Flight of the Grumman Goose

Remember Fantasy Island? Remember Tattoo shouting “De plane, de plane” from the tower of the white mansion? For a moment you glimpse the Grumman Goose flying at you, then passing to your left. Tattoo races down to meet Ricardo Mantalban in his white linen suit (I’m sure it wasn’t polyester). The actual mansion, fronted by the  lagoon, is in the  land-locked Los Angeles Arboretum. Most likely the Grumman is still flying somewhere in Alaska, Seattle or Florida…Hawaii?  Barring the historic DC-3, (Dakota, C-47), with its first flight in December, 1935, and still going strong, definitely Queen of the skies (opening to “Burn Notice”?), no plane of World War II vintage has logged the continuing hours of the Grumman Goose  G-21. A personnel transport, it first flew in May, 1937.

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Santa Catalina Island enjoyed hourly air service from San Pedro Harbor and Long Beach Airport up through the nineteen-sixties via Avalon Air Transport and Catalina Channel Airlines. Both used the Grumman Goose, flying several planes each. Avalon Air also had the four-engined Sikorsky VS-44 Excambian, lovingly dubbed “Mother Goose” by Islanders. This plane flew once a day, then spent the afternoon bobbing in Avalon Bay. The steamer was still running till the late 60’s, as well. (Google pics and facts)
Our family enjoyed Catalina when I was a kid, my three brothers and I, Mom and Dad. Dad bought a 40′ Chris Craft Sedan in 1955, and we motored over (like that boat talk?) every few weekends when the weather was right.

When Dad was done with boats, he partnered with two friends and purchased Hotel Catalina; so we still had to get to the island.  I took four trips on the steamer in my teens.  It ran from the  then construction site of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, (opened in 1963) near where the Lane Thomas is docked. Avalon Air Transport planes took off from under the bridge, too. San Pedro was a lot more romantic in those days with the steamer, fishing boats and sea planes coming and going.

Driving from Garden Grove to San Pedro for a two hour trip on a “cattle boat” wasn’t Dad’s cup of tea, I guess, and we drove to Long Beach Airport to climb aboard the Catalina Channel Air Grummans. We’re talking 1962-63. These planes were plenty old by then. Our luggage was placed in the nose from the outside. Two opposing covers in front of the wind shields opened from the center allowing access to the “hold.” An aisle ran between 10 to 12 seats set along each side.

The engines kicked over, puffed a gray-white cloud of smoke from each exhaust, and roared to life. The engines revved, and the sheet metal vibrated till it was tuned to itself.  We trundled along to the strip. The pilot spun the Goose onto the strip—literally—pivoting on the left wheel. He pulled the two throttles forward. We rattled down the concrete airstrip struggling into the air. The co-pilot cranked up the wheels. There was plenty of noise, but once in the air the rhythm of the two engines settled down. The flight lasted fifteen minutes.

Landing on the surface of the Pacific Ocean—you know, the Pacific, the one with all the waves—landing can be touchy. The plane settled toward the surface, inching down till the boat-like hull split the waves. The wing floats, little pontoons also shaped like boat hulls, skimmed the surface. The pilot slowed the engines, and the plane settled in, turning left or right, wallowing, rising and falling like a… goose… on the waves. The wheels were cranked down. The engines revved again, pulling us up to the ramp onto the concrete yard at Pebbly Beach. There were buildings from when the earliest sea planes ran to Catalina as far back as 1935. A shuttle carried you to town, about two miles around Mt. Ada.

The Buffalo Nickel Restaurant 1-310-510-1323, http://www.yelp.com/biz/buffalo-nickel-restaurant-avalon occupies one of the old buildings dating back to the 20’s or 30’s. The food is excellent and if it’s your birthday, it is free. Call them when it’s time to eat and they will pick you up at the Moll where the jet boats arrive or at the east end of Crescent where town begins. The shuttle costs nothing, the service is friendly, and no one cares if you wander around Pebbly Beach after lunch, looking for broken pottery shards from the Catalina Tile and Ceramic Company (1927-37).

My family enjoys the Catalina Express 1-800-622-2354, catalinaexpress.com whose boats cross from LB to Avalon in an hour flat. They’re catamarans and very stable. For the past few years they have offered you a free ticket on your birthday, too. We like to hike deep inside the island, or snorkel in Lovers’ Cove. I’m glad I tasted history back then when I was a kid, but there is so much to the island, I’m always interested to hear someone else’s story about Catalina.

I’m sorry I have no site or phone number for Channel Air or Avalon Air—how cool would that be? You will enjoy the plethora of photos of the Grumman Goose on Google.