VH-PPT (serial number J-26) has had a fascinating history with the 1947-built aircraft mostly operating as a VIP and luxury transport aircraft before being sold to Air Whitsunday in 1983. It wore the delivery registration of N2419X for the flight to Australia, where it arrived on 9 March 1983. The Mallard entered service as VH-JAW in June 1983 and was later sold to Vowell Air Services in June 1985 before later being owned by Helicopter Resources.
In May 1990, it was exported to the USA as N73AH but returned again as VH-JAW in June 1994, when it was bought by Paspaley Pearling, operating in Darwin and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It was reregistered VH-PPT in 2001 and is still in service with them.
Paspaley Pearling in fact operates a fleet of three 1947-built Grumman G-73AT Turbo Mallards – VH-PPE, VH-PPI & VH-PPT – from its hangars at Darwin International Airport which provide scenic joyflights over the region, as well as regularly service the company’s Kimberley based pearling operations.
The G-73 Mallard was originally designed in 1944 with 59 aircraft built between 1946 and 1951. The aircraft was a step up from the smaller Grumman G-21 Goose and Grumman G-44 Widgeon aircraft, having a larger passenger capacity, wingtip fuel tanks, a double stepped hull, fully stressed skin and tricycle undercarriage.
The G-73 Mallard was powered by Pratt and Whitney R-1340 radial engines and it soon established itself as a strong, reliable and stable aircraft.
During the 1970’s, the idea of re-engineering the aircraft produced the modified Frakes Aviation G-73T Turbo Mallard, powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turbines. In a further model development, the three Grumman Mallards of Paspaley based in Darwin underwent the Pearl Aviation G-73AT Turbo Mallard program at approximately $5 million which saw a renewing of the airframe life and installation of new engine nacelles housing PT6A-34 turbines, plus the associated engine instrumentation.
The new turbines also drive 4 blade Hartzell propellers which improve performance of the aircraft both on water and when airborne. Additional modifications are constantly being implemented by Paspaley such as updated avionics and navigation systems.
Inside the Mallard, I found it reasonably spacious with interior and the dark-blue cloth seating, featuring the Paspaley Pearl logo, well maintained given the operations flying employees to and from the company's Kimberley locations. The normal seating capacity is 13 in a 2-1 and 1-2 arrangement, plus two technical crew.
The flight deck has some obvious changes with most if the original gauges gone and replaced by modern instrumentation including electronic checklists.
iPad/Tablets on each control column yoke are often the standard these days, but it was also great to see the overhead panel was looking quite authentic. This panel houses electrical controls, engine fuel selectors and gauges, plus the underslung throttle/pitch quadrant levers.
One of those quirky features of the Mallard is located behind the co-pilot’s smaller rudder pedals – the access passage to the forward compartment. This is where one of the crew crawls through to open the front deck hatch which will allow them to secure a mooring line after landing on the water.
I did enjoy waiting the short time for the turbine engines on the Mallard to fire up and then watch and listen as VH-PPT "Pearling 66" depart the Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast) Airport on the long journey back to Darwin via Burketown.
Sincere thanks to Dan from Paspaley Pearling for the opportunity to have a quick look and learn a little bit more about this fascinating amphibious aircraft. Do check out more information and great social media content at the following websites: