The Albatross

The Albatross

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  • Nov, 10 , 22

The Grumman HU-16 Albatross was one of the most important search-and-rescue aircraft available to the US Air Force between the end of WWII and the end of the Vietnam War. The view out and downward from the Albatross was not particularly good, a significant problem for the “search” aspect of the search-and-rescue mission. What kept the type in service for such a long time was its ability to land on and take off from relatively rough open water.

Along with amazing takeoff and landing capabilities in the hands of a skilled pilot, the Albatross also possessed surprising sea worthiness when stranded on the surface. In 1955, one aircraft landed in the Mediterranean and rescued 19 survivors from a ditched C-47 and, when conditions proved too rough for takeoff, taxied 90 miles to land. During a similar incident in 1956, an Albatross landed among 15-foot waves to rescue a B-26 crew and then taxied 98 miles to Okinawa. The record for time on the water was set by HU-16B s/n 51-5279 of the 48th ARS at Eglin AFB, Florida:

 

"After recovering a nose cone from a missile launched at Cape Canaveral in February 1964, sea conditions rapidly worsened, which ruled out takeoff. For two days, the aircraft taxied in rough seas toward land, consuming nearly all its fuel. With a fuel truck lashed to its foredeck, the Coast Guard cutter Hollyhock arrived on scene two days later and took the Albatross in tow. Although a long fuel line was floated to the aircraft to top off its fuel tanks, huge waves kept the aircraft waterborne for another night. On the fifth day, with no break in the weather, the decision was made to attempt takeoff. The first run failed when an

engine inadvertently feathered. On the second attempt it happened again. While the prop power panel was dried, the weather worsened. Tension mounted. Finally, with Hollyhock acting as a wind break at full speed, the pilot applied power, fired the JATO (jet-assisted takeoff) bottles, bounced the airplane three times, and broke free of its watery bounds. After a refueling operation not found in the manuals, and five days on rough open seas, that HU-16B went on to fly combat rescue missions over the South China Sea."

 

The excerpt above is sourced from The US Air Force Air Rescue Service by Wayne Mutza. This upcoming release provides a highly illustrated, large-format history of the USAF’s search-and-rescue arm from World War II to the present. The book is available for preorder; books will be shipping in the first quarter of 2023.

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