This Swiss-manufactured Pilatus Porter aircraft with an unusual configuration and paint job was a real attention-grabber while parked at the Cordova Airport alongside Eyak Lake on July 27, 2022. Dick Shellhorn photo

It’s not difficult to make a list of “Only in Cordova” favorites—heck, that’s why many of us live here, and I have written about them in the past.

Yet as a spinoff from a walk along Power Creek Road, I’ve got a new one, and you will love it.

Earlier this summer, on July 27, parked amongst the small planes along the edge of the lakeside runway was a greenish-hued craft with unique lines that I immediately thought might be a WWII plane that someone had restored and landed on a visit to Alaska. 

I stopped and took several photos. A few hundred yards down the road, I saw a group of four walking toward town. 

On a hunch I thought they might be connected to the craft. I drove over and offered them a ride. 

Guess what? It was the pilot, Philipp Sturm, and three clients, who had departed from a lodge near McCarthy, flown down the Copper River and enroute to Yakutat, landed for a short visit to our fair city. 

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FlyAlaska pilot Philipp Sturm points out the flight path taken to get the Pilatus Porter from Switzerland to Alaska. He loves flying to Cordova from their lodge near McCarty for the hospitality—and the strawberry milkshakes at Baja Taco. Photo courtesy of FlyAlaska

They were delighted at my offer and piled into the cab of my pickup after I discouraged them from riding in the uncovered back bed. 

It turns out Sturm and his guests were of German heritage, and when I mentioned my last name was Shelllhorn, also of that origin, why, we were off to the races. 

Especially after I told them my great-great-grandfather Count Von Shellhorn fought in the Civil War, and I had his sword to prove it. Of note, family folklore is always entertaining and often worthy of skepticism, but it is quite a sword.

I was really more interested in the plane, and Sturm provided all kinds of information, including a website where I could look up details: FlyAlaska.ch.

The plane was a Pilatus Porter, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland. The first model was produced in 1959, and a total of 595 have been built. It cruises at 144 mph, has a wingspan of 52 feet, a range of 1,000 miles, is designed for short takeoffs and landings, and some versions can be configured to carry up to 10 passengers. 

This FlyAlaska Porter has a unique paint job.  On the nose of the plane is a white map of the world, with the route the plane has flown from Switzerland to McCarthy traced in red. The fuselage features an outline of the mountains in the Wrangell-St. Elias area where they operate, and the undersides of the wings display a topographical map of the same area.

Sturm was very enthused about Cordova, where he has been stopping for many years. 

“I love Cordova,” Sturm said. “It is one of my favorite places. Quiet, isolated, beautiful, friendly—a special Alaska place.”

I mentioned our museum and civic center, which he acknowledged from prior visits.

“This new one is remarkable. I liked your old one too. It had special character.”

But then came the “Only in Cordova” moment.

“But really, one of the main reasons I love to stop here is for the strawberry milkshakes at your Mexican place,” he said.

I almost ran off the road. 

“Ah ha,” said I. “You are referring to Baja Taco.”

“Yes,” said he. “It is right down the street below the museum, and after visiting the outstanding exhibits, especially those that show the history of mining, McCarthy and Kennicott, we will all stop there before flying on.”

So, there you have it.

I don’t know if they all went for the strawberry flavor.

But, by unique small plane, all the way from McCarthy, in a stylish craft built in Switzerland, another item to add to our own “Only in Cordova” list.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at dshorn44@gmail.com.