Michelle Masden, pilot and owner of Island Wings, arrived in Ketchikan in 1985. Since
then she has had many experiences which uniquely qualify her as an expert in providing you with a memorable trip. A self-described “flight junkie” Michelle has spent over twenty-one thousand hours, or almost two and a half years, above the Earth’s surface. She conducts business from the left seat of her magnificent flying machine. Come visit Michelle’s unique office!
Michelle's first solo flight 1977
Michelle’s addiction to flying started early in life. As a young girl, she frequently traveled alone on
commercial flights from her home in Nebraska to visit family in other parts of the country. At the end of each journey, the flight attendants always tried to give her stewardess’ wings. She would hand them back and ask for pilot’s wings instead! As an adolescent she took solitary bus trips to the airport to watch airplanes take off and land. At the age of 16, Michelle took her first flying lesson, and shortly after turning 17 she earned her pilot’s license. At that time she was aspiring to become an airline pilot.
Seven years later on a summer college getaway Masden sailed from Seattle to
Ketchikan and fell in love with Southeast Alaska. While watching floatplanes, the predominate aircraft in Southeast Alaska, take off and land on the water she quickly lost interest in piloting an airliner. Coming from the Midwest, she had never seen a seaplane. After she took her first flightseeing tour in one she knew that seaplanes were what she wanted to fly.
The following summer, Michelle started looking for ways to earn enough money to achieve her
goal of owning her own floatplane. Local fishermen advised her that she could get a job as a deckhand earning good money on a commercial salmon fishing boat. She rose to the challenge and for the next seven years she spent three months each summer hauling in purse seine nets full of salmon in the Southeast Alaskan waters. This summer venture provided her the opportunity to earn her instrument rating, commercial pilot license and purchase her first airplane, a Cessna 172 on wheels.
Those years in which she worked as a fisherman in the summer months, Michelle spent her winters in the warmer waters of the Virgin Islands.
While there she operated an air taxi service transporting sailors to regattas and tourists to St. Thomas for shopping. In 1993 she purchased her first floatplane, a Cessna 185. From that point on she remained a year round pilot in Ketchikan. A love for flying, aspirations of success and plain old fashioned tenacity were the building blocks that turned a child's dream into a thriving Ketchikan floatplane business - Island Wings Air Service.
Although she delights in her triumphs, she has always given credit to those who helped along the way. Michelle relied
upon the direction of older bush pilots for piloting information and business logistics. She attributes much support and development to the late Jack Cousins, (1930-1999) a veteran bush pilot. At last count Cousins spent 50 years flying in Southeast Alaska. As a flight instructor he spread his enthusiasm to hundreds of students. Jack would talk to anyone who would listen about the greatest place to fly in the world - Alaska! Jack used to say “Float flying is the free spot left on Earth!” He was Michelle’s personal friend and mentor and is deeply missed.
Island Wings has been up and flying in Ketchikan, Alaska since 1993. Michelle’s passenger list is as varied
as the terrain she flies over in her seaplane Lady Esther. In addition to showing visitors the beauty of Alaska, she transports campers and hunters to remote areas, facilitates aerial surveys of wildlife with biologists and conducts fish spotting trips with commercial fisherman. It is not unusual for her to make five or more trips a day, yet she never tires of showing others the spectacular beauty of the area.
What does Michelle do on her rare days off? She flies of course. “Passion is
good fuel to get you through life,” she says. “Alaska is vast, beautiful and diverse, and I love how free it feels to fly through it.” What are the rewards of being the pilot and her own boss? “Independence, flying in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and an abundance of thank you notes from visitors and locals alike."
DeHavailland Beavers are the greatest bush planes ever built. They were named one of the ten outstanding
Canadian engineering achievements in the past century!
Michelle named her DeHavilland Beaver the “Lady Esther” in honor of her grandmother Esther. She grew up with Esther who always encouraged Michelle to follow her dream and yet Esther was terrified to fly and never once boarded a plane!
