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Life in Alaska

Aviator/developer Urban Rahoi turns 100

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Long-time aviator, homesteader, and developer Urban Rahoi is turning 100. Rahoi has broken some records for most years flying, has run for public office in Fairbanks and in spite of having a stroke a couple of years ago, still gets up in his airplane and still runs his old snow machine. His 100th birthday party will be tomorrow (Saturday) evening at Pioneer Park from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.

 

On Nov. 20, 2012, the FAA presented Urban Rahoi the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for “contributions to aviation for more than 70 years.” Well, now add another decade to that, as Rahoi started flying before he was 16, and is now about to turn 100.

“I’m Urban Rahoi and I’m 99 years old. I was born in Upper Michigan in 1919, and I started flying in May, 1934.”

His son, Gene Rahoi, has a video production business and has published more than a few of his father’s adventures, including this interview.

“Flying in Alaska in the old days took a hell of lot of skill, because we didn’t have all these navigation aids that we have today. When I first started, I always looked for the trapper trails. Because there are always cabins on the trapper trails, so if you go down, you at least have shelter. There’s been people who have gone down at 50 below and crashed and they died.”

Rahoi served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. In 1947 he came to Alaska for the first time and formed Interior Airways along with partners Al Wright and Jim Magoffin. He was a hunting guide and bush pilot, and he’s had his share of crashes.

“Flying 84 years, eventually you will have a crash. And I’ve had three major crashes in my life. But I was able to control myself, and control the airplane, and even though the planes were badly damaged, we all got out without a bruise.”

Urban and his wife, Vienna, homesteaded on the Tanana River near the Richardson Highway.

One day flying along the road, he saw so many mobile homes coming to Fairbanks, and he thought they will all need to live someplace, so his family developed some of their property into Lakeview Terrace, in Southeast Fairbanks.

Rahoi ran for the Alaska House of Representatives several times, most recently in 2012.

He started developing the Ptarmigan Lake Lodge in Eastern Alaska before Alaska was a state, and has flown more than 4000 hours in and out of there. In 2016, he planned a week’s stay to work on the airstrip, but felt a little funny, so he flew out to Tok where he had parked his truck, then drove to the emergency room at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. By the time he got there, he couldn’t move his legs to leave the truck. Turns out he was having a stroke.

Vigorous physical therapy has let him return to winter sports and this year he has been up in his plane.

Craig Compeau is a close friend. He runs an outdoor motor sports shop and has shared in some of the adventures, like the Tired Iron snowmachine race for antique sleds.

“He called me and said, hey, Compeau, I found the same machine I rode back when I first got started. My son found a sled on that internet thing."

Craig Compeau has been changing the racing sticker on that 1965 Polaris Mustang, updating it every year so Urban Rahoi can run it in the Tired Iron Race. This year, the sticker says “100.”

Compeau, the Rahoi family and Festival Fairbanks are celebrating Urban Rahoi’s lifetime of achievements with a birthday party, tomorrow evening at 5:30-8 p.m. at Pioneer Park.

Compeau says the community is invited to share stories. Hosts are providing a fair amount of chili and cornbread, and there will be a no-host bar, and they would appreciate folks bringing a potluck dish. But they don’t want anyone to miss the party if they can’t bring something to share.

“Come and see this Urban Legend.”

 

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Craig Compeau shows off Urban Rahoi's "Tired Iron" snowmachine ready for Rahoi's 100th birthday party.
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