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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

Grumman G-64 Albatross

Grumman HU-16E Albatross 7209 Aerospace Museum of California McClellan US Coast Guard
HU-16E 7209 at the Aerospace Museum of California, in Sacramento

In 1944 Grumman began work on a new general purpose amphibian to replace the United States Navy’s fleet of JRF-5 Gooses. The resulting aircraft retained many of the design features of both the Goose and the Widgeon, including a two-step hull, fixed stabilising floats, twin engines and an undercarriage that retracted into the hull. Despite the close family resemblance, the G-44 was significantly larger and with much greater range than the Goose, and the initial service name, Pelican, was quickly dropped for the more appropriate Albatross. With military funding in short supply after World War II, the Navy was slow to commit beyond a pair of aircraft for evaluation purposes, so the newly formed United States Air Force, which had been given responsibility for air-sea rescue (but no aeroplanes truly suitable for the task), became the prime customer. The first contract was placed in May 1948 and covered 58 aircraft, 52 of which were delivered to the Air Force. A Coast Guard order for 31 aircraft followed in April 1950, later supplemented by a further 15 aircraft diverted from an Air Force order and a number of inter-service transfers. In total, the Coast Guard operated 83 Albatrosses and it became the last of the United States armed services to retire the aircraft, on 10 March 1983.

Grumman only secured one commercial export sale, to Canada, though Germany, Japan and Indonesia all received new-build aircraft supplied through the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela all received ex-US military aircraft. Civilian commercial use of the Albatross was limited, its most famous exponent being Chalks, which operated 12 extensively reworked Albatrosses out of Watson Island Seaplane Base at Miami, FL.

First flight: 24 Oct 47 (c/n 01, Bu82853)

Production: 466, at Bethpage, NY

First delivery: Jul 49, to US Air Force (c/n 1, 48-0588)

Last delivery: 28 Jul 61, to Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (c/n 464, 9056)

Variants: XJR2F-1 Pelican (G-64) - prototype, built to US Navy specification and powered by 2 Wright R-1820-76 Cyclone radials (2 built);

SA-16A - production version for US Air Force optimised for air-sea rescue and equipped with AN/APS-31 search radar and reconfigurable cabin for 10 passengers, 12 stretchers and attendant, 22 troops or 5000 lbs of cargo (288 built, survivors redesignated HU-16A in Sep 62; 37 transferred to Coast Guard as UF-1G);

UF-1 - production version for US Navy, broadly comparable to the SA-16A (102 built, redesignated HU-16C in 1962);

UF-1G - production version for US Coast Guard (46 built, survivors converted to UF-2G - see below);

UF-1L - UF-1 optimised for cold weather operations (2 built, became LU-16C);

UF-1T - dual control conversion trainer for US Navy (5 built, became TU-16C);

UF-2 - US Navy export equivalent of SA-16B (see conversions for description; 11 built, became HU-16D)

G-231 - Export version of SA-16B for Canada, powered by Canadian-built R-1820-82As (10 built, Canadian designation CSR-110)

Conversions: SA-16B (G-111) - increased performance version of SA-16A, featuring longer wing, improved control surfaces and taller fin; first flight 17 Jan 56 (93 converted from SA-16A, became HU-16B in 1962; note the Grumman designator has been re-used);

SA-16B/ASW - maritime patrol version for export, equipped with AN/APS-88 search radar, retractable magnetic anomaly detector boom, sonobuoy launcher and other equipment (37 converted from SA-16B, became SHU-16B);

UF-2 (G-211) - US Navy equivalent of SA-16B (33 converted from UF-1, became HU-16D)

UF-2G - US Coast Guard equivalent of SA-16B (78 converted from UF-1G, became HU-16E in Sep 62)

UF-XS - SA-16A transferred to Japan for use by Shin Meiwa in developing a patrol amphibian for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, extensively modified with lengthened hull, T-tail, and a complex powerplant installation made up of the 2 original Cyclones supplemented by 2 Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-10 radials and 2 General Electric T58-GE-6 turbines; first flight 20 Dec 62 (1 converted from SA-16A);

Conroy Albatross - SA-16A re-engined with 2 Rolls-Royce Dart 6 Mk.510 turboprops; first flight 25 Feb 70 (1 converted by Conroy Aircraft Corp., at Santa Barbara, CA);

G-111 - designation applied to 28-seat commercial version, featuring zero-timed airframe, overhaul and FAA certification of Cyclone engines, modern avionics and installation of passenger cabin; first flight 13 Feb 79 (13 HU-16Ds converted; 6 at Stuart, FL, and 7 at St. Augustine, FL).

Grumman Albatross survivors
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