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200 over and out! Episode three

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
A Chalk’s airlines Grumman Turbo Mallard takes off from the cruise ship terminal at Miami on a flight to the Bahamas.

Welcome to the third episode of this short series of flying stories from my flights on 200 different types. This time around I’ll recount of few tales from my Floatplane and Flying boat trips as well as some big prop stories.
The first story I would like to tell you about was a flight on a Republic Twin Seabee from a seaplane base in Florida. This type of plane was usually built as a pusher prop with just one engine mounted at the rear of the cabin. This particular example however had been converted to a conventionally mounted twin engine arrangement to give more power. Shame therefore that it wouldn’t start! With typical American finesse the largest pick-up truck I’d seen in my life was quickly summoned along with a set of jump leads to get the old girl going.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
With both engines now happily started the Twin Seabee taxies out to take off on another joy ride.

As you will have noticed from the header picture Florida is a haven for flying boats of all sorts. Chalk’s Airlines had for many years connected Miami with the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas and was one of the world’s oldest airlines with a faultless accident record. Sadly this all came to an end not long after my flight to Bimini when a Mallard had a wing collapse on take-off with a large loss of life. They never really recovered from this and are no long active.
Let’s return to happier times and the trip to Bimini which left several deposits in the memory bank. This was a terrific flight of just thirty minutes out over Miami harbour and down to the Bahamas landing in the sea right alongside the main road across Bimini. The plane lowered its wheels into the sea and then taxied up a ramp past a derelict hotel crossing the road to the parking area.
 If you watch Silence of the Lambs as the credits roll at the end of the film Hannibal Lector walks up this same road past the hotel towards town. Two Americans were on the same flight out from Miami and also joined us for the return flight back to the US. However they didn’t need a passport to go to the Bahamas so they had left them at home. You can imagine the conversation when we walked out of Miami Seaplane base and they were still being questioned by immigration about the passports they needed to get back into the USA !

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
A Mallard parked on the hardstanding at Bimini awaiting its passengers for the return trip to Miami.

If you want a ride in a floatplane the best place to go is Canada as so many of the smaller towns are served by air using the lakes that abound in such provinces as Ontario and Quebec. Beavers, Otters and Twin Otters are the general rule of thumb but if you look hard other even more interesting types can be found. Fort Francis Ontario was the home of Rusty Myers Seaplanes flying float equipped Beech 18s.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
Air to air with Beech 18 Floatplanes in Ontario Canada.

On a group trip we managed to charter three of their old aeroplanes and did a bit of formation flying Beech style, fabulous stuff. This set the scene and on a later visit to Red Lake which is home to most of the last remaining Nordyne Norseman float planes the pilots there offered to do the same! There was a big difference however as the Beech flights had been in perfect weather, up in Red Lake the rain was pouring down with very low clould. We waited most of the day for the weather to lift and finally as evening approached the flight was on. Four Norseman took to the sky in a nice formation but before long we were in thick cloud and couldn’t even see our own wingtip let alone the one twenty feet away! I was rather pleased when this particular flight was over. Typically the next day the weather was gorgeous. 

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Photo keith Bradshaw
Norseman at Red Lake after the weather had improved.

Back home in the UK it is now possible to go float plane flying in a Cessna Caravan of Loch Lomond Seaplanes. They operate from Glasgow docks next to the science centre and were operating scheduled flights to Oban as well as scenic flights over the incredible Scottish scenery.

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Photo keith Bradshaw
Loch Lomond Seaplane’s Cessna Caravan taxiing on the Clyde at Glasgow.

Still in Europe, until this year it had been possible to fly in a Catalina from Lelystad museum near Amsterdam. My wife loves the Catalina so we booked a flight and found ourselves with a group of twelve passengers mainly Dutch and German. The guy doing the pre-flight briefing was very good explaining everything in all three languages. That was until the safety briefing, five minutes of Dutch followed by five minutes of German and then “For our English passengers don’t touch anything red” end of briefing! The flight was great despite marginal weather and included a touch and go on the inland sea of the Ijsselmeer. It was therefore rather sad to hear that costs and changes in Dutch taxation for charities have meant the group can no longer afford to run the Catalina so she is up for sale.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
An unusual view of the Catalina at Lelystad awaiting her passengers.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
A picture taken from the side viewing blister approaching the Ijsselmeer for our water touch and go.

