The Story of the Albatross

Sep 8, 2010

Every time I drive by Deer Valley Airport, I cannot help but look and see what's parked on the tarmac. There are the usual blue-tipped Cessnas and Pipers that belong to the Westwind flight school. If the door of the Atlantic Aviation hangar is open, you might catch a glimpse of a goregeous business or charter jet hiding inside. Heck, you might even see John Travolta's Boeing 707 if you are lucky! Most of the aircraft there are pretty normal though.

Grumman HU-16 AlbatrossHowever, last year I spotted a very unusual plane parked at KDVT. It was impossible to ignore this gigantic aircraft which was parked in the far corner of the tarmac, as close as possible to the main road.

The aircraft had such an unusual appearance that I had to stop and take a picture of it. I had no idea what it was, but the high-mounted propeller engines and the wheel wells in the side of the fuselage were clear indications that this aircraft was designed for water landings. I wondered why an amphibious aircraft would be parked in North Phoenix, hundreds of miles from the ocean?

A quick Internet search of the plane's N-Number revealed that it was a Grumman HU-16 Albatross, a military aircraft used by the US Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy to rescue downed pilots. This new information only resulted in more questions. Who owns such an odd aircraft, how did they get it, and what are they going to do with it? I turned to the Internet to learn more about the Albatross. As it turns out, they are not a terribly common aircraft.

The Grumman Corporation produced just 466 Albatrosses between 1949 and 1961. The military officially retired the HU-16 from service in 1976. Many of the aircraft were converted for use as passenger planes in places such as Guam and Florida. Others found their way into private ownership, as is the case with N216HU.

There were no visible markings on the plane to indicate it was an active military aircraft, and indeed the FAA Inquiry revealed it is now privately owned. The Albatross I spotted at Deer Valley Airport belongs to Hans Lauridsen, an aviation enthusiast and collector of classic aircraft.

Lauridsen is also the founder of the Lauridsen Aviation Museum, which houses 15 aircraft at the Buckeye Municipal Airport in Buckeye, Arizona. The Albatross I spotted has since been moved there, where I presume it will be restored and put on display or (hopefully) kept in service.

Blue and White Grumman Albatross
Several months after the unpainted Albatross disappeared from my local airport, I spotted another one there! This one appeared to be in much better condition, with a beautiful coat of white paint and gloss blue accents. I managed to snap a photo of it from the parking lot. After that, I spotted the Red Bull Albatross at the "Luke Days Air Show" at Luke Air Force Base in 2009.

Red Bull HU-16 AlbatrossI'm not exactly sure what my fascination is with these planes. It must be such a strange feeling to look out the window as the plane prepares for a water landing. I imagine the plane splashing down onto the surface of the ocean and slowing to a stop. I imagine the engines sputtering to a stop and the roar replaced with silence. I imagine hearing the waves lapping against the outside of the fuselage and feeling the plane rock gently in the water like a boat. Something about all of that just really gives me the creeps!

In any case, I went from having never seen an amphibious aircraft before to seeing three of them in the same year! I will have to keep my eyes open and see if I run into any more of them. Just goes to show that you never know what will fly in next at Deer Valley!

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