Veteran Grumman Albatross Senselessly Destroyed in Italy

AMI Grumman HU16 Albatross 15-14 at Museo dell’Aria del Castello di San Pelagio where it had sat for over three decades. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
AMI Grumman HU16 Albatross 15-14 at Museo dell’Aria del Castello di San Pelagio where it had sat for over three decades.
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
On May 17, 2013 a Grumman HU-16 Albatross displayed by the Museo dell’Aria del Castello di San Pelagio (Air Museum of San Pelagio Castle) in Padua, Italy was wrecked and turned into a heap of aluminum scrap by the people who had bought it with the purpose of returning it to the skies. The wanton destruction shocked the aviation and warbird communities all across Italy, sparking a furor, with anger directed towards both the museum’s management and the perpetrators of the slaughter of an intact and historically significant aircraft.

While the circumstances surrounding the destruction were unclear at first and both parties pointed to the other in blame, with the help of some people with deep ties to the Italian historical aviation community we have managed to put all the pieces together. The resulting picture is both alarming and disappointing. Putting aside the gross incompetence of two historical aircraft organizations, whose mismanagement led to this disaster, two monuments were violated in this debacle. The first is the Albatross, an aircraft which was emblematic of an era, and whose unique qualities caused it to be looked at with affection and devotion by both the men who served on it and by many aviation enthusiasts. “The Albatross of San Pelagio” was well known and admired by both the Italian aviation community and the citizens of the small Venetian town in which it resided and throughout the 30 years it was on display, the plane drew many visitors to the museum which possessed it. The other desecrated monument is the Castello di San Pelagio itself. On August 9th, 1918 this location saw a handful of men accomplish one of the most audacious feats of the First War War, when the pilots of the Squadriglia Serenissima took off from San Pelagio for what became famously known as the “Flight Over Vienna.” On that day at San Pelagio an important page of Italian aviation history was written while on May 17th 2013, at San Pelagio another page was maliciously destroyed.

This Grumman Albatross SA-16 rolled out of Grumman’s Bethpage, New York plant early in 1954 as an and was delivered to the United States Air Force on January 18th of that year, assigned serial number 51-7253. Its initial deployment was with the 580th Air Resupply and Communications Service Group (US Air Force Europe), operating from Wheelus (now Mitiga) Air Base in Libya and Nouasseur Air Base in Morocco. In November 1956, the Albatross flew back to the states and underwent a general overhaul at Grumman’s Bethpage plant and in February 1957 it was reassigned to the U.S. Air Force Reserves’ 2585th Air Reserve Flying Center, based at the Miami International Airport, in Florida. From November 1957 to February 1959 the Grumman amphibian served with the U.S. Air National Guard 130th Air Lift Squadron, based out of Kanawha airport in Charleston, West Virginia, initially serving in the Resupply and Communications Service Group, subsequently serving in the 130th Troop Carrier Squadron in January 1963. The last assignment for the Unites States military was with the 130th Air Commando Group.

AMI Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 during it's years in Italian military service.
AMI Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 during it’s years in Italian military service.
In 1962 all Albatrosses were re-designated to HU-16 in a U.S. Military designation simplification scheme and in October 1963 51-7253 was declared surplus and was flown to the USAF 2704th Aircraft Storage and Disposition Group, based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona where it remained until September 1965, when it was decommissioned and sold to the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI), the Italian Air Force, along with 5 other HU-16s. After the purchase, the Albatrosses made their way to Italy, landing in early 1964. From the time of its arrival to its retirement in late Seventies, the Albatross was operated extensively, performing a wide array of duties, from VIP transport to search and rescue missions. 51-7253, which was assigned the Italian Air Force designation 15-14, took off for the last time in 1980, flying from Ciampino Airport in Rome to Padua where it was dismantled and moved to the Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio, where it was reassembled and displayed on the museum’s grounds, where it would remain until the day of its destruction.

