The year of 1961 was not entirely limited to “calls and hauls” of automobile parts. The Ortner Air Service’s reputation for getting the job done caught the attention of the biggest paying client of them all — the United States Government. The contract secured by the Ortners entailed hauling heavy construction vehicles, machinery, and spare parts to the US Air Force’s “Dew Line” (Distant Early Warning) project that was being built in conjunction with the Canadian government. The Dew Line was conceived, and initiated in 1954 by the Eisenhower administration for the construction of a sophisticated radar network to track any possible threat of attack by the Soviet Union. The network covered thousands of square miles of the most unforgiving terrain and temperatures.
The Ortner Air Service’s first destination for the US Government was Barter Island, Alaska, located on the northern coast. Barter Island is actually not an island, but is more like a sand pit that is totally isolated by water at certain times of the year. Aircraft landings were limited from May to September. The Ortner Air Service fit well into US military planes for hauling vital cargo to Barter Island, even though the USAF had vast resources available in larger capacity cargo planes. However, the Ortner aircraft could get into strips which the USAF could not. Expedient resupply of crucial spare parts was a top priority for the Dew Line project. Construction equipment had to be running continuously, 24 hours a day, and could not be shut down due to winter temperature lows of minus 90 degrees. If equipment was shut down, it could not be restarted, thus construction equipment and parts wore out constantly.
In 2011, Steve and Courtney Ortner, of rural Wakeman, purchased the 125-acre airport and are upgrading the landing strip that Steve’s father and uncles first cleared in the 1940s.
The airport has undergone significant construction, upgrading, and development projects. The renovation projects included: pilot lounge remodeling, runway re-paved, and adding a building which includes 10 T-hangars.