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    Blog: Flights of the Albatross, 1955-1967

    Archived image of a U.S. Navy HU-16 Albatross seaplane, circa 1960

    Photo By Max Lonzanida | Courtesy Image. Pictured is a retired U.S. Navy HU-16 Albatross, former bureau number...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    Hampton Roads Naval Museum

    Submitted story by Capt. Alexander Monroe, USN (Ret.) and Max Lonzanida, Public Affairs Officer, Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

    Norfolk, Va. (March 23, 2023) Universal Studios in sunny Orlando, Florida, is about 12 hours and 750 miles from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. This resort was the destination of the Lonzanida family for a family vacation taken earlier this year when inquisitive children Stella and Noah were taken to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Minion Land. Each morning began with a water taxi ride to the theme park to partake of tourist adventures. On the first day, Stella pointed out a retired U.S. Navy Albatross HU 16 seaplane at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville café. The plane, aptly named “Hemisphere Dancer” (Civil Registry Number N28J), attracted attention not because of its new role and paint scheme, but out of curiosity about how it had been used in the Navy. I referred the question to Captain Alexander Monroe, USN (Ret.), and what follows is the result of his investigation.

    The Albatross aircraft on display known as ”Hemisphere Dancer” was built at the Grumman Aircraft Company at Bethpage, New York. Construction was completed on July 22, 1955, and the plane was delivered to the Navy at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. It was one of 466 aircraft built by Grumman and was assigned Bureau Number (BUNO) 137928. The machine could operate from established runways ashore or from open-ocean by virtue of a V-shaped hull. It could take off in 4-foot seas, though Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) was required in seas greater than 8 feet. It was specifically designed for Search and Rescue (SAR) and was so used by the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force. It followed the Grumman Goose, first constructed in 1937.

    The 12-year career of BUNO 137928 began with pre-deployment overhaul at the Naval Air Station Alameda, California in San Francisco at Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 116. Following this evolution, it was assigned to the fleet as an operational unit and joined Naval Air Station, Naha, Okinawa and then Naval Air Facility, Oppama, Japan, formerly known as Yokosuka Airfield, a Japanese Navy activity with an associated seaplane base south of Yokohama. The design noted above made it ideal for stationing close to open ocean, where SAR might be required.

    In time the plane was assigned to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for SAR responsibilities. While in this assignment, it was assigned other duty quite different from the purpose for which it was designed: participation in atomic weapons testing. Between May and July 1956, less than a year after the plane was delivered to the Navy, it was assigned as a secondary observation aircraft in Operation Redwing, a series of detonations conceived to demonstrate the power of nuclear weapons. The tests were carried out in the vicinity of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

    On June 25, 1956, Rear Admiral Byron Hall Hanlon, Commander of Joint Task Force Seven and in charge of the operation observed detonation Dakota in the northeast lagoon at Bikini from the aircraft. One crewman, AT2 Richard R. Casey, developed symptoms of radiation sickness, and the aircraft returned to Kwajalein.

    Other Albatross planes were involved in historically important activities. For example, the crew of BUNO 141264 assigned to SAR duty at Naval Air Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, photographed Russian forces unloading missiles in Cuba prior to commencement of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force carried out rescue missions from bases in the Philippine Islands, Okinawa, and Da Nang in South Vietnam. Air crewmen such as Larry Barnes of the Air Force 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron flew close to North Vietnamese territorial waters to rescue crews whose damaged aircraft had reached open ocean and were at “feet wet” locations. These were hazardous missions, and the crews that flew them would never forget their experiences.There were other non-combatant evolutions. For example, air crewmen Dick Wilbur and Robert Prange remembered operations conducted from the Naval Station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in which the aircraft and their crews were used to restock green turtle sites all over the Caribbean from nesting places in Costa Rica.

    The evolutions carried out had an effect on the airframe and their crewmen. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Harry Marshall recalled that BUNO 137910 was a “good old girl,” and while assigned to Naval Station Trinidad experienced water takeoffs and landings only. He noted that, “corrosion was a big problem requiring complete overhaul of the empennage” during his tour of duty in 1965. AD3 John Kaye, USCG, noted that it, “was a tough, loud aircraft that did everything asked of it,” though others later lived with the deafness caused by the extreme engine noise. He also found water takeoffs disconcerting because of excessive porpoising before getting up “on step.” Likewise, water landings required considerable attention by the aircraft commander.

    The crews of BUNO 13978, like other Albatross crews, carried out many rescue and support flights in its Navy service. It had operated in places named above but also in Atlantic Fleet stations such as the Naval Air Stations at Jacksonville, Florida, and Norfolk, Virginia. In so doing, the plane accumulated 2,689 flight hours. On August 1, 1967, it was retired from active service and flown to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) at Davis Monthan Air Force at Tucson, Arizona. After intermediate ownership by others, it was sold to Jimmy Buffet in November 1995, relocated to its present location at Orlando, Florida, named “Hemisphere Dancer” and given a new paint scheme. In January 1996, it was attacked by Jamaican police who—thinking it was a narcotics runner’s plane—hit it with gunfire, and fortunately no one aboard was injured. The fortuitous sighting of “Hemisphere Dancer” during a family vacation has permitted a review of the role of the unique plane in the Navy and other armed forces in a variety of important roles.



    Date Taken: 03.23.2023
    Date Posted: 03.23.2023 10:42
    Story ID: 441025
    Location: NORFOLK , VA, US 

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