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Old 06-11-2016, 05:52 AM
J.R.2009 J.R.2009 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Mt. Pleasant, SC
Posts: 8,208

And now, the rest of the story.

Two days later we decided to clear customs and head back to the USA, but not before making a quick stop just south of Bimini to dive on an old concrete ship that was sunk there before WWII. Just before takeoff, as we were loading the aircraft at its anchorage, we noticed a Coast Guard helicopter checking us out, first from a great circling distance, and then hovering right over us. We were unable to contact them on any of our radio frequencies, and hand signal produced little effect. They stayed in the area long enough to watch our takeoff, and then disappeared. We wouldn’t hear about this incident again for about a month.
After the takeoff we headed right for the dive are and located the old concrete hull resting in about 15’ of water (25°39'2.75"N 79°17'35.16"W). There isn’t much left of it, not because of weather wear but because it was used for aerial gunnery practice during the war, a fact that was confirmed to me about 5 years later by a man I once worked with who flew F4U Corsairs during the war. He was still proud of the fact that many of the holes I saw were from his bullets.
After a very uneventful dive we loaded up and flew about 5 miles north to the South Bimini airport to clear customs and file a flight plan for Key West FL. The airport was totally vacant on that hot afternoon and the local head of customs appeared to have enjoyed too many beers with his lunch. The more he looked at the Coast Guard airplane and its motley crew of civilians, the more he knew he was in deep trouble. In his mind, this was some form of test because the aircraft was obviously military and the crew couldn’t be anything but a bunch of rag-tag civilians. Either his superiors, or the entire US Government, were testing him to see how well he could handle a hijacked military aircraft incident. That realization went thru his foggy brain and 5 seconds later he jumped into action. Weapons were drawn, guards posted around the aircraft, and all of us placed under house arrest in the airport restaurant. It really did look like a Woody Allen film unfolding before our eyes, but as most of us know – you don’t argue with armed authorities.
After several hours of interrogations, and a full review of the aircraft’s civil registration documents, our host was piled into a jeep and taken to see the customs el-supremo himself in town. Fortunately he was in a more sober frame of mind, and we were all released after paying a healthy fine for causing so much trouble on a hot lazy afternoon.
Pics 20 – 24: Preparing for the concrete ship dive and flying to clear customs in Bimini.

Surviving house arrest in the islands gave all of us a desire to get back on firmer ground so we headed for Key West, and a whole new set of adventures that we’ll have to talk about at a later date.
There is only one last item concerning our Island Hopping exploits, and that is the public’s perception of our little adventure. All of us onboard were employees of a well-recognized WWII aviation museum, and therefore accustomed to flying around in old aircraft that were painted in their original military colors. We were also accustomed to people witnessing the flights appreciating them for what they were – a tribute to all the sacrifices made by our military in the past. But for some reason this trip was received a little differently. Everywhere we went people seemed to avoided contact with us, and showed very little interest in knowing more about the aircraft. Every time we take a B-25 Mitchel bomber or a P-51 Mustang fighter out on a tour, people are enthusiastically hungry for more information and crowd around the aircraft. But not this time. Our reception was always very cool, for instance, during a stop at a resort on one of the islands the marina was kind enough to let us moor the aircraft in deep water right in front of the docks, a very friendly gesture but everyone was very distant. After checking in at the resort office I walked back down to the docks and took a seat at the empty bar to see if I could find out what was happening in the local community. The bartender explained that it was much quieter than normal because of a huge drug bust in the harbor the night before. That had the locals a jittery enough, and then pointing over his shoulder at our aircraft he said in a hushed voice “and now the Coast Guard has showed up”. Odd, but no amount of talking would convince anyone that it was now a civilian aircraft being flown weekly on the airshow circuit.
After about another week we found ourselves back home at the museum, only to be greeted the next day by a full blown spring snowstorm that dumped so much snow on the aircraft that it tipped back on the tail section. Hardly a fitting end to a Caribbean cruise.
Pic 25: A snowy reception.

The story would be over there, were it not for a phone call from The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard in Washington, DC several weeks later. It seems our trip generated a number of comments and complaints from boaters in the Bahamas, demanding to know what the Coast Guard was up to with all the unusual activity. Why were the Coast Guard flying in civilian clothes, and why did the crew spend so much time fishing and partying (none of them knew that the flying crew for the day was prevented from joining in until they were off-duty the next day)? The Commandant explained that while it might be acceptable to fly old Army or Navy aircraft in their original colors at airshows, the same was definitely not true with our airplane because the Coast Guard did not report thru the normal military channels, but rather up to the Secretary of Transportation. In essence, what we did was the same as a civilian painting his car to look just like a Highway Patrol Cruiser, then roaring up the inter-state while turning on the red and blue light just for good measure.
He explained this was a courtesy call in advance of a letter from him demanding that we “cease and desist” immediately and repaint the aircraft to make sure it was not ever again mistaken for a Coast Guard plane, and that failing to do so would result in further legal action. Needless to say, the aircraft was repainted within days.
Well J.R., that’s a quick summary of our Grumman Albatross restoration and its entry into the airshow circuit. This was only the first of hundreds of flight hours in the old bird – there’s not enough time here to cover all of them. Old #7218 flew with us for about another 8 years before being retired again when the museum was eventually sold.

What's next? Bob will pick the next plane and write the story. I'll post it as soon as he gets it done.
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