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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
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August 22, 2014     The Catalina Islander
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From page 12 for six years carried passengers to the Island without a single mishap or injury. In 1927, Bacon sold his airline to another fledgling outfit called Western Air Express, which con- tinued providing passenger service for another three years. Unlike the gossamer Curtiss Seagulls used by Chaplin and PMA, Western Air Express used the state-of-the- art Loening amphibians, which were affectionately nicknamed "the boot" because of their large, ungainly profile. During the previous decade, the Wriglcys had watched all of this aviation activity quietly from the sidelines, happy to have addi- tional transportation options for Islanders and visitors, even though the airlines were in direct compe- tition with the Island Company's two main steamers, the S.S. Avalon and the S.S. Catalina. While William Wrigley Jr. him- self was not especially interested in aviation, such was not the case with his son Philip K. Wrigley. Being of a younger generation, and having worked in aviation for the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, "P.K." was thrilled to offer this new mode of transportation to the Island, so much so that in 1931 he bought out Western Air Express' air routes and founded Wilmington-Catalina Airline. Shortly after the new airline took off, P.K. hired a profoundly experienced Naval aviator named Walter Seiler to head up opera- tions. Seiler, a no-nonsense but well-liked Ohioan who as a boy often played hookie so that he could go visit the Wright Brothers shop in his hometown of Dayton-- was to become one of the most influential characters in Catalina's aviation history. While the airline initially used the same Loening equipment that Western Air Express had used, they eventually switched to one of the most unique aircraft ever used in Catalina service--the Douglas Dolphin. In fact, the Douglas Dolphin was the only plane ever built that was specifically designed for Catalina Island. The idea for the plane literally began during a conversation between P.K. and his good friend aerospace legend Donald Douglas while dining in the Casino. The two sat down and hammered out plans for an amphibian plane that could be sturdy enough to handle the some- times rough waters around the Island, yet carry enough passen- gers to earn its keep. The airline operated out of a unique seaplane base located at Hamilton Cove that featured a turnstyle on which the airplanes could be rotated 180 degrees before returning to the water. The airline eventually pur- chased eight of the planes, which served admirably in the Wilmington-Catalina fleet until the start of World War II. Only 58 of the planes were ever built and only one survives today, at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. In 1938, the airline changed its name to Catalina Air Transport, in part to reflect its expanded routes from just Wilmington to Burbank and Long Beach. But by 1940, just as the new Catalina Airport was being built in the= Jsland's interior, winds of war were blowing and the days of Catalina Air Line were num, bered. 1941 to 1976 Catalina Air Transport, our own homegrown airline run by the Santa Catalina Island Company, was looking forward to expanding their air service as the new decade of the 1940s came along. The airline had only recently grown from seaplane-only service leaving from Wilmington, to a sea and land-based system with new routes that included Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank and the Long Beach Airport. On the Catalina Island end of the flight plan, planes were scheduled to land not only at Hamilton Cove, but at the new Catalina Airport that was being built in the Island's interior. But in July of 1941, in response to the growing threat of the Japanese military and the expand- ing war in Europe, the U.S. Army "requisitioned" all four airplanes belonging to the airline, which included two Douglas Dolphins and a pair of land-based Lockheed Lodestars. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, the Army took the final step of taking over the Catalina Airport and prohibiting all tour- ism to the Island. Over the next four years of war, civilian aviation on Catalina came to a dead stop. Even military aviation was nearly non-existent since most of the fighter planes were needed overseas and, in any case, the run- way at the Catalina Airport was blockaded with timbers and barbed wire to prevent the Japanese from landing there, should they decide to try to take the Island. The only aviation-related inci- dent of note on Catalina during the war was the tragic crash of K-Ill, a U.S. Navy blimp that lost its way while patrolling the West Coast and, in the dark of night, crashed