Former combat plane with Robins Air Force Base ties is one step closer to being restored

by Erin Wise

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — The Museum of Aviation‘s volunteer restoration team has been hard at work on an HU-16 Albatross that has a connection to Robins Air Force Base.

Just this weekend, one of the plane’s engines, which the team has been working on for a year, was reattached to the plane.

The first version of the plane flew in 1947. An improved version coming into play in 1955.

The Albatross is an amphibious plane — meaning it can be used to land on water, ice, snow, and the ground.

It was the military’s main aircraft for rescue missions for decades, until the helicopter was created.

The specific model at the museum has a history of missions in the Korean and Vietnam War where it did take on gunfire from small firearms. During the Korean War, Albatrosses were used to rescue almost 1,000 United Nations personnel, often from behind enemy lines via coastal waters and rivers.

“We have documented evidence of this particular airplane actually doing rescues in Southeast Asia. That’s a pretty big deal because it is historically significant. It actually deployed to a combat zone, flew, was shot at, rescued airmen and survived that combat experience,” said Ken Emery, Director of the Museum of Aviation.

The plane saw its retirement in 1973 after serving with the 301st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.

The Albatross is special to the Museum of Aviation as it was one of the first planes to be brought to the museum in 1983.

“The museum and the base started collecting airplanes and this was one of the first airplanes to come to the museum along with a T-33. Those were the first two airplanes to come to the Museum of Aviation. It’s been here a long time,” said Emery.

It also has its own special history with Robins Air Force Base.

The Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex was over logistics management for all HU-16 Albatrosses. Meaning, more than likely, the Albatross at the museum spent time at RAFB.

Since being at the museum, the plane was set up outside for most of the time, causing some wear and tear.

The volunteer restoration team got it inside the Scott Hangar and began working on it several years ago.

“We want to restore the airplane back to what it was when it was in service. We are trying to repair everything back to where it is technically complete. Not only preserving a historic airplane but restoring the technology that was in place back in the ’50s and ’60s, which we’ve now moved beyond. That’s what the museum does. Preserves history and technology,” said Emery.

Much of the plane has been rebuilt–from both engines to the navigation tools and the instrument panel in the cockpit. Many of the projects left are cosmetic, like repairing the floor and putting seats back in.

Emery says there are about two more years of work needed.

But, will it be able to fly again?

“Not easily. It would need a lot more work for it to be airworthy. We try to do our best to put things back as they were, but to make it complete and airworthy is probably a lot more effort than we want to expand on it. We will put things back to be representative of what it was,” said Emery.

Once the Albatross is completed, it will remain inside on display as a piece of Air Force History.