The following article is being reprinted with the permission of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Special thanks to Star-Telegram Editor Jim Witt and senior reporter Chris Vaughn.
Post written by Chris Vaughn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
CRESSON — Eighteen months ago, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Matt Boyd started scouring the country for an HU-16 Albatross, a rather forgotten amphibious plane from the Cold War decades.
Leaders at the Coast Guard’s station in Clearwater, Fla., wanted one as the centerpiece for a memorial to an air crew lost over the Gulf of Mexico in 1967, a loss that has never been forgotten by subsequent generations of “Coasties.”
Months of investigation on the computer finally led Boyd to one that was available, an Albatross parked on a patch of grass between Cresson and Whiskey Flats on U.S. 377 at the now-closed Pate Museum of Transportation.
“She’s a gorgeous airplane,” Boyd said after leading a crew of six men to the museum this week. “These 1950s aircraft aren’t like today’s airplanes. They’ve got pretty lines on them.”
Only an aviation junkie might say that about this particular Albatross, also affectionately known by Coasties as the Goat.
Tail number 7176, manufactured by Grumman in 1951, was flown onto the museum’s property in the early 1970s. It has sat outdoors through almost 40 Texas summers, been beaten by a goodly number of hailstones and had birds nest in its cockpit.
Considering all that, the men who are dismantling it for transport to Florida were surprised at her otherwise decent condition.
“Matt poured a gallon of hydraulic fluid into it, climbed into the cockpit, pumped the stick, and the flaps dropped straight down like they were supposed to,” said Petty Officer 1st Class John Fultz. “She doesn’t look so good on the outside, but when we opened her up, everything looks pretty good.”
The Albatross was one of many aircraft that enticed people to stop at the museum from its opening in 1969 until it was closed last December by the children of founders A.M. “Aggie” Pate Jr. and Sebert Pate.
When the Albatross leaves on three flatbed trucks this weekend, only three airplanes will remain on the grounds: a C-119 Flying Boxcar, an F-101 Voodoo and an odd-shaped CH-21 helicopter nicknamed the Flying Banana.
The Pates’ collection of rare antique cars will be auctioned off June 5.
Most of the dozen or so aircraft once in front of the Pate have been trucked off to other museums and military bases, from Tyler to Long Island. The Air Force, which maintains ownership of even its retired aircraft, had begun offering them to other installations and nonprofits several years ago because they were not being maintained to its specifications.
The Air Force transferred ownership of the HU-16 to the Coast Guard last month.
The six Coast Guardsmen, all mechanics and flight engineers on C-130 Hercules planes, found the manuals at the museum, which eliminated trial and error in their work. As experienced as the men are, none had ever laid a hand on an Albatross, which was used by the Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force until the late 1970s.
The group’s expenses, including the shipment by truck, are being covered by the Coast Guard Aviation Association, Boyd said.
“It’s not like we’re experienced at taking apart an Albatross,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael Bogovic. “But we’re mechanics, and we’re figuring it out. The manuals have helped a lot.”
The aircraft will be painstakingly restored in Clearwater to become a static memorial to the station’s six men who died March 5, 1967, while assisting a yacht sinking in the Gulf of Mexico. Three of their bodies were located, but three were never recovered.
It’s particularly important not to forget that crew, the men said, because they lost their own friends in October when a Coast Guard C-130 crashed in midair with a Marine helicopter off the coast of California. All seven Coast Guardsmen and two Marines were killed.
“The C-130 community in the Coast Guard is very close because it’s small, so that was hard,” Fultz said. “Being here, doing this, has been good for us in that regard.”
Click here to view the original article on the Fort-Worth Star Telegram’s website including a photo gallery of the Albatross.