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number N21A sit            oose, serial
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It was one of the most famous planes ever made, the archetypal mid-century flying boat that ferried
Hemingway, Harriman and MacArthur. Now, 63 years after the last one wheeled off the assembly line,
a North Carolina accountant defies all odds to hatch a whole new flock. By Scott Eden Photographs by Ian Spanier
                                                  he resurrection began     selves. They wanted a plane          Bahamas and various points
                                                 one balmy fall after­      with which they could get their      in the Caribbean. Franklin
                                               noon in 2000 inside          hands a little dirty, then take to   occasionally ferried Ernest
                                              an otherwise anony­           the sky with the kind of pride       Hemingway to Bimini and
                                             mous warehouse in the          that comes only from good,           back, and during Havana's
                                            industrial district of North    hard labor. They wanted, in the      gambling heyday, he and
                                           Miami. On a loading ramp         end, a restoration project, and      Chalk made good money
                                         just within the building's front   they got it in ways that went        flying gangsters there - and
                                        door sat a Pratt & Whitney          far beyond anything they could       law-enforcement officials
                                       Wasp Junior air-cooled 1940s­        have imagined.                       in pursuit of the gangsters.
                                      era radial engine. Lining the walls       The man who had placed           Franklin bought the company
                                     and scattered about the floor were     the ad was Dean Franklin, a          from a retiring Pappy in 1966
                                    30-foot shelves, piled to the point     legendary character in avia­         and sold it seven years later,
of danger - a fire trap, a head injury awaiting only gravity and            tion history. When Manuel sat        after which he founded his
one false move - with wings, propellers, windshields, bulkheads,            down to commence nego­               own airplane-restoration and
struts, spars, ribs, rudders, flaps, floats and miscellaneous widgetry      tiations for the Goose in            parts-resale business. At some
of an uncountable number of decommissioned planes. Dust motes               Franklin's office, its walls         point, he acquired the entire
floated in the brown sunbeams of a skylight, and the tart odor of           papered with yellowed photos         manufacturer's stockpile
machine oil filled the air. If it seemed like the workshop of a manic       of planes and pilots, he heard a     of Goose parts (including a
tinkerer, an aviation packrat, it was. But amid the clutter, moored         storybook's worth of tall tales.     handful of intact planes) from
atop a set of wooden sawhorses in the middle of the warehouse               Franklin told Manuel about the       Grumman itself, which had
floor, nestled the denuded fuselage of a Grumman G-21 twin­                 time he sold a plane to Howard       discontinued the Goose years
engine amphibious airplane - the iconic airborne yacht known                Hughes. The billionaire flew off     before. From Grumman head­
as "the Goose," island hopper of many a fervid dream, including             without paying, but at a trade       quarters in Bethpage, New
that of a 50-year-old certified public accountant from Burlington,          show some months later, the          York, the inventory - includ­
North Carolina.                                                             two met again.                       ing the original FAA type
    His name was V.L. Manuel, and he had come to Miami to meet                  "Dean, did I ever pay you        certificates, engineer's draw­
the man who had placed the classified ad. He had brought with him           for that airplane?"                  ings and blueprints - went
his good friend and client Tim, who owned a propeller-refurbishing              "No, you didn't."                into Franklin's warehouse in
company, and together, they were in the market for a seaplane                   Without another word,            Miami, and for years he was
and a retirement plan. "I was at that point in life where you think         Hughes withdrew his bill­            the world's only dealer of spare
about slowing down and readjusting," Manuel says. Five years ear­           fold, counting out the cash          Goose parts, supplying equip­
lier, he had suffered a heart attack; both men had worked hard for          into Franklin's open palm.           ment to vintage-plane hobby­
more than 30 years. Both had businesses they could sell and had             In 1935, Franklin hooked up          ists and the many island hop­
amassed sufficient savings to live out their days in relative ease.         with another legend, Arthur          pers who operated the sturdy
Both liked vacationing in the Caribbean. What better way to spend           "Pappy" Chalk, becoming              seaplane in fleets around the
their golden years than in the tropics with their families, tooling         chief pilot of Chalk's Flying        world. Among Franklin's cus­
around as they pleased in a tricked-out flying boat from aviation's         Service, the small, mostly           tomers was his friend Jimmy
golden age? Actually, they'd decided there was one better way:              Goose-based carrier con­             Buffett, who in 1994 crashed
to tool around in a Grumman Goose they would refurbish them­                necting South Florida, the           his Goose off the coast of

