The Grumman Goose 
After All These Years 
by Jon Seal 
         

Sometimes an aircraft design is so right, so attuned to a special set of tasks, that it flies on long after the production line shuts down. The Grumman Goose is that kind of plane, and the story of aviation in Alaska and western Canada would not be the same if this sturdy seaplane had never gotten off Grumman's drawing board.

A Product of the Grumman "Iron Works"
Rugged, roomy, powerful, and above all amphibian, the Goose can go anywhere. Its boat hull and retractable landing gear provide the ability to take off and land from a runway or the water, so the Goose can get to places most aircraft can't. Manufactured by Grumman, whose sturdy WWII combat aircraft earned the company a reputation as the "Iron Works," the Goose is built like a bridge - or a battleship. It can handle heavy loads, and it can take a lot of punishment and keep operating economically. Its twin radial engines, mounted high on the wing to keep them relatively dry while maneuvering on the water, give it the kind of reliability that made WWII naval aviators feel safe over the vast expanses of the Pacific.

The era of the flying boat is over — but the Goose keeps on flying
The Goose was designed during the heyday of the flying boat in the late 1930s, when big, luxurious four-engined Boeing, Sikorsky, and Martin "Clippers" provided glamorous and exotic travel for the well-heeled. The more modestly scaled Goose, originally designed to transport wealthy Long Island businessmen, made its maiden flight in 1937, and soon caught the eye of the U.S. Navy, which eventually acquired two-thirds of the entire production. Originally intended to carry six lucky passengers in luxury comparable to the big Clippers, the Goose became a Navy "utility transport" — a workhorse that could get people and equipment into and out of remote areas. From people and parts hauling to target towing to antisubmarine patrol with bombs and depth charges, the Goose could do it all. With the end of WWII big flying boats vanished from the world aviation scene. The biggest of them all — Howard Hughes' gigantic eight-engined "Spruce Goose" — flew just one mile before disappearing from public view in 1947. The humble Grumman Goose, on the other hand, has never fallen out of favor wherever people need transport to coastal and island locations. About 40 of the 345 Gooses Grumman built between 1937 and 1945 are still flying.

A Goose with a lot of History — and a Bright Future
One of the nicest examples among currently airworthy Gooses belongs to Larry Teufel of Hillsboro, OR, who purchased it in 1988 and restored it to better-than-new condition. This aircraft, N48550, was both a military veteran and a pioneer in Alaskan air service. The old bird has a lot of history behind it, but has never been in better shape. N48550, the aircraft modeled in Flight Simulator X, was the 61st Goose off the assembly line in 1939, and served with the Royal Canadian Air Force on antisubmarine patrol duties along Canada's B.C. coastline until 1945. Alaska Coastal Airlines purchased the aircraft early that year, and its founder, legendary bush pilot Sheldon "Shell" Simmons, ferried it to Juneau. In June 1945 he flew the Goose to Burbank, where it was refurbished. On its return to Juneau it became the first of its type to enter regional commercial airline service, hauling passengers from Juneau to Ketchikan, Sitka, and other south Alaskan destinations. Simmons' airline merged with longtime friendly competitor Bob Ellis' Ellis Air Lines in 1962 to become Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines, then the world's largest scheduled amphibious commuter airline. The combined company became the nucleus of Alaska Airlines in 1968. Despite changes in livery, N48550 flew on, providing the kind of versatile and reliable service that made the Grumman Goose an icon in the world of Alaskan air transport and inter-island regional air travel worldwide.

     
   N48550 in Air Antilles livery at St. Croix, 1978 (R. Mikesh photo)  
In the late 1960s Alaska Airlines sold the Goose to Antilles Airboats, a seaplanes-only commuter service owned by actress Maureen O'Hara and her husband, Captain Charles Blair) and N48550 spent a number of years in this warm-weather phase of its career, carrying passengers from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. After leaving commercial service N48550 underwent a total restoration in Miami, and Larry Teufel of Portland, OR purchased this historic aircraft in 1988. Aviation historian Don Dawson of Ketchikan, AK designed her colorful new paint scheme, using blue & yellow reminiscent of her days with Alaska Coastal.

 

"Like a Big, Amphibious Pickup Truck"
Larry Teufel had flown other seaplanes, but when he saw Grumman

     
   N48550 over Alaska, 2003 (D. Dawson photo)  
Gooses operating in Alaska in the 1980s, he "fell in love with the style, romance, and performance" of this veteran aircraft. "The Goose is like a big, amphibious pickup truck — it can haul family, friends, and all your gear" into remote locations. Larry also fell in love with the way the Goose handles. "It's straightforward and forgiving, with twin-engine redundancy — a fantastic airplane." He says "people complain that rides in the Goose aren't long enough!"

One worthwhile modification made on N48550 in the 1960s is its retractable wingtip floats, like those designed for the big North American PBY Catalina flying boat. The floats under the wings pivot outward and upward in flight to become wingtips, providing less wind resistance and better cruise performance.


An Updated Stablemate: the "Jet Goose"
Other Gooses have received even more ambitious modifications, including the conversion from piston to turbine power; these are sometimes referred to as the "Super Goose." Larry is so enthusiastic about the Grumman Goose that he is restoring a second one, which has been fitted with turboprops. "We call it the €˜jet Goose,'" Larry says; "it is more intense, not as docile, less stable," but considerably faster and even more reliable than the original radial-powered Goose. Despite this high-powered potential rival, the elegant piston-powered N48550 has a permanent place in Larry's affections.

A Major Sensory Experience — and Big Grins
As a matter of fact, in this era of mass air travel, the Goose is an aircraft that's easy to love. Tom Tilson, a line pilot for Kenmore Air in Seattle, has more reason than most to harbor special feelings for this particular airplane — his father accumulated 2,500 hours in it as an Ellis Air Lines and Alaska Coastal-Ellis pilot in the 1960s. When Larry Teufel flew N48550 to Kenmore and parked it on the ramp, Tom couldn't believe he was looking at the same plane he had known and flown in as a kid in Alaska, with his dad at the controls. The rest of the Kenmore Air crew quickly learned what a special bird this old but beautifully restored Goose is.

"We're pretty jaded about airplanes and flying here, but Larry started offering rides, and it put big grins on everyones' faces — it's just that kind of aircraft. The noise of those radial engines, the water slapping against the hull, the spray flying — it's a major sensory experience you don't get with a lot of planes, even old ones that have been gentrified."

Don Dawson agrees. "People love seeing and hearing them — especially the crazy takeoff thing of the Goose. There are a lot of flying boats, but the Goose is the one that always sticks, the one people always remember. It's the icon for all flying boats."

Our thanks to aviation historian Don "Bucky" Dawson of Ketchikan, Alaska for a wealth of information on the Grumman Goose in general, and N48550 in particular.

For more on the Grumman Goose in Flight Simulator X, click here.