Fri, December 20, 2013

End of the Aleutian Goose

By Jeff Dickrell
The Grumman Goose was designed in 1937, originally to be a commuter limousine for Long Island businessmen. Technically a ‘flying boat’ as opposed to a float plane, the Goose can carry eight passengers. WWII intervened and it became a widely-used patrol and liaison craft. A total of 345 were built with production ending in 1945. With the war over, many of these sturdy little planes were used by airlines that operated island routes. They were popular in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and, of course, Alaska.
In 1947, Reeve Aleutian Airlines was born. The former bush pilot Bob Reeve saw a niche and began serving the small villages and military bases on the chain. In 1948 he brought in a couple Grumman Gooses (yes, Gooses not Geese) to service those places without runways. R.A.A. used these versatile aircraft until 1977, when they passed the torch to Peninsula Airways. PenAir used their two Grummans to fly the local routes out of Unalaska until the autumn of 2013.

Today, there are only a handful of communities in the Aleutians. Outside of Unalaska/ Dutch Harbor (pop. 4,000) are Nikolski (pop. 20), Adak (100), Atka (70), and Akutan (30 residents, 800 fish processors). All of these villages have runways except Akutan. It is Akutan that kept the Goose in business all those years. Twice a year, January and June (and again at the end of the season), the Trident fish processing company needs to get its 800 workers from Unalaska, where there is regular air service from Anchorage to its plant located on Akutan Island, some 40 miles east. The bulk of these workers, from all over the globe, were transported, eight at a time, via the Goose. When things are really hectic, PenAir would use both of their Grummans simultaneously. These two planes were the last remaining scheduled airline Gooses in the world.

In 2012, the State of Alaska began constructing an $80 million airport on the island of Akun, four miles from the community of Akutan. Getting to the village from the new airport requires a $100 four-passenger helicopter ride. With the cessation of the sea-plane service, PenAir decided to sell -off its two Gooses. So now, for the first time in 65 years, the Aleutian residents no longer gaze up to see their own little piece of flying history.