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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Floating the Grumman Duck amphibian once again

Story and photos by FREDERICK A. JOHNSEN
Duck
The Grumman J2F-4 Duck being pushed into position for review in Warbirds.
Chuck Greenhall
Chuck Greenhall smiles from the cockpit of his rare Grumman J2F-4 Duck.

How do you make a duck float? If you said, “Add two scoops of duck…” you’re at the wrong venue, but you still get style points.

Chuck Greenhill will tell you it takes a lot of work, and the serendipity to find a spare fuselage float in use as a fishing boat.

Chuck flew his pristine Grumman J2F-4 Duck amphibian from Mettawa, Illinois, to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2011. A prewar acquisition by the Navy, this particular Duck was on hand at Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.

Surviving that brush with combat, Greenhill’s Duck migrated to the Solomon Islands later in the war.

Discharged as a veteran aircraft, this Duck landed in civilian ownership in the Bahamas where in the 1950s it had, well, a quack-up. What did you expect?

Suffering the loss of half its shoe-like main float, the Duck sank to the bottom of a lake where it remained undisturbed until the early 1990s. Restoration was finished in 2005.

Three owners later, Chuck’s Duck is a star in the Warbirds area.

“One of the nice things about owning a Duck,” Chuck reveals, “is when you come to the airport, they don’t put you in the ‘Duck row’…I like having unique airplanes.”

Raising a titanic project
Corrosion gnawed at parts of the Duck while it was submerged. Chuck and previous Duck owner Bill Floten said the softer aluminum parts like the old ring cowl were hardest hit. Bill figures the Duck at AirVenture is about 70 percent original with the rest new metal.

The structural framework was largely useful; the sheet metal skin, not so much. Anodizing helped preserve some structure.

Chuck takes understandable pride in the metal-bending skills he employed to remake the compound curves of the ring cowl, as well as other fillets and fairings that required a skilled hand at the English wheel, a tool prized for its ability to impart compound curves to metal—if the human operator does his part correctly.

The half-missing main float might have been a showstopper until Chuck received a call from a man who asked if he wanted to buy a Duck float.

This incredible piece of 1930s technology includes the amphibious landing wheels, extended and retracted by bicycle-chain drive.

Enterprising owners in the south had cleaved the hull float from the fuselage of a Duck and attached a trailer hitch to the aft end so they could tow it down the road on its gear to the boat launch.

An outboard motor made it one unique bass boat.

Chuck’s Duck luck held; the J2F was constructed with a parting line between the upper fuselage and the big shoe float, making it feasible to re-attach the pontoon to the plane.

Like a Duck to water
Chuck describes how the Duck handles in flight: “If you could imagine putting wings on your Winnebago, that’s how it flies.”

Still he loves it…slow, sluggish, and with bad forward visibility over a cluttered nose and with wings both above and below the pilot.

Some warbirds S-turn as they taxi to give the pilot better visibility. The adroit Duck pilot flies S-turns in the pattern to look for other traffic in the congested skies.

“You’re just not seeing a thing in front of you,” he says.

And that hand-cranked bicycle-chain landing gear is a chore to retract; not so much on extension, as gravity helps then.

“Pulling that gear up is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do,” Chuck notes. “It takes at least five minutes.”

And yes, this airplane takes like a Duck to water, Chuck says.

“We fly it on the water a lot. It handles very nicely…It has a water rudder.”

Time was, back in the ’70s, when veteran movie pilot Frank Tallman performed aerobatics in a chugging Duck.

That makes Chuck chuckle.

“We tried a roll with the airplane, but it just wound up with the nose straight down…I have no idea how Frank did that…maybe he was a genius.”

You’re too modest, Chuck—your own metal-bending genius is on display at AirVenture 2011 in the form of your hatched-again Duck.

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