at the Paradise Island terminal, a modern air-conditioned building with
the outward appearance of an industrial ware-house, behind which sat
the aircraft ramp nestled within the bay area, opposite the commercial
Inside, the reception
and check-in desks are immaculate and the staff are very friendly and
helpful. Having checked-in, we went to the adjoining lounge area and
waited watching the tv and eating 'popsicles' (ice-lollies!) served to
us by the staff. Soon we were joined by other passengers.
The whole operation was
smooth and efficient with various staff coming and going, sorting
baggage and dealing with a number of pre-flight arrangements. After
twenty minutes or so I began to hear a noise over the sound of the
television and sure enough, it grew to a howl. The in-coming Mallard had
was taken out the side door and we were then invited to follow it onto the
rear concrete ramp. Stepping out from the comfort of the air-conditioning
into the sunshine, and over 90 degree heat, my breath was taken away; not
by that - but by the magnificent sight of the beautiful Grumman Turbo
Mallard in front of me, gleaming in the sun. It looked absolutely
gorgeous, dripping wet, pure white all over with the Chalk's Ocean Airways
logo prominent on the front nose and that lovely shade of purple covering
the engine nacelles. What a sight for the flying boat enthusiast!
taken around the nose to the rear port entrance door where we mounted a
set of steps, ducked under the upper half of the split door, and stepped
down into the cabin. Although from the outside the aircraft looks larger
than I expected, once inside the reverse applied and I found that the
cabin was smaller than I expected. I made my way forward with the other 16
passengers (it has seating for a total of 17) and was lucky to get the
seat I wanted on the port side, next to the oleo's, and opposite the port
walking forward I found that I had to duck under the protrusion within the
cabin roof which was clearly where the wing main spar crossed the cabin at
that point and also saw that the landing gear orifices took up a fair
amount of vertical room within the walls of the cabin at the same
location. The main seating arrangement allowed for two side-by-side seats
on the port side and a single seat on the starboard side. The seats were standard airline type, quite comfortable, with
a good amount of leg room. I strapped in with the single lap strap and
tightened it down. One thing that struck me upon looking around was how
neat and clean the interior was kept. It was really very well looked
everyone else was seated and strapped in, looking around the cabin I saw that
there was plenty of room for everyone and that, in-fact, the cabin was
boarding, the Captain was already in his seat going through his pre-flight
checks and the starboard prop had been turning. The Co-Pilot was the last to
board and made his way to his front right-hand seat, having assisted in
closing the rear hatch. Unusually for a commercial aircraft, but very good
for me, was the fact that there was no door separating the passenger
compartment from the cockpit! This was a standard build feature of the
Mallard and not some weird conversion but I was surprised and delighted
that from my seat I would be able to watch virtually every movement that
went on within the cockpit through the tear-drop shaped opening! I had not
realised this beforehand and could hardly contain my glee; if anyone had
seen my stupid grin at that point they didn't let on..................!
everything ready the port turbo was started and final checks were made.
The Captain came over the intercom and gave the pre-flight safety
announcement "Welcome aboard Chalks Ocean Airways flight 502 to Fort
Lauderdale; You are asked to take note of the exits on this aircraft, one
at the front right side and the one you entered the aircraft at the rear.
The seat cushions can be used as floatation devices if required. Now, sit
back and enjoy your flight".
noise level went up as both engines were accelerated to taxi power and we
started to move. The noise level was quite acceptable though. We taxied to
the ramp slope and dropped down to the water. I watched as the port oleo
submerged and casually wondered what havoc the salt water played with the
greasing and maintenance of the joints and bearing at this point.
surprise was that there is no sensation of being afloat. Once we left dry
land I had previously expected to feel much the same sensations of sway
and roll that one may feel in a boat - Nope! nothing! The aircraft was as
steady as a rock! We continued the taxi under the two harbour island road
bridges and headed for the open bay. I watched the port float and it
stayed out of and above the water for the whole taxi. The starboard float
cut through the water on that side. At some point here the oleo's were
retracted. I didn't notice this at the time but when, much later, I saw
them extend and retract I noted that the whole operation takes just a
second. It happens very, very fast and so I would not have noticed it
unless I was looking directly at them when retraction occurred.
continued to 'flick' switches and busy themselves in the cockpit moving
their hands between the instrument panel and the roof switches. The taxi
seemed quite long, longer than I thought it would be. I later saw that
there is a lot of harbour 'traffic' within this open bay area consisting
of small craft, yachts, motor launches and even jet-ski's. It therefore
seems that the crew were waiting for the take-off path to clear.
without warning, first the Captain's right hand and then the Co-pilot's
left went to the twin throttle levers on the roof panel and pushed them
both forward. The noise level rose through a 'howl' to an absolute
deafening 'wall of sound'. Twice more the turbo's were run up and systems
checked and then it was time for the 'real thing'! This time instead of
just the noise, one felt the 'kick in the back' as the aircraft began to
surge forward. At first it wallowed, struggling to make headway. (I was
later informed that if the aircraft had a full complement of passengers
and luggage, then this would be the normal response at first - on this
flight there were sixteen out of a possible seventeen seats filled). There was
moderate buffeting in the cabin with accompanying levels of vibration. I
thought that the aircraft adopted a distinct nose up attitude at this
everything happened at once! The window began to show more and more spray
going past it, hitting it, getting thicker by the second until a wall of
water was rushing past it. You could not see out, just making out very
faintly the outline of the port float you knew was out there somewhere.
