Just like with the old commercial jingle that went,
like something, but nobody doesn't like
Sara Lee," I can pretty confidently substitute "seaplanes" for
"Sara Lee." The Grumman Widgeon was one of many iterations of their
twin engined amphibious airplanes that is immediately recognizable
to most people over the age of 40. In fact, the Widgeon was the
seaplane that appeared each week on the 1970s television show "Fantasy
Island." It was "Ze plane! Ze plane!" that Tattoo would call
out at the beginning of each episode.
Grumman Widgeon 3-View
Authentic plans and data on an all-time modeling favorite. Simple
squared-off wings and tail surfaces, flat sided fuselage, in-line
engines make for easy construction of a beautiful and stable model.
The G-44A Widgeon with two inverted Fairchild Rangers
and Sensenich wood props with bullet-nose spinners.
It was in the late 1930's that the Grumman Aircraft Engineering
Corp. of Bethpage, Long Island produced their first civil or commercial
type aircraft. This, Grumman's design 21A, was called "Gray Goose";
later it would be generally known simply as the "Goose". The powerful
amphibian gained wide acceptance by numerous business enterprises,
well-to-do private flyers as well as the military services. In spite
of this, Grumman recognized that the market for this type of amphibian
would be limited. Shortly thereafter plans were laid out for an
immediate successor. It was the aim to produce a smaller commercial
and utility amphibian which would fill a void in this category and
lucrative market through a reduction in initial cost, lower operating
expenditures and a more simplified over-all design,
Mother-"Goose" had her first offspring in 1940 when the baby
amphibian, model G-44, was hatched. In July of that year the newborn
black and yellow prototype, NX28633 made her maiden flight and,
of course, mother-goose was quite proud of her. She was christened
the "Widgeon" shortly after leaving the nest, spreading her wings
and flying straight and true for a 20-minute first flight.
Of all-metal construction except for fabric-covered control surfaces
and aft portions of the outer wing panels, the aircraft provided
unequalled utility and rugged characteristics for its class and
category ($30,000 price bracket). Power was supplied by two inverted
six-cylinder air cooled Fairchild "Ranger" 6-440C-5 engines, of
200 hp at 2450 rpm (sea level rating). Top speed at optimum altitude
was 165 mph and cruising speed 150 mph, somewhat optimistic figures
as more pilots reported 150 mph tops and. a reasonable cruising
speed of 138 mph. The Widgeon was no slouch in the air; it climbed
at 105 mph with 12 degrees flaps; after final approach, with 40
degrees flaps, settled in at 75 mph, touching down around 60/65
mph. There was complete control throughout the speed range; ailerons,
rudder and elevators were responsive up to and through a full stall.
It could be trimmed to fly hands-off and turned into one dead engine
in complete safety with aileron control alone. There was never any
claim that the Widgeon could hold its altitude on one engine, however,
but the safety factors inherent in such a design provided less worry
and trouble should one engine be lost.
Coast Guard J4F-1 of WW-2 period. Two-tone color scheme:
blue plan-view and side surfaces, white on all undersurfaces.
Super-Widgeon conversion by McKinnon-Hickman, using Lycoming
flat-sixes and three-bladed controllable-pitch props.
Excellent flying characteristics is one matter with an aircraft-control
on land is another, while water performance is still another. Control
on land was easy with no ground looping tendency, visibility was
good, brakes and the steerable tail wheel along with the capability
of "jockeying" engines provided unexcelled maneuvering. On water
there was no porpoising, no problems with cross-wind landings and
it operated well from calm seas to two foot swells. It was designed
to withstand rougher seas without undue strain but this was not
a recommended procedure.
The success of the rugged little Widgeon brought immediate orders
and within a year of the prototype's first flight, 16 were ordered
by private interests. One of the machines was demonstrated to the
U.S. Navy and, impressed by the possibilities of such a versatile
craft, it ordered eight machines as the J4F-1 for delivery and service
with the U.S. Coast Guard. These were delivered in 1941. An additional
order followed as war clouds loomed ever closer that year and the
Coast Guard took delivery of an additional 17 JF4-1's in 1942.
The Widgeon had little chance to prove its ability and usefulness
in private hands prior to the United States entry into World War
II. By the latter part of 1941, the military services were hard
pressed for all types of aircraft. The Navy in particular, long
denied sufficient funds to build up an adequate air arm, suddenly
found itself in dire need of everything from a top rated front line
fighter to utility types and short range search and rescue aircraft.
With additional funds available the Navy sought the Widgeon as a
valuable asset. During those hectic mid-1940 war years the Grumman
Corp. was busy with fighter and torpedo bomber orders but managed
to supply 131 Widgeons to the Navy as J4F-2's.
The Army Air Corps, given priority during the early war years,
impressed what appears to have been all 44 pre-war civil models
as their model OA-14's by 1942. In 1944, the Navy released several
J4F-2's to the Brazilian Navy where they assumed utility and off-shore
patrol duty in much the same manner as those used by the U.S. Navy.
An additional 15 J4F-2's were supplied to the Royal Navy for communications
duty and were renamed by the British - the "Gosling" I. Majority
of the Goslings served in the West Indies during World War II.
