Duck

Alley, Harvey

I was genuinely pleased to see another Grumman Duck take to the air – and a magnificent restoration as well. As a 16-year– old, I worked for Columbia Aircraft where I made steel fittings for the wings and floats and I would certainly like to entertain the idea that my fittings are now airborne on this beautiful Columbia-built Duck.

After World War Two, a surplus J2F-6 went to Peru to fly missionaries to their remote jungle outposts on the Amazon River. Named Amauta, the amphibian was flown by a lady pilot named Betty Greene.

Betty Greene became the first pilot of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship – an organization still performing yeoman duty for missionaries around the world. Flying Amauta, she became the first woman pilot to fly across the rugged Andes Mountains. In the lumbering Duck, she made numerous crossings at an altitude of 18,000 feet while on oxygen. She was no stranger to high altitude flying. As a member of the WASPS, Betty was involved in high altitude research with the B-17 – flying at 30,000 feet to test various components.

When more suitable aircraft were accepted for missionary transport, the Duck was declared surplus for a second time. The Peruvian government accepted the plane and I have no idea how it was used, if indeed it was, by them. The aircraft was eventually put on display in a park in Lima.

My wife and I taught in Lima, Peru, for a year and I was determined to locate Amauta. At the park, I was disappointed to find only the cement cradle on which it had been displayed! Such a fragile aircraft, especially with its fabric wings, would not last long outdoors and I was told the Duck was eventually removed and scrapped.

In the early 1951, in a seemingly unrelated incident, I was traveling to Chicago from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Passing the airport at Michigan City, I spotted the unmistakable shape of the only other Columbia-built aircraft – the XJL-1. Leaving the expressway, I could hardly contain my excitement as I approached the huge dark blue Super Duck. A lone mechanic on duty explained that the aircraft was purchased by a New Zealander to ferry sportsmen to the wilderness lakes of Canada.

When I returned later, the Super Duck was not on the field. On inquiry, a mechanic told me that the pilot flew the plane to Lake Michigan to practice “touch and goes” and crashed into the lake. Apparently, the pilot was not hurt and the Coast Guard towed the remains of the plane to shore. I have no idea what happened to it after that.

I have been puzzled that no mention of this – the third XJL-I – can be found. Perhaps a reader can help fill in the blanks!

Harvey Alley

1411 Windcrest Lane NE

Grand Rapids, MI

Editor’s Note. Mr. Alley’s letter is most interesting since it helps fill in some history on a welltraveled Duck. There is some good news – the Duck flown by Ms. Greene is still with us! The plane is J2F-6 BuNo 33614 N55S. Yes, the aircraft was in a park and it did go rather derelict. An individual in Canada disassembled the plane for transport up north but this never happened. Fortunately, the aircraft was rescued by Kermit Weeks who has a soft spot for the Duck. This made three Ducks for Kermit and he later traded one to the USAF Museum. Currently, N55S is in storage pending future restoration.

The XJL-1 is a bit of a mystery. Two complete airframes were built (BuNos 31399– 31400) and flown and, as far as our research takes us, a third aircraft was built for static testing. Amazingly, both 2C)Ls survived and went on the civil register. One was obtained by Gregory Board who may be the “New Zealander” referred to by the mechanic. The aircraft was reengined with an R-2600 for a projected aroundthe-world flight but this never happened. The aircraft sat for many years at Ryan Field near Tucson, Arizona, but it was saved from extinction and is now preserved at the Pima Air and Space Museum. The second XJL was owned by a Martin test pilot who unfortunately died in the crash of a XP6M Seamaster. For years, this aircraft sat disassembled in a wooded area in Maryland. Rescued by an owner in California, the XJL was painstakingly rebuilt but crashed on its first flight a few years ago. The wreckage is thought to be rebuildable.

Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Sep 2002

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