APEX Insight: While the Albatross One may not seem like the ideal aircraft for a connectivity test flight, it’s noisy vibrations tests the limits of its systems. At the APEX EXPO, GEE took a few lucky delegates and journalists on a tour over Portland.
One might think that an in-flight technology and content supplier would want to demonstrate its IFE and connectivity solutions in a state-of-the-art airliner, in a plane that just rolled off the assembly line. But Global Eagle Entertainment decided to take a radically different approach when it converted a vintage flying boat into an airborne test bed. At APEX EXPO, select groups of lucky attendees were invited onboard this piece of aviation history for 30-minute flights, launching from Portland’s Willamette River, minutes from the Oregon Convention Center.
Albatross One is a snorting, rumbling, twin-radial engine Grumman HU-16B amphibious flying boat that first flew in 1951. After flying search-and-rescue missions with the US Air Force, the plane went on to support NASA’s Space Shuttle training program. The astronauts’ post-mission signatures have been preserved on one of the cabin’s walls.
GEE has been flying Albatross One all over North America since 2008. “It’s an airplane that gathers a lot of interest,” says Simon McLellan, GEE’s chief engineer and VP engineering, who is also rated to pilot the Albatross. “This airplane is so unusual, and there aren’t many of them around now. We show the Internet on it, of course, but the fun part is that people love flying in it.”
The amphib is equipped with GEE’s third-generation system, which includes high-speed broadband, high-definition television, and streaming video-on-demand. Inflight, the flying boat’s intense vibrations simulate a “worst case” scenario, ensuring rigorous testing of the systems. And McLellan says that operating Albatross One isn’t as costly as might be expected for a 60-year-old flying antique. “As airplanes go, it’s a very inexpensive test bed, as opposed to a 737 or a business jet,” he says.
Meanwhile, back on the ground at APEX EXPO, GEE announced a major agreement with Etihad Airways to provide in-flight entertainment content aboard six airlines of Etihad Airways Partners.
All photos by Howard Slutsken.