Chalk’s Ocean Airways

Since 1919, this little airline has managed to keep its head above water

Air & Space Magazine

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In later years, the little airline moved up to the Sikorsky S-38, a far more reliable multi-engine flying boat. Rival Pan American Airways used S-38s to survey the Caribbean and serve island destinations there. Chalk also flew a single-engine Fairchild 71 that had been outfitted with floats.

After World War II, he upgraded to Grumman amphibians: a five-passenger Widgeon, a nine-passenger Goose, and, in the 1960s, the first of several Mallards. Unlike its smaller predecessors, the Mallard had tricycle landing gear, a stressed-skin, two-step hull, and wing-mounted floats for stabilizing the craft on the water (these could also serve as auxiliary fuel tanks).

In 1966, Chalk, by then known as Pappy because of his white hair, stopped flying, having logged around 17,000 hours. Four years later, he sold the business to Dean Franklin, who had been a pilot for the small airline for 30 years. By then, Chalk’s was operating four Gooses and three Mallards, and the staff had grown to 16, including pilots and maintenance and sales personnel.

Even after retirement, Chalk could not leave the love of his life. “He came by every day except Sundays to feed the birds, and to feed us,” recalls Jean Munroe, Chalk’s system and interline manager. “He brought seed for the pigeons, and soup and sandwiches from a diner in Miami for the employees. He didn’t even have a driver’s license; his niece brought him ver, waited while he went through his daily routine, then drove him home.”

In 1977, just short of his 90th birthday, the aviation pioneer who had never lost a passenger finally himself fell victim to gravity, slipping from a ladder while pruning a tree in his yard. He died soon after.

Since September 11, security restrictions have forced Chalk’s to revise its Bahama-bound flights. The Mallards have for the most part been departing as landplanes from the Fort Lauderdale airport, rather than as seaplanes from Watson Island, which is considered more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

To a passenger standing at its threshold, the Mallard seems more like an airplane than a boat. But when one steps into the craft, that step is down. So is the next one. Compared with the design of similar-sized landplanes, the door of the Mallard is set higher in the hull to keep out the water, and both the captain and the first officer sit at a higher level in order to see over the bow. With those first steps, plus the scent of salt air, the airplane’s second nature becomes apparent.

The Mallard’s interior reflects the middle years of powered flight—the cabin walls are painted, rather than covered with fabric, and you can count the rivet heads—but the seats are comfortable. Seating is catch as catch can. There’s no door to the cockpit, just an archway in the bulkhead, so you can look up at the pilot and first officer.

Dean Franklin held onto the airline for slightly over a year, and in 1974 his successor sold it to Resorts International, which then operated a vacation complex on Paradise Island. Resorts CEO James Crosby had Grumman adapt the Albatross, a World War II search-andrescue craft, for commuter usage. The result, the G-111, could carry 28 passengers. It entered service with Chalk’s in 1982.

Following Crosby’s death in 1986, Chalk’s was owned briefly by his sisters and then successively by Donald Trump and Merv Griffin. In an attempt to save money, Trump cut the seaplane fleet to four Mallards and put the Albatrosses into storage.

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