Restored Grumman Albatross carries memories to Ketchikan

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2001

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- When a Grumman Albatross flew into town Wednesday night and landed in Ward Cove, it brought a little Ketchikan aviation history with it.

Alaska Airlines pilot Terry Smith, owner of the largest and last amphibious model Grumman made in the 1950s, brought along distinguished crew members who have played a part in Ketchikan's aviation history.

Crew member Jay Ellis is the nephew of Alaska aviation pioneer Bob Ellis, who founded Ellis Airlines, a company that merged with Alaska Coastal Airlines of Juneau and eventually Alaska Airlines.

Jay was a mechanic for Ellis Airlines and later a station supervisor for Alaska Airlines in Juneau.

Smith's wife, Terri Ellis Smith, is Jay's daughter. She lived in Ketchikan through her junior high years.

Leon Snodderly, who also grew up in Ketchikan, was an Ellis Airlines Grumman Goose pilot and later a pilot for Alaska Airlines.

Gene Heath, who also grew up in Ketchikan, flew for Ellis Airlines, too, and later made the transition to Alaska Airlines as a pilot.

The Smiths were en route to their home in Anchorage for the Alaska Airmans Aviation Trade Show, which begins Saturday.

Bob Ellis' son Pete, a Ketchikan attorney, said the Albatross was never licensed for commercial use. But the aircraft were in demand by the military and the Coast Guard in Alaska used them for patrol and air-sea rescue out of Annette Island, Sitka, Kodiak and other locations, Ellis said.

''It's a neat airplane,'' he said.

Smith bought the plane nearly a year ago in Santa Rosa, Calif., where a fleet of Albatross is being restored. The plane originally was part of the Davis Montham Airfield in Tuscon, Ariz., where it was purchased in 1989 and taken to Santa Rosa.

The Albatross features retractable wheels and can land on water or runways. Smith said he has been flying this particular Grumman for 11 years. The plane was one of two commissioned by the United States Navy for service in Antarctica in 1954 and was designed to land on snow. The manufacturer's plate inside the planes fuselage has a date of March 16, 1955.

Smith said he has spent about $750,000 to date on restoration work for the plane, which cost $30,000 to produce in 1955. The cabin area still sports its original Navy gray panels, which eventually will be replaced when the interior is remodeled. He plans to add a couple of beds to the long interior to add to the comfort of their planned long-range world travels with the plane. It currently has seating capacity for 14.

The aircraft is 60 feet long and has a wing span of 80 feet. The top of its tail is 25 feet from ground.

The plane, which weighs 20,000 pounds, can haul 10,040 pounds of fuel, giving it a cruising range of 1,800 miles. It has two main tanks that hold 338 gallons of fuel each, and two drop tanks each having a 300-gallon fuel capacity.

The Albatross is powered by two 1,425-horsepower Wright Cyclone 1820-86 radial engines that can fly nonstop for 15 hours at a cruising speed of 150 to 160 knots.

Smith said the Albatross is the best and easiest of the Grumman amphibious planes to fly. The Smiths said the plane probably will be based in Anchorage for most of the summer.

After landing at Ward Cove, the aircraft taxied to an ocean ramp and wheeled onto dry ground. It entered the water again Thursday morning for takeoff.


(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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