I appreciate them because they take me where my car won’t take me at all.”
Both he and Brenda have had their share of fun over the years. During the interview at their home, Brenda couldn’t help pulling out some photos.
Many furs decorate their walls and a photo of longtime friend Francis Twigg put a smile on my face. These folks have chosen not to take on the digital age and their time has been spent wisely living fully day by day.
“Have you seen this one?” chimes in Brenda. She shows me a photo of Carl at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria where he finished 4th place in the Downhill skiing event.
Carl is no stranger to snow and this has contributed to his success flying thousands of hours on wheel-skis.
Both from Vermont, Brenda’s outdoor skills impress me along with her own hunting prowess and ability to stock the freezer with moose meat. There is no telling who runs the show; Brenda, Carl or their wild cat named Kiki.
“That’s where I got my first bear. Carl went down to the lower—we’ve got a fishing cabin out there too…So he took off, and I’m at the main cabin. I happen to look out, and here’s this bear coming right up—about fifty feet from the house. I said, ‘Whoa, holy crap.’ So I got my little old gun out, and I got him. One shot…”
They have made a home in Alaska, where a many days have started with a view of Denali, airplane noise, grazing yaks, loon calls, and even a domesticated moose named Winkie peeking into their window.