Nantucket, then dedicated his
novel Where is Joe Merchant?
to Franklin and his wife.
    Manuel and his partner
listened raptly to these sto­
ries. Before long, Franklin, 92,
divulged that he was thinking of
slowing down. "You boys seem
to like this stuff," he said. "I tell
you what: I'll sell you the entire
package." For three days in
Miami, Manuel and his partner
considered the idea. Finally
they agreed, figuring they could
make enough money reselling
what they didn't need that it
would pay for the restoration of
their own Goose. They'd get a
few logistical headaches out of
the deal, to be sure, but they'd
also get a free plane. With the
help of a bank loan, they paid
Franklin close to a million dol­
lars. Thirteen tractor-trailers
soon rolled out of Miami
and hauled the stockpile to a
former textiles warehouse in
Gibsonville, North Carolina,
near Manuel's home. Manuel
and his friend began to inven­
tory what was there, counting
for weeks. When they reached
150,000 items, they gave up.
    Word spread fast around                                   i /
the seaplane community
that Dean Franklin's Goose               NATION BUILDING:
stockpile now inhabited North            Purchasing manag~r J~ff Crowder
                                         holds a Vintage elevator assembly
Carolina. Late one evening,              under the fl/lgs of Interested new­
Manuel received a call from              Goose customers; (opposite page) the
                                         main factory floor In Glbsor:1Ville. N.C.
Pacific Coastal Airlines of
Vancouver, which had four
Gooses (the plural "Geese" is           his aviation-parts background, knew just what to do. He bought a         seaside and outback operators,
never used) in its fleet. The air­      cable at the local hardware store, and, after reconstructing the piece   many of which, like Chalk's
line used them to haul salmon           to FAA specs, sold it to Pacific Coastal for such a tidy sum that he     and Pacific Coastal, already
fishermen to lodges on Victoria         and Manuel began to wonder about the size of the market for spare        owned Gooses. He had all the
Island and loggers to sites deep        Goose parts. That, in turn, sparked a much larger question: How big      original Grumman drawings
in British Columbia's forests.          might the market be for the Goose flying boat itself, fully capable      and blueprints. His brother
Pacific Coastal wanted to buy a         and fully loaded?                                                        Jeff, an assembly-line special­
certain kind of cable for a mal­            Manuel, a former CPA, commissioned a business plan to deter­         ist at a big auto~parts plant in
functioning plane in its fleet.         mine the answer. When the numbers came back, he says, they               nearby Greensboro, owned a
Manuel rummaged through the             seemed so promising "I didn't believe it. So I did my own market         machine-tool shop as a side
warehouse but could find only           study." He determined that the potential pool of buyers exceeded         business. Working the num­
the connectors for the cable.           200. In his calculus he included rich vintage-plane enthusiasts,         bers, Manuel determined he
But Manuel's partner, with              isolated island resorts reachable only by boat or plane and small        could build a modern Goose

