Merle “Mudhole” Smith was born in 1908 in Kansas. He joined the Inman Brothers Flying Circus in 1933, setting the record for most circus passengers at more than 26,000. Smith came to Cordova, Alaska in 1937, earning his nickname after a minor incident leaves his plane nosed over in a mud hole. He is asked to lead Cordova Air Service in 1939 after his friend Kirkpatrick is killed in an accident. By 1942 he worked for Morrison-Knudson and Harold Gilliam, flying cargo and mail along several routes throughout Alaska. After the war, Smith returned to Cordova Air Service and continued to build it up. Cordova Air Service merged with Christensen Flying Service in 1952, and merged again with Alaska Airlines in 1968. Smith served as director and VP of Alaska Airlines until 1973.