A path from fighter planes to architecture

Richard Anderson, 71, is a handsome, former jet-fighter pilot and architect with a ready laugh and a trunk full of good stories.

Tall, trim and athletic looking, Anderson denies any athleticism - not even an exercise routine to retain his slender figure. His exercise, not formal enough to label as a program, consists of walking around the neighborhood of his Fred Lind Manor apartment, shopping along 15th Avenue and "hanging out."

"I'm not really a fitness freak," Anderson said, "but I'm lucky, I guess, because nature has been good to me."

An Ogden, Utah, native who grew up in Salt Lake City, Anderson joined the Air Force and went to flight school in 1955, learning to pilot the F-86 Sabre Jet. These swept-wing, single-seat fighters were the front-line fighters during the Korean War and had the best combat record of any fighter in that war. Anderson was destined to join the ranks of combat fighter pilots, but the war ended while he was in flight school.

"I never got to go overseas at all," Anderson said. "My really tough duty was in Las Vegas at Nellis Air Force Base." His unit's mission was to intercept and shoot down Soviet bombers, a mission that continued when he transferred to Salt Lake City.

"The Korean War ended as I was going to flying school. Don't know why I wasn't sent to Vietnam," Anderson said with a smile and shrug. "I shot a lot of bullets, but I only shot at targets. Fortunately no one ever shot at me."

Anderson's father's parents immigrated to Ogden from Norway in the late 1800s as Mormon converts. His maternal grandparents immigrated from Rekjavik, Iceland.

"So I'm 100 percent Scandahoovian," Anderson said with a wide grin.

In 1957, while flying in the Air Force Reserve out of Salt Lake City, Anderson said he was just overwhelmed with things he had to do, things he should do, things he wanted to do and a girlfriend.

"I had an early life crisis, I guess, and I just loaded up my car and took off." He ended up in a rental house at Three Tree Point west of Burien, sorted things out, sent for his sweetheart and got married. He has been in Seattle ever since - almost 48 years.

"That almost makes me a native," he said.

Hansen earned a degree in architecture from the University of Washington in 1965, then started working for Western International Hotels, which owned the Olympic and Ben Franklin (now the Mayflower Park) hotels in Seattle and the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He also worked for a Seattle developer in Honolulu for a year. When he returned he went into business with an old friend, Kay Hungerford, buying and rehabbing Seattle apartment houses and doing architectural consulting.

"[Kay] was the mastermind of the books. I was in charge of the hammer and nails," Anderson explained. Soon their relationship was not entirely business. Anderson asked her if they should "do something formal like get married or engaged or something. She said, 'We can be engaged, but we're not going to get married.'" They remained "engaged" for 25 years.

Anderson and Hungerford did well with their apartment buildings. He did a lot of the work, but they contracted out larger, complex construction and electrical and plumbing work. They continued doing that from the mid-1970s to the mid-'80s.

"When I was 50 years old I discovered, 'I can retire at 50!' So I did," Anderson explained happily.

Anderson moved to Fred Lind Manor after Kay died. His sparsely furnished apartment has very little hanging on the walls. One picture is of a 1939 Packard he restored. Another shows him with his Sabre Jet, running toward the plane. A photo album yielded another, close-up photo of a young Anderson, handsome as a movie actor playing a jet pilot. It was taken after his most exciting flying incident.

In 1956, two days before Christmas, he was practicing instrument flying with a chase plane keeping visual contact. Anderson turned to follow when the chase plane headed home, but his instruments went haywire.

He called base, and they told him a maneuver to do so they could identify him on radar, but when he called again he got no response. He found out later a freak electrical outage took out all the base power. He was alone, socked in by clouds, with no instruments and running out of fuel.

"I had no idea where I was."

Luckily, a small hole opened in the clouds and he followed it under the cloud cover when he saw a long, ruler-straight road without fences, light poles or traffic. He could almost see an imaginary sign, "Land here," so he did.

"As I was landing I could see a guy in a barn pitching hay. His eyes were this big," Anderson said, laughing and showing circles with his thumbs and forefingers.

It all turned out well. The plane was undamaged and a team met him to secure the plane and get it back to base.

The following February Anderson moved to Seattle, where there was no active fighter squadron, so he went into standby reserve.

"That was pretty much the end of my career," he acknowledged.

Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann lives on Capitol Hill and can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com.

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