The Widgeon was a smaller follow on to the G-21 Goose, and was aimed at the executive and light Transport market. The prototype first flew in July 1940. The aircraft was soon adopted by the US military with the first production version being the J4F-1, used as in a utility and anti-submarine role. 167 aircraft were produced during the war, with 15 of these being supplied to the Royal Navy (where they were initially known as 'Goslings' in FAA service). Post war the hull design was modified to improve performance on the water, and approximately 105 G-44A's were built (including 30 under license in France as the SCAN 30). The Widgeon in original configuration had marginal performance without wind, or on hot days, or when heavily loaded. As a result, a number have subsequently been re-engined - mainly with the 270hp Lycoming GO-480-B1D (Mackinnon Super Widgeon) or 300hp Lycoming R-680-E3 (Gannet Super Widgeon). In a recent conversation, Grant Harnish of Salt Air told me he had been to Boston to try out a 350 hp TIO-540 powered aircraft.
The Widgeon's association with New Zealand began in 1950. Amphibian Airways was formed in 1950 by an Invercargill businessman who saw the potential of access to the South Island's lakes, rivers, and fiords, and the surrounding areas. ZK-AVM was imported from Australia and commenced charter work. Scheduled services to Stewart Island began in 1951, and a second aircraft, ZK-BAY (c/n 1362) was imported in 1952. A new company, New Zealand Tourist Air Travel was formed by Harry English (an Amphibian Airways Director) in 1954. ZK-BGQ (c/n 1391) was purchased from Reseau Aerien Interinsdair (RAI) in Tahiti, and rebuilt by TEAL. The company was licensed to carry out charter work all around New Zealand. Chief Pilot (and later General Manager) Fred Ladd attracted a lot of publicity for Air ambulance and rescue work. A second aircraft, ZK-BPX was added in 1960.
In 1962 Tourist Air Travel acquired Amphibian Airways, and set up networks in both the North and South Islands. Further aircraft were added with ZK-CFA joining the fleet in 1963 and ZK-CHG in 1964. Ladd had the original powerplants on the aircraft replaced with 260hp Continental IO-470-D engines and variable pitch propellers. In addition ZK-BGQ and ZK-BPX underwent fuselage modifications. In 1967 to celebrate his retirement, Fred Ladd, accompanied by wife Mabel flew Widgeon ZK-BGQ under the Auckland Harbour Bridge. In the subsequent prosecution, Ladd was discharged without conviction. However, the Magistrate did condemn the example of recklessness - but did praise Captain Ladd's distinguished record.
In December 1967, with Bruce Packer as General Manager, Tourist Air Travel was acquired by Mt Cook Airlines. The oil shocks and the general economic downturn in the early 1970's saw a change to amphibian operations. Mt Cook's record with the aircraft was marred on December 24, 1970 when ZK-BAY crashed on the Waitemata harbour killing all five people on board. Another accident occurred on January 1, 1974, when ZK-BPX made a wheels down landing on Halfmoon bay, resulting in the aircraft being written off (although it still exists). Mt Cook also added Goose ZK-DFC to the fleet in 1972. (Another Goose crashed in the US before delivery).
Mt Cook chose to move away from Amphibian operations in 1975. A group of staff with investor support created See Bee Air, which continued to be based at Mechanics Bay. The company continued tourist work, along with services to Hauraki Gulf islands. Expansion saw the purchase of Goose ZK-ENY and a turbo-Goose ZK-ERX, but no further Widgeons. Expansion overseas saw Widgeon operations in Fiji and Tuvalu. Changing economic conditions, and competition from fast-ferry services resulted in the closure of See Bee in 1989. Widgeon ZK- AVM had already been exported to Australia to become VH-WET in 1987, and ZK-BGQ was written off in 1980. The remainder were sold in New Zealand.
ZK-CFA was subsequently put to work by Grant and Owen Harnish's Aquatic and Vintage Airways based at Paihia in 1992, mainly doing tourist work. ZK-AVM returned from Australia in December 1994, and joined Aquatic and Vintage Airways. Both aircraft continue in this work. Due to confusion over the name, Aquatic and Vintage Airways become Salt Air in 1996. The company is now wholly owned by Grant Harnish.
Widgeons currently resident in New Zealand include:
Last Update:- 12 July, 1999
I paid a call to the Salt Air ramp at Paihia in June 1999. Operator Grant Harnish was very obliging in allowing me access to the aircraft. Thanks very much for your assistance Grant! It wasn't the best of day's for photography, and in addition I had a few technical problems. The photos I did get are displayed below. I hope to get replacements for the ones that didn't come out (tail wheel, cabin hatch, and a few others) in the near future. Remember to let me know if you have a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft!
© 1996-99 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved