The Grumman HU-16 Albatross is a large twin–radial engine amphibious flying boat that was used by the United States Air Force (USAF), the U.S. Navy (USN) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), primarily as a search and rescue aircraft. Originally designated as the SA-16 for the USAF and the JR2F-1 and UF-1 for the USN and USCG, it was redesignated as the HU-16 in 1962.
Design and development
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 U.S. Navy also employed the HU-16C/D Albatross as an SAR aircraft from coastal naval air stations (NAS), both stateside and overseas. It was also employed as an operational support aircraft worldwide and for missions from the former NAS Agana, Guam during the Vietnam War. Goodwill flights were also common to the surrounding Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in the early 1970s. Open water landings and water takeoff training using JATO was also conducted frequently by U.S. Navy HU-16s from locations such as NAS Agana, Guam; Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii; NAS North Island, California, NAS Key West, Florida; NAS Jacksonville, Florida and NAS Pensacola, Florida, among other locations.
The HU-16 was also operated by the U.S. Coast Guard as both a coastal and long-range open ocean SAR aircraft for many years until it was supplanted by the HU-25 Guardian and HC-130 Hercules.
The final USAF HU-16 flight was the delivery of AF Serial No. 51-5282 to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio in July 1973 after setting an altitude record of 32,883 ft earlier in the month.
The final US Navy HU-16 flight was made 13 August 1976 when an Albatross was delivered to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
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.
The Royal Canadian Air Force operated Grumman Albatrosses with the designation "CSR-110".
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.
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.