Back in April 1946 when executives from Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation saw the first of Grumman’s G-73 Mallard twin engine amphibious aircraft landing on water, the company’s executives could not possibly have forseen that almost seventy years later the current owners of the Mallard type certificate would be embarking on a project to build a whole new generation of Mallards.
The reason why the Mallard has had such an extraordinary lifespan is not hard to find. Anywhere in the world where there are islands or coastal harbours, the Mallard’s ability to land on water, then trundle up a ramp under its own power to allow the passengers to disembark without the risks associated with climbing into a small boat, makes it a favourite choice. To this you can add the fact that it can take up to 5000lb of useful load, which is to say any combination of people and luggage on a short trip (most Mallard trips are pretty short rage). Plus it is forty knots faster with a full load than its nearest competitor, and has a longer range. Put all that together and you have an aircraft that is seriously appealing.
When EVA interviewed Sam Jantzen, the Managing Director of Mallard Aircraft, he was just a few days away from starting a round the world tour with the aim of talking to a number of existing and potential Mallard users from the Mediterraenian to the Philippines and Indonesia. Mallard Aircraft’s vision and origins go back to Fred Frakes, who earned an industry wide reputation both for his upgrades to the Mallard, and for the iconic Frakes exhaust systems for the Mallard and several other PT6 powered aircraft. The original Frakes upgrade strategy was to replace the Mallard’s old radial engines with what was then Pratt & Whitney’s new and highly popular PT6-34 engines, giving the aircraft a serious uplift in performance.
Jantzen took up the position of CEO at Mallard at the invitation of Frakes’ grandson, Joseph Frakes and Joseph’s father Jo Frakes. A long time friend of the Frakes family, Jantzen’s mission, he was told, would be to find both a new generation of customers for the Mallard and a manufacturing partner to build brand new aircraft under the Mallard type certificate, which Fred Frakes had bought a decade or so earlier, when Grummen stopped manufacturing the aircraft.
Jantzen accepted the Frakes’ offer with alacrity. It was exactly the kind of bold, visionary project he was looking for as his next challenge. He was formerly COO of Raisbeck Engineering, amongst other roles in the industry over the years.
The association between the Frakes and the Mallard goes back to the early 1960s when Fred Frakes developed an aircraft charter operation in Alaska, flying a Mallard. Frakes sold his Mallard on his return to California in the late 1960s, but found that he missed flying the aircraft so much he bought it back. His next move was to replace the original radial engines with the gas turbine Pratt & Whitney PT6A. The tremendous performance enhancement this gave to his Mallard caught the attention of other Mallard owners, who were soon turning up as customers for their own engine upgrades.
Frakes began looking around for a site to do Mallard upgrades, and ended up moving his family and operations to Texas, where he set about upgrading the Mallard fleet to PW’s PT6 engines. Then he designed an innovative new exhaust system for the Mallard and added the exhaust business to his operation and Frakes Aviation Exaust build a world wide market retrofitting his exhaust system to a number of different aircraft types.
“Our objectives right now are to determine as precisely as we can what type of end user base there is out there for this airplane. What is already clear is that the level of interest around the world in the Mallard is far stronger than we had anticipated. We had thought there would be strong interest from those who were familiar with the aircraft, but it has exceeded all our expectations,” Jantzen says. He had a number of good meetings at the Singapore Air Show and went from there to Abu Dhabi where he spoke to some people who were seriously interested in flying Mallards around the Gulf. “One operator out there is flying Cessna Caravans with floats, but it is not enough airplane for their business and they are very interested in switching to the Mallard,” he notes.
Jantzen will shortly be off on his second trip to China. “We have a lot of interest from some companies over there in partnering with us on the project in one way or another.”
Historically, the strongest interest in the Mallard has come from Europe and from the Mediterranean in particular. “Getting around the Mediterranean by boat takes a very long time. There are so many resorts around the Med catering for high net worth individuals and a Mallard can carry clients to resorts from the major cities in the Med, quickly and easily. We have had a steady stream of enquiries from this region which I’ll be following up on during my trip,” he comments.
The basic idea is to generate a good, solid base of potential buyers, with signed letters of interest, and to take this to potential manufacturing partners. “The outsourced manufacturing can be done in any country, anywhere, and we will either be a part of the manufacturing process, if that is what is needed, or we can focus on marketing and sales, as I said. We are already talking to manufacturers and having some very good conversations,” he notes.
The new Mallard will have a glass cockpit and the same the luxury, executive interior as the best of the present generation of Mallards. “The interior was well designed and upgraded in the 1980s. We plan to have several versions off-the-shelf, depending on the seating options that owners prefer. If someone wants a completely bespoke interior we’ll do that as well,” he comments. So far Jantzen doesn’t have a firm price for the new aircraft but it will be in the same range as an equivalent aircraft, in terms of man hours of build time. “The King Air 350 takes a similar number of hours to build as a Mallard, so the probable price we are thinking about will be in the $6.5 million to $8.5 million mark in today’s dollars,” he comments.
The Mallard will do around 1200 nautical miles at a cruise speed of 165 knots. Jantzen points out that most operators will typically be working on point to point distances of between 100 to 400 miles. The new-builds will have the option of either Collins Avionics or the Garmin 1000. The Mallard has flown with Collins avionics in the cockpit since the 1980s.
All Mallard and Jantzen need now is a manufacturer to build the plane and a queue of willing buyers. The aviation sector may be many things, but boring it ain’t!