Pinal airpark is known for several things. It was a training airport during WWII and after the war it was given to Pinal County, AZ. It has gone through many changes since that time. At one time Evergreen used it for a repair base. It still is used for military parachute jump training by all services. It has been a storage base for surplus aircraft, and you will see many, still useable aircraft, waiting for their return to service. However, many older or timed out aircraft come there for final disassembly.
Some of the airplanes located there are notable. Since the late 1980’s, there have been 7 Grumman Albatross amphibian airplanes sitting at various locations on the property. Most of the people that work there, or fly to Pinal often, noticed the planes because they don’t look like the other planes that are normally seen in storage there. Most of us that fly there expected that these old airplanes would eventually leave the airport in trash containers after being cut up for scrap.
Somehow Mike Barron, from Hannibal, Missouri, learned about these planes in mid-2017, and that they were scheduled to be cut up. He won’t say how, but he ended up owning all 7 of these “flying boats.” Mike and his son, Dillon, worked hard to get them flying. The first one left Pinal Airpark in May 2018. Mike knew quite a lot of the history of these airplanes. Some of them had been refurbished by Grumman not long before they were brought to Arizona, so they are low time aircraft.
I asked Mike what he was planning to do with these “birds?” He does have plans. Some of them will be completely restored, modernized, and marketed, but he does intend to keep at least two for his adventures. A man interested in history, Mike intends to use the plane/boats to hunt for sunken WWII ships. He won’t say where he is going to look, but he will need an airplane like this for his work platform.
The Albatross (HU-16) was designed and built after the end of WWII. The U S Air Force, the Navy, and the Coast Guard all used the plane primarily for search and rescue missions. It was used during the Korean War and in Vietnam. In production from 1949 to 1961, Grumman produced 466 units. The planes stored at Pinal Airpark had been reconfigured for passenger service and given a new designation as G-111.
I actually got to fly on one from St. Thomas to St. Croix in the U S Virgin Islands. I was on a vacation at St. Thomas and saw these planes making daily trips between the islands. I couldn’t resist and took a flight from one island to the other, and then back. Not a long flight, but fun just the same.
According to Mike Barron, the planes had the same engines as were used on the DC-3, but the Albatross could carry more weight and fly faster than a DC-3. The cavernous interior of the plane, and the ability to fly long distances, in addition to landing on water or runways, made it famous as a search and rescue plane. The Navy even used some of them as Sub hunters until they were replaced by the P-3, helicopters, and other technology.
Not all of the seven planes at Pinal had engines. Mike and his son are both A & P Mechanics. They got the first plane flyable and took it to their home base in Hannibal, MO, then took off the engines and returned to Arizona to mount them on the next plane to fly out. A total of 5 of the 7 planes have now left Pinal, and the last two will be leaving as soon as Mike and Dillon can get them to fly. We wish Mike all the best in his adventures, and I hope to be at Pinal to see the last Albatross depart for Hannibal.
Don’t forget to check the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION website for a safety seminar near you, and remember to “Bring Your Wingman!”