By DEREK ROBERTS.
With its massive radial engines, powerful stance, and seemingly indestructible aesthetic, the Grumman G-21 Goose is an aircraft that evokes more than an air of folklore.
A relic of World War II brute force engineering and design, the seaplane’s wide-ranging performance envelope and service capacity continues to be unique among airplanes today. Indeed, with only an estimated 30 still flying, there is something almost mythical about its hulking presence. Rare it is, to see one flying — rarer yet, the chance to actually fly one.
Yet, at the gates of the Alaskan Wilderness, on Lake Hood, the opportunity exists.
All one needs is a guide. Not only to help navigate the surrounding network of unoccupied waterways and mountains, but also to instruct on how to handle the characteristics of an airplane that, nearly a century on, is still hard pressed to find an equal.
That guide is Burke Mees.
With more than 21,000 hours of flight time, the Alaska Airlines captain and part-time CFI has been flying G-21s since shortly after relocating from Northern California in the mid-1990s.
It was in California while first instructing on floats that he realized that flying seaplanes was a niche that a young pilot could both build flight time and make a decent living.
After accepting a job offer “sight unseen” over the phone to fly floats in Juneau, it was just a few years later that Mees found himself piloting his first Grumman Goose as a Part 135 captain in the Aleutian Islands. There, in the rugged island chain, Mees says he learned just how good of an aircraft the Goose actually is, noting that the 1930s-era Grumman engineering team “just got it right.”
Putting the airplane through its paces on daily passenger and mail runs, a young Burke honed his flying skills dropping into remote strips and negotiating isolated sea covers where, he says, the aircraft thrives.
“It’s well suited to coastal conditions,” he emphasizes, adding that its strong points are on rough water and in windy conditions.
“It’s an honest living,” he says with a laugh.
He adds that while “fun” wasn’t the way he’d describe it, he did get a tremendous amount of satisfaction and experience from the job.
After transitioning to the airlines in 2001, Burke wasn’t without a Goose for very long.
Noticing a sparkling example docked at a local seaplane base, it was by happenstance that he introduced himself to the aircraft’s owner John Pletcher, also a commercially rated land and sea pilot, who had purchased the airplane and completed a full restoration just five years before.
Striking up a friendship over their mutual appreciation for the historic Grumman, Pletcher, in search of an experienced fellow pilot to help maintain and showcase the airplane, extended an invitation to Mees to join him as an frequent co-pilot and guest.
Initially, the duo flew the legendary airplane as sort of a “living museum,” but four years ago the combination of interest from fellow pilots, John’s intent to share the experience, and Burke’s willingness to teach led the pair to develop a multi-engine seaplane training course for those who wished to learn the finer points of piloting the Grumman.
“A lot of what we do is allow people to fly it for a day or a couple of hours, but we also offer, on a limited basis, multi-engine sea ratings,” he says.
And while it’s true that few will have the chance to fly a G-21 Goose in the wild, Mees assures that pilots of all skill levels will learn techniques that they can apply throughout the rest of their aviation career.
“I’ve got a good course and try to get them in good shape,” he says.
The experienced pilot and author of “Notes of a seaplane instructor” adds that the Goose is a very multi-faceted training platform.
“It’s a hull airplane, a multi-engine airplane, and a tailwheel land plane — a bit of a complex personality,” he says.
In part, it’s that complexity, says the pilot, that makes the Goose such an attraction.
“You get people from all over the place — professional guys, airline guys who just want to do something fun, private pilots and people from all different parts of the aviation spectrum, who just want to experience what it’s like to fly the Goose,” he says.
A fact that is re-enforced even at the airplane’s crowded home base, where the majestic Grumman still manages to turn heads.
“Lake Hood is kind of a special place to start with, but we feel like we’re able to contribute a little something to the area’s character,” he says.
What I Fly
It’s a 1944 Grumman Goose, with Pratt and Whitney 985s, the same engines you’d see on a deHavilland Beaver.
Why I Fly It
It’s probably my all-time favorite airplane. You know, it’s just one of those airplanes that is enjoyable to fly for its own sake. They got it right from the beginning.
How I Fly It
I’ve always flown it in association with some purpose: Either flying it commercially or now flying it to provide instruction.
If you’re flying commercially, remember that your role is to be the check and balance. Everyone wants to get something done, but you’re the one who has to make sure it is safe.
If you’re instructing, focus on serving your students, but realize your own abilities also benefit from flying the airplane through them.
And if you’re flying for yourself, use every flight to hone your edge and keep learning.
Benoit Campeau says
I’m trying to improve the Virtual Cockpit for FSX and I would like to know where is the Stab trim, any pictures in the real cockpit ?
Kyle C. says
To anyone who might have an answer:
I’m curious, are those extended range tanks mounted under each wing? If so, were they custom fabricated or is there a conversion kit available for the goose? I have heard of some wet tank conversions for the Turbo-Goose but this is the first I have seen for the classic G-21. The plane itself makes for the perfect world traveler, however the range does leave something to be desired. Adding some extra miles would go a long way towards those long hauls.
Charles B says
Is the Goose single pilot rated?
Barbara Diamond says
Moments ago I heard a very familiar sound and ran outside to see you fly over my house in Spenard. I always stop what I’m doing when I hear you coming to watch you fly by. My father, Joe Diamond flew the Grumman Goose for Ellis Airlines in Ketchikan, AK for over 20 years. I have many wonderful memories of flying with him. Oh and the stories he and pilot buddy’s would tell….I could spend hours listening to them. Thank you for keeping the Goose alive.
