Commodore Air Service

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Commodore SPB - Photo: William T. Larkins

Commodore Air Service
Commodore SPB, Sausalito, California
Photo: © William T. Larkins
 

Memories of Commodore Air Service - Lloyd Colberg

My Fathers name is Lloyd Colberg. My Dad passed away Sept 26, 2011. But he left behind, in me, an entire lifetime of memories. While others would ignore his stories, I just sucked them all up. I heard them all so many times, a lot of them I could tell as good as he did. And a lot of his stories centered around Commodore Air Service and Bob Law. He had an old log book I started reading it as a kid, and memorized a lot of it, which was good seeing as it got lost a few years ago.

  My parents moved out to San Francisco in 1943. My dad had gotten real sick while in the service, and after many months in a VA Hospital in Minneapolis, and the Doctors giving up on him, they thought they would try living out there, and soon my Dad had a job at NAS Alameda, and his health slowly improved. Like other young guys, he liked cars and motorcycles, but his first and most endearing love was flying and airplanes, he did a great deal of flying as a crew member while he was in the service. So with all the new airplanes coming out after the war, and the flying craze, like a lot of other guys he had the bug to learn.

  I donít really know how he found his way out to Bob's. He never called him Robert, he was always Bob Law, and he always referred to him simply as Bob, like they were buddies. And my Dad never had many friends, and all the ones I ever knew of he always referred to by their last names. Maybe it was going past the place on the way up to Clear Lake with their boat, or running around on his Harley, but somewhere along the way in early 1952, he started taking lessons with Bob in a Luscombe 8A on floats, number N1169B. I donít believe they had radios, or they didnít use them if they did, he really thought it was just crazy hearing me make all the callouts when I was training, "Cessna 80357 requesting, turning, entering, taxiing, 80357 this, 80357 that"., he never had to do any of that, just fly and watch where you were going. And they had the whole San Francisco Bay for a runway. Didnít take him long, 10 or 11 hours and he soloed. I believe Iíve still got his solo certificate somewhere, signed by Bob.

  He never saw it coming. They came back from a training session, pulled up to the dock like usual, but this time Bob told him to keep it running. Bob gets out, tells Dad to take it up and fly around the end of the Bay and come back and land. Oh boy. Dad said his feet started shaking, said it was so bad he didnít think he could do it. But he did. And without Bob in the plane, Dad said that little Luscombe just about leaped off the water. He always talked about that, how the extra weight really affected it. So he got his ticket and then it was more training. And he was really eyeing up those Seabees. Somewhere around the 20 hour mark in his log book, he was in the left seat of N6147K with Bob. And he soloed it with only another 5 hours or so of flying it.

  They did steep 720's, glassy water landings, engine out procedures, dead stick landings, side slip descends, high speed taxi on the step, Dad and Bob, flying old 6147K all over the Bay. Once he was signed off on the Seabee, he started taking it out by himself. The other Seabee he flew was 6275K. I couldnít recall the number from memory, but I do recall him talking about a six seater he flew, and I know for a fact he only flew two different Seabees. And they flew a Seabee up to Clear Lake several times. One story I recall, someone took a Seabee up to Tahoe, and they could never get it off the water. They ended up taking the wings off and hauling it out.

  He really wanted it all, really wanted to own an airplane. He said he could just imagine a Seabee up in Minnesota with all those 14,000 lakes. He talked about a Seabee out at Bob's that had wind damage, said it sat up by the building by itself in the corner of the grass. He knew he could fix it easy, but it was $2500 and he just couldnít muster it. And he really couldnít afford to keep flying either, and at some point he just said enough. Three kids and a house payment on Navy pay, and I think Bob had raised his rates. They moved back to Minnesota in '53, and after that it was just memories.

  He described the place so well, I could have painted a picture. Wood docks, how the tide went out leaving mud, how they could taxi on it, just drive the floats or Seabee hull right through the stuff. He described the wooden ramp you went up to get to the building and tie down area, how you wetted the ramp down with a hose so the planes could get up it, without wheels!

