I hadn’t realized how much I really missed the confidence of being a passenger in a Grumman. The Grumman is an airplane, for those of you unfamiliar, that can land on both land and in the water. It has two engines which I count as a necessity in the Aleutians. It is a plane where the pilot seems to become an extension of the machine itself, constantly in motion. The plane is a holdover from days gone by considering that both the Goose and the Widgeon last came off the production lines in the mid 1940s. It’s well suited to coastal conditions and is perfect for rough waters and windy conditions. Which is a perfect description of where I live.
I am not what you would call a comfortable traveler in the air. Honestly, I attribute my nervousness to my penchant for always being in control. Add to that the fact that I really know nothing about the aerodynamics of what planes are capable of doing, and you have the classic nervous Nellie. But I am not a passenger who screams and clutches her rosary beads when things get dicey. My husband is an A&P mechanic, an air frame and power plant mechanic, and spent 30 years maintaining airplanes, especially sea planes. Everyone who knew me in my town of 4,000 knew that my husband worked for the airlines. So I am an uncomfortable flyer who learned how to internalize it all.
So much has changed in our air service in the past 8 years. Flying the Aleutians is tough, at best. The Grumman Goose left the Aleutians when it was sold by the airline who had the contract for air service for our area. The company added Saab 2000’s to the mix which took our flight time to Anchorage (800 miles) down to a little over 2 hours instead of over 3 hours. We got used to those shortened flight times with our smooth Aleutian pilots. Unfortunately, the airline fell on hard times and declared bankruptcy, were bought up by a conglomerate whose experience in the Aleutians was sadly lacking. They got rid of all the seasoned pilots and you can imagine the outcome. They crashed, with a fatality. So my comfort level is at zilch. Imagine my surprise when I received a call from the pilot who flew the Grumman Goose for my wedding. He announced that he had just bought a Grumman Widgeon and was planning a trip down just taking some time off.
Having not been on a plane since October of 2019, I was actually happy to see the pilot again and was glad to be able to welcome him to my home, feed him, send my husband off on a flight to deliver goods to a small village, and take a “look see” at a volcano that had erupted 2 days prior. Pilots are the source of most photographs of erupting volcanoes for the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Later that evening when he asked me if I wanted to go for a short flight that would include his friend hiking up a mountain to 1100 feet so that he could take picture of the Widgeon in flight as it flew by, I surprised my self by saying yes.
It was gorgeously sunny, winds out of the south east at 15 knots. He told me he is only landing in fresh water until he has a protective coat put on the Widgeon to protect from salt water, so we would be taking off and landing on the runway. We did take the opportunity to do a splash and dash on a lake, did about 6 back and forth passes along the rim of the mountain, circled around and landed. It was exhilarating. We were only up for about 20 minutes, but my faith in flying, at least with this pilot, in this plane, has been restored.
If you ever get the chance, take it.
8 thoughts on “Peaceful contemplation.”
I’m glad you found the trust to say yes and go for this ride. And the words to take me along with you…it is an enjoyable thing to be safely flung into the heavens when one has been too long staying home/staying safe in this pandemic isolation. Thank you for writing.
I can’t believe it has been 2 years since you landed on this tiny airstrip of ours. That was when we still had all the good pilots and our confidence in them was not even a question. One day this airline issue will be settled, the pandemic will be abated, and we will visit again. Either here or there. But it will happen.
Love the post and good to see you back!!
Thanks, Mr. Cox. I figured out that I do not suffer from writer’s block; I have simply been flummoxed by the hateful rhetoric in our country, compounded by having to change my day to day due to the pandemic. I will overcome this pseudo-depression against writing!
I can well understand that!! The atmosphere of a very hot summer, a potential lethal virus, boredom and confinement are the perfect breeding grounds for riots and protests from people who can think of nothing better to do.
your comment is only partially acceptable.some protesters are taking advantage of a situation they have no stake in,others have legitimate concerns and have had for a long time.
Oh Thank You for this post! Those amazing pilots and stout airplanes knitted Alaska together for years.
About five years ago I was walking on the beach on the north end of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska when a deep rumble from my childhood sounded. I was taken back to sitting beside the pilot as the Grumman Goose landed on the water in Ketchikan in the 1960’s, the giant instrument panel filling my forward view, the water splashing up alongside the plane, and the throaty engine noise as the pilot deftly adjusted for wind and water. As my mind came back to present day, a refurbished Goose taxied out from Point Baker and took off with it’s signature roar. I sank to my knees with tears in my eyes as that great aircraft flew by.
I’m happy for you that you took that ride! What a wonderful experience.
Round engines have such a distinctive sound. I can identify them anytime.