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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
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September 21, 2012     The Catalina Islander
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September 21, 2012
 

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lib air r THIS IS THE'THIRD IN A THREE-PART SERIES ON CATALINA ISLAND'S AVIATION HISTORY. PART 3:1968 to the Present BY JIM WATSON With ~he departure of Dick Pr0bert's CataIina Air Lines from the passenger air service to Cata- lina 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 cli- entele of local devotees with his airline Catalina Channel Airline, which he started in* 1959. In 1967, "Gentleman BobS,' 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 lo- cal 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 Sea- planes, 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. 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 passenger counts), Pereira hedged his bets by also pro- viding seaplane service to Avalon. Among the most successful and visible seaplane airlines of the 1970s was Air Catalina, which had purchased most of its equipment from Hanley after he dissolved Catalina Seaplanes in 1972. The 1970s also saw venue changes on both sides of the chan- nel. On the Island, a ramp that had actually been installed in the 1960s began to be used much more ex- tensively. In fact, with the excep- tion of a ramp built at the Cabrillo Mole and used for only two years, the ramp at Pebbly Beach became the exclusive staging area for sea- planes on the Island. Tin, lay, Seplmber2Slk, 2012 -HalICevndl Chambers Forml TOP: 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. BELOW: A helicopter belonging to Island Express sits on On the rsainland side of the the pad at Pebbly Beach in this early 1980s photograph. One of the first helicopter carriers channel, the telTninal in Wi]ming- to the Island, Island Express still provides all of Catalina's scheduled helicopter service. ton, which had been used as early . LEFT: The art of Gary Miltimore graces this commercial poster for Air catalina. One of the as 1919, was abandoned and in its most successful seaplane operators iri 1970s, Air Catalina acquired most of its equipment place was a brand new terminalfrom Catalina Seal)lanes, which went out of business in 1972. constructed beneath the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro. The lowed to make water takd-offs and plane service. For decades, a ticket decommissioning and sale of the. landings in Los Angeles Harbor on seaplane had only cost slightly S.S. Catalina in 1975 was an eco- and off Pebbly Beach. more than a trip on the steamer. nomic boon for the seaplane oper- To compound the situation, But starting in the late '70s, that ators, but their windfall was short- seaplane pilots a special breed difference began to grow larger lived. For a variety of reasons, the of pilot--were becoming fewer because of a rising fuel prices and age of the seaplane on Catalina in number. In most of the rest Of an increasingly litigious society. Island was coming to an end, the world, the seaplane had been Much of that litigation, in fact., was By the late ~1970s, the fleet of in decline since the end of World borne of the most visible factor Grumman Goos.es was falling into War II due to the- vastly increas- that helped bring seaplane service gT.eater and greater disrepair.-Built ing number of airfields being built on Catalina to an end: accidents. mostly in the 1930s, the planes had worldwide. Catalina Island had Unfortunately, there were in- seen decades of bard use, some of only clung to the seaplane for the creasing numbers of fatal and jt in wartime, and nearly all of it most part because of the Island's non-fatal Goose crashes in the in- salt water. Parts were getting rugged topography and the in- 1970s that received wide publici- harder and harder to come by and abi!il~y to build an airstrip close ty. In 1979, in fact, there were two some of the Gooses used by local enough to Avalon to outweigh the high profile Goose crashes in the airlines were not even allowed to inconvenience of the drive to the waters around Avalon within six land at Long Beach Airport be- Airport-in-the-Sky. months of each other, each result- cause of their corroded landing The rising cost. of airfare also ing in a single fatality. gear. These planes were only al- contributed to the demise of sea- The last of the big-time seaplane operators to provide service to Cata- lina was Trans-Catalina. which op- ~ ~ erated not only land-based planes but also used the sister plane to the Frkl~,Beplember148undav.Bep(mnnbert6 Wedne~,Bemm/ber19Grumman Goose, the Grumman Ryan McKay John LaFleur Joaquin Seals Mallard. By 1982, after 70 years ChriKdan Flores Johnny Maehado . of seaplane service to Catalina. Christopher FloresMo~llav. ~ 17 Gabby Morones all seaplane service had stopped. Desiree Tyler Chad Ouesenberry Kathleen/~nthor Aviator and businessman Frank Serena Romo Pam Bray Barbara Sherman ,~l~day, 8eptmd~r t5 early Glass Jameson Seanlan Stroebel is credited with using the Ula David ICark Williams Alex Vill~ra last Grumman Goose for commer- cial purposes to the Island with his Noel Mafinehovieh Tuesday. September 18 Tiusdav. Sea(end20freight service that still exists today Richard Saldana Nancy Vatverde Sarnanlha P0ol as Catalina Flying Boats. RylinFiores Valeria Medina David Maxwell But at roughly the same time Richard Kieinman Katie Johnson Dominie Robles as the swansong of seaplane ser- Pat Vlean Adam Nelson- James Moody vice to the Island, a new form of JPAlegtia Lui8 Marlinez Brian Bombard air travel was arriving the he- Kelli Burr licopter. Some existing airlines. qltqlplPqlD namely Catalina Airlines (not af- Friday. Seatember i4 Tuesclav. Senlember 18 filiated with the earlier "Catalina Matt & Jen Mariday Josh & Ch~Una Butte A'ir Lines") began helicopter ser- 8atnrdav. ~ t5 Jeff& Usa Quesenbem/ vice from San Pedro to Catalina. Richard & ~ Hemandez WedneKlav, 8e~emi~r 19 Others began providing helicop- Gene & Efin Eubank ter-only service, including Island Express Helicopters, which is still Sponsored by. Dessert Island going strong today. Jim Watson is a regular colum- 417 Crescent Ave (PGV~tns Now Availabtel) . nist for the Catalina Islander and Get a free Ice ' Get one free producer~director of the two,part C.reern Corm on Movie Rental on documentary, "Wings AcrossThe your b~'thda~|, your btrthdayl Channel: Catalina Island's Avia- nbtmr ~ ~ - z ~t,r~ln~ a~ ~ wn ~ttom tion History.~' ac ,w 1,, B ~ Friday, September 21, 2012 THE CATALINA ISLANDER