AMI Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 rotting in place at the museum. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
AMI Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 rotting in place at the museum.
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
The Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio acquired the Albatross from the AMI through a leasing contract. Under the terms of the contract, the Italian Air Force remained the owner of the craft and while there would be absolutely no cost to the museum for the plane, the museum was required to maintain and preserve the plane and keep it in good condition. Despite the undemanding, convenient agreement, the museum’s board of directors soon revealed a complete disregard for the veteran plane and not unlike their treatment of the other planes exhibited in their halls and on their grounds, they neglected even perfunctory preservation efforts, letting the plane weather and ignoring the corrosion that began taking hold. In the first few years, AMI personnel would come to San Pelagio to inspect the Albatross and tinker around it in order to keep it sound, starting up the engines and letting them run on a yearly basis, but that regime didn’t last long. As time went by, its paint faded noticeably and rust and moss spots became evident on the aircraft’s battered surface. By 1990 the plane’s condition had so deteriorated that the air force, concerned that the plane could not survive continuing neglect, began pressuring the museum to live up to the terms of the contract and take steps to preserve the Albatross. Unaccountably, the AMI’s demands went unheeded and the deterioration of the aircraft was allowed to carry on unabated.

Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 Cockpit was dirty, but remarkably complete. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Grumman HU-16 Albatross 15-14 Cockpit was dirty, but remarkably complete.
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Rear quarters still intact, with vintage equipment in place. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Rear quarters still intact, with vintage equipment in place.
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Nevertheless the Albatross stood strong and proud, and each and every visitor to the museum was impressed it’s striking, large and respect-imbuing presence, its wide hull and two big radial engines harking back to a long gone, romantic era. The true beginning of the end started in 2004 when the air force decided to exercise the terms of the original contract and a bank loan took the place of the previous payment-free arrangement. The museum claimed it could not afford to make payments and, attempting to play “hard ball” with AMI, dared them to repossess the plane. Impasse reached, there was little action until 2012 when the air force finally decided to auction the plane. Meanwhile a group of Italian vintage aviation enthusiasts had formed during the 2000’s in Ravenna with a passion for the plane to which so many Italian aviators owed their lives, forming an HU-16 devoted organization, Fly Albatross of Ravenna with the stated goal to acquire an ex-Italian Air Force Albatross and restore it to airworthy condition. Fly Albatross’ dreams seemingly came true in 2012 when the group won the auction for 15-14 with a winning bid of just €14,000 (approximately $18,500).

Crane brought in to lift Albatross 15-14 to an apron for it's planned disassembly last February. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Crane brought in to lift Albatross 15-14 to an apron for it’s planned disassembly last February.
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Off the ground for what would prove to be the last time.. (Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
Off the ground for what would prove to be the last time..
(Image Credit: Claudio Toselli)
From the very beginning of their enterprise’s ownership of 15-14, Fly Albatross proved to be an even less suitable caretaker of this historic plane than the Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio had been. None of the organization’s personnel seemed to have any of the mechanical skills required to disassemble the Albatross or even to move it and even more alarmingly, the group’s financial assets were dangerously depleted by the purchase of the plane. It seemed the only remaining fuel driving the organization was their enthusiasm, and that would soon be depleted as well. On January 13, 2013, a contract was signed between Fly Albatross and Museo dell’Aria del Castello di San Pelagio, which was still smarting from the loss of one of their most popular attractions. The terms of the contract called for the Albatross to be removed from the man-made peninsula where it had sat for the over 30 years to a nearby apron at the facility by March 2, 2013; further, the dismantling process and shipping of its parts to Ravenna had to be completed by April 30th. Although it was given a time frame of 3 months, Fly Albatross struggled to stay on schedule and it was only with the help of a crew of AMI specialists that they succeed in removing some parts from the aircraft and got it shifted to the apron. From then on, the project stalled. Instead of giving a helping hand to their ex-main attraction’s new owner, the Museum’s management chose a more despicable course of action. Reportedly as soon as the Albatross laid its wheels on the apron, the museum began charging Fly Abatross rent of €500 ($650) a week for the storage of the plane and at a date as yet unknown to us the rent doubled to €1,000 ($1,320) a week.

Wrecker begins its work (Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
Wrecker begins its work
(Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
Wrecker tears apart historic Albatross. (Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
Wrecker tears apart historic Albatross.
(Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
Aluminum fuselage no match for the attention of demolition machine. (Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
Aluminum fuselage no match for the attention of demolition machine.
(Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
In just a few minutes once proud craft is reduced to scraps. (Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
In just a few minutes once proud craft is reduced to scraps.
(Image Credit: Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio)
With their dismantling operations falling behind schedule and lacking backing of sponsors or partner associations, and the added injury of the Museum’s extortive “storage fees,” Fly Albatross was soon buried in debt, reportedly racking up €25,000 ($33,000) in debts it couldn’t pay. Panic-struck, and with no way out of a deteriorating situation, the organization chose an unthinkable course of action, the destruction of the plane.