  But there were no pictures. He never had a single one of a Seabee. Not one picture of Commodore or anything. I was 20 years old before I knew what a Seabee looked like. When the internet came along, once I got past the newness, it wasnít long before I started looking. All I ever found were FAA records, N6147K airworthiness revoked, 1977. N1169B was revoked on the same date. And thatís all I ever knew. Some years ago I really tried to dig, I ever had a number of a guy who supposedly bought Commodore Air Service in 1977, or thereabouts. But all I ever got was a recording and nobody ever called me back, no matter how many messages I left. Over the last 15 years, I have done internet searches probably ever 3 or 4 months, never found anything more. Probably the last time I looked around was April 2011, same thing, nothing.

  Dad turned 89 last January. This July his health (heart) took a turn, and it was a hard summer. But we had good times, took lots of drives, had some good talks. And when he wasnít doing anything, he would write things. Little notes, stories. Mostly about flying a Seabee. In fact he was writing a little note, a few pages looking back over his life, just days before he passed. It ends with coming in for a glassy water landing in a Seabee, a goodbye y'all. On the 25th, Sunday, the day before he passed, I was out in the yard and heard a low rumble way up high overhead. I saw a large 4 engine cigar shaped prop plane with long wings. It was unmistakably a B-29. I canít say why or how, but right then I felt it was calling Dad home. Only later did I learn there is only one B-29 left flying. Her name is "Fifi".

  Dad never saw any of these pictures. I never had until a week or so back either. At first I was overwhelmed, seeing 6147K especially, the tears kept me from being able to see. Now as I study them more, itís like an old memory of my own coming to life. Iím looking down at Bob's, Iím seeing all those docks, the mud, the planes, the wood ramps, the watering of the ramp so the planes can get up, the Seabee up in the corner by itself, guys standing around with their back to me, old cars sitting around. Is there a 46 Ford Coupe down there? Dad's Hot Rod? Is there a 51 Harley Panhead behind one of those buildings? Is that my Dad in one of those pictures?

  I wish to thank everyone who took these pictures, those who kept them, and Steinar, for making this website. It meant more to me than I can explain. But most of all, I thank my Dad for sharing so much.     

Paul Colberg
Rogers, Arkansas
Tel: 479 903 2193
November 3rd, 2011

N6147K - Photo: Willam T. Larkins

Republic Seabee N6147K
Commodore SPB, Sausalito, California
Photo: © William T. Larkins

Via Rick Turner

Low tide at Commodore SPB
The picture was taken on April 27, 1952.
Photo: © Rick Turner

Commodore SPB - Photo: William T. Larkins

Mud taxiing.  Luscombe
Photo: © William T. Larkins

Commodore SPB - Photo: William T. Larkins

Hosing down the ramp, so that Luscombe 8F N2006B can
taxi up the ramp
Photo: © William T. Larkins

Photo: Rick Turner

My uncle, Mel Pearce, got his seaplane rating in a Luscombe
It probably was this one N2006B
The picture was taken on April 27, 1952.
Photo: © Rick Turner

Photo: Rick Turner

Photo: © Rick Turner

Photo: Rick Turner

Photo: © Rick Turner

Photo: William T. Larkins

Photo: © Willam T. Larkins

Photo: William T. Larkins

Photo: © Willam T. Larkins

Photo: William T. Larkins

Photo: © Willam T. Larkins

Commodore SPB - Photo: William T. Larkins

Republic Seabee N6275K
Photo: © Willam T. Larkins
 

Photo: Rick Turner

My uncle, Mel Pearce, got his seaplane rating in a Luscombe
It probably was this one
The picture was taken on April 27, 1952.
Photo: © Rick Turner

Aircraft observed at Commodore SPB by William T. Larkins:

Aeronca 7AC; N2912E
Bell 206B; N2762P
Bell 207; N57416
Cessna 172N; N9487E
Cessna 180K; N2540K
Cessna 195; N9367A
Colonial Skimmer:
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver; N5220G, N9279Z
Grumman/Columbia J2F-6; N67790
Grumman G-44 Widgeon; N67794, NC-69058, N87585
Luscombe 8A; N1162B
Luscombe 8F; N2006B
Piaggio Royal Gull;
Piper Cub J-3; N24754
Republic Seabee RC-3; N6336K, N6375K, N6571K, N6748K, N87553
Spencer Air Car;
Taylorcraft BC-12D; NC-36470, N96292

Commodore Air Service
 
Commodore Air Service was started by famous Californian pilot Robert Law.

PLEASE contact if you can tell more about the story of Commodore Air Service and Commodore SPB!

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Updated: 2011-11-03

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