THE GRUMMAN ALBATROS, UNARMED WAR HERO AND LIFE SAVER
By Willie Bodenstein
The name Grumman will always be associated with Naval Aviation. During WWII its Avenger, Wildcat, Bearcat and Hellcat carrier born fighters and torpedo bombers were largely responsible for the defeat of the Japanese Naval Forces whilst the Goose and Mallard seaplanes served with distinction in all theatres of operation.
So it comes as no surprise that when the USN (United States Navy) was looking for a larger amphibian with a longer range that it turned to Grumman who in 1946 produced a prototype, XJR2F-1, that had its first flight on 24 October 1946. The USN and USAAF (United States Air Force) were suitably impressed and production orders followed for the Albatross as it was then named. Its history was to span for more than thirty years during which time it served with more than twenty one nations and saw service in two wars, various clandestine operations and the US Coast Guard until the early 1980s.
The twin engine Albatross was designed for open water operations, its deep V-hull and substantial length enabled it to land in seas with 1.2 meter swells although when fitted with jet-fuel assisted take off (JATO) or booster rockets it could take off in 2.4 to 3.0 swells or greater. Able to carry 10 passengers, stretchers or 500 pounds of cargo and with a range of 3,200 miles (5,148km) it was ideally suited in the search and rescue role.
The world was a relatively peace full place in 1949 when the first deliveries started but that was not to last. Barely a year later was the Albatross deployed to Korea where United Nations Forces were facing the North Korean forces that had invaded the South. A few days later a USAF Albatross crew made the first rescue of the war when in less than five when only minutes after he ditched his aircraft in the Sea of Japan they reached the pilot and brought him to safety. Not only did the Albatross do open water rescues but would regularly fly into enemy territory and landing on rivers retrieved pilots before they could be captured. In one such a rescue operation Captain John J Najarian and his crew flew inland whilst the sun was setting and under heavy fire landed in a river and rescued the pilot of a downed P-51. One Albatross was lost during the war.
The Albatross next saw service during the Vietnam War where although mostly replaced by helicopters in the search and rescue role but operated as Command and Control aircraft. ARRS (Aerospace Rescue and Recovery) crews none the less still saved forty seven air men. Albatross's were based in Da Nang, Vietnam from where they flew orbiting patterns off shore waiting to be called to go to the rescue of a downed pilot.
Not all rescues were as easy as the very first one and four aircraft and nine crewmen were lost during rescue operations. In March 1966 an Albatross was task to rescue the crew of F4 Phantom that went down about four miles from the coast near Hon Me Island. The pilot of the Albatross managed to land close to the airmen and the PJ (para jumper) had just left the aircraft to go to aid of the airmen when the enemy opened fire with mortars one of which struck the aircraft in the middle of the fuselage. On fire, the Albatross sank taking with her the radio operator who had died when the mortar shell hit as well as the PJ who was still tethered to the aircraft. The rest of the crew who engaged the approaching enemy from life rafts was rescued by Navy Helicopters under covering fire from A1 Sky raiders.
After the war the Albatross found a new home in the (USCG) United States Coast Guard where again it served with distinction eventually retiring in 1983. USCG crews flew hundreds of thousands of hours sometimes in the most atrocious conditions and with little regard to their own safety and a total of 33 lost their lives on missions that saved countless others.
As if that is not enough in the lifetime of one aircraft the Albatross had a more secretive role when a number of the war veterans were assigned to the Miami Air Smuggling Investigations Group. The group mounted clandestine operations when long range missions were flown to Colombia where vast quantities of drugs were seized. These shipments were flown back to the USA where it was used as bait in a series of successful sting operations.
Capacity: 10 passengers
Length: 62 ft 10 in (19.16 m)
Wingspan: 96 ft 8 in (29.47 m)
Height: 25 ft 10 in (7.88 m)
Wing area: 1035 ft≤ (96.2 m≤)
Empty weight: 22,883 lb (10,401 kg)
Loaded weight: 30,353 lb (13,797 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 37,500 lb (17,045 kg)
Powerplant: 2 ◊ Wright R-1820-76 Cyclone 9 nine-cylinder single-row air-cooled radial engine, 1,425 hp (1,063 kW) each
Fuel Capacity: 675 US Gallons (2,550 L) internally, plus 400 US Gal (1,512 L) in wingtip floats plus two 300 US Gallon (1,135 L) drop tanks
Maximum speed: 205 knots (236 mph, 380 km/h)
Cruise speed: 108 knots (124 mph, 200 km/h)
Stall speed: 64 knots (74 mph, 119 km/h)
Range: 2,478 nmi (2,850 mi, 4,589 km)
Service ceiling: 21,500 ft (6,550 m)
Rate of climb: 1,450 ft/min (7.4 m/s)
Cruise fuel flow: 110 US Gph.
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