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, 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 U.S. Air Force’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 a search and rescue (SAR) aircraft from coastal naval air stations, 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 atNAS 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.