The Grumman Albatross – A Spotter’s Guide

SpotterUSAF HU-16B Serial no. 51-7180 (Grumman c/n G-231) in flight. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

The Grumman Albatross – A Spotter’s Guide

Spotter

USAF HU-16B Serial no. 51-7180 (Grumman c/n G-231) in flight. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

Written by David H. Marion – Are you like me and so many other seaplane enthusiasts too a big fan of the Grumman Albatross amphibian flying boat? If so, have you ever been frustrated by the seemingly endless number of different type or model designations that appear to have been used to identify it over the years? Here’s a short primer on that subject that hopefully will help you better understand what you have been looking at and dreaming about for as long as you can remember – that is, if you are just like me.

Before we start looking at the actual differences in the airplanes themselves, let’s define our terms and clarify what they were called, when, and why – or at least by whom. In order to keep straight and understand both the manufacturer’s (i.e. Grumman’s) and the many different military designations used for the iconic Albatross over the years, you primarily need to know just three (3) things;

1. Branch of Military Service
2. Short wing or Long Wing
3. Time Frame (i.e. before 1962 or afterward)

ALL original, short-wing variants of the Albatross were considered by Grumman to be design (i.e. model) number G-64 aircraft, but they never received civilian certification or corresponding recognition as such. Most of the 466 “Albatross” series aircraft built by Grumman, including the two Navy model XJR2F-1Pelican” pre-production prototypes, were originally built as the short-wing, design number G-64 variant. Only the very last 21 aircraft, including 5 model UF-2 aircraft (design no. G-191) for the Bundesmarine in West Germany, 10 model CSR-110 aircraft (design no. G-231) for the RCAF in Canada, and 6 more model UF-2 aircraft (design no. G-262) for the JMSDF in Japan, were built from scratch with long wings during the last year or two of production (1960-1961.)

Spotter

An example of a design no. G-64 “short-wing” Albatross – a USAF model HU-16A which was designated as a model SA-16A prior to 1962 (Photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

Note that those last aircraft for West Germany and Japan were identified as models “UF-2” (actually a pre-1962 U. S. Navy model designation) because they were ordered and contracted for through the Navy as opposed to directly from Grumman.

Listing

Mfg. Design No.

Service Branch Wing Conversion Project Code Pre-1962 Post-1962

G-64

USAF Short n/a SA-16A

HU-16A

G-64

USN Short n/a (PF-1) UF-1

HU-16C

G-64

USCG Short n/a UF-1G

n/a

G-111*

USAF Long 00B – 88B SA-16B

HU-16B

G-191

BM (Germany) Long n/a UF-2

n/a

G-211

USN Long 01D – 34D UF-2

HU-16D

G-231

RCAF (Canada) Long n/a n/a

CSR-110

G-234

USCG Long 01C – 59C UF-2G

HU-16E

G-251

USAF etc. Long 01N – 20N SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

G-262

JMSDF (Japan) Long n/a UF-2

UF-2

G-270

USCG Long 60C – 68C UF-2G

HU-16E

G-288

USCG Long 69C – 79C UF-2G

HU-16E

G-315**

Chile Long 01CT – 03CT SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

G-333

Argentina Long 01A – 05A SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

G-340

Chile Long 01CA – 03CA SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

G-341

Peru Long 01P – 03P SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

G-342 Spain Long 01SP – 07SP SA-16B(ASW)

SHU-16B

*Does not refer to or count the later (1979 – 1983) civilian Part 25 Transport Category conversions done primarily for Resorts International and which were identified as model “G-111” aircraft under FAA Type Certificate no. A22SO.

**The first batch of ASW conversions for Chile (G-315) were actually refurbishments of earlier G-251 ASW conversions that had been done for the USAF and later were sold to Norway and Greece too.

A specialized Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) variant of the Albatross which was designated as a model SHU-16B, shown here in service with the Greek (Hellenic) Air Force (photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

By the same token, there were still other specialized sub-types of many of those basic Albatross model designations. First among those specialized production sub-types were the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) variants noted in Table 1 above, which started rolling off Grumman’s production line in May 1961. The U. S. Navy for example also operated a multi-engine seaplane trainer variant of the short-wing UF-1 / HU-16C that they designated as UF-1T before 1962 and then re-designated as TU-16C after 1962. Similarly, the Navy’s specially winterized and structurally reinforced variants for “Arctic” operations were designated as models UF-1L before 1962 and as models LU-16C after 1962.