On May 17th, Fly Albatross, without notifying anyone of their chosen course of action had a demolition rig show up at the museum and they went at the plane with a wrecking ball. Within 5 minutes the once-proud craft beloved by so many was reduced to scrap. The only parts not shipped off to be melted down were the two Wright R-1820-76 engines, the outer wings and the ailerons. It’s reported the smelter paid the group €3,000 ($4,000) for the remains.

The Italian aviation community has quite predictably gone nuts, as the Albatross in general and this Albatross in particular, having been a star attraction for so long, is beloved by enthusiasts and the general public alike. Fly Albatross has been dismantling its website, removing the contact information for its directors and shutting down their email system. The Museo dell’Aria Castello di San Pelagio for its part, is claiming to have no idea how this occurred, conveniently ignoring the fact that this desecration took place on their property and was in large part brought about by their own negligence and obstinacy and finally their malevolent and usurious rent scheme. The museum is even taking to social media and making the hardly credible claim that they were intending to restore the plane all along, accompanied by graphic photos documenting the destruction of the Albatross on their Facebook page.

When the finger-pointing is done and the dust has settled, the fact will remain that a horrible and completely unnecessary tragedy has occurred and there is not a single organization that was involved that doesn’t deserve a share of the blame; and we’re all the poorer for it.

WD NEW_AFF

49 Comments

  1. A sad day for historical aviation.
    Seems they could have found something short of the wrecking ball to solve their stupid little people problems. Once its gon, its gon. very sad.

  2. i am shure the airframe could have been sold for 60,000 easy. these people had there heads really far up the asses and still do pull it out dumb shits

  3. Greed, Stupedity, Self Centerdness, brought the Destruction of the Aircraft.
    Because certain People wanted control over an irreplaceable item. Now, that
    This *{” If I Can’t Have it, No One Can “}* Criminal Tragedy has occurred;
    What’s left…

    SEAN M. SCOTT. (CW-2)
    Grumman Albatross HU-16E
    Flying Boats
    BU#1275.
    http://www.albairbu16.com

  4. What a bunch of idiots! The demise of that bird is due to just plain greed and ignorance! Its such a sad affair for the aviation community. They, the Italians, should never be allowed to purchase another bird from our bone yard,period!

  5. People create costly organisations around such planes and promote each other to “managing director” roles and such. Any money in such an organization go to paying the salaries to the “directors” and finally these vultures have sucked all the money out of the thing. Historically important things should not be put into the hands of fools.

  6. This is not the first time an important airframe has been scrapped. The RAF Museum at Hendon had a big Blackburn Beverly transport that was left in the open and deteriorated to such an extent that it was scrapped. Currently there are 2 Avro Shackletons rotting away in Cyprus. There are also several Cold War era jets sitting in the open air at European museums or collections, and the European climate is not as kind to aircraft in the open air as the Davis Monthan storage facilities.

    • Hey John,

      I totally agree with you on the climate thing, I moved to Arizona from the Northeastern US for that very reason.

      The thing about the Grumman, is that it was a revered and famous plane over there, and it would appear it was destroyed more out of spite than anything else.

      We cover deteriorating planes to bring attention to the plight of these historic craft. Just like the demolition of the old Penn Station in New York City spawned the landmark preservation movement there, hopefully it will wake up some to the loss of irreplaceable historic artifacts.

      Another story we did a little while back is was on the Khodynka Aerodrome, where some of the Soviet’s best aeronautical work is being destroyed bit by bit by vandals and exposure to the elements, check it out if you haven’t already.

      http://warbirdsnews.com/warbird-articles/ex-soviet-aircraft-disintegrating-moscows-oldest-airfield-dwindles.html

      Roger

  7. John B has a point. The reason why we have only a few examples of aircraft that were in service in large numbers only a few decades ago, eg Vulcan, Lightning, Canberra, is that our own people scrapped them so we should not single out the Italians. I only listed British aircraft above but I am sure people can think of many US examples as well.

