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.