Seaplanes in Catalina

Grumman_HU-16_Albatross_Catalina

GEE Albatross One – Grumman HU-16 Albatross in Avalon Harbor, Santa Catalina, California. October 2015.

Sea Planes have been crossing from the California mainland to the Channel Islands for almost a century.  The first service was operated by Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother Syd in 1919. Operating for a couple of years, other firms moved in to operate the service until 1931 when Wrigley stepped up.

Phillip K. Wrigley, began the Wilmington-Catalina Airline, Ltd. through his Santa Catalina Island Company, and took over the sea plane services.  The airline’s fleet were mostly comprised of Douglas Dolphin’s designed by Donald Douglas.

Douglas Dolphin Sea Plane, Avalon, Santa Catalina, circa 1940

Douglas Dolphin Sea Plane flying over the casino and Avalon Harbor, Santa Catalina. Circa 1940

In 1931, Wrigley helped design a unique airport at Hamilton Cove, the 2nd cove north of Avalon, to accommodate the Douglas Dolphin ‘Amphibion’ planes.  The twin-engine Dolphins landed just offshore & would taxi up a ramp to a large turntable mechanism.  The airplane would then be rotated until it was facing the water & ready for a trip back to the mainland. A small Spanish-style terminal building welcomed residents, business people & tourists to Catalina.”  There was also a large hanger behind the terminal building.

Hamilton Cove Seaplane Base

Hamilton Cove Sea Plane Base, north of Avalon Harbor, Santa Catalina, California

According the Catalina Goose, Wilmington-Catalina Air Line was noted in the March 1941 issue of Flying & Popular Aviation as “the shortest airline in the world.” The article points out that not only was Wilmington-Catalina Air Line, serving 2 towns less than 30 miles apart, the shortest but also the safest airline, having flown the channel 38,000 times carrying over 200,000 passengers with no accidents or injuries between 1931-41.

Seaplane service was discontinued & replaced by a landplane base in the spring of 1941 and following the entry of the USA into WWII, civilian air traffic to Catalina Island was shut down and the Coast Guard took over the Hamilton Cove Seaplane Base.

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