The vintage 1952 Grumman Albatross

The vintage 1952 Grumman Albatross – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

“Do you have time this week for a flight in a 1952…”

“Yes.”

“What time do you have ava……”

“I’ll make time available. Just grab me a seat!”

That’s pretty much the conversation I had prior to the 2015 APEX Expo, where Global Eagle subsidiary Row 44 had its Grumman Albatross on hand to give demo flights throughout the week. Naturally, when offered the chance to hop on board for one of the flights, I made it my business to be available.

The classic controls - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The classic controls – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Global Eagle is the in-flight internet provider to a few major airlines in the United States, including Southwest Airlines. While its satellite equipment is installed on hundreds of commercial aircraft, an aircraft it can call its own is necessary to constantly test the service and upcoming products. While our friends at Gogo now have a 737 to call their own, Global Eagle kind of went the other way on this one. Its test aircraft is this wonderful old Albatross. What better way to test the future of in-flight connectivity than with a half century old twin–radial engine amphibious flying boat?

The high-tech satellite radome on top of the 1952 flying boat

The high-tech satellite radome on top of the 1952 flying boat – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Many of you are probably thinking to yourself “that’s crazy, why would they use that ancient plane!?” Well, there is actually a pretty good reason. Sitting on top of the Albatross is a satellite WiFi antenna encased in a large radome. The radome must sit perfectly on top of the fuselage to protect the sensitive satellite equipment. The top of the Albatross’ fuselage just happens to have the same curvature of a Boeing 737, making it an ideal test aircraft for a fraction of the ownership and operating costs. Also, it looks pretty damn sweet. Oh, and it freaks out local media, too.

This year’s APEX Expo was held in Portland, Oregon, and the Willamette River just happens to be right down the street from the convention center, giving Global Eagle the perfect opportunity to show off the Albatross. Along with a number of other journalists, I made my way to the river bank and onto a speedboat, and the Albatross was waiting for us, anchored in the middle of the Willamette.

The captain checking out the view - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The captain checking out the view – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

With a portable generator on the roof acting as an APU (auxiliary power unit), I climbed on board and seemingly went back in time just a little bit. The cabin has been nicely refurbished with cushy leather seats and tables, and the ceiling is lined with all sorts of high-tech WiFi equipment. The flight deck is just as updated, with totally modern avionics on board. This aircraft from the 1950s has more tech on board than most commercial aircraft flying today.

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Flying over the Portland area – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

For takeoff, I sat just behind the pilot up in the flight deck so I could get an unparalleled view. The two radial engines spun to life and we began our taxi (voyage?) to the center of the river for takeoff. Even with my noise canceling headphones on, the engine noise was incredible, but in the best possible way. Before long, we were at speed and slowly climbing to our cruising altitude of a whopping 700 feet.

The Albatross was zipping along the path of the river, buzzing neighborhoods and eventually more rural areas. With the river less cluttered, the pilots performed two “splash and go’s,” which was an absolutely incredible experience. Of course, since the Albatross is WiFi-enabled, I streamed most of the flight on Periscope, which was a bizarre feeling since the aircraft is so old.

A classic beauty - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

A classic beauty – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

After only a few minutes, we turned back towards downtown Portland and made our approach to land. Over high-tension power lines, under a bridge, and just like that we were once again a boat drifting on the river. There really is nothing else quite like it.

Enjoy more photos in my Global Eagle Grumman Albatross Flickr album.

CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Jason is an #AvGeek that does passenger experience research, data analysis, and writes things about airlines, airplanes and travel. Email: [email protected].

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8 Comments
Glen Towler

They should bring this aircraft to Oshkosh and give out rides at the seaplane base that would be popular even if they made people pay I am sure the lines would be very long. A great way for gobal eagle to get there name into the public domain

JL Johnson

Sounds like fun……

JL | AirlineReporter

At least for AvGeeks, how the heck can they promote their Wifi services from such a fun airplane? Flying Wifi is wonderful (when available and when functional) but in this case, I’d be far more interested in the airplane! That updated flight deck and panel is a genuine treasure. Since PDX is my former hometown of (ahem, 50+ years) I recognized everything. The video is great. I regret that I could not make the APEX show, but stuff happens. An outstanding report, Jason. Thank you. -C.

You mean we almost met Cook — if you would have gone to APEX?

David | AirlineReporter

Wow! That would be such an awesome experience!

Peter Mac

Couldn’t help myself as soon as I saw the picture of the Albatross. Thanks for a great article.

Ric Blamer

I saw this bird at Camarillo Airport near LA. It was parked next to us as we prepared to leave for Oshkosh in July. It is an awesome plane.

You lucky duck… I mean, er… albatross !!!

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