                                                                                                                                   PRIVATE AIR 85
from scratch, fabricating new      its romance and allure - a name that explained why they, like so       hull, of course, with a three­
parts using the old Grumman        many before them, had become obsessed with this machine. The           step bottom and a V shape.
plans, installing contemporary     legend of Grumman's flying boat rests on a set of contradictions:      From the front it looked like
avionics and control systems       It is at once glamorous and rugged, elegant and brawny. It carried     a big Chris-Craft. Its Pratt
and thereby resurrecting a         starlets and potentates; it flew in the service of coast guards and    & Whitney power plant, two
modern version of a brand and      oil companies. It's been tethered to the docks of Ottoman palaces      eight-cylinder, 450-horsepower
type that last rolled off a fac­   cantilevered over the Bosporus. It's been parked near the shacks       radials, yielded a cruising
tory floor in 1945. Based on his   of beach bums sleeping one off on a Florida Key. As comfortable        speed of 180 miles per hour.
math, he estimated that such a     in the marina at Saint-Tropez as on a lake near an Alaskan logging     Its original retractable land­
venture would begin earning a      camp, the Goose is Chanel as conceived by L.L. Bean. Rivers, lakes,    ing gear was the same one
profit after only 16 planes were   oceans, harbors, snow, grass, dirt, macadam: The Goose can go          Grumman had developed for
sold. The entrepreneur in him
couldn't resist. There would be
no slow hobbyist's restoration     The Goose went skimming across the

project, nor any adventure­
some Buffett-esque island­         surface, all systems seemin ly normal,

                                   .                           .

hopping tours of the Caribbean
- at least not anytime soon.
"I had a new retirement plan,"
Manuel says today. "Go back        seemingly anywhere, and it's this intrinsic versatility, this poten­   its F4F Wildcat carrier-based
into business and work like        tial for uninhibited voyaging, that has imbued the plane with its      fighter plane. Its cabin could
a dog."                            most seductive allure - that of living life on one's own terms.        be outfitted with a lavatory
                                       From its inception, the Goose offered glamour in spades. In        and a galley.
                 mong              1936, a group of Wall Street tycoons approached Leroy Grumman,             Among the first to take

                 Manuel's first    who had started his business just seven years earlier, about build­    delivery of the plane in 1937
                 orders ofbusi­    ing a plane that could zip them from their homes on Long Island to     were department-store mag­
                 ness was to       their offices in Lower Manhattan. They were looking for comfort        nate Marshall Field, finan­
                 give his avia­    and style, yes, but they also required something hardy, for their      cier E. Roland Harriman,
tion startup a name. He and        plane would need to handle landings in New York Harbor. The            Morgan Stanley cofounder
his partner wanted something       resulting machine was an all-metal monoplane with a cruciform          Henry Morgan and news­
that reflected the uncommon        tail section and twin engines set on the leading edge of wings         paper publisher Colonel
provenance of the Goose,           mounted high atop the fuselage. The fuselage itself was also a         Robert McCormick. Lord

