Simanaitis Says

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GRUMMAN’S (AND MAUREEN O’HARA’S) GOOSE

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.)

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A Grumman Goose in its Navy livery as the JRF-5, c. 1945. Image from Flying Boats and Seaplanes since 1910.

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.

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An Antilles Air Boats Goose lifting off from St. Thomas harbor, U.S. Virgin Islands.

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.

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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).

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Captain and Mrs. Blair, the latter also known as Maureen O’Hara.

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.

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Antilles Air Boats was “the downtown seaplane airline,” its destinations including St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, St. Peter, Tortola, Fajardo and San Juan.

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

22 comments on “GRUMMAN’S (AND MAUREEN O’HARA’S) GOOSE

  1. Dick Lague
    September 23, 2014

    Great story……44 years ago my wife Mary Ann and I were honeymooning on St Croix and the Antilles ramp was right next to our hotel. That first flight of the day looked like it was going to fly right into our room. To save time and fuel they dropped into the water at the last minute. After the first flight we got to enjoy the landings…..a wonderful memory.

    Well of course the honeymoon was a wonderful memory as well…..4 great kids, and 10 terrific grand kids later!!

    Thanks for filling in some of the facts for me.

  2. Douglas E. Rutter
    May 6, 2015

    My ex father in law was Capt William P. Mable who piloted the Gooses daily when we went down to visit 1969 thru 1972. On the way to St Thomas one day I was sitting in the co-pilots seat and he let me fly it. If only the passengers knew a 16 year old kid had their lives in my hands Capt Mable was a great guy I soloed later in life in San Jose Ca. I am now a few years till retirement and plan on moving there because of these lifelong memories Thanks so much Doug Rutter

    • simanaitissays
      May 6, 2015

      Thank you, Doug, for the great remembrance. Enjoy STT.

    • Jack Willis
      October 24, 2015

      I was 10 in 1969 and my step father was the mechanical manager for them. I remember when Maureen O’hara came into the shop and I was introduced to her and shook her hand. We lived in St Thomas for a couple of month’s then to Puerto Rico where another port was located in Fajardo. It was without question the best time of my life.

      • simanaitissays
        October 24, 2015

        As you likely heard, Maureen O Hara passed away today, age 95. Rest her soul.

    • Stephen Friedrich
      February 14, 2016

      My father was a pilot there around 1967, 1968. I attended a school nearby, and used to walk to the base after school. Sometimes, with space available, I would sit next to my dad for the last trip of the day to St. Croix and back – and I got lucky a few times with an empty leg coming back to St. Thomas – he let me fly. I was about 8 years old! I’ve been a pilot now since 1978, but that’s when it all started for me!

    • Tim McCann
      July 3, 2016

      Mr. Rutter,

      Would you please contact me at tmccann@4thfightergroupassociation.org? Looking for some information on Capt. Mable, who served with the 4th Fighter Group in 1945.

      Thank you,

      Tim McCann
      Association of the 4th Fighter Group

  3. Jacqueline A. Gonzalez
    July 27, 2015

    My father, Alfred Romney was the ramp supervisor of Antilles Air Boats on St Thomas, USVI. Thank you so much for allowing me to re-visit such a wonderful childhood memory as was the adventure of Antilles Air Boats… I can’t remember ever seeing my father so sad as the day he got the call to advise him of Charlie Blair’s death. It marked the beginning of the end of an era. Thank you so much.

  4. Michael
    September 15, 2015

    I enjoyed your article because it was both informative and brought back a flood of memories. I lived in the Windward Islands at that time, and I was a frequent listener to the radio stations on St. Croix and Tortola. I always enjoyed the “goose” commercials and often wondered what it would be like inside one. There was something magical about listening to those stations, even though the atmospherics was not always perfect. “The goose flies between St. Croix, St. Thomas…”

  5. Seth Parker
    October 25, 2015

    I had the pleasure of flying in one of these Goose when I spent a week working for the landlord of the King’s Alley shops in Christiansted during a college winter break in 1973. The Goose would land just offshore and taxi up a ramp alongside the shops. While the planes were well-suited for the short trips among the USVIs, their vibrations were a bit unnerving, especially when water streaming over the fuselage during takeoffs would find its way into the cabin from the gaps around the windows!

