By John “Bear” Moseley, CGAA Historian
The Grumman Model G-64, the largest of a series of amphibians designed and manufactured by the Grumman Aircraft Corporation, was the only one originally developed for the military. The Model G-64 was a continuation of the Model 21, JRF Goose design philosophy. It had a conventional two-step hull into which the main landing gear retracted; had a high wing; a single tail unit; and fixed stabilizing floats attached to the wings. The Model 64 structure, however, was refined to reduce drag; it had a cantilever tailplane and tricycle landing gear. The Model 64 was larger and more powerful than the JRF; longer ranged and much more versatile. It was powered by two Wright 1820-76 engines rated at 1425 horsepower.
Initially designated JR2F-1, the Navy decided during development, that the initial order would be for an Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft configuration to be designated PF-1s. Meanwhile, the aircraft had caught the attention of the newly created US Air Force Rescue Service. They were interested in using the aircraft as a search and rescue aircraft to replace the converted B-17s and B-29s presently in use. The initial Air Force procurement order was for 52 of these aircraft, designated as SA-16As, the first of which was delivered in July of 1949. Grumman delivered a total of 297 SA-16As to the USAF.
Due in large part to correspondence initiated by Congressman Herbert Bonner, addressed to Treasury Secretary John W. Snyder, as to the state of Coast Guard aviation, funds became available for the purchase of the Grumman Albatross as a replacement for obsolescent Coast Guard SAR aircraft. Designated UF-1G, four were delivered in 1951; nine in 1952; nine in 1953; and an additional 14 in 1954. In addition, due to a change in Air Force rescue requirements, 15 Air Force SA-16As ordered from Grumman during 1952 were delivered to the Coast Guard as UF-1Gs with serial numbers 2121 to 2135. Beginning in December of 1953, 51 more SA-16s that had previously served in the Air Force were acquired. Coast Guard aircraft numbers were derived by assigning the last four digits of the Air Force serial number.
The Albatross proved to be ideal for the Coast Guard. It could operate from both land and water. The aircraft were very mission adaptable and were located at air stations throughout the Continental United States as well as Alaska, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines. The external store racks fitted to each wing were used to carry 295 gallon drop tanks. When combined with the fuel capacity of the main tanks and fuel carried in the wing floats a range of over 2100 nautical miles and 14 plus hours in the air, with sufficient fuel reserve, was obtained, making it an excellent search vehicle. In addition to search and rescue, the Albatross flew fishery patrols, pollution surveillance patrols, aids to navigation missions, logistic supply missions, law enforcement duties. A main cabin designed to carry ten passengers was equipped with a series of cargo tie down points which enabled the UF to be used to supply isolated duty stations throughout the Coast Guard. Servicing at these locations was limited and the aircraft fuel system was such that gasoline could be put into the float tanks from 55 gallon drums and then transferred to the main tanks. For take-offs in open sea or short field operations it could be fitted with JATO affixed to each side of the aft fuselage.
Grumman engineers modified the UF-1G by adding a 70 inch wing section outboard of each engine and a 39 inch wingtip extension coupled with leading edge wing camber to replace the leading edge slots. Because of the increased wing area, the ailerons, vertical fin, and stabilizers were increased in size. This modification resulted in a vast improvement in performance. The modification also resulted in an increase in gross weight of 5000 pounds, an increase in cruise speed of 15 knots with no increase in fuel consumption and the stall speed was lowered to 64 knots. The Coast Guard UF-1G aircraft were all converted to the UF-2G configuration.
When the standardization of military aircraft identification went into effect in 1962; the UF-2G became the HU-16E. Early on it was known as the UF but during the 32 years of service with the Coast Guard it became known among all, except the absolute purists, as the “Goat”. It is not clear how the name originated but it was used as a term of affection. Those that flew the aircraft were the known as “Goat Herders”. By the mid 1970s the active fleet had dwindled to 20, located at five air stations. The aircraft were retired as they approached the 11,000 flight hour limit. On 10 March 1983 the last operational “Goat”, Coast Guard number 7250, made its final flight. In the intervening years, these aircraft flew well over 500,000 hours and a countless number of people owe their lives to them and the crews that flew them.
The Albatross was designed for optimal 4 ft seas and could land in more severe conditions. With JATO takeoffs could be made in 5- 9 ft. seas. There have been take-offs made without JATO that exceeded the 5 foot figure. With lives at stake there were numerous times when “possible” was substantially re-defined. Your author, a former Goat Herder, was one as was LT. Bobby C. Wilks:
During the Cuban Missile crisis, Bobby and crew took off from Opa Locka in HU-16 7234 on a patrol along the standard Andros Island – Key Lobo – Cay Sol Banks route. The mission was to search for Soviet Bloc ships inbound to Cuba with missiles. Meanwhile, a drama was unfolding aboard the radar picket ship USS Mills, call sign Tango. A seriously ill sailor needed an operation to save his life. The District RCC and medical experts agreed on evacuation by air and Bobby proceeded to rendezvous. Upon arrival at 1000 ft, Bobby and his co-pilot Ernie Allen did a sea evaluation. Wind was acceptable at 15-20 knots and swells seemed to be acceptable for a landing. But when he slowed the aircraft down and dragged the area at 200 feet they saw two wave systems crossed each other at 30 degrees causing 5 to 10 foot troughs. He also noticed that the wake of the DE Mills had a calming effect on the water. Bobby contacted the Mills and informed them that the calmest part of the ocean appeared to be their wake and asked what their top speed was. The answer- 27 Knots. Bobby asked them to do 27 knots so he could observe their wake. It was a go and he asked the district for permission to land. A reply was pilot’s discretion. Bobby then asked the Mills to do top speed and he would land in their wake. With flaps down 40 degrees, Bobby turned final. He then flew only a few feet above the wake at minimum airspeed. He picked his spot, chopped the power and entered the water. One skip, a few hard bounces, and the props into reverse – the aircraft came to a stop in a cloud of spray just short of the Mills. No damage to the tough old “Goat”.
The Mills placed herself broadside to the swells smoothing out the water and the patient was transferred. The problem now would be getting off the water. Because Bobby was told that the patient’s life depended upon getting him to the hospital Bobby had landed without JATO. The decision had not been made lightly. Bobby again used the ship’s wake for takeoff. He had to abort as he was closing on the ship rapidly and was not airborne. He radioed the ship and informed them he was going to try again. He then turned to Ernie and told him that they were going to start with zero degrees flaps this time (non-standard procedure) and when he called for flaps Ernie was to lower them to 30 degrees and no more. Ernie gave him a questioning look and Bobby said: “Just do it.” The takeoff was commenced, water on the windshield, spray everywhere, as the aircraft gained speed. Rising up on a swell he had his speed and asked for flaps thirty. The aircraft popped out of the water hanging on the props. Then gaining airspeed, Bobby ever so gently veered past the stern of the Mills and started his climb out. As the aircraft continued to gain speed – flaps were moved in increments to the full up position. The old Goat, an amazing machine, was turned for NAS Key West and the hospital.
Wilks had pushed the man-machine envelope to the limit. With exceptional skill, a life was saved. That is what SAR is all about.
This Story was given to me by Bobby Wilks and also appeared in Captain Carl Swickley’s book Kicking Tires and Lighting Fires.
BZ Goat Herder!