at the Evening Star . . . "
by Joe Harkins
To cynics who say "the bigger the boy, the bigger his toys", businessman Sandy McTaggart, owner of the rare Canadian registered (C-FUOT) Grumman Mallard on display at this week's National Business Aviation Association Show responds as a modern Peter Pan might, "Do we ever grow up?"
And with a toy like this, who would want to? Designed as two-pilot, ten-passenger amphibians, Mallards were introduced shortly after WWII as commercial aircraft with the ability to use land or water. Only 49 of the marque were actually built. Many of those went directly into corporate and royal service under such owners as Ford Motor Company, Christian Dior and King Farouk of Egypt.
According to McTaggart, supported by the lovingly documented history of the aircraft, only his has escaped the stress of commercial service or the indignities of "repurposing," obsolescence or the scrap heap. This particular Mallard started life in 1948 as the property of Canadian Breweries, carrying executives and clients in and out of fish-clogged northern lakes for a few years. During the next three decades she was the darling of a short list of Canadian owners, always in corporate livery but with a largely recreational agenda. Briefly in 1965, a United States company owned her.
Along the way, C-FUOT was turbo-converted with PT6 engines by Frakes of Texas, increasing speed to 200 mph, range to 1,300 miles, and payload to 5,000 pounds, opening up an even larger playground. An extensive array of electronics and global nav equipment has been installed, but her original, private club-room interior of warm teakwood and custom furnishings has been carefully maintained.
For most of the past ten years, C-FUOT has spent summers alternating between the lochs of McTaggart's birthplace in Scotland, and the wilderness waters of Canada. McTaggart has real estate and energy investments based in Edmonton, Alberta. Winters, the aircraft is usually based at Soldier Key, McTaggart's private island in the Bahamas.
But, she has seen even more glorious service. As rows of flag decals along her fuselage tell, the aircraft has flown the length and breadth of the Western Hemisphere, and more. In one romantic year, with McTaggart in the left seat, she even circumnavigated the entire globe.
Two years after that adventure, McTaggart's Chief Pilot Glenn Wales speaks of the journey with awe. "I guess the highlight for me was the time we landed in the crater lake of the extinct volcano that shaped the island Vanuatu in the South Pacific, west of Fiji and Bouganville. The lake shore was too rugged for us to approach with the plane. We had expected we would be totally alone there, but after inflating the plane's four-man Zodiac and running ashore, we met some friendly local people and were their guests at a pleasant dinner."
For McTaggart, who also has gone around the world in a sailboat with his two sons, his favorite memory of the global flight was the bushmen of New Guinea. "They may live in the stone age, but they have things to teach the rest of us. We arrived while they were in the midst of one of their ritual 'tribal wars'. These are actually carefully choreographed confrontations, mock battles full of bravado, in fierce array, armed with spears and arrows. But no one is hurt, except by accident. If that happens, a referee is brought in and a penalty is paid in pigs. Then, they all sit down together over roast pork, do a little inter-tribal trading, and go their way peacefully until the next encounter."
Unfortunately, as even Peter Pan learned in the tale by James Barrie, like Sandy McTaggart another man of Scotland, all boys either must grow up or return to Neverland. McTaggart said, "Although I have an excellent professional Chief Pilot in Glenn Wales, I'm no longer going to be able to fly her myself. I'm 68 years old now, and I've been flying since I was 16, but my doctor tells me some heart problems probably will cost me my pilot's license at next renewal. I'm taking the time now, while I can, to find a new owner who will treat her as I have."
While demurring that he has always been a serious businessman, when McTaggart was asked if he remembers the co-ordinates for Neverland, where boys live forever, he recalled with but little prodding his fellow Scotsman's nav directions, "Left at the evening star; straight on until morning." -30-
from Aviation International News - September, 1997
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