First produced in the late 30's for wealthy industrialists, the Grumman Goose flew to glory in World War II, delivering generals and supplies to the most remote backwaters under the unfriendliest of skies. With its unique ability to land and take off in a mere three feet of water, these hull-nosed airboats earned a distinctive place in the pantheon of aviation. After the war, 300 of the remaining Gooses (Never Geese!) were absorbed into the civilian market, often working as small passenger airlines in the Caribbean, California and Alaska. But by 1990 only a few Gooses remained...until very recently, when a group of Guilford County businessmen went shopping for a seaplane.
"The goose we found was in Miami, owned by a 96 year old man named Dean Franklin," said V.L. Manuel as he led me around the spotless warehouse. "Franklin had all the parts in the world to a seaplane, he told us he would sell it all to us instead of a plane, so we took it."
I know where they brought it, I thought as I poked around the neatly-lined engines, stacks of sheet metal and rows of rivets. In the center of the cavernous space, two Goose hulks sat on squat, dusty wheels - their trademark rounded hulls far from gleaming. At the far end of the warehouse a half dozen men in orange t-shirts worked in silence, scrubbing metal and bending rubber like the aviation surgeons they were. Despite my bright lights, they barely looked up. Instead they remained laser-focused on the procedure before them, intent on bringing an old bird back to life.
For all the mechanics' reticence, their avuncular CEO was more than happy to chat. With a twinkle in his eye, Mr. Manuel filled me in on-camera and off about every facet of the quirkly aircraft. Halfway through his laidback pitch, I realized my steely newsman's exterior had melted into a big dopey grin. Not one to usually succumb to the lure of mere machinery, I wanted nothing more at that moment than to climb aboard a shiny new Goose and fly it off to some exotic, watery locale. When I told Mr. Manuel of my overwhelming desire, he laughed knowingly and leaned in close.
"They're addictive,' He whispered, as if revealing a delightful secret, "Everyone that comes in here gets all charged up and wants to play on the sea with the airplane."
No doubt. I don't remember getting this pumped by a inanimate object since I first discovered the betacam. By the time I left the Gibsonville headquarters of Antilles Seaplanes, I felt I'd made some new friends - ones who invited me to come back and fly with them once they got the Goose up in the air. You got a DEAL, fellas! I'll bring both my lenses, a half dozen readers and my newfound love for this righteously nautical piece of aviation history. Now, is there an in-flight movie?