Dennis Lund says
Wow, how fun to stumble on to the Goose stuff and the comment from Barbara Diamond, whose dad, Joe that she mentions flew Grummans pretty much during the same 9 year period that I did before health problems put Capt. Joe on the beach. I was based in KTN with Alaska Coastal Ellis Airlines before we merged with Alaska Airlines on April 1, 1968.. I retired, flying some beautiful Boeing jets, but the G-21A will always be my favorite.
DAve Cunningham says
PUt in a reader ve at the local library for. A copy of the DVD “murphy’s War”
With Peter O’Toole. Frank Tallman describes experiences in providing the “GOose” sequences. It is an 1960-1970s movie and getting rare. Not able to locate the DVD on Amazon.
Doug DeVriez says
Nice article on you and your Goose. Doug DeVries here – you visited the hanger a few years back to see N642, our turbine goose project. The project is getting close, so need to get working on training and ratings. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Fine Goose you have there! Glad that you are teaching. Do you have an examiner available?
If you ever find yourself in N Idaho, please stop in at Tanglefoot Seaplane Base
We talk flying boat. B32 lives here.
BTW, would like buy your book but the linked LSA web site is being difficult. Where else can I buy it?
Kathy Hart says
I am not a pilot, however, seeing these photos, just had to comment. I’ll never forget a trip my late father and I took to Juneau. It was my birthday in 1968. He was on business for US Plywood/Champion Papers, and I was blessed to be along, especially when i had the unbelievable opportunity to fly on the Grumman Goose with my father and several others.
I will never forget that experience! From the take-off, to the pilot.. who was flying up and down the magnificent snow-covered mountains so I could see the mountain goats!! There were spectacular views of glaciers, and all the scenery Alaska offers…too many to name!
We landed in a remote area where my father had business, and boy, THAT was an experience in itself! I loved the feeling of actually landing in the water.
Then hallelujah, it was time to take-off again!
Just wonderful memories…thank you Daddy RIP
Dave M. says
Champion Paper/US Plywood later commissioned their own turbine Goose conversion from McKinnon. His last model G-21G conversion (s/n 1226) was made using former US Navy JRF-5 serial no. B-125 (Bu. no. 87731) in 1970 and it became N70AL. Still later it was owned by Chevron and operated in the Gulf/New Orleans area and today, it is under restoration by its current, private owner in the Detroit area.
Dale L. Weir says
Great article! I Was lucky enough to get my MES Rating in a Goose at Kenmore Air in 1979, and Bill Fisk was my examiner for both the SES and MES. Good times!
john Pletcher says
Are you related to Chuck Weir?
Dennis Lund says
Aw yes, N1251A, former Coastal-Ellis Goose.. Came out of the paint shop at Kenmore as N1257A which my memory tells me was HU(nter) 6- 1257.. Such Fun.. Worked a few months at Kenmore in spring of 1961, knew Bill Fisk, Bill Peters, and of course, Greg Monro.
Lee Taylor says
I had a chance to fly a Goose about 20 years ago that had been converted to twin TSIO-550’s. Biggest Cessna 180 I have ever flown! Flew just like my 180, which is the world’s best overall airplane, hands down, no argument. And without those honking huge radials, it was a fast plane, too.
Lee Taylor says
Re my flight in the TSIO-550 Goose. The only problem was the owner/pilot. He had installed a lot of gadget radios, and underneath the Class B airspace of Denver, we were going to fly from Erie to Greeley for lunch. About 40 miles. In the most congested airspace in the US, he immediately put his head in the cockpit, and started fiddling with the GPS on the radios. I became instantly alarmed, and put my head on a fast swivel. I was flying, but he was in command.
Finally, he gave up and said, head still down, “Well, I just can’t find Greeley.” I said, “well, maybe it is because we flew right over the top of it about 10 miles back.”
You sure that TSIO-550 conversion was a Goose and not a Widgeon?
Leland O Taylor DBA Eagle's Nest Ventures, LLC says
Yep. Goose. The smaller plane. Like I said, it flew like my 180. It was definitely not lacking in power, even at the 5,000′ field elevation we were at.
Dave M. says
I know of no Gooses ever modified with a pair of Continental TSIO-550 engines. Back in 1958-59, McKinnon modified two Gooses with four 340 hp Lycoming GSO-480 engines, but it sounds to me like you’re thinking of the Magnum Widgeon conversion with de-rated 350 Lycoming TIO-540 engines using essentially Piper Navajo cowlings. The Widgeon is the smaller of the two airplanes compared to the Goose. Pete Soby had such a Widgeon in Colorado, but I believe it’s now in Alaska with a new owner. Back then it was N9933H and I worked on it in NC before it got the Magnum conversion – back when it had 270 hp Lycoming GO-480 engines.
Bruce Hinds says
1- Goose would never fly with those little 550’s. 2- Erie to Greeley most congested airspace in the US. More BS! What’s this guy smoking?
Lee, you are right about the 180. I have owned quite a few airplanes, but my Cessna 180 was, without a doubt, the best airplane I ever owned. T.A.S. was almost as fast as the DC-3’s we had when I first went to work for the airlines and only 350 knots slower than a Boeing 727. LOL