into the hills above Avalon: Five of the 10 crewmem- bers were killed instantly, while two others died in the ensuing days. When the war finally ended in 1945, the ban on tourism was once again lifted and Catalina suddenly found itself in need of ways to transport the many tourists that were sure to come to the Island in the post-war years. The S.S. Catalina and the S.S. Avalon were put back into civilian service, but an aviation-minded Philip Wrigley also wanted the people of the Island to enjoy the convenience of air service. Catalina Air Line never did get their four planes back, so in 1946 Mr. Wrigley made a deal with Chicago-based United Air Lines to provide air service to the Catalina Airport. At the same time down in Avalon, a handful of seaplane operators went into business, including California Maritime Airlines--which operated PBY Catalinas--along with an upstart airline named Amphibian Air Transport, which brought to the Island the venerable Grumman Goose G21A, the plane that would become the most visible and icon- ic plane in Catalina's seaplane history. Because of the turbulent eco- nomic times and other reasons, these early post-war airlines didn't last long. Even United Air Lines A crew of dockboys unloads the mighty "Mother Goose" at the tip of the Green Pier in this late 1950s photograph. The four-engine plane carried passengers from Long Beach to Avalon and back for more than a decade. Photo courtesy Catalina Island Museum Like most of Catalina's post-war seaplane operators, Catalina Channel Airlines used the ven- erable Grumman Goose G21-A. The airline was started in 1957 and operated into the late 1960s. Photo courtesy Catalina Island Museum pulled out in 1953, citing low pas- senger counts. But that same year, 1953, saw a man by the name of Richard "Dick" Probert come on the scene with the idea of starting his own aidine and Avalon Air Transport was born. Beginning with only a single Grumman Goose, Probert eventu- ally added seven more Gooses, three DC3s and a pair of Sikorsky S-43s. But the flagship of his fleet was to be the enormous Sikorsky VS-44 Mother Goose, a nick- name that was coined by Probert's employees. Only three of these four-engine planes were ever built and by 1957, when Probert acquired the plane, the Mother Goose was the only survivor. Getting the plane to Catalina was in itself a tremendous under- taking. Probert traveled to the arid beaches of Peru and found the plane badly in need of repairs. After several attempts to bring the plane home, which involved near- crashes and near-sinkings, as well as a run-in with Peruvian police, he and his flight crew made it back to Long Beach with the plane on June 6, 1957. The "Mother Goose" spent the next 10 years serving passengers between Long Beach.and Avalon Bay, at times making up to six flights per day. The Long Beach terminal was where the Queen Mary is berthed today. Avalon Air Transport enjoyed a virtually competition-free envi- ronment during the 1950s. But beginning in 1959, a former pilot of Probert's named Bob Hanley started an airline of his own named Catalina Channel Airlines. Like most of the post-war airlines, Hanley flew Grumman Gooses. Over the coming years, a num- ber of new seaplane airlines began, thanks largely to Probert's suc- cess. The 1960s saw the establish- ment of such airlines as Catalina Seaplanes, Catalina-Vegas Airlines and Golden West Airlines, which also operated land-based airlines up at the airport. In 1967, Probert reached the age of 60 and under Federal Aviation Administration regulations at the time was required to give up his commercial pilot's license. He sold the Mother Goose to an avia- tor named Charles Blair who used the plane in his airline, Antilles Air Boats, in the Caribbean. For Catalina's air carriers, it was the end of an era. Dick Probert passed away in 2008 at the age of 101. But his beloved Mother Goose has since been restored and is now on permanent display at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. NEXT WEEK: 1968- PRESENT Jim Watson is a regular col- umnist for the Catalina Islander and producer~director of the two-part documentary, "Wings Across The Channel: Catalina Island's Aviation History." Visit your doctor -- not just any doctor. With full-time physicians and a family nurse practitioner dedicated to the island and its patients, we invite you to have an . on-going relationship with a provider who knows you and your medical needs. Monte Mellon, MD Tracey Norton, DO Laura Ulibarri, MD CONVENIENT PROFESSIONAL COMPASSIONATE Catalina Island Medical Center 24-Hour Emergency Care Radiology, Laboratory & Physical Therapy Skilled Nursing Facility (310) 510-O7OO Provider appointments Monday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm Evening appointments also available (310) 510-OO96 ClMedicalCenter.org Catalina .." .- Island Medical Center I THE CATAUNA ISLANDER Friday, August 22, 2014 ! 13