Consolidated PBY Catalina

The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat, and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations.

During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. In 2014, nearly 80 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber (or airtanker) in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.

The designation “PBY” was determined in accordance with the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing “Patrol Bomber” and Y being the code assigned to Consolidated Aircraft as its manufacturer. Catalinas built by other manufacturers for the US Navy were designated according to different manufacturer codes, thus Canadian Vickers-built examples were designated PBV, Boeing Canada examples PB2B (there already being a Boeing PBB) and Naval Aircraft Factory examples were designated PBN. Canadian examples were named Canso by the Royal Canadian Air Force in accordance with contemporary British naming practice of naming seaplanes after coastal port towns, in this case for the town of Canso in Nova Scotia while the Royal Air Force used the name Catalina. The United States Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force used the designation OA-10. Navy Catalinas used in the Pacific against the Japanese for night operations were painted black overall, and as a result were sometimes referred to locally as “Black Cats”.

G-PBYA (formerly C-FNJF) – now based at Duxford Airfield, Cambs, England (previously at Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada)

Yet another surviving Catalina that owes its continued existence to the need for aerial fire fighting aircraft, C-FNJF flew in this role for many years, not only in various Canadian Provinces but also in the South of France.

Its military career as a Royal Canadian Air Force Canso A, serial 11005, included wartime usage with 9 (BR) Squadron and a post-war spell with the famous 413 Tusker Squadron which had operated Catalina flying boats with distinction within the Royal Air Force in Scotland and the Indian Ocean Theatre during the Second World War. When 11005 was with 413 Squadron, it was engaged in more peaceful aerial mapping and photographic reconnaissance out of Rockliffe, Ontario, work that mostly took it northward and up into Arctic regions. It also flew with 121 Search & Rescue Flight from Sea Island, Vancouver. After being withdrawn from military service in 1959, it was stored for a time at Lincoln Park and was formally struck off charge in May 1961. It was initially sold to Frontier Air Transport and was intended for use by CANSPEC as a water bomber with under-wing tanks. Instead, it appears to have been converted by Field Aviation with internal hull tanks.

In 1963, it was with Kenting Aviation of Toronto and, in their ownership, it spent several seasons in France as they hired their water bombing fleet out on a regular basis. In France, it was operated by the French Government body, Protection Civile, based at Marseille. In common with all of the Protection Civile Catalinas, it bore a coloured identification stripe, in this case blue, on the rear hull and was known by the call sign Pelican Bleu. It is known to have flown in France during the 1966, ’67 and ’68 seasons and carried two different French Government registrations, F-ZBAY and F-ZBBD.

In 1974, it parted company with Kentings as they disposed of their fleet and it then flew for a while with Prince Albert-based Norcanair on fire fighting duties in Saskatchewan. It carried a vivid white, grey and dayglo orange livery with the hull code ’14’. Around 1980, it was taken over by the Province of Saskatchewan fire fighting service at La Ronge and was eventually repainted bright yellow with green and red trim, coded ‘7’.

As one of a fleet of three Catalinas flown by the Province, it soldiered on for many years, maintained in superb condition and operated alongside more modern equipment in the fleet, namely Grumman Trackers and Canadair CL-215s. On one