This article describes the experiences and thoughts noted during my first flight in a flying boat; a Grumman G-73T Turbo Mallard. This trip was taken on 5th September 2001 aboard the scheduled flights operated by Chalk's Ocean Airways, the oldest scheduled airline in the world. Flight 502 took us from Paradise Island, Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Florida and Flight 511 brought us back. There was a water take-off and landing at Paradise Island. Click here to go to the Chalk's web site.

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We arrived 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 docks. 

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 arrived.


The luggage 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!

We were 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 float.

Whilst 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 after.

Once 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 quite roomy. 

Upon our 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..................!


With 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".

The cabin 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. 

The first 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.

The crew 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.

Then, 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 point. 

Then 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!

The aircraft 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- lift-off!

The Captain 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.

The turbo's 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!


The aircraft 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.


Following 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 that.

The port 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......................!