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Kitty Bannerseemann

Caramie Schnell

Upon meeting Kitty Bannerseemann, it’s doubtful you would have any indication of her previous, adventure filled life as a bush pilot in the Alaskan wilds. And she’s certainly not what comes to mind when you hear the words “bush pilot.” Once inside her home though, you might start to wonder.Tucked back in Lake Creek is the beautiful log home that Kitty built with her husband of nearly 20 years, Bob, and shares with her two sons, Mick, 15, and Corey, 13. On the walls hang the memorabilia from the days Kitty spent in her small Cessna 185 taking off from her home base of Talkeetna, Alaska, located 120 miles north of Anchorage. There is a propeller hanging in her living room that graced a plane owned by Don Sheldon, one of the first of the glacier pilots on Mount McKinley, known now by its Indian name of Denali (“great one”). The propeller, along with a seamless red fox pelt that hangs in her entry way, were wedding gifts not-so-standard gifts for a not-so-standard woman.”For me it wasn’t so much about the adrenalin rush as it was about the ultimate in single engine flying for me,” Kitty says. “Every trip was differentbetween the weather, the people I flew, the snow conditions, the landing sites. You never knew what you were going to get.”Kitty grew up on the north side of Chicago and spent every summer at the family cottage in northern Wisconsin. History repeats itself, and Kitty’s family is no different. Kitty and her husband Bob own the cabin now and spend summers there with their own children and the rest of the family”with the family cottage comes the family,” Kitty says with a laugh.All three of Kitty’s brothers are pilots, along with her father, who didn’t want to be left out with four of his five children licensed to fly.”I was inspired by my oldest brother, Dennis,” she says. “We used to fly up to our family cottage and I was always interested in all the cumulus clouds outside the windows.”Kitty attended school at Western Washington State College, now University, in Bellingham. She set it up with the board of directors so that she could get a degree in aviation. While there, Kitty worked at the Bellingham airport where she was called “the little gas gal,” otherwise known on her resume as the “chief fuel dispersal technician.”Kitty graduated in 1974 and soon after flew cross-country, from Washington to Wisconsin, with her college professor and first mentor, David Rahm, in a Bucker Jungmann biplane.”It was an incredible experience in the biplane, we would flip upside down on the way over the Bitterroots,” Kitty remembers. “He would write me notes and we would pass them back and forth because there was no intercom. It was open cockpit, front and back, helmet, goggles. I had a sleeping bag wrapped around me to stay warm, along with my parachute.”Kitty still has those notes to this day, along with the various newspaper and magazine articles featuring the fearless Alaskan bush pilot, including the Chicago Tribune’s “She’s not your usual Alaskan bush pilot,” and Outside magazine’s “The Adventures of Kitty Banner: Is it easy being Alaska’s only woman bush pilot, or does she just make it seem that way?”In 1980 and at age 29 Kitty bought her own grandfathered air service with a partner, Kimball Forrest, called Holland Air Service. They renamed their outfit K2 Aviation (in reference to “Kitty and Kimball” rather than after the mountain in the Himalayan range).”We were getting so big, as we had flown a lot of well-known European climbers and it came to the point where we had to decide whether to really get into a lot more airplanes and more pilots and Kimball decided to go back and get his Ph.D.”They sold the business and Kitty went to work for the new owner for several years and then worked for another outfitter for three years. In 1982 Kitty met her husband Bob Seemann on the chairlift while on a ski vacation in Vail. He had just seen Kitty in his copy of Outside Magazine (before Kitty had even had a chance to view it) and to her amazement, began talking to her about Telkeetna, a place he was familiar with as well.Three years later the couple was married. Just a week after their honeymoon Kitty was back in Alaska helping Sir Edmund Hillary do a documentary on float flying that would be featured on the Discovery channel. They wanted her to teach John Denver to fly float planes.”We were being filmed as we flew and a bald eagle hooked up with us. We’d turn right and he’d turn right, then we’d circle and make our point turns around a mother black bear and her cubs,” Kitty says. “It was incredible.”Kitty now has two boys and is busy working as a rep for Descente alongside her husband. Come springtime Kitty will be on Denali’s glaciers once again. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of when K2 Aviation was started, Kitty will meet up with her old partner Kimball and hopefully with the first expedition they flew as K2, a group out of Boulder. They will stay at Don Sheldon’s mountain house on Ruth’s Glacier and Kitty will have the chance to show her two boys a piece of her former life.”I taught my husband how to fly and now I get to teach my kids,” Kitty says. “I feel very blessed.” VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com


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