Beaverbrook, the London              ments in the'40s featured a        operators and individual bush pilots flew the plane - and as an
newspaper baron, and Boris           red Grumman Goose with the         island hopper in the Caribbean. (Indeed, the Goose made for a
Sergievsky, chief test pilot         words THE TEXAS Co. stenciled      superior drug-running ship; several have been seized in narcotics
for Sikorsky, were among the         on the tail fin.                   raids over the years by various governments.) Aside from Chalk,
other early buyers.                      For all the Goose's success,   the most famous Caribbean seaplane operator was Antilles Air
    The Goose cemented the           the oncomingjet age put an         Boats. Based out of St. Croix, it was owned by movie star Maureen
second part of its reputation        end to Grumman's interest          O'Hara and her third husband, former Air Force Brigadier General
- its durability and brawn ­         in the flying boat, and after      Charles Blair, the first pilot to fly solo in a jet over the North Pole.
when Grumman signed a con­           its military contract ended,       O'Hara retired from Hollywood to start the company with Blair.
tract with the U.S. government       it ceased production of the        "It was worth quitting the movies to go with him adventuring
and began building Gooses for        Goose. All told, the company       around the world," she once said. At one point the couple owned so
the war effort. The Goose was        made just 345 ofthem.              many Gooses - 19, the largest fleet in the world - that their com­
used by the navies, coast guards         But the operational his­       pany became known as simply "The Goose." One morning in 1978,
and air corps of 11 nations,         tory of the plane was far from     on a Goose flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas, Blair's left engine
pulling duty on transport            over. War-surplus Gooses           failed. He couldn't maintain level flight, and when the plane hit
jumps, rescue missions and           went into service with small       the water, it "cartwheeled around the left wing and broke apart,"
submarine hunts. It purport­         airlines all over the world,       according to the accident report. Blair died instantly, along with
edly flew Douglas MacArthur          wherever a lack of airstrips       three of the 10 passengers. Despite the tragedy, O'Hara continued
around the newly reoccupied          made them necessary: Fiji,         to run the company for some time - becoming the world's first
Philippines. The Goose also          Papua New Guinea, Croatia,         female head of an airliner - before selling it in the '80s. (It has
grew in popularity with air car­     Norway, Iceland, Colombia,         since gone out of business.)
riers and industrial companies.      Peru. For years, two compet­           After reviewing all this history, Manuel decided he had his name:
KLM flew two Gooses in the           ing companies used Gooses to       Antilles Air Boats. It had the ring he sought; it captured the spirit of
Dutch East Indies in the early       haui tourists from Long Beach      the plane - the adventure, the toughness, the glamour and, yes, the
1940s, one of which was shot         to Catalina Island. But the        danger. He tried to contact O'Hara to secure her permission to use
down by the Japanese. Texaco         plane probably found its true      the name, but wasn't able to. So he altered it slightly, and in 2001,
used the plane to supply off­        niche in the Alaskan wilder­       Antilles Seaplanes LLC, of Gibsonville, North Caro!ina - 200 miles
shore oil rigs, and its advertise­   ness - where dozens of small       from the nearest ocean - was christened.

                                                                                        ix and a half years later, Antilles had yet to produce a

                                                                                       single plane. Then, in August 2007, it received its first
                                                                                      substantial outside investment: several million dol­
                                                                                     lars (Manuel refuses to divulge a specific figure) from
                                                                                    a group of businessmen out of eastern North Carolina,
                                                                        with the promise of further millions should the company hit a series
                                                                        of benchmarks, including the rollout of the first Antilles Super
                                                                        Goose, as it's been dubbed, by the first quarter of 2009.
                                                                            These six and half years had been a struggle for Manuel. He lost
                                                                        his partner, Tim, who decided the startup was too much for him
                                                                        (and has requested his full name not be printed, the litigious avia­
                                                                        tion industry being what it is). Manuel poured his life savings
                                                                        into the venture. He leveraged his assets with bank debt and bor­
                                                                        rowed money from friends. "I put up everything I had," he says. "I
                                                                        was funding it off the hip." He estimates that, all told, he pumped
                                                                        around $7 million into Antilles Seaplanes - a far cry from the "free
                                                                        plane" he originally thought he was getting. But he made progress.
                                                                        He erected a 20,000-square-foot assembly plant on a field in rural
                                                                        Gibsonville. He hired three mechanics who not only began repair­
                                                                        ing the Goose that carne with the Franklin stash, but mapping its
                                                                        structure as they went along, documenting every nut, bolt, screw
                                                                        and control surface, then comparing what they found to the original
                                                                        Grumman drawings.
                                                                            Manuel and his colleagues figured they'd need other Gooses
                                                                        as well to use as demos for prospective customers. From an air-

