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Record Holding Albatross Retires to Hiller Aviation Museum

By Herb Foreman

The Grumman Albatross on the runway at the Hiller Aviation Museum. (Hiller Aviation Museum)Reid Dennis, venture capitalist and charter jet operator has donated his beautiful Grumman Albatross to the Hiller Aviation Museum at the San Carlos  (Calif.) Airport. The Albatross will be a significant addition to this already wonderful display of aircraft. I’m certain if Stan Hiller were still alive today, he would have a very wide smile on his face.

Reid was born in the San Francisco Bay area and grew up watching the Pan American Clipper Ships flying from their port at Treasure Island to Hawaii and other destinations throughout the world. They must have had a profound effect on the young man as he grew to manhood.

Reid graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelors degree in electrical engineering in 1950 after his service in the U.S. Navy. He continued his education with a Masters degree in business administration in 1952.

In 1974, with the help of American Express, he founded a privately held venture capital partnership that eventually had a market value of more than $60 billion and created more than 125,000 new jobs. He could easily be called the father of the Venture Capital industry.

Reid began work on his private pilot’s license in August 1963 at Hap Harper’s Flying School at the San Carlos Airport. He had his first lesson on a Friday evening and soloed the following Thursday morning. Today, he has more than 9,000 hours in his logbook.

His interest in sea planes cam back to life in 1974 when he purchased his Grumman Mallard (G-73) from Frank Fuller of the Fuller Paint Company. It is certified in the Air Transport category and is presently configured to seat 10 passengers. Of all the aircraft he has flow, he considers the Mallard the most fun.

For many years, he dreamed of flying the routes of the early Pan American clippers but the Mallard did not have that kind of range or ability. He found a derelict Albatross in the Arizona desert and for the next seven years had it completely rebuilt and modified to fit his needs. It was better than new. With 500 pounds of modern noise insulation, it became the quietest Albatross in the entire production run.

He spent six years in getting it ready for flight. The 80-foot wing-span was enlarged to 90-feet, six-inches that incorporated a drooping front edge providing greater load-carrying ability and low-speed control. The ailerons were increased by five feet to give it the best roll control of the entire production fleet.

New, modern instruments were installed and an SPZ200 autopilot was installed in the cockpit along with two new engines, wheels and tires. It even has a “galley” with a microwave, refrigerator and a shower-equipped bathroom. Two video cameras were installed for the moving map display.

Reid Dennis on the right in the Sky Kitchen at the San Carlos Airport with Andy Macfie. (Herb Foreman)He smiled when he said it had a spectacular ice-carrying (sensor) instrument called “Peggy Dennis,” his wife.  She would sit in the cabin with a bubble window that made picture taking easy. It would also be the first part of the aircraft to pick up traces of ice. It would take only seven or eight seconds for her to get to the cockpit to report that event to the pilot.

A series of events that began in 1996 caused him to abandon the idea of recreating the routes of the early Pan American Flying Ships. Andy Macfie, a mechanic that had worked on both the Albatross and the Lockheed 10-E introduced him to Linda Finch who was planning to re-create Amelia Earhart’s 1937 flight around the world. Linda had found and restored a Lockheed 10-E similar to the one Amelia had flown and she wanted a “chase plane” that could bring cameras, reporters and educational material along.

Linda invited Reid to join her on this “world flight” and he accepted the challenge with the thought it might even be better than following the old Pan Am routes. He explained that working on the necessary details of the trip was as meticulous and exciting as taking a company public. He found out later that this would be the first time an amphibious aircraft6 had circumnavigated the globe, another record.

The world flight almost created as much excitement as did the 1937 event that ended in the crash that gook the lives of 39-year-old Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, off the shores of Howland Island in the Pacific. Howland was to be their last stop before their return to Honolulu and Oakland. The Grumman and the Lockheed would make 38 stops in 21 countries in their flight that began March 17, 1997 and ended May 29, 73 days later.

Reid flew the Albatross most of the way and he and Andy Macfie from Point Richmond, Calif., were the only two crew members who flew the entire trip. Reid’s wife, Peggy, flew with them most of the way as did a newspaper reporter, two photographers and a videographer. Linda flew the Lockheed accompanied by a crew of navigators and co-pilots.

The Albatross will be a wonderful addition to other great displays at the Hiller Museum. Thousands of visitors will have the opportunity to see this piece of history during the years ahead. What about the Lockheed? The Seattle Museum of Flight recently began a campaign to purchase it for $2.2 million. To date, it has received more than half that amount in donations. These two pieces of aviation history will be well preserved through the years. Many thanks to Reid Dennis!

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Reader Comments (2)

A virtual tour of the interior of the HU-16C Albatross now residing at the Hiller Museum can be found at:

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Highton

I flew with Reid Dennis and Andy Macfie in 2002 on Lake Mead while we had our annual requal. I had flown the Albatross in Air Force Rescue for 15 years. Our birds were never like 44RD! I was especially impressed with the S2 engine and prop conversion. Paddle props make a huge difference in performance.
I wonder if anyone today gets to enjoy what Reid did for 44RD ?

June 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Manning

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