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​Iconic Albatross amphibian set for Australian rebirth

Amphibian Aerospace Industries (AAI) plans to produce a re-engined, updated version of the venerable Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibian aircraft.

The HU-16 was widely used from the 1950s to 1980s in the search and rescue role, says Greg Hanlon, vice president and director of engineering at the company. A commercial variant, the G-111, was produced in small numbers in the 1980s.

Amphibian Aerospace will set up a factory in Australia to restart production of the aircraft in a new G111T “Turbo Albatross” configuration.

The company recently entered an agreement with the New South Wales government to invest A$100 million ($77 million) in a factory at the state’s Central Coast airport, north of Sydney.

Unlike its piston-powered predecessors, the G-111T will be powered by turboprops. Both the Honeywell TPE331 and Pratt & Whitney PW118 are suitable for the aircraft, says Hanlon. A decision will be made based on an evaluation of the customer support available for either engine.

Hanlon says the turboprop's improved fuel efficiency will greatly improve the aircraft’s range.

Other upgrades will be applied to the flight controls, fuel system, electrical system, and environmental system. The aircraft will also receive a new glass cockpit avionics suite. The G-111T will not have an auxiliary power unit (APU), but offer an electric starting system.

AAI has obtained a 1980s-vintage G-111 that is in storage near Perth. The company plans to ferry this aircraft to Melbourne’s Avalon airport in the coming months, where it will be extensively upgraded to the new standard. This aircraft will be used for testing and research & development, and as a sales demonstrator.

AAI has also issued letters of interest for retired HU-16s. These aircraft will form the initial cadre of G-111Ts, although eventually the company hopes to move on to new-build aircraft.

“We’ll look at the existing build from the 1950s and consider adding modern materials and fabrication techniques to maximise the production capabilities,” says Hanlon.

AAI owns the type certificate for the Albatross, and is in possession of tooling and blueprints for the design.

AAI president Khoa Hoang says there has been substantial interest in the new aircraft, though he declined to discuss details about the aircraft’s order outlook.

“There have been sales enquiries from many operators/industries including defence ministries, tourist operators, search and rescue, defence contractors, ocean liner operators, cargo/utility operators, mining companies, divisions of government such as the department that manages the Antarctic, department that manages the coastline of many countries, VIP customers and many more,” he says.

AAI says that the G-111T’s maximum takeoff weight from land will be 16,090kg, and from water 14,545kg. In regard to payload/range performance, the G-111T can carry a 2,600kg payload to nearly 3,000km.

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