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An improvement of the design of the Grumman Mallard, the Albatross was developed to land in open ocean situations to accomplish rescues. Its deep-V hull cross-section and keel length enable it to land in the open sea. The Albatross was designed for optimal 4-foot (1.2 m) seas, and could land in more severe conditions, but required JATO (jet-assisted take off, or simply booster rockets) for takeoff in 8-10-foot (2.4-3.0 m) seas or greater.
The majority of Albatrosses were used by the U.S. Air Force (USAF), primarily in the search and rescue mission role (SAR), and initially designated as SA-16. The USAF used the SA-16 extensively in Korea for combat rescue, where it gained a reputation as a rugged and seaworthy craft. Later, the redesignated HU-16B (long-wing variant) Albatross was used by the USAF's Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service and saw extensive combat service during the Vietnam War. In addition a small number of Air National Guard air commando groups were equipped with HU-16s for covert infiltration and extraction of special forces from 1956 to 1971. Other examples of the HU-16 made their way into Air Force Reserve air rescue units prior to its retirement from USAF service.
The final USCG HU-16 flight was at CGAS Cape Cod in March 1983, when the aircraft type was retired by the USCG. The Albatross continued to be used in the military service of other countries, the last being retired by the Hellenic Navy (Greece) in 1995.
Chalk's International Airlines Albatross arriving in Miami Harbor from Nassau, Bahamas, in 1987
In the mid-1960s the U.S. Department of the Interior acquired 3 military Grumman HU-16's from the U.S. Navy and established the Trust Territory Airlines in the Pacific to serve the islands of Micronesia. Pan American World Airways and finally Continental Airlines' Air Micronesia operated the Albatrosses serving Yap, Palau, Chuuk (Truk) and Pohnpei from Guam until 1970, when adequate island runways were built, allowing land operations.
In 1970, Conroy Aircraft marketed a remanufactured HU-16A with Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop engines as the Conroy Turbo Albatross, but only one prototype was ever built.
Many surplus Albatrosses were sold to civilian operators, mostly to private owners. These aircraft are operated under either Experimental-Exhibition or Restricted category and cannot be used for commercial operations, except under very limited conditions.
In the early 1980s Chalk's International Airlines owned by Merv Griffin's Resorts International had 13 Albatrosses converted to Standard category as G-111s. This made them eligible to be used in scheduled airline operations. These aircraft had extensive modification from the standard military configuration, including rebuilt wings with titanium wing spar caps, additional doors and modifications to existing doors and hatches, stainless steel engine oil tanks, dual engine fire extinguishing systems on each engine and propeller auto feather systems installed. The G-111s were operated for only a few years and then put in storage in Arizona. Most are still parked there, but some have been returned to regular flight operations with private operators.
Cockpit of Grumman Albatross N44RD which flew around the world in 1997
Currently, satellite technology company Row 44 uses an HU-16B Albatross (registration "N44HQ") to test its in-flight satellite broadband internet service. Purchased, restored and named Albatross One in 2008, the company selected this aircraft for its operations because it has the same curvature atop its fuselage as the Boeing 737 aircraft for which the company manufactures its equipment. The plane purchased by Row 44 was used at one time as a training aircraft for space shuttle astronauts by NASA. It features the autographs of the astronauts who trained aboard the plane on one of the cabin walls.
In 1997 a Grumman Albatross (N44RD), piloted by Reid Dennis and Andy Macfie, became the first Albatross to circumnavigate the globe. The 26,347 nmi flight around the world lasted 73 days, included 38 stops in 21 countries, and was completed with 190 hours of flight time. In 2013 Reid Dennis donated N44RD to the Hiller Aviation Museum.
Since the aircraft weighs over 12,500 pounds, pilots of civilian US-registered Albatross aircraft must have a type rating. There is a yearly Albatross fly-in at Boulder City, Nevada where Albatross pilots can become type rated.
AF Ser. No. 51-7176 - Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida. It was previously at the Pate Museum of Transportation in Cresson, Texas until its disassembly and relocation to CGAS Clearwater for restoration. It is currently marked as USCG 1023.
On 16 May 1952, a U.S. Navy Grumman Albatross attached to the Iceland Defense Force crashed on Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. Due to bad weather conditions, rescuers did not make it to the crash site until two and a half days later. One crew member was found dead in the wreckage but the other four were not found despite extensive search. Evidence on scene suggested that they had tried to deploy the emergency radio, but most likely failed due to very poor weather conditions, and then tried to walk down the glacier. In 1964, partial remains of one of the crewmember along with an engraved wedding ring was found at the rim of the glacier. In 20 August 1966 the remains of the three remaining crew members were found at a similar location.
