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The Grumman Albatross

Overview

Grumman decided to make an improved amphibian aircraft. The result was the Albatross. The Albatross made its first flight on October 24, 1947. The first Albatrosses entered active service in July 1949.[i] Grumman built 569 Albatross aircraft. They served in the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and 18 other countries. The last military service to retire the Albatross was the Hellenic Navy in 1995.


[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers 2005.

In Service

On July 28, 1950 the 3rd Air Rescue Squadron received 4 USAF Albatross aircraft, designated SA-16s. The SA-16 could land on the ocean, weather permitting, and taxi to a downed airman. It could also carry medical personnel so it could give immediate treatment to injured airmen.[i] It also traveled much faster than helicopters. From August 1950s SA-16s stood on strip alert at forward air bases, such as Wosan. After UN forces stabilized the front in the spring of 1951 SA-16s operated from Seoul City.[ii]

On the night of June 11, 1951 anti-aircraft fire shot down an F-51 piloted by Captain Ken Stewart. Captain Stewart bailed out. While other F-51s struck anti-aircraft batteries Lieutenant John Najarian landed his SA-16 in the Taedong River. The river was littered with debris. The SA-16 picked up Captain Stewart and took off. [iii]

In September 1952 an SA-16 rescued Major Frederick Blesse from the Yellow Sea. Major Blesse was the leading American ace of the Korean War at the time. In April 1953 an Albatross rescued Captain Joseph McConnell, an ace with 6 kills in Korea, from the Yellow Sea. Captain McConnell went on to score 10 more air victories.

On January 24, 1952 a USAF SA-16 had an engine failure over Death Valley. The crew bailed out and the SA-16 crashed west of Towne Peak.[iv] On May 16, a USAF SA-16 crashed into a glacier in Iceland. One crew member died in the crash and the other 4 died while attempting to climb down the glacier.[v]

On May 18, 1957, during an Armed Forces Day JATO demonstration, a U.S. Coast Guard UF-1G crashed. The pilot and one other crew member died.[vi] On August 22 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E crashed near Brooklyn, New York. The crash killed 4 of the 6 crew members.[vii]

From August to October 1962 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E established a slew of records for an amphibian:

  • Commanders Wallace C. Dahlgreen and William G. Fenlon set speed records for 1,000 kg and 2,000 kg loads over a 1,000 km course in August.[viii]
  • Two U.S. Navy pilots, flying a U.S. Coast Guard Albatross established altitude records for 1,000 kg and 2,000 kg loads on September 12. [ix]
  • Two U.S. Navy pilots, flying a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E established a speed record over a 5,000 km course with a 1,000 kg load on September 15 and 16. [x]
  • Commanders Fenlon and Dahlgreen, with Lt. W. Senn and CPO W. Taggart flew non-stop from AIRSTA Kodiak to US NAS Pensacola on October 24. This set a non-stop distance record of 3,104 miles (4,966 km). [xi]

On July 3, 1964 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16 crashed into a mountain while on a search and rescue mission. The crash killed all 5 crew members.[xii]

The first HU-16 loss related to the Vietnam Conflict occurred on the night of June 18, 1965. It was the first night of Arc Light missions. Two B-52Fs had a midair collision. A rescue HU-16B was damaged on takeoff but managed to rescue the 4 surviving B-52 crew members. The surviving B-52 crew members and the HU-16 crew transferred to a Norwegian freighter before the Albatross sank.[xiii] The U.S. Air Force lost another HU-16, for unknown reasons, in the Gulf of Tonkin 120 miles (200 km) off the coast of Vietnam on July 3.[xiv]

On January 9, 1966 two People’s Republic of China Air Force Shenyang J-5 fighters shot down a Republic of China Air Force Grumman HU-16A. The aircraft was carrying 3 defectors. The defectors died in the shootdown.[xv]

On March 14, 1966 a USAF HU-16B attempted to rescue the crew members of a downed F-4C Phantom II. North Vietnamese boats opened fire on the Albatross while it was in the Gulf of Tonkin. A mortar shell hit the Albatross. The HU-16 burst into flames, killing 4 of the crew members. U.S. Navy helicopters rescued the two surviving Albatross crew members.[xvi] On October 18, a USAF HU-16B with 7 crew members departed for a patrol over the Gulf of Tonkin. Its last radio message gave its position as 40 miles (64 km) off Dong Hoi. The plane was never found.[xvii]

On April 23, 1966 a Royal Canadian Air Force CSR-110 Albatross crashed into a mountain on a training flight. Five of the 6 crewmen died in the crash.[xviii]

On March 5, 1967 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E crashed in the Gulf of Mexico after dropping a dewatering pump to the sinking fishing boat, Flying Fish. All 6 Albatross crew members died in the crash.[xix]

On June 15, 1967 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E crashed into a mountain while looking for a light plane that crashed. Three of the 6 Albatross crew members survived.[xx] On August 7 a U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E, searching for an overdue cabin cruiser, crashed into a mountain. Three of the 8 crew members survived.[xxi]

A U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E crashed while on a search mission on September 21, 1973. A search flare ignited inside the aircraft incapacitating the crew. All 6 crew members died in the crash.[xxii]

On March 10, 1983 the last of the 91 Albatrosses in the U.S. Coast Guard service made its final landing before retiring. It was the last true amphibian in U.S. Coast Guard service.[xxiii]


[i] In February 1952 H-19 helicopters arrived. They also had medical personnel on board.

