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Miami's Island-Hopping Flying Boats: Indispensable Birds of Paradise : Aviation: For more than 76 years, the fleet of Chalk's seaplanes have been a glamorous, and practical, link between Florida and Bahamian and Caribbean islands.

March 19, 1995|TRACY FIELDS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Its principals are interested in aviation and have nurtured the company. In 1993, Chalk's was licensed as an Federal Aviation Administration repair station. Its workers help seaplane owners from around the world.

The airline also has been granted a license to update G-111 aircraft, known originally as the Grumman Albatross when built for military use. Chalk's owns 12 that have been refitted for passengers.

"Some of them we hope to operate ourselves someday, and others we'll market out and place with other operators," said Lonny McClung, director of aircraft development.

The airline plans to modernize these larger sisters of the Mallards with turbine engines, making them suitable for uses such as reconnaissance, law enforcement, fishing surveillance, or search and rescue.

"In Vietnam and Korea, a lot of fliers' lives were saved with these planes," Jones said.

They are literally flying boats--not airplanes stuck on floats--with hulls designed so they raise up like racing boats just before takeoff.

Chalk's seaplanes have appeared on television shows such as "Miami Vice," in movies, music videos and commercials. They're also popular with fashion photographers.

Klaus Dieter Martin, 31, a pilot for the German airline LTU, took his family to Bimini for the day.

"I just actually wanted to fly in the plane," he said. He and his 4-year-old son, Pascal, watched as the Sunset Express rolled into the water for another takeoff.

The Mallard's engines growled as it headed for the sea, thrilling Pascal. The two gazed after it until it was out of sight.

"Beauty--she really is," Martin said.

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