  8. TYPICAL Italian ! Talking ,cheating, lying and arguing all day long with no results to show.
    Just like in the Italian art world.

    You are a disgusting People ! ! !

    • Hi Helmut, that one of the Grumman is a sad story, but, as I read above, we are in a good company of Countries letting old planes going this way.
      About your comment about us as a People and about our Country you looked so superficial that I’d be very happy to host you here in Italy so to help you to see, maybe, something different.

    • Just posting here what I’ve already posted on FB to our kind and gentle Mr Zotter who, I can see here, is in very good company with some other very judicious and open minded people:
      Good morning to the gentle (?) European (and American I would add here) people. This museum and the person responsible for this outrageous act have already been boycotted and libelled on various printed and web magazines, while authorities have been informed so they can verify if they can be prosecuted legally. This abhorrent act was discovered and brought to the public opinion by the association I belong to: HAG Historical Aircraft Group Italy http://www.hag-italy.it/ this is how Warbirdsnews got the information (by the way, one of the guys responsible for the editing of this american web magazine is a trans ocean member of our association). Dear Mr. Helmuth J. Zotter instead of lavishing miserable and very easy comments over people and an entire nation, next june you are kindly invited to come and be our guest at our annual HAG FLYPARTY where, like this year, among about 200 aircraft, you will find about 60 vintage ones, old warbirds, classic airplanes, helicopters and jets, WITHOUT having to pay any entrance ticket. Of course everybody else is invited too. Have a nice week end full of flying; I won’t be flying, I’ll be too much busy talking a lot of s..t all day, sunbathing, singing melodious songs with a mandolino, eating pizza at lunch and spaghetti tonight and of course cheating, but only German people ! Happy landings!!!

      • Dear Mr. Paolo Colucci,

        thank you very much for the invitation and free entrance, but unfortunately I have to decline since I am afraid of pickpockets in your country and crazy ship captains.
        Since I am on a strict diet I have to refrain from all the starchy food as well.

        I wish you all the best and appreciate your sense of humor.

        Best to you

        • Oh! you know! We have pickpockets (by the way, what are all those Americans, English and Germans – yes, Germans too – doing buying fabulous villas and countryhouses in Tuscany, Marche and Puglia and moving there to live there?!?!?! don’t they know they risk their lives everyday?!?!?!), we have Schettinos (and also phenomenal sailors, firemen, fishermen and volounteers who in slightly less than 2 hours have evacuated hundreds of people from a half sunked ship, at night!) and really starchy food (but isn’t there tons of starch in kartoffel?!). But for always, and ever, you will have Auschwitz.

          • The Germans are there because it’s cheap 🙂
            I know you guys are expert in running ships aground and sinking ships, like jumping from them, abandoning Passengers etc…

            I told you I do not eat starchy food, that would include Kartoffel of course.

            I remember somebody smart once said :

            “You will have to face that you are turn coats and traitors, you have it in your blood. A member of a no good race.”!

            You are such a drama queen, stop using words like Honor, Respect, Loyalty. You know nothing about it.
            When the shit hits the fan, you run. Proven again and again….

            A great American WWII General once said.
            I rather face a Battalion Krauts than have a Battalion Italians in the rear.

            Ciao

    • Helmut, it is sad fact for all of us despite we are disgusting italian art world acting.
      Before to spread so poor art word get a ride to our Museum in Vigna di Valle (Bracciano lake in north of Rome) where you, like thousands already done it, will be able to see one of the better air museum of the world (a great Albatross there is too).
      You will be surprise how population of a so bad nation was able to make so great thing (available for anyone totally FREE).

      Helmut, you are right we are a very bad disgusting people, but believe me, a lot better of many people all around. We are trying to become better, I hope the others will do the same.

    • Ma va a farti fottere ..tu e la tua gran cultura ..avete ammazzato 10 milioni di indiani..f.y. and your “wonderful” culture..you and your people had dead 10 millions of native…the Albatross disaster si a great disaster for people that like airplanes..

  9. OK guys i think it’s enough.

    Please feel free to comment about the article and let’s leave the stupidity out.

  10. I was stationed at DM from 1964 to 1966 and I remember seeing this aircraft type being brought out of the boneyard, restored to flying condition and test flown. No doubt I saw this very plane. So sad.

