The unusual configuration of the Grumman parked at the Cordova lakeside airport can be seen in this sideview. Photo by Dick Shellhorn for The Cordova Times

A piece of airplane history was recently parked at the near end of Cordova’s lakeside runway.

Dave Erby of Cordova Air Service was fueling a visiting Super Cub, and described the nearby aircraft as “a blast from the past.”

The unusual twin-engine plane he was referring to was none other than a Grumman Widgeon, a unique amphibious craft that has no traditional floats, but a fuselage shaped like a speed-boat hull with retractable wheels that allows it to take off and land on water or conventional runways.

The Widgeon harkens all the way back to World War II, and only 317 of them were ever built.

It is the smallest Grumman amphibian, and strangely enough, was a shrunk down version of an eight-passenger craft called a Goose which was developed 1937, for of all things, as a commuter aircraft for wealthy businessmen on Long Island.

The Widgeon has a wingspan of 40 feet, and a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour, with a limited range of 800 miles while powered by a pair of 340 horsepower engines. It can carry five passengers and was first flight tested in 1940 for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

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With the war in the Pacific on the horizon, its land and sea capabilities were clearly advantageous where no air fields were available.

A frontal view of the Grumman Widgeon parked at the small airport. The yellow roof of Cordova Air’s old hanger can be seen in the background. Dick Shellhorn photo

At one time Cordova Air operated three Widgeons on various routes around Alaska.

Longtime Cordovan Randy Bruce recalled flying in one of them back in 1962.

“I was working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that summer on a slow power scow named the Shad with Harry Curran as skipper,” Bruse said. “Ron Walters was head of Protection and was looking for someplace where we could establish a base camp for stream guards, so we all flew out to the Dutch Group in the Southwest District of Prince William Sound. There was an old Army base there, and we wanted to see it would be feasible for such use.”

“I remember Jim Osborne was the pilot, and when we landed, we taxied right up a ramp to get out,” said Bruce. “Unfortunately, the facilities, which dated back to WWII, were in rough shape, and that was the end of that plan.”

Wayne Smith, son of famous pioneer Alaska bush pilot Merle “Mudhole” Smith, and a longtime small plane pilot for Cordova Air, described the challenges of keeping the Widgeons airborne.

“We might as well have hired Frank Sherby to be our full-time mechanic,” said Smith. Sherby operated a nearby aircraft maintenance hangar and seemed to spend much of his time at Cordova Air’s facilities.

During the era when Cordova Air was flying Widgeons, they had a wooden ramp into the lake which provided access to the hanger or tie-downs. If the plane landed on the lake, it would taxi out using the ramp. One of their old, yellow-roofed hangers is still standing, and the visiting Widgeon was parked near the spot where the Cordova Air Widgeons used to be tied down.

Out of 317 Widgeons ever built, only 28 are Federal Aviation Administration airworthy and in operation.

So, Dave Erby was surely correct when he described the one parked at Cordova lake side was as “a blast from the past.”

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