Still on the piston engine theme, I have been lucky enough to fly on several of the old airliners of the 50s, 60s and even earlier. Douglas with its DC-3, DC-4 and DC-7 have provided several of these flights and it’s the  DC-7 trip I would like to tell you more about. The Historical Flight Foundation based at Opa Locka Florida had restored to flight the world’s last passenger configured DC-7 and were operating it on trips around the US. Eagar to expand their operation they offered a trip from Florida down to St Maarten in the Caribbean via Puerto Rico. This trip was advertised by a British travel company and I duly signed up. St Maarten airport is the one where the runway ends at the beach and adventurists cling to the chain link fence while the jets run up for take-off. Having seen it on TV many times I was eager to see (but not experience) this unique place.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
A Boeing 737 comes into land at St Maarten. The runway starts just to the right of the car. No it’s not me in the Speedos !

The DC-7 had been painted in period Eastern Airlines colours and a welcome committee was planned for our arrival in Puerto Rico as this was once well served by the now defunct Eastern. Just to add a bit more authenticity to the flight the two flight attendants on board were both ex-Eastern stewardesses. We left Florida in the cool of the early morning but as the flight progressed (a flying time of about five hours if memory serves) it got hotter and hotter. There was no pressurisation or aircon fitted to the aircraft but nobody complained it was all part of the experience!
Sure enough when we arrived at San Juan there was a large crowd on the tarmac including local TV. The airport fire brigade had even turned out to give us a water arch to taxi through as we pulled onto the stand. After a couple of hours stop over to allow for refuelling we continued onto St Maarten. It was a very hot and tired group of crew and passengers that arrived in the hotel and headed straight for the bar !

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
The magnificent DC-7 preparing to leave Florida for Puerto Rico.

The flight back was pretty uneventful apart from the constant stab of flame from the No.2 engine exhaust. A prelude to future problems unfortunately. We arrived back over Miami as the sun went down and the last few miles to Opa Locka it was  just us, the exhaust flames and the lights of the city below. This really got me thinking this is what the golden age of air travel must have been like. This really was a most memorable trip and it was hoped the HFF would continue to offer rides such as this on their magnificent beast, one of the world’s last great propliners. Alas it was not to be as running an aeroplane like this and trying to make money from affordable ticket prices did not add up and when that No.2 engine finally gave up whilst she was en route to Charlotte North Carolina, she was grounded and remains there to this day.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
A pair of Wright R-3350s doing their bit to haul the DC-7 serenely over another Caribbean island on the way to St Maarten.

The DC-7’s great rival in the day was Lockheed’s Constellation and here in Europe we have been very lucky to have the Swiss based Super Connie attending displays and offering scenic flights. Along with a trip from Basle to Duxford I also flew on her for a flight through the Swiss Alps. That was very special as we didn’t fly over the Alps we actually flew through them! At times you were looking UP at farmer’s chalets on the mountainside. The Connie has been grounded this year with technical problems and also their long term sponsor Breitling have ended their support, however the SCFA hope to have her back in the air in 2019. Let’s wish them luck.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
The Super Constellation crew hard at work flying her on a sightseeing flight out of Basle.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
The SCFA Super Connie threading its way through the Swiss Alps.

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Photo Keith Bradshaw
One of the oldest airliners I have flown in was this 1928 built Ford Trimotor at Lakeland Florida. Note the control lever and cables running outside the fuselage ! 

That’s it for this episode, the next will be the final one and I’ll look back at some firsts and lasts, flying with FIFI plus flight number 200, the Spitfire.

Till the next time, Keith.