Assigned off-shore patrol duties and anti-submarine patrol early
in the war, the Coast Guard experimented with the use of depth charges
on their J4F-1's. America was at war and the Coast Guard didn't
particularly care to fly over submarine infested waters without
some sort of defensive weapon. Special racks were installed under
each wing root, midway between the fuselage and engines. The Widgeons
proved adaptable to this new role and still carryall the usual Naval
navigation, radio and survival gear, plus pilot, co-pilot and radio
operator. Tests were made and a number of trial runs with the bomb
laden J4F's but the need for short range anti-submarine bombers,
such as several of the Widgeons were converted into, dwindled by
1944 and little opportunity arose to prove their capabilities in
One J4F-1 Widgeon did go down in the pages of history. The author
had the opportunity of making a number of flights in this particular
machine although not on the particular recorded flight. On August
1, 1942 the single Widgeon assigned to Coast Guard Squadron 212
based at Houma, Louisiana N.A.S. scored a direct hit with its depth
charges on the German submarine U-166 just off the mouth of the
Mississippi River near New Orleans. This was the first "kill" of
an enemy submarine by the Coast Guard and the sinking of the U-166
is officially credited to the lone Widgeon out of Houma. (Houma
was both a LTA and HTA Naval Air Station. Its primary function was
anti-submarine patrol in the north central Caribbean area. During
1942 and '45 there were five K type blimps assigned as well as several
Navy and Coast Guard aircraft ranging from PBY-5A's to Beech GB-2
Production of military versions of the G-44 was completed in
1945. Before the war's end, the Government permitted Grumman to
deliver (to certain high-priority firms) an improved civil version
model C-44A. Hull was modified, main step moved forward a few inches,
a deeper keel-line forward, and an improved breather system employed
to enable easier "unsticking" and for better water handling. Customers
were found for about 75 post-war Widgeons before manufacturing rights
were sold to French Societe de Constructions Aeros-Navales in 1949
to build Widgeons in France as SCAN-30.
The French concern made only minor modifications to the airframe,
the major change coming with the installation of 200 hp Salmson
8 AS-00 engines. Performance-wise there was little difference or
improvement over its predecessors. Some 40 SCAN-30's were built
but the European market for the aircraft failed to materialize.
Thirty completed airframes were exported back to the United States
for further conversions by other independent manufacturers. These
machines, less engines, were purchased by several concerns in the
A number of Grumman Widgeons as well as a few SCAN-30's were
modernized, converted and in some respects modified to Super Widgeons
by the McKinnon-Hickman Co. These models were re-engined with 260
hp Lycoming GO-435A flat-six engines. Overwing exhaust added augmented
thrust while new Hartzell three-bladed controllable pitch propellers,
of smaller diameter than previously used, gave added performance
and prolonged the life of the basic design concept. By late 1954
29 McKinnon-Hickman conversions were sold.
"Petulant Porpoise," 12.5 to 1 hull, among tests in cooperation
with Navy and NACA.
Still the Widgeon refused to fly off into the sunset. Some 15
existing SCAN-30 models were rounded up for another conversion possibility,
when in 1959 the Pacific Aircraft Engineering Corp. modified one
into a rather impressive but expensive "complete package" version
called the PAGE "Gannet". What seemed enormous Lycoming R-680-E3
300 hp radial engines were fitted along with 34 other major refinements
to the little Wigeon's airframe. The Gannets were sold as luxury,
complete communication/navigation, executive aircraft priced at
$89,950 complete. They sported all-metal wings, new wing ribs, six
watertight compartments in the hull, instead of the original three,
flush riveting, better performance and a greater payload. They were
resplendent even to chrome-plated engine cylinders.
One of the more interesting projects in which a Widgeon (J4F-2)
was involved was its utilization to test increased hydrodynamic
and aerodynamic elongated flying boat hulls. The Navy, in cooperation
with the NACA, sponsored water and flight tests in which the entire
lower hull of the J4F-2 was cut away and various newly designed
hulls of high length to beam ratios were tested. The Edo Float Corp.
undertook the initial trials at College Point, L.I. shortly after
WW II. The purpose was to test proposed hulls for larger flying
boats then in the design stages, such as the P5M "Marlin" and P6M
"Seamaster". Various hulls could be removed and different ones bolted
on. One hull had a length/beam ratio of 12.5 to 1 and was successfully
tested in the air and on the water with the Widgeon nicknamed the
Certainly the Widgeon had a long, varied and interesting life.
Once off the drawing board it didn't take long to mature. From the
pre-WW II $30,000 G-44 to the $30,600 post-war model G-44A, the
basic airframe proved capable of accepting many alterations, conversions
and a variety of power plants. Significantly enough even with the
latest Gannet version with 600 hp and almost triple its original
price tag, the original airframe design and construction remained
unaltered except for those changes dictated by the "modern trend".
Even to this day, some 26 years after the original Widgeon left
her nest, a great many G-44's still push their prognathous snouts
through seas and sky all over the world.
The AMA Plans Service offers a full-size
version of many of the plans show here at a very reasonable cost. They will scale the plans any size for you. It is always
best to buy printed plans because my scanner versions often have distortions that can cause parts to fit poorly. Purchasing
plans also help to support the operation of the Academy of Model
Aeronautics - the #1 advocate for model aviation throughout the world. If the AMA no longer has this plan on file, I
will be glad to send you my higher resolution version.
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Here are a couple photos I took of the Grumman G-21 Goose, at the
Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum.
Posted September 20, 2014