On 22 August 1957, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 1259, crashed during takeoff at Floyd Bennett Field, killing 4 of the 6 crew on board. The aircraft had just completed an inspection in which the control columns were removed and inspected for fatigue cracks. Although not proven, it is believed that poor maintenance during the re-installation of the control columns led to the crash.
On 3 July 1964, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 7233, was lost along with all 5 crew members as it returned from a search for a missing fishing boat. Two days later, the wreckage was found on a mountainside, 3 miles (4.8 km) from its base at Air Station Annette, Alaska.
On 18 June 1965, on the very first Operation Arc Light mission flown by B-52 Stratofortresses of Strategic Air Command to hit a target in South Vietnam, two aircraft collided in the darkness. Eight crew were killed, but four survivors were located and picked up by an HU-16A-GR Albatross amphibian, AF serial number 51-5287. The Albatross was damaged on take-off by a heavy sea state and those on board had to transfer to a Norwegian freighter and a Navy vessel, the aircraft sinking thereafter.
On 9 January 1966, a Republic of China HU-16 carrying three mainland Chinese naval defectors was shot down by communist MiGs over the Straits of Formosa, just hours after they had surrendered their landing ship and asked for asylum. The Albatross was attacked just 15 minutes after departing the island of Matsu on a 135 miles (217 km) flight to Taipei. According to a U.S. Defense Department announcement, the attack was a swift--and perhaps intentional--retribution for the communist sailors who killed seven fellow crew members during their predawn escape to freedom.
On 23 April 1966, a Royal Canadian Air Force Grumman CSR-110 Albatross (9302) serving with No. 121 Composite Unit (KU) at RCAF Station Comox, BC crashed on the Hope Slide near Hope, BC. It was the only RCAF Albatross loss. Five of the six crew members died (Squadron Leader J. Braiden, Flying Officer Christopher J. Cormier, Leading Aircraftsman Robert L. McNaughton, Flight Lieutenant Phillip L. Montgomery, and Flight Lieutenant Peter Semak). Flying Officer Bob Reid was the sole survivor. A portion of the wreckage is still visible and can be hiked to.
On 5 March 1967, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 1240, c/n G-61, out of Coast Guard Air Station St. Petersburg, Florida, deployed to drop a dewatering pump to a sinking 40-foot (12 m) yacht, "Flying Fish", in the Gulf of Mexico off of Carrabelle, Florida. Shortly after making a low pass behind the sinking vessel to drop the pump, the flying boat crashed a short distance away, with loss of all six crew. The vessel's crew heard a loud crash but could see nothing owing to fog. The submerged wreck was not identified until 2006.
On 15 June 1967, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 7237, was based at Coast Guard Air Station Annette Island, in Alaska. The crew were searching near Sloko Lake, British Columbia, Canada for a missing light plane. The pilot began following the river up to Sloko Lake, intending to turn around at the lake and fly back out of the valley. The co-pilot called for a right turn, but for some reason, the plane went left. According to reports, the co-pilot shouted, "Come right! Come right!" The plane hit the mountain, and burst into flames. The three observers in the back were able to get clear of the wreckage, and reported seeing an intense fire engulf the front half of the aircraft. Pilot Lt. Robert Brown, co-pilot Lt. David Bain and radio operator AT2 Robert Striff, Jr., however, were killed. The wreckage can still be seen on the side of the mountain in Atlin Provincial Park.
On 7 August 1967, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 2128, c/n G-355, (ex-USAF SA-16A, 52-128), out of CGAS San Francisco, returning from a search mission for an overdue private cabin cruiser Misty (which had run out of fuel) in the Pacific Ocean off of San Luis Obispo, struck a slope of Mount Mars near the Monterey-San Luis Obispo County line, about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) east of Highway 1. The airframe broke in two, killing two crew immediately and injuring four others, with one dying in the hospital several days later.
On 21 September 1973, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 2123, was lost over the Gulf of Mexico. The crew were dropping flares over a search area when one flare ignited inside the aircraft, incapacitating the pilots which lead the aircraft to enter an uncontrollable spin. All 7 on board were killed.
^Schlight, John (1988). The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965-1968 (The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia). Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force. p. 52. ISBN0-912799-51-X.
^"Migs [sic] Shoot Down Unarmed Chinese Plane". Playground Daily News. 19 (342). Fort Walton Beach, FL. United Press International. 10 January 1966. p. 2.
^Barnette, Michael (2008). Florida's Shipwrecks. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 122. ISBN978-0-7385-5413-6.
^"Coast Guard Plane Feared Lost in Gulf". Star-News. Pasadena, CA. United Press International. 6 March 1967.