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THE GRUMMAN Goose sure did ok for itself. Designed in 1936 for well-heeled Long Island commuters, this amphibious aircraft was Grumman’s first monoplane, its first with twin engines and its first intended for commercial use. (Hitherto, this Bethpage, Long Island, aircraft manufacturer was known for its FF, F2F and F3F biplane fighters.)
The Goose served admirably in World War II as the OA series in the Army and the JRF series in the Navy and Coast Guard. Britain’s Royal Air Force flew them, as did the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Portuguese Navy and French Aéronavale.
A total of 345 Gooses (Geese?) were built. In civilian use, they were especially popular in the Caribbean, Alaska and Canada’s lakelands. Actress Maureen O’Hara played an important role in this civilian life. And even I have firsthand stories of Goose encounters. Not bad for what was conceived as a competitor to the Long Island Railroad.
The Goose was a flying boat design, with hand-cranked landing gear that made it capable of land activity. Its construction was almost all-metal; only control surfaces and trailing portions of its 49-ft. wing were fabric-covered. Propulsion was provided by twin Pratt & Whitney 9-cylinder air-cooled radials, each rated at 450 hp. Later, turboprops replaced these radials in some variants known as Turbo-Gooses.
The basic design also gave rise to a downsized version (the Widgeon, with 40-ft. span) and a larger sibling (the Mallard, with 66 ft. 7 in. span). One of the Mallards was used in the 1950s by the Aga Khan; another was customized for Egyptian King Farouk.
Actress Maureen O’Hara’s Goose link came through marriage. In 1968, she wedded Charles F. Blair, Jr., retired Air Force Brigadier General, ex-Pan Am pilot/executive and founder/proprietor of Antilles Air Boats in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Antilles ran regularly scheduled flights among St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico and other island locales with Grumman Gooses its primary craft (together with a Consolidated PBY Catalina).
Tragically, Charles and three passengers perished in September 1978 when a Goose engine exploded on a flight between St. Croix and St. Thomas. In memory of her husband, Maureen took on the role of president and CEO of Antilles Air Boats. She was the first woman to head a regularly scheduled airline. Long retired at 94, she now has homes in Arizona, the Virgin Islands and County Cork, Ireland.
During my residence on St. Thomas, 1969 to 1976, I used Antilles Air Boats for not infrequent adventures in Puerto Rico (where the flights’ base leg and final leg buzzed significant architecture in downtown San Juan). Adding to the fun, the seat next to the pilot was occupied by a paying passenger (as were those in the PBY’s side bubbles).
Here’s my video of an Antilles Air Boat setting down in the harbor of St. Thomas.
Come here! Get down! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014