My first night on the Aleutian island of Unalaska was rather short. The sole good hotel in town, which I stayed at, also serves as a popular watering hole for the locals, especially on Saturday nights. Early the next morning, the telephone woke me up. Michelle of PenAir Airline had obiously had more sleep than me, as she lively and cheerfully told me that the weather was good enough to fly this morning, after my flight over to Akutan had been cancelled on the day before. She wondered if I could be at the airport within twenty minutes - which was a bit of a challenge, but I just grabbed all my photo gear, jumped in my jeans and sweater, and jogged to the nearby airfield. What an awakening!

Indeed, the weather outside was quite nice - for Aleutian standards!



Exactly 22 minutes after Michelle's call, I reached her check-in desk in the deserted small terminal of Dutch Harbour's Airport. What followed surprised me a bit. I wasn't given a boarding pass, wasn't security screened, and didn't even need to have my bag inspected. Half an hour later, the three passengers were invited for boarding, and I finally got face to face with the unique Grumman Goose, built in 1951. Knowing about my fascination for planes, Michelle exchanged some words with the pilot, and before I knew it, I was sitting on the co-pilot's seat up front!



Off we go, on a wild ride around one of the westernmost corners of Alaska!


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After the two other passengers had taken their seats in the roomy cabin, the two engines mounted on top of the wings were started up - including the characteristic sputtering and the whiff of smoke. Now we were all set and good to taxi to the runway.



Next to me, the pilot pushed the throttles full forward, the 880 horses on the wings were let loose and started pushing us down Dutch Harbor's single runway.

After only a few dozen meters we took to the air, and started picking up speed while flying low over the runway. What a great feeling!



Leaving Dutch Harbor behind, we passed some lovely scenery, while the P&W R-985 was gently humming next to me




Speeding along in a 61 year old vintage plane, a few feet over the rugged terrain, was absolutely amazing!


After some minutes dodging some rain showers, the pilot set a direct course of the neighbouring island of Akutan, which came into view shortly after.

We needed to make our way around the craggy west of the island, and enter its bay from the south. A few minutes later, the Goose sailed a few feet over the dark blue sea, the pilot cut the throttles, and we finally splashed down in the cold waters of the Bay of Akutan.




After the landing, the pilot let the engines roar one more time, in order to get enough power to climb up the steep ramp to the tiny apron - a very impressive maneuver!


Here we are, at the Akutan Seaplane Base!



In no time, what seems to be half of the village's inhabitants have assembled around our little Goose and help unloading it



Shortly before us, the airline's second Goose had already landed - obviously transporting mail and freight!



While it may not be love at first sight, there's definitely a special beauty to the Goose!



Akutan (pop. 75) is home of the biggest fish processing factory of the US (!), with over 800 people working here in weekly or monthly turns. Since there weren't any workers returning to Dutch Harbor, me and the pilot had the plane to ourselves on the way back - always a very promising combination! And Paul, as he introduced himself, didn't loose any time to show me what his old plane is capable of, and climbed out low over the surrounding hills after takeoff






Paul was originally from Chicago, where he'd worked as a jet captain for one of the big airlines. However, one day he had enough of the restricted flying down there, and moved up to this lonely place together with his whole family, just to be able to fly the Goose. And he clearly enjoyed his job! He took great pride in showing me some nice hidden corners and significant places along the route, and wouldn't stop before I'd seen just about every stone and cliff from every possible angle.

Low level visit to a cute little island? No problem!



Looking at the daunting cliffs from far away...



...and from up close - the cliff hugging seemed to be Paul's speciality!



Simply amazing!



The whole show reached its climax when we approached Dutch Harbor way lower than anticipated, and - before I knew it - touched down in the water in front of the runway. How cool! Finally we taxied up a ramp, crossed the main road, and entered the apron through a radio operated gate in the airport fence.



Paul simply commented that I sure hadn't travelled all the way out here just to land on a concrete runway, and he was absolutely right! But looking at his big grin, I instantly knew that he had just as much fun as I did!

Back in Dutch Harbor I had time for a quick cabin shot, before Paul had to leave for his next flight  - which was cancelled due to weather soon after. It isn't only the bad visibility that restricts the Goose operations, but also the high swells during bad weather periods. Therefore the days of the water landings are numbered, and a runway is already in the process of being built at Akutan. What a pity!


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