                                                                                                                                 PRIVATE AIR 87
                                                                                                          modern coexist easily. On
                                                                                                          racks along the back wall sit
                                                                                                          hundreds of wooden tools that
                                                                                                          Grumman's workers in Long
                                                                                                          Island once used to hand­
                                                                                                          shape the metal spars and ribs
                                                                                                          and other pieces that went into
                                                                                                          the plane. In the engineer­
                                                                                                          ing office upstairs, stored in
                                                                                                          CAD software, are drawings
                                                                                                          of the same parts - data that
                                                                                                          will eventually be fed into
                                                                                                          the super-high-tech mill that
                                                                                                          occupies a prominent spot on
                                                                                                          the factory floor within sight
                                                                                                          of Franklin and Texaco's origi­
                                                                                                          nal denuded Gooses.
                                                                                                              Though Antilles is already
                                                                                                          fabricating its own parts, it
                                                                                                          has yet to complete the full
                                                                                                          reengineering process, hav­
                                                                                                          ing finished the fuselage,
                                                                                                          wings and tail. Still to come
                                                                                                          are the trailing edges and the
                                                                                                          elevators. ''We're getting more
                                                                                                          confident with each step," says
                                                                                                          Jeff Manuel, who's overseeing
                                                                                                          the process and design of the
                                                                                                          assembly line. Everything will
                                                                                                          be in place sometime this year,
                                                                                                          at which point all that will
                                                                                                          remain is final FAA manufac­
                                                                                                          turing approval. (The company
craft salvage yard in Spokane,     owner of a charter company based in Portland, Oregon. Vollum,          has approached the regulatory
Washington, they found             an aficionado who has owned five Gooses over the years, had            body to set up an initial meet­
the hulk of No. 1054 (the          earlier acquired the remains of another Portland company called        ing. Thus far, no date has been
fifty-fourth Goose made by         McKinnon Enterprises, which had been in the business of modify­        set.) Manuel expects Antilles
Grumman). They researched          ing Gooses - it removed the original piston-fired radial engines       to be able to turn out a plane a
its history and learned that the   and replaced them with new Pratt & Whitney turboprops, increas­        month. ''I'll be ready for them
plane had once been confiscat­     ing their payload, speed and range. Ensuring the airworthiness of      to walk in and say, 'OK, Jeff,
ed by the government of Belize     these conversions required so much reengineering that the FAA          we've got 200 orders. Turn
in a drug raid, and had earlier    judged the resulting machine to be an entirely new aircraft type.      it on.''''
been owned by Texaco - the         The planes were hence called McKinnon Gooses, and the company              On my visit to Gibsonville
Goose of the oil company's         applied for (and received) FAA type certificates, which also gave      in early January 2008, every­
long-ago advertising campaign,     anyone who owned the documents the ability to manufacture new          one at the plant was buzzing
in fact. Antilles brought it to    turboprop Gooses from scratch. When Manuel learned about this,         with excitement. Beneath
Gibsonville, and the mechan­       he bought the McKinnon remains from Vollum almost on the spot.         rafters hung with the flags of
ics set about mapping that one,    With the purchase of the McKinnon lot, Antilles now essentially        20 countries (every time a new
too, shucking it all the way to    had FAA approval for all its Goose designs - a major score, given      delegation arrives for a tour,
the keel strip in order to re­     that cost of FAA type certificates for new planes cost from $20 mil­   Antilles hangs its national
engineer it from the inside out.   lion to $320 million. (He has reserved the possibility of building     flag), Manuel walked the floor,
    One of the most crucial        special-order Gooses for those customers, such as Jimmy Buffett,       warning, "Be careful. Be very
developments came when             who have insisted on a radial.)                                        careful. This is contagious and
Manuel met Dan Vollum, the             Inside Antilles' Gibsonville plant today, the bygone and the       addictive."