The aircraft continued to accelerate. I could just tell by watching the
shore rushing past in the distance. (What little of it I could see through
gaps in the wall of water).
I saw that
the cockpit windows were also being covered in spray and wondered why
there were no windscreen wipers fitted! The aircraft continued to pick up
speed, we were moving quite fast now, still couldn't see out the window
and I remember thinking at this point that we were ploughing through the
water like a submarine! I also wondered how much longer the buffeting
would last. Then, just as quick, it stopped; we were 'on-the-step'. Boy,
what a feeling! (It was here that the grin returned - with a vengeance!).
The water looked noticeably lower, further down from the window. We were planing along like a speed boat!
skimmed over the sea, moving so fast, lightly touching the water. The
engines had reached their peak and were fair screaming, the feeling of
absolute power was total. This Mallard certainly can move. The planing
only continued for a few seconds and then the water disappeared downwards-
appeared to hold the aircraft 'down' to let the speed build up and we
climbed out on an easterly heading at a very shallow angle before beginning a left-hand turn and
setting a direct westerly course for Fort Lauderdale. The climb was continued in
the turn, tracking along the northern side of, firstly, Paradise Island
and then New Providence Island and upon levelling out we continued to climb to cruise height.
were throttled back to cruise power and the cabin noise level, whilst
higher than I expected, was acceptable. If you wanted to speak to another
passenger I found that this could only be accomplished by putting your
mouth to their ear and speaking in a raised voice. When you looked out the
window, and up, there was a (relatively) huge three-bladed prop attached
to a very powerful engine spinning just feet from your head, so I guess
loud is the word for it!
levelled off at around 12-15,000' (I think) and remained very stable. The
Captain made a few minor trim adjustments from time to time throughout the
flight but they were minor. One could just see from aligning a cockpit
windscreen pillar with a cloud the slightest movement both up or down and
side to side. Nothing to worry about. The Mallard is a very stable
aircraft. Meanwhile, I settled down to look out at the spectacular islands
with their lagoons and sandy beaches. After a while we passed over the
Berry Islands and later the island of Bimini. Sheer joy!
We flew to
Ft. Lauderdale and made landfall directly over the beach. A perfectly
normal, steady approach was made to the airport where a normal landing was
made. Nothing special here, although this is where I noticed the speed of
the oleo deployment as this time I could see it below me. It was almost
instantaneous. The landing was smooth, just like any other.
TO PARADISE ISLAND
our return flight in the afternoon, we approached Paradise Island and the
bay beside the docks from an easterly, straight-in approach. From my seat in the
cabin, I could watch the whole procedure and I was paying particular
attention to the line-up of the aircraft, being already familiar with the
terrain we were landing in. I was surprised that the approach was higher
than I expected, noting that I could see the landing area through the
cockpit window up until the last minute and I remember thinking at the
time that we were high. As the landing point seemed to pass from my sight
under the cockpit windscreen the aircraft dipped down sharply and dropped
towards the water.
I then had
the view for a few seconds of the cockpit windscreen filled with the sea
coming up to meet it! Nice, I thought! We levelled out and the aircraft
'floated', held there by the Captain it seemed, dropping almost imperceptibly.
the speed was dropping off almost without noticing it as the engines were
throttled back and then just the merest shudder of the airframe denotes
that we have arrived back on the water. A small amount of spray
dashed past the cockpit windscreen and my window again but this time not
for long. Certainly not to the same levels as take-off. The speed dropped
off very quickly and I soon felt the aircraft settle down fully into the
water and the landing run became a taxi-run back to the ramp. Throughout
the landing the aircraft remained extremely stable.
There was no
wallowing, no 'rock and roll', just steady forward movement. Almost an
anti-climax to what I had expected but there again I expect a lot of this
was due to the professionalism of the crew in controlling the aircraft.
If I sound
disappointed, I wasn't at all - it was just so smooth. I had not expected
float dug in as we turned left and headed up the ramp slope onto the
concrete. A burst of power denoted our climb out of the water and onto dry
land. Again, there was no sensation of leaving the water, just a
continuance of the smooth taxi. We turned right outside the buildings and
the engines were shut down almost immediately. The Co-Pilot disembarked
first, the ground crew having already placed the steps outside the door.
The passengers disembarked but the Captain remained behind to carry out
the post-flight checks. We stepped out of the air-conditioned comfort of
the cabin and made our way through the hot sun and heat to the buildings.
If you had
have been watching at that point, you would have easily have spotted me -
I was the one still grinning from ear-to-ear, for I had just accomplished
a life times ambition: I had flown in a real flying boat for the first
time and not only that, it was a Chalk's one - the world's oldest schedule
airline. That made all the difference......................!