Stedman and Judy, Petersburg pilots and legends
Bill Stedman, recently named an Alaska Aviation Living Legend.
Bill Stedman and Rod Judy were named Alaska Aviation Living Legends last summer, but they have been so much more to those who have known them.
Stedman is a lifelong resident of Petersburg and still lives in the childhood home that he shared with his parents and sisters.
“The place has changed over the years, and I have done a lot of work to it,” Stedman stated. “But I have lived here all my life and really haven't wanted to be anywhere else.”
Stedman attended Petersburg High School and worked as a projectionist at the theater and really hadn't given much thought to the future until a pilot came around looking for someone to help with his plane.
Stedman had liked airplanes and had built many models, but really didn't think about flying as a job.
“I was never really all that excited about flying and wasn't really interested in it,” Stedman said. “Tony Schwamm came by the theater looking for a young guy to help him clean the windows and gas the plane. I figured I could do that.”
Schwamm took Stedman under his wing and taught him the ins and outs of flying.
“I was able to take lessons in a Curtiss Robin that was built in 1929, but my first solo flight was in a brand new Taylor craft that Tony bought after selling the Curtiss Robin,” Stedman said. “I learned so much about flying from Tony and I loved it.”
According to Stedman, the Taylorcraft was a two place airplane with a 65 horse power engine that Schwamm bought to give instruction.
“That was a really nice airplane and that was when I really got into training,” Stedman said. “It took me quite a while to get the experience and it wasn't until 1941 that I soloed and that was a thrill.”
Schwamm was in the Naval Reserve and when Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was called into service and Petersburg Air Service was closed.
Stedman went to work for Morrison-Knudson Construction, which was one of the biggest construction companies in the country and worked as an aircraft mechanic for the Morrison Knudson fleet of aircraft while they built the Northway Airport.
“They were building airports to ferry planes from the U.S. to Russia and they flew up over Alaska,” Stedman said. “The American pilots would fly the planes to Russia and the Russian pilots would pick them up and fly them on.”
Stedman spent a summer in Nebesna and he worked on a whole fleet of really old airplanes.
“Everything that came in to build that airport came into Valdez, which was about eight miles from where we were,” Stedman said. “All of the equipment was then moved by CAT trains for the remainder of that eight miles.”
Stedman explained that the continual daylight hours made it possible for the planes to fly 24 hours a day.
“It certainly made for a long work day,” Stedman stated. “It was a great experience for me.”
In 1959, Stedman attended school in California at the Northrop Aeronautical Institute and became a licensed aircraft mechanic as well as being a pilot.
“One of the companies here in Petersburg was giving flying instruction and I was able to get my private pilot’s license,” Stedman stated. “Alaska Coastal Airlines offered me a job as soon as I got out of school.”
Stedman laughed as he stated that he went straight from California to Juneau in the middle of winter.
“There were three of us mechanics that lived together,” Stedman laughed. “We rented a house in Douglas and we lived there and worked on airplanes, that's it. Juneau is absolutely the end of the world in the winter.”
He explained that the planes had to be tied down and doors were locked to make sure the wind didn't blow everything away.
Stedman was given the opportunity to return to Petersburg and he was more than ready to leave Juneau and return home.
“When I got back to Petersburg, they asked if I would be interested in flying,” Stedman stated. “I didn't have my commercial license yet but they gave me an airplane and the pilot here worked with me to get that license and I began flying for Coastal. I was then a pilot and a mechanic for the same company.”
The first airplane that Stedman commercially flew was a Piper Pacer which was a four place plane on floats and then he moved on to a Cessna 180.
“My favorite plane was the Grumman Goose,” Stedman said smiling. “It was just the best airplane ever built.”
Stedman had a regular schedule of flights out of Petersburg and he would fly to Kake every day and also to Port Alexander and several other places.
“There seemed to be a lot of activity going on out there,” Stedman said. “I would fly out there and take them their mail and groceries.”
Later he was placed on a schedule flying to Sitka every day.
“It was kind of tough flying because the weather isn't that great out there,” Stedman stated. “Sitka is out in the middle of the open ocean and there is a lot of fog, drizzle and wind.”
Stedman remembered a time when he had to land out in the water and had to taxi all the way to Sitka, because he couldn't see well enough to land on the strip.
After Stedman had worked for Coastal for about 20 years, decided he was tired of flying and began building houses with his cousin to sell.
“As we were building the houses, I would watch the plane fly over,” Stedman said. “Lloyd Roundtree owned Lon's Flying Service and I began working for him and I put in another 20 years flying for him.”
Stedman didn't officially and completely retire from flying until 1987 when he got out of the plane after taxiing to a float and he never looked back again.
“Ten years after I retired I received the Master Mechanic Award from the FAA,” Stedman stated. “I have had such wonderful experiences with planes and loved every minute of it.”
Rod Judy was born in Coos Bay, Ore. and didn't come to Alaska until 1962 when his family moved to Sitka.
“I began flying in 1965 when I was 19 years old,” Judy explained. “I was able to log over 30 hours of flight time in my first six months of flying.”
According to Judy, learning to fly on floats was a great experience but it just took too long to get out of the water.
Judy traveled to Nevada to begin working on his commercial license.
“I found this place in Nevada to go to school,” Judy stated. “They advertised that they have 360 days of sunshine and I thought that sounded great.”
After finishing flight school and getting his last certification he realized that he just had 42 cents in his pocket and he was trying to determine if he wanted to make a phone call to find a job or buy lunch and as he was putting gas into the plane the chief instructor of the school asked if he wanted a job teaching right there.
“I did that for about six months and then returned to Sitka and went to work for Afton Coon,” Judy said. “He was a really comical person to work for. If you took a day off, he would figure you didn't like your job and fire you.”
Judy explained that he worked there for 20 straight months without a day off and he was fired three or four times, but he would just get up each day, make his lunch and go to work as if nothing had happened.
Judy moved to Juneau to work for Southeast Skyways in 1969 and remained there for about three years.
“I moved to Petersburg after that to work for Viking Airways,” Judy stated. “I loved Petersburg and met my wife, Darcy, when I got here.”
Judy and Darcy then had to move back to Sitka for a short period of time in order for him to finish his time with the Alaska Army National Guard.
“We moved back to Petersburg in 1973 and I began working for Alaska Island Air,” Judy said. “But my dream actually began when I created Pacific Wing and I was able to trade my C-180 for a Cessna 185.”
Judy has flown over 37,300 hours averaging about 1,000 hours per year and he has more single-engine float time than any other pilot in Alaska.
Pacific Wing was sold to Sunrise Aviation in 2011 and Judy retired.
“I think I would rather watch planes than fly now,” Judy said. “I still keep up with my A&P and instructor ratings and I will still give a hand with a launch when I'm needed.”