The story of Lady Esther dates back to 1959 when she was delivered to her first
owner the US Army Air Corps. There were a total of 1692 Beavers built by DeHavilland, the US Army purchased over half of them. The first prototype was flown in 1947 and construction continued through 1967. More than half of them are still in service today!
Like the Lady Esther, beavers are typically powered by an R-985 Pratt & Whitney
radial engine. Others have been modified to accept turbo-prop engines, though these Beavers are relatively rare. The Pratt & Whitney radial is a very reliable engine and produces 450 hp in stock form on the Beaver.
Kenmore Air, located in Kenmore, Washington specializes in refurbishing
Beavers. Kenmore Beavers are often advertised in airplane sales publications. They hold numerous STC modifications for the Beaver. Michelle purchased the Lady Esther from Kenmore in January of 2002 and had them rebuild and paint it to her specifications. The original price tag in 1959 was around $17,000. Today the Lady Esther is worth about $500,000.
Seaplane maintenance is somewhat more involved than other kinds of general
aviation. Airplanes on floats either dock in the water overnight or pull up onto a tip up ramp. Because they frequently land in saltwater, they must be washed down at the end of the day to prevent corrosion. In fact, maintaining a Beaver is pretty expensive - anywhere between $50,000 and $90,000 a year.
These are still some of my favorite images that I shot while on assignment for NOAA in Alaska during 2007. You maintain what must be the most beautiful De Havilland Beaver floatplane in all of Alaska! I hope your Island Wings Air Service business is doing well.
Aside from basic structural or avionics improvements, Beavers have changed little
from their original design. To enhance navigation and communication Michelle has added the Capstone equipment to the Lady Esther. Additionally she has installed a marine radio, an IPod hookup, a satellite phone and cell phone blue tooth connectivity.
Michelle takes delivery of Lady Esther at Kenmore, WA in 2002
The DeHavialland Beaver remains the workhorse of Alaska and is the most
commonly flown bush plane today. The Beaver is so outstanding that nobody has replaced it, not even with a better Beaver. By definition, a classic comes close to perfection!
“It is an honor and a privilege to own and fly one!” Come and see for yourself...
In 2014 Hobbico, Inc., a maker of radio controlled aircraft were so
enamored with the Lady Esther that they asked Michelle if they could reproduce her aircraft in a scaled form. Of course she was flattered and now you can fly your very own Lady Esther. Get yours at Flyzone. The mechanics at Kenmore Air fly theirs during lunch in the parking lot.
For all the fans of the de Havilland DHC-2, the Fretless Bar Girls
perform the “Beaver Song,” a folksy tribute to this wonderful workhorse of the north. The tune compliments many images of DHC-2s from Alaska, Washington, British Columbia and a few from New Hampshire, including the Island Wings beaver “Lady Esther.” Thanks to the Fretless Bar Girls and Kevin Thompson.
We just got back from our Alaska cruise following a stopover in Vancouver. I just wanted to tell you that our flight with you was the most memorable part of our 12 day odyssey. We’ve told several people about it and will definitely see you the next time we pass that way. It was REALLY good. And, although most people probably don’t notice, I saw what you did with a 1959 airplane. It was a beautiful job. I have a 1956 Chevy and, before that, had a 1957 Chevy show-car. Believe me, I know the effort you must have put in to make it that nice.
Anyway, kudos to you for both the airplane and the fantastic treat we got. We’ll remember it.
Don and Janice K.
Photos on this site are courtesy of Jim Kelnhofer, Mike Beedell, Craig Flatten, Amy Gulik, Dave & Leah Alcyon, Chip Porter, Carla Tchalemian, Lisa Thompson and many thanks to our guests who have provided us with photos over the years. Unauthorized use of any content from this web site is prohibited. Content on this website is subject to change without notice. Island Wings Air Service is fully Licensed. Flightseeing and Air Tours conducted in the Tongass National Forest and Misty Fjords National Monument are operated under permits issued by USDA Forest Service and the State of Alaska. Island Wings is an equal opportunity provider.
Island Wings Air Service | P.O. Box 7432 Ketchikan, AK 99901 | Toll Free (888) 854-2444 | Email: Michelle@IslandWings.com