This Dakota Hunter Blog shows you some rare photos of the Consolidated/ Convair Catalina PBY before, during, and after WWII.
The Flying Boat was a contemporary of the Douglas DC-3/ C-47 with more or less equal dimensions, same radial R-1830 Pratt & Whitney aero engines, and belonging to the very select group of WWII-built aircraft that had a long Post-War second career. Along with that Douglas C-47/DC-3 and the Curtiss Commando C-46, they make the Jurassic Park of Aviation with the Catalina until recently still operational in the fire-fighting role.
“80 Years, a Tribute to the PBY CATALINA” is the title of my new book, with 400+ stunning photos of this iconic aircraft.
The feature photo shows the remnants of a private Catalina PBY-5A N5593V, that was on an around-the-world tour, organized by Californian millionaire Thomas W. Kendall who had converted the Catalina Amphibian to a luxury air yacht. On March 22, 1960, the Catalina landed in the water near the Ras Alsheikh Hamid, on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. In the afternoon of the following day, they were attacked by a Bedouin coast patrol, as part of the Saudi Arabian army. They took that Cat for an Israeli Spy Plane and fired machine guns from nearby. The aircraft was hit by some 300 bullets, but the American family remained unhurt. They were eventually taken to Jeddah, interrogated, and finally set free with the help of the American Ambassador. The Catalina was abandoned on the beach and deteriorated over the years. A Kendall family member has supplied me with all photos and the full story of what happened out there in the desert! It is all in my book.
Photo above depicts the Consolidated PBY Catalina, designed in the 1930s by Isaac M. Laddon. The first PBY (Patrol Bombers made by Consolidated) types flew in March 1935 and entered service with the US Navy in 1936, long before the War. The type was ordered by numerous Allied Military forces and flew during WWII in maritime patrol work in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Convoy escorts, Cargo Flights, and Search and Rescue (SAR) roles. When the US Navy retired its Catalinas in 1957, 3,281 units were made in the USA and Canada (most as Canso) and 24 made in the USSR. Over 2000 were PBY-5 Flying Boats (that could only land on water) and some 1200 were PBY-5A’s, with A for Amphibians, provided with retractable wheels, fit for landing on water, or land.
Photo above shows a magnificent shot of a Catalina on patrol over the Aleutian Islands. The string of islands was running from the Alaskan “panhandle” all the way West to Asia. There was a justified fear that this string could be used by Japanese Naval Forces to hop from the West over the islands right into Alaska. The Japanese occupied two tiny islands in the far western part of the ring, both were American soil. In June 1942, a Japanese attack with Aircraft carriers on Dutch Harbor, Alaska followed; the panic in Alaska was complete and justified. Long Distance patrol flights with the versatile Catalina PBY-5A were executed around the clock. See for more details of this authentic story my earlier Blog (08-08-2015) about this most interesting subject. Click here at Nippon’s second attack on the USA.
Photo above shows a later version of the Catalina known as the PBN-1 Nomad. 138 of these aircraft were supplied to the Russians under Lend-Lease along with a quantity of PBY-6A amphibians. In addition, 24 PBYs known initially as GSTs were built in Russia under license but with locally built power plants after three had been provided from the USA as pattern aircraft. The Lend-Lease machines were delivered by air from the USA by several routes – the mid-Atlantic via Puerto Rico, Brazil, West Africa, Egypt, and Sebastopol; the North Atlantic route via Newfoundland, Iceland and Murmansk and the Alaskan route via Kodiak to Vladivostok and onwards via Siberia. (Information courtesy David Legg, editor of “The Catalina News’ Magazine who gave me fabulous support in the making of this book!)
Photo above shows a Catalina in Royal Air Force Coastal Command colors. Other manufacturers than Consolidated built the type for the US Navy and Allied forces and they were designated according to the manufacturer. Canadian Vickers built Canso A’s for the RCAF and OA-10A’s for the USAAF, Boeing Aircraft of Canada built PB2B-1s and PB2B-2s that flew with various Allied air arms and also built Canso A’s for the RCAF whilst the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia built the modified PBN-1 Nomad. The name ‘Catalina’ was coined by the British and was used widely whilst those aircraft used in the Pacific on night ops were painted black and colloquially known as ‘Black Cats’. .
