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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
September 5, 2014     The Catalina Islander
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September 5, 2014

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m The second in a two- part series about local aviation history BY JIM WATSON 1968 to the Present With the departure of Dick Probert's Catalina Air Lines from the passenger air service to Catalina in 1967, the field opened up competition-wise for the many existing and would-be seaplane operators aching to get in on the Catalina market. Top of the list was a long- time friend (cum competitor) of Probert's named Bob Hanley, who had developed his own clientele of local devotees with his air- line Catalina Channel Airline, which he started in 1959. In 1967, "Gentleman Bob," as some of his customers called him, changed the name of his airline to Catalina Seaplanes, Inc., and his beauti- ful red and white Gooses remain among the most iconic images of Catalina's aviation history. Probert continued to work in administrative positions for local airlines until he and his wife Nancy, who had been the stew- ardess on the airline's Sikorsky VS44 "Mother Goose," moved to Northern California. In addition to Catalina Seaplanes, filling the newly- opened economic niche was a host of new airlines, too numerous to mention, virtually all of which used the same model Grumman Goose G21-A equipment. At the same time, business starting hopping up at the newly-named Airport-in-the-Sky with land- based airline service. Word Search Solution A Catalina Seaplanes, Inc., Grumman Goose climbs the seaplane ramp at Pebbly Beach in the late 1960s. The airline was owned by the profoundly experienced and well-respected Robert "Gentleman Bob" Hanley. The biggest player in this field was Golden West Airlines, owned by William Pereira. Because of the lessons learned by United Air Lines in the early 1950s (namely that the long trip to the airport tended to put a damper on pas- senger counts), Pereira hedged his bets by also providing seaplane service to Avalon. Among the most successful f_ G Y H C F l tR O I R E T N I1 J H K K and visible seaplane airlines of the S F N Z P R D L W(E K I H) X O D G N 1970s was Air Catalina, whichhad ,I I W I E E X Z I R E H X P D X A E T purchased most of its equipment from Hanley after he dissolved e Q A H K K T M R X C S P O F O Catalina Seaplanesin1972. H K L O M W D ; ; ~ A' O L i The 1970s also saw venue ; ; i i changesonbothsidesofthechan- M ~ ~ S U P V ; T M ; ~ ; nel. On the Island; a ramp that U Z ~1" G C X Y Y Y Y N ~ l~ had actually been installed in the 1960s began to be used much more ZG !EHUiiHiA, , A extensively. In fact, with the excep- T E S ! FLi:~y i ,E~,I b tion of a ramp built at the Cabrillo : Mole and used for only two years, M V M E Y S . the ramp at Pebbly Beach became 0 U A /~, C X the exclusive staging area for sea- L M C J~ ~ i~ G N M planes on the Island. , 'On the mainland side of G ~k X R ~ U R V Z the channel, the terminal in Z A ),~ ~/l~k._~-- "--AT U jL r~ i J i]wilming ri' which had been'used: as early as 1919, wasabandoned 0 V S X 8 and in its place was a brand new i ,-- S V F V terminal constructed beneath the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San q AC v,= Pedro. The decommissioning and sale of the S.S. Catalina in 1975 was an economic boon for the sea- plane operators, but their windfall was short-lived. For a variety of reasons, the age of the seaplane on Catalina Island was coming to an end. By the late 1970s, the fleet of Grumman Gooses was falling into greater and greater disrepair. Built- mostly in the 1930s, the planes had seen decades of laard use, some of it in wartime, and nearly all of it in salt water. Parts were getting harder and harder to come by and some of the Gooses used by local airlines were not even allowed to land at Long Beach Airport because of their corroded landing gear. These planes were only allowed to make water take- offs and landings in Los Angeles Harbor and off Pebbly Beach. To compound the situation, seaplane pilots--a special breed of pilot were becoming fewer in number. In most .of the rest of the world, the seaplane had been in decline since the end of World War II due to the vastly increasing number of airfields being built worldwide. Catalina Island had CALL FOR Submit your photograph, graphic or art of Catalina. If we use it for a cover, you'll get a free one year subscription to the Islander and recognition. SEND High resolution digital JPEG files-300dpi min.-via email to production Must be original artwork. By submitting work, the senders agree to license publishing in the Catalina Islander newspaper. only clung to the seaplane for the most part because of the Island's rugged topography and the inabil- ity to build an airstrip close enough to Avalon to outweigh the inconvenience of the drive to the Airport-in-the-Sky. The rising cost of airfare also contributed to the demise of sea- plane service. For decades, a ticket on seaplane had only cost slightly more than a trip on the steamer. But starting in the late '70s, that difference began to grow larger because of a rising fuel prices and an increasingly litigious society. Much of that litigation, in fact, was borne of the most visible factor that helped bring seaplane service on Catalina to an end: accidents. Unfortunately, there were increasing numbers of fatal and non-fatal Goose crashes in the 1970s that received wide publicity. In 1979, in fact, there were two high profile Goose crashes in the waters around Avalon within six months of each other, each result- ing in a single fatality. The last of the big-time sea- plane operators to provide service to Catalina was Trans-Catalina, which operated not only land- based planes but also used the sis- ter plane to the Grumman Goose, the Grumman Mallard. By 1982, after 70 years of seaplane service to Catalina, all seaplane service had stopped. Aviator and businessman Frank Stroebel is credited with using the last Grumman Goose for commer- cial purposes to the Island with his freight service that still exists today as.Catalina Flying Boats, , But at roughly the same time as the swansong of seaplane service to the Island, a new form of air travel was arriving--the helicop- ter. Some existing airlines, name- ly Catalina Airlines (not affili- ated with the earlier "Catalina Air Lines") began helicopter ser- vice from San Pedro to Catalina. Others began providing helicop- ter-only service, including Island Express Helicopters, which is still going strong today. 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." &B 12 ! Friday, September 5, 2014