[ii] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis, © 1982, Squadron/Signal Publications. P.83

[iii] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis, © 1982, Squadron/Signal Publications. P.83

[iv] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19520124-0, last accessed 10/27/20.

[v] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19520516-0, last accessed 10/27/20.

[vi] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19570518-0, last accessed 10/27/20. JATO stands for Jet Assist Take-Off.

[vii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19570822-1, last accessed 10/27/20.

[viii] History USCG.mil, https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/, last accessed, 10/29/20.

[ix] History USCG.mil, https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/, last accessed, 10/29/20.

[x] History USCG.mil, https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/, last accessed, 10/29/20.

[xi] History USCG.mil, https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/, last accessed, 10/29/20.

[xii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19640703-0, last accessed 10/27/20.

[xiii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19650618-0, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xiv] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19650703-0, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xv] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19660109-5, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xvi] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19660314-0, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xvii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19661018-0, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xviii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19660423-4, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xix] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19670305-3, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xx] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19670615-1, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xxi] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19670807-1, last accessed 10/28/20.

[xxii] Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19730921-0, last accessed 11/1/20.

[xxiii] History USCG.mil, https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/, last accessed, 10/29/20.

Records Set for Amphibians

Source: United States Coast Guard, Historian's Office:
https://www.history.uscg.mil/browse-by-topic/Aviation/Article/2122820/grumman-uf-1g2g-later-hu-16e-albatross-or-goat/

DateRecordSpeed

August 13, 1962

1,000 km closed course with a 1,000 kg load:

201.5 knots/ 231.9mph/ 371 Km/h

August 13, 1962

1,000 km closed course with a 2,000 kg load

201.5 knots/ 231.9mph/ 371 Km/h

September 15/16, 1962

,000 km closed course with a 1,000 kg load

131.5 knots/ 151.3mph / 242 Km/h

September 12, 1962

Altitude with a 1,000 kg load

29,475 feet (8984 m)

September 12, 1962

Altitude with a 2,000 kg load

27,405 feet (8353 m)

October 24, 1962

Distance--non-stop

3,104 miles (4,966 Km)

Jamaica Mistaica

In 1996 Jimmy Buffett was in his Albatross, “The Hemisphere Dancer”, along with U2’s Bono, when it landed off the coast of Jamaica. While the Hu-16 was taxiing on the water Jamaican police, thinking it was being used for drug smuggling, opened fire on it. No one was hurt. Jimmy Buffett immortalized the incident with his song, “Jamaica Mistaica”. Jimmy Buffett retired “The Hemisphere Dancer” in 2003. It is on display at the Lone Palm airport in Orlando, Florida.[i]


[i] Buffett World, http://buffettworld.com/aviation/albatross/, last accessed 10/28/20.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 08, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Often times planes that aren't fighters or bombers don't get much publicity. These aircraft do perform necessary duties. Hopefully historians will write more about such aircraft.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on November 08, 2020:

Although I love airplanes, I was unfamiliar with the Albatross. Thanks for cluing me into it.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 04, 2020:

Yes, aircraft are involved a lot in the history of the 20th and 21st century. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 03, 2020:

It is interesting to know more about these planes that I only see in movies. They played some historic roles.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 02, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting: Yes, the Jimmy Buffet incident was a surprise. There wasn't as much detailed information on this aircraft online as a hoped. Considering the vintage of the aircraft, the wars it served in, and the length of service, it appears to have a relatively good safety record.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 02, 2020:

The Grumman Albatross plane has an interesting history that you explained in a very organized way. Speed records were broken and there were sure several good accounts of this plane's missions.

I had never heard about the Jimmy Buffett incident before.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2020:

You have done a thorough job, as always, giving us statistics about the Grumman Albatross plane. The pilots certainly had a number of crashes while flying this aircraft! Like Liz, I had not heard about Jimmy Buffet's incident, and Bono turning it into a song.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 01, 2020:

I have always been interested by seaplanes, as I in my amateur mind call them. The ability to land on water and float makes them fascinating. I had not heard the Bono story before.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 01, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I stumbled across the Jimmy Buffett incident while researching this article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 01, 2020:

I completely forgot about that Jimmy Buffett and Bono incident. Leave it to him to turn it into a song. My word! You have done a very thorough job as always. I do wonder what possessed Buffett to buy this type of plane?