Monday, October 10, 2011

Monogram HU-16E Albatross

Sometime in either late 1975 or early 1976, my Mom got a job as a secretary at the Letcher Mint. Al Letcher minted commemorative coins and casino tokens at a small plant in Lancaster. He also collected and flew vintage jet airplanes, including a DeHavilland Vampire Mk3 and an Armstrong Whitworth Meteor N.F. 11. As soon as she started working for Al, he invited my family to watch him fly his planes at Mojave Airport on the weekends. What a magical place for a kid like me at a time when my fascination for airplanes was growing rapidly. In the mid-70s, Mojave Airport was mostly quiet, with lots of derelict airplanes on the tarmac. There were a few small industrial businesses located in hangars along the flight line, including Flight Systems Inc., but it was not like it is today. There was also no commercial airliner storage there either. There were however some interesting artifacts including two Douglas C-133 Cargomasters, a gutted-out KC-97, and two U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatrosses parked next to each other. One day, the airport manager Dan Sabovich, got the padlock key for one of the Albatrosses, and let us take a look inside. I remember the interior being all flat black, which made it very hot inside. What was striking though was the completely original interior, including passenger seats, radar gear, radios, and navigational equipment. I even got to sit up front and play with the controls for a couple minutes.
Around this time I was excited to see a model kit of the Coast Guard Albatross at Gemco, and had to have it. It was Monogram's 1975 reissue of their popular U.S. Air Force SA-16B Albatross kit from the late 50s. The model looked exactly like the two HU-16Es I saw at Mojave.
Putting that first HU-16E model together on the picnic table in my back yard is still a vivid memory for me. As usual for this time in my model making, I used my Mom's black paint for the radome and tires. My Dad gave me some thin purple and yellow pin-striping tape to spice the plane up a bit, but it peeled off not long after application. This first Albatross got a lot of heavy play around the house. I especially liked the retractable landing gear, and I wore it out after repeated operation.
A couple years later, I bought another HU-16E to replace the first one. On the second one, I hand-painted the red and blue Coast Guard colors, but it didn't look very good. I free-handed all of it, and my demarcation lines were pretty rough. On top of that, painting gloss blue and red enamel on white plastic by brush looks terrible.

On this third rebuild pictured here, I spray painted the red panels with Tamiya bright red, and also sprayed the blue stripe with Tamiya French Blue. What I like about this Monogram reissue is they molded the plastic in a thick white styrene that looks like it's painted semi-gloss white. So, I left the white plastic unpainted, which saved a lot of time and labor. Even for an experienced modeler, the Coast Guard red, white, and blue paint scheme is a challenge to get right. I went through a lot of masking tape on this one! But if done right, the results are fantastic. I also painted the interior flat black like I remember in the real airplane at Mojave. This adds some realism to the model when finished, since you don't see a white interior through the clear windows. I was a little disappointed with the original decals. They stayed together in one piece, but were too thick to completely conform over the heavy rivet lines, even with copious amounts of Micro Sol. They were also a bit yellowed from age. I covered them with a thin coat of Testors semi-gloss clear acrylic after they dried just to make sure they stay on permanently.
This is a fun moel to build, but not necessarily a fun kit to paint. The original Air Force version is much easier. But, with patience and skill, the Coast Guard HU-16E is real eye candy on the shelf once she's finished.
Because of the Mojave Airport connection I have with this plane, the Monogram HU-16E is one of my all-time favorite model airplane kits.


  1. Nice job on the HU-16 Don. This is the kit that got me back into modeling in 1976 after an elistment in the Air Force, college, and marriage. I spotted it on the toy department shelves in the local K-Mart as I was heading to the hardware department for some home repair supplies. I have been hooked ever since and still have the Albatross model, one of the most attractive in my collection. Thanks for a great blog.

  2. Yep, I know what you mean. The box top says it all: Buy Me! Buy Me!