    Buck Seibert

  11. There is no doubt large aeroplanes need lots of hangar space in order to keep them away from the elements. If any reader has visited Duxford in the UK, think how big the American Forces Museum has to be to hold, among others, a B17, a B29 and a B52. Then at the other end of the site there is a hangar that has a Vulcan, Lancaster, Sunderland etc. All this space comes at a cost that is not easily met unless you are a government organization or a billionaire. The funding for the Albatross was not thought through.
    I think some commentators have been too harsh on the Italian armed forces. Their human torpedoes scuppered two RN battleships in Alexandria Harbour, and the crews of the SM79 torpedo bombers pressed home attacks against very heavy flak. If your generals are not very good, no matter how well our troops fight, they will lose. Also, some account needs to be taken of how effective Allied propaganda was in portraying the Italians as “losers”.

  12. Don’t forget the distruction of the B-29 in the making of the movie: “The Last Flight of
    Noah’s Ark”. Senseless, stupid and tragic. There is isn’t a country or an organization in
    the world who at one time or another let something slip away. I remember a number of
    of old military aircraft that sat for years hear at the airport that later went to the local
    crape-metal collector. (How-ever, a rare A-20 Havoc was rescued by the CAF)

  13. That’s as retarded as the Taliban destroying a 1000 years old statue of buddah discovered in the mountain. Shhheeessshhh Italians!

  14. This reminds me of the USS Barb (SS-220). During the seven war patrols she conducted in the Pacific between March 1944-August 1945, Barb is officially credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons, including the Japanese aircraft carrier Unyo. In recognition of one outstanding patrol, Commander Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor and Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation. On the sub’s 12th and final patrol of the war, Barb landed a party of carefully selected crew members who blew up a railroad train. This is notable as the only ground combat operation that took place on the Japanese home islands.

    Fast forward to 1954, when she was decommissioned and loaned to Italy under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and named Enrico Tazzoli (S-511) by the Italian Navy.

    The submarine was eventually sold for scrap in 1972 for approximately $100,000.

  15. I’m surprise your website had published that kind of reply so “ungentle” with Italians. In this sad story the italian styupidity was at least driven by money, and they will burn in Dante’s Inferno for that. But Helmut and Jeff’s stupidity is just free of charge. No one better than italians knows how strong it is fight against moneypower, burocracy and common stupidity. And many of italian aviation enthusiastics know that S. Pelagio Museum management it is a scandal. But money rules, don’t you know? Especially poor minds involved in this sad story… That’s why it is easier find aircrafts in italian backyards rather in italian museum. But, you know, it is the same all around the world.
    For the two Genius above (and many Others): if your wallet is as big as your mouth you can try to buy the C-130 former RAF that someone wants convert very soon into tuna cans (according to AFM); but if your wallet is as big as your brain…

  16. I am speechless. The historic aircraft should have been moved to another spot where it is much more appreciated. It feels like erasing an important part of Italian Aviation history covering SAR missions. Shame!

  17. I enjoyed the German/ Italian jousting there gentlemen. I am from Alabama, the gulf coast region. Plenty of lazy starch gobbling people around here, I assure you. 🙂
    As for the Albatross, a very kind guy we all know down here, Jimmy Buffett, gulf Coast native, musician, author, and a flying boat enthusiast, might have saved the day for all these misaligned people, and preserved the aircraft as well. I’d bet my hat and coat a simple phone call would have changed the outcome to good. What a shame. An HU-16 would have looked great parked in front of LuLu’s.
    Mobile Alabama

  18. New to this website. This news makes me sick and speechless. Hopefully, we as warbird and aviation enthusiasts can band together to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

  19. In 1951 my B-26 was seriously hit by North Korean 57 mm AA. I was able to nurse it out to sea near Cho Do, a small island occupied by the NKA. We ditched about 15 miles off shore after May Daying our position. In about 20 minutes an Air Sea Rescue aircraft from Ashia AFB in Japan was airborne from Kimpo AFB on its way back to Japan and was dispatched to our position for a rescue. It was an SA-16 Albatross..
    It landed in a class 4 sea condition which was the maximum condition the little bird could handle. I will always be grateful for that little plane and its crew. I am here today to morn the wanton destruction of one fine aircraft.. RIP Alby.

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