                                                                          his fly-by, he toggled the yoke         skimming across the surface,
                                                                          and the Goose's wings waved.            stopping almost as if it had run
                                                                          Recalling the moment, V.L.              aground and somersaulting
                                                                          Manuel said, "I didn't think 1          like a toy. The men were air­
                                                                          was very emotional, but 1 had           lifted to Miami. May had bro­
                                                                          to swallow real hard. Because           ken his leg. Hamrick had sev­
                                                                          you know what? That's seven             ered an artery in his arm, and
                                                                          years of my life."                      required emergency vascular
                                                                              Three weeks later, Hamrick          surgery. Both are expected to
                                                                          and an Antilles mechanic                recover fully. As for the Goose,
                                                                          named Don May took N2lA                 no one knows. A barge pulled
                                                                          on a trip to the Florida Keys.          the wreck out and hauled it to
    David Lockman, a retired aeronautics engineer who has signed          Hamrick planned to prac­                Homestead, Florida. The FAA
on as a consultant, was there, too, and he motioned to the Texaco         tice some water landings                is investigating.
Goose: "Awful lot of aviation history sitting in that room. That's        - enhancing his proficiency                 Almost the entire Antilles
the most famous Goose in the world."                                      - and get some beauty shots             staff immediately flew to
    Manuel wasn't so sure. "In my world, the most famous Goose            of the plane that would appear,         Miami. Said Manuel at
is the first one out this door - and that has a price tag on it."         among other places, in this             Hamrick's bedside after his
(Manuel, who had resisted taking deposits until he got the FAA            magazine. A photographer                surgery, "You're still the direc­
type certificates, has set the base sticker price at $2.86 million.)      and 1 were to meet them in              tor of flight ops for Antilles.
    Meanwhile, another of Antilles' key staffers, chief pilot David       Marathon Key, and they prom­            We think we've got the best in
Hamrick, was at the Burlington airport, tending to the company's          ised to take us for a ride.             the world."
latest acquisition: a fully operable Goose, serial No. N2lA, which            On the morning of January               Antilles plans to undertake
the company had bought just after Christmas from a private owner          29, the day before our arrival,         its own exhaustive examina­
in Illinois. Hamrick had come out of retirement five years earlier        Hamrick began his approach              tion of what happened, to learn
to join Antilles; in preparation for his new job, he'd gotten his sea­    into a spot of baby-blue                whether any design improve­
plane types from an instructor in Florida and spent nearly a month        Gulf of Mexico five miles off           ment - a stronger or more
in British Columbia flying with the boys at Pacific Coastal Airlines.     Marathon. The Goose went                flexible hull, for instance ­
A certified flight instructor himself, Hamrick was spending nearly        skimming across the surface,            might have prevented the crash
all his working hours at the hangar near the Goose, inside the Goose      all systems seemingly normal,           and might be implemented into
and, when the January weather permitted, up in the Goose, enhanc­         just your average water land­           the Antilles version. If any­
ing his seaplane proficiency - a key word in Hamrick's vocabulary.        ing. The next thing Hamrick             thing, then, Manuel's resolve
He was known for his caution and discipline, which was partly why         knew, he was hanging from               seems to have grown stronger.
he was hired in the first place. Among his responsibilities, after all,   the tail, his arm slashed and           "Our goal is to get our Goose to
would be training Antilles customers to pilot the flying boat. He         bleeding. Don May was nearby,           where it's safer in every way,"
would also have a hand in the design of the modernized cockpit, as        his leg in pain. The plane was          he says. "It's a great project,
well as in the writing of the owner's manual that would come with         upside down. A fisherman sped           the world needs it and 1 think
each plane. Born and raised in Georgia, he speaks with a Chuck            over in his boat and plucked            we've got a heck of a company.
Yeager drawl. "You kind of get rejuvenated," he said of his new           the men out. He had witnessed           It won't be long now before
gig. "You feel good about things again."                                  the whole thing: the Goose              there's a plane with Antilles'
    Not long after bringing serial No. N2lA to North Carolina,            on approach, splashing down,            name on it in the sky." •
Hamrick had taken the Goose up for a spin. He radioed down to
                                                                                                                               WISH YOU WERE HERE:

Gibsonville and told them to keep an eye on the sky. When he did              Grumman made the Goose for only eight years, turning out 345 of them. but

                                                                                   as these vintage postcards show, Its reach far extended Its numbers.

                                                                                                                                       PRIVATE AIR 89

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