I had last visited Charlotte Amalie in 1976 in charge of a mission with the U. S. Navy. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four, which at that time was deployed at Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, had been assigned to transport an old VS 44 Sikorsky flying boat from St Thomas back to Roosevelt Roads where it could shipped on a Navy ship to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola Florida. It had been donated to the Museum by Antilles Air Boats who had passenger air service through out the Caribbean. The plane was located at their amphibious terminal at the north east end of the Harbor, across from Hassel Island. As the Battalion's Operations Officer with a keen interest in all things nautical I had assigned myself to head this operation. It took two trips to St Thomas, the first to measure and figure out how to lift and support the deteriorating plane during transport, and the second to transport it. With measurements we designed and built a cradle and spreader bar to lift it. We returned with a Mike Boat to transport it.
This same 57,000 lb four engine Sikorsky had previously been owned by Avalon Air Transport. Between 1957 and 1968 it had flown passengers between Catalina Island and Long Beach California. Growing up in Southern California I had been one of the passengers on several of its trips.
As we arrived at the Antilles Air Boat Terminal by Mike Boat we were greeted by the its founder and owner Charles Blair and his wife Maureen O'Hara. Charles Blair, then in his late sixties, was an aviation legend, and clearly the most famous flying air boat captain ever. He was flying by age 19, and graduated from the Navy Flying School in 1932. He had been a senior pilot for Pan Am Airlines for 29 years, and was promoted to Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserves in 1959. He had been honored with the Harmon International Aviation Award as "The World's Outstanding Aviator" by President Harry S. Truman and among many other "firsts" he had made the first nonstop commercial flight across the Atlantic in a sister VS 44 Sikorsky to the one we would be transporting. His wife Maureen O'Hara was a singer and actress having made five films along side John Wayne and a number of others. She subsequently went on to receive an honorary Oscar in 2014 for life time achievement, the second woman ever to be so honored. Charles Blair was unfortunately killed two years after our meeting, when one of his Antilles Air Boats he was flying crashed in the ocean on a flight between St Croix and St Thomas.
The VS 44 Sikorsky we transported was subsequently rehabilitated and is on loan to the New England Air Museum in Connecticut where it is on display.