Photo above: Catalina charged with bombs and depth charges under the wings in the Anti-Submarine/ Anti-Shipping Warfare role. Note the parasol wing, mounted on the fuselage’s pylon. Located in this narrow pylon-space was the flight engineer’s station, who had with small side windows a good view on both engines. Also well visible are the outer wing mounted retractable floats, a patented design from Saunders-Roe that saved drag in normal flight when the floats were hinged/ folded to become the wing tips.
Photo above shows best the very peculiar pre-war design of the Catalina, the most successful Flying Boat/ Amphibian ever made but still with “old -school” elements like the bracing struts under the wings and a large part of the trailing edge of the main wing still clad with canvas and the absence of wing-flaps, which allowed the contemporary aircraft designs like the DC-3 to come in at lower speed.
The Catalinas were extensively used as Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft during WWII in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean and in the Indian Ocean from the Seychelles Islands and Ceylon. With its unparalleled flight range, only the Cat could fly from Ceylon non-stop to Perth, Australia. Their duties included escorting shipping convoys to Murmansk in the Northern Atlantic route. By 1943, German Submarines were well-armed with anti-aircraft guns to discourage attacking Catalinas. But later in the war, Catalinas received Radar equipment, Sonar, Leigh-lights, and Mad Booms, making the aircraft’s tracking potential more effective with attacks at night. In total, Catalinas destroyed 40 U-boats and a Brazilian Catalina attacked and sank U-199 in Brazilian waters on 31 July 1943.
Photo above shows the maintenance facility of the flying boat PBY-5 in the Pacific War theater.
Both the USAAF, the US Navy, the RAAF, the RNZAF, and the Dutch MLD (Militaire Luchtvaart Dienst) in what now is Indonesia, operated the Catalinas. The USAAF the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operated Catalinas as night raiders ( The Black Cats), with four squadrons, laying mines from April 1943 until July 1945 in the southwest Pacific: they deeply penetrated into Nippon-held territory and tied up the major strategic ports such as Balikpapan/ Borneo which shipped 60% of Japanese oil supplies. In late 1944, they flew mine-dropping missions that sometimes exceeded 20 hours in duration and were carried out from as low as 200 ft in the dark.
Photo above depicts a PBY-5 Black Cat, moored at a riverbank in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for refueling. A very sharp photo with amazing details. Fuel cans, ammo, and food, all loaded aboard with the help of the local tribesmen. It perfectly reflects the versatility of the Catalina, the aircraft that could penetrate at night deeply into the Japanese-held territory and attack harbors, ships, U-boats, enemy facilities and drop mines for hampering shipping/ supply lines. With no Allied airfields so close to the Enemy, only the Catalina could do this trick in very primitive conditions. With hardly any basic ground facilities available, they could launch attacks from hard-to-detect rivers and lagoons. Hidden in day-time and striking at night as “Rogue sharks from the deep of the ocean”. The Japanese hardly found an answer to the surprise night attacks of the Black Cats. Both the USAAF and the RAAF operated the Cats from Northern Australia and later PNG and Borneo for attacks on the Japanese Navy and ports in the Philippines.
That same island Borneo in Indonesia was my home for years in the 1950s where I lived with my family. My dad was a Shell oil-exploring engineer and before we came to live in the comfort of Balikpapan, we spent 3 years in the Borneo Jungle. In Sanga-Sanga at the border of the Mahakam River (near Samarinda), I had the incredible luck as a young kid to fly and watch the weekly landings of a Shell-operated Catalina that was purchased straight from the US-surplus after the war. With my dad, we flew that aircraft quite a few times and I vividly remember the outrageous experience of the flights and low runs over the jungle rivers of Borneo. That view would stay with me for the rest of my life and would later even be revived. This photo above is depicting the closest situation as to what I remember from the Mahakam river-landings and the surrounding jungle in Eastern Borneo. (Now Kalimantan)
Photo above depicts a Qantas Empire Airways operated Boeing built Catalina VH-EAW after a water landing on Howe Island, photo taken in the late 1940s.