These “winterized” or “Arctic” versions of the Albatross in Navy service were different than and separate from the earlier “Triphibian” variants developed for the USAF. The “Triphibian” conversion was a kit that was developed as early as 1953 to allow Air Force Albatrosses to land not only on runways and water but directly on packed snow or ice too. It consisted of a reinforced main hull keel and hydraulically extendable, 12 inch by 15 foot skid attached below the main hull keel, along with small, bolt-on outrigger skids attached to the front of each balance float. Eventually the mounting tube for the outrigger skids that was built into the balance floats became a universal feature of all subsequent production floats. However, because the “Triphibian” was not an actual production variant and any Albatross could be so converted using the kit, it did not have its own unique model identification.

One factor that should have simplified the identification process over the years is the fact that after 1962, all of the pre-1962 model designations were technically-speaking no longer still valid for use; they were all officially replaced with the newer “HU” series designations – at least in regard to aircraft still in U. S. military service. However, the same did not necessarily apply to aircraft operated by foreign countries or military services.

USN Bu. no. 131906 is another “short-wing” design no. G-64 Albatross. It was originally designated as a model UF-1 but in 1962, that changed to HU-16C (photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

Take for example the last Albatross ever built – Grumman serial no. G-464 which was built in 1961 as a long-wing model UF-2, USN Bu. no. 148329, which was subsequently identified by its first owner, the JMSDF, using the serial or “buzz” number 9056. I have seen at least one photo of it on the Internet that were supposedly taken in 1976 (not long before Grumman bought it back and converted or rebuilt it into a “new” civilian model G-111) but in which it was incorrectly identified it as an HU-16D. If it had been in U. S. Navy service, that would have been correct, but it was not. In fact, in the photos in question, you can actually discern that it was still identified by the JMSDF at that time as a model UF-2 because that model designation was still stenciled on its tail.

As noted previously, the Grumman design no. G-64, original, short-wing variant of the Albatross never received independent civilian certification as such. Most surplus military “warbird” examples of the Grumman Albatross have been approved for civilian use over the years under a variety of “Restricted” category type certificates including nos. A33SO, A2GL, and A23NM, each of which was awarded to private, civilian owners of Albatross aircraft after they were able to satisfy the requirements of 14 CFR §21.27.

N114FB, a former USCG HU-16E, was used as a crew trainer by Flying Boats Inc. (d/b/a Chalk’s) for their fleet of converted G-111 Albatrosses (photo courtesy of Bryan Ribbans and Seawings.co.uk)

Only a very few Albatrosses have ever been converted and approved for commercial civil operations with Standard certificates of airworthiness in accordance with the Transport category standards of FAR Part 25 in accordance with TC no. A22SO. In fact, in spite of plans to rebuild many more of them, only 13 examples of the Albatross, all of which were already long-wing variants of one sort or another, were so converted – and because of an essentially random decision made at the time, they were designated as Grumman models G-111, perhaps in tribute to the first long-wing conversions done for the USAF.

Are you still confused by all of that? Don’t feel bad; even the FAA has not demonstrated much ability to keep straight all of the various model designations used for the Grumman Albatross either. Next time around, I will cover the one truly unique variant of the Albatross – N44RD, a custom, essentially “homemade” long-wing conversion of a former Navy HU-16C that was built and certified independently by its former owner, Mr. Reid Dennis. The FAA ended up calling it a model HU-16RD. In one sense, it is the exception that proves all of the other rules applicable to Albatross identification.

Dave Marion is the Technical Content Editor at Seaplanemagazine.com. As A&P and IA with 30 years of experience in aircraft maintenance, he is also a Commercial Pilot with Airplane, Single & Multi-Engine, and Instrument ratings. He has a BA from Colgate University in 1984 and also graduated cum laude from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (DAB) with a BS in Aviation Technology in 1990. He can be reached along with all of the editors via E-Mail: [email protected]

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