    • Stephen safka
      March 24, 2017

      Yes I remember getting soaked cafe timed lol

  6. Nancy Crays
    October 27, 2015

    When we lived in St. Croix in the late 1960s and early 1970s, we used to fly in the Goose for vacations in St. John.

  7. Louise
    October 28, 2015

    My husband and I flew in an Airboat in the mid 70s between St. Thomas and St. Croix. The plane seemed really old and creaky. I remember sitting right behind the pilot who had to crank something on takeoff. We thought it looked like a WWII bomber. It was an exciting trip and one we’ll never forget. We were brought up short when we heard that Charles Blair and several passengers were killed in one no too long after. Quite a scary thought!

  8. Usha Ramadhar
    August 18, 2016

    My grandfather, Toolsie ex- airplane mechanic, was a very good friend to the Capt Blair and Maureen. I listened to many exciting stories about the lovely couple and of Antilles Air Boats.

  9. Stephen safka
    March 24, 2017

    Flew with thus wonderful airline when I lived in San Juan PR as a project engineer for RCA GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS INC ON 1969 TO1972 BEING A NAVY FLYER OF A GRUMMAN AIRCRAFT OF SIMILAR SIZE MY PILOT LET ME FLY UP. FRONT WITH HIM AFTER WE LOADED THE AIRCRAFTS NOSE SECTION WITH NEWSPAPER DELIVERIES FORM.SAN JUAN TO ST THOMAS AND ST CROIX

  10. JBF
    September 16, 2017

    For those of you who really want to know what happened on that tragic flight. I was the Head Mechanic (night shift) on St. Thomas at the time of the accident. I met Capt Blair & Maureen several times and liked them very much, but Capt Blair was a very head strong person. He always got what he wanted. The flight took off from St Croix. Capt. Blair choose he favorite plane, 77V. Mike (lead mechanic on St Croix) told him the plane was 22 hours overdue inspection and tried to talk him into another plane, which he had many too choose from. Being Capt Blair he insisted on his favorite one and took off. On final landing into St Thomas the number 7 cylinder blew off which tore the cowling off the engine and wrapped around the left wing which caused a total loss of lift, and the plane cartwheeled into the bay. If he had listen to Mike, Capt Blair would have chosen another plane and upon inspection, Mike would have found the crack on the cylinder, replaced it and none of this would have happened. I have many fond memories of living on the Islands but this ruined it for me. Shortly thereafter I left the Islands and have never returned.

    • Jack Willis
      September 16, 2017

      I was just nine or 1o years old when I moved first to St Thomas with the Mechanics manager who was my step father. His name was John Alvy or Alvi. We moved to Luquillo beach PR after a short time in St. Thomas. I went to school in Fajardo. The man at the port in Fajardo also had the name of John. Wonderful experience as a kid!. Always dreamed of going back. I met Maureen once in the shop area. John Alvi sent me back to CA after a fall out with my mother. After that I heard he murdered someone and was hiding out in south America. Never heard from him again. I am sure he is dead by now. Old age catches up with everyone eventually. Does anyone remember John Alvi? he was short and bald with a big beer belly. Drank a lot and had a terrible habit of lying about everything. I still had the time of my life. A bartender friend named Jim Schroeder and his girlfriend moved in with us in PR. Tata who was only 16 or17 lived with us too. Hmmm!

  11. simanaitissays
    September 16, 2017

    I thank you both for two most interesting first-hand commentaries.

  12. Richard Sargent
    September 26, 2017

    I lived in St Thomas raising our family from 1968 through 1974 and flew on the Antilles airboats many times to Puerto Rico during that. It was wonderful sitting next to the pilot as we took off and landed so with great memories I thank you for this trip back in time

  13. Tom Anusewicz
    September 14, 2018

    Dennis: Enjoy Simanaitis Says. I have included your “Grumman’s (And Maureen O’Hara’s) Goose from Simanaitis Says in my website http://www.antillesairboats.com. Posted on Grumman Goose G21a page. Never to late to tell the stories. Thank you.

  14. Danilo Paugh
    November 29, 2018

    Grew up in Fajardo P.R. and I used to sit on a hill just to watch the flights come and go. I would have given anything to fly one! Thank you for the memories.

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2014 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , , , .
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