Catalina’s were also used for commercial air travel right after the war. For example, Qantas flew commercial passengers from Suva to Sydney, a journey of 2,060 miles, which in 1949 took two days. The longest commercial flights ever made (measured in flight hours) were the Qantas Amphibian flights flown weekly from June 1943 through July 1945 over the Indian Ocean. Qantas offered non-stop service between Perth and Colombo, a distance of 3,592 nmi/4,134 mi/ 6,652 km). As the Catalina typically cruised at 110 knots/ 130 mph/200 km/h, this took from 28 to 32 hours and was called the “flight of the double sunrise”, since the passengers saw two sunrises during their non-stop journey. The flight was made in radio silence because of the possibility of Japanese attacks and had a maximum payload of 1,000 lb (450 kg) or three passengers plus 143 lb (65 kg) of military and diplomatic/ secret cargo (Source Wikipedia).
Photo above from LIFE Magazine, 1953. After the war, an entrepreneur named Glenn Odekirk saw a new future for the versatile Catalinas as extreme luxury flying yachts. They were to be the epitome of glamorous travel that he called the Landseaire. Odekirk was quoted in a Life magazine article in 1953 “I decided to build an aerial luxury yacht in which you can land and live almost anywhere in the world with all the comforts of home.” (source messynessychic.com)
Can you believe such a romantic dream to ever come true? Well, in the year 1993, I was engaged as a Corporate Creative Executive and was requested to submit a storyboard for a TV-Documentary series, focused on an “Out of the Box -Travel around the World” concept, sort of a modern Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”
Well, you guess what I came up with? No, not the Jumbo or the Concorde, those were proposals that came in from the competing Ad-Agencies. But what came out of my pen was the TV format named the “Catalina TransAtlantic Odyssey”, based on what I had experienced in Borneo some 40 years earlier!
In 8 episodes of the series, the first Trans Atlantic Tour took place in July 1993. I hired the Catalina Z-CAT from Zimbabwe that flew the African Catalina Safari tours from the Victoria Falls to Luxor, Egypt under the guidance of its owner, Frenchman Pierre Jaunet. On that expensive Safari flight, he had famous entrepreneurs as Bill Gates and his Microsoft Board of Directors booked for a 2-weeks flight.
Z-CAT was later sold to New Zealand, this Cat was resurrected as ZK-PBY for a new lease of life with passenger flights in New Zealand!
Photo above depicts Catalina Z-CAT during a water landing in Iceland, Jokulsarlon lake (First Catalina Odyssey, 1993). With spooky Icebergs around us, we were filming this landing from a small dinghy. A superior view and light as the Cat came in. Only 3 days later, on the final leg back to Holland, we blew an engine over the North Sea and had to divert to Aberdeen, Scotland for an emergency landing. We were heavy with full tanks and 18 people on board. Under the guidance of a Westland SeaKing Helicopter, we barely made it while dumping fuel, hoping to win some altitude. It just worked all right to land on one engine but the final leg to Amsterdam was made on board a Fokker Friendship. The Cat came in later, after an engine exchange. It was a real adventure trip with a double Atlantic crossing on a voyage of 6 weeks and nearly 200 flight hours!
Photo above; The second Catalina Odyssey Tour took place in summer 1994 with the filming of yet another 4 episodes. One episode took place in the Bahamas, Bimini. Our Catalina VR-BPS was landing in Bimini Bay. I had hired the Cat this time from Cambridge, UK, it was owned by Plane Sailing Ltd. The superb flight qualities of captain Paul Warren Wilson and the stronger engines R-2600 of this Super Cat made us perform the most wonderful water landings all over the Caribbean, South, and North America. From Rio’s Sugar Loaf Bay to a water landing in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. From Old Providencia’s lagoon to the BVI and Cuba’s North shore to end up with Bimini and the Cruiser port of Miami. That was the absolute “Flight of a Lifetime” of which I have collected tons of footage and photos.
I hope to make one day soon a superb final edit out of all this video material, to show you the “Romance of Flying Away to another World in a Flying Boat” that can virtually land anywhere in the world, But from the stunning photo materials, I have made this book!
80 Years, a tribute to the PBY Catalina
We flew over “Islands in the stream, that is what we are, no one in between, how can we be wrong, fly away with me to another world”. (free to the BeeGees song “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, RIP)
For more photos and info about the Catalina, see my landing page http://www.catalinabook.com
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Soon my new eBook will be published, you will be amazed, 400+ pages of captioned photos and stories! My books are the perfect B-Day / Christmas Gift for your ( Grand-) Dad, your friend, or for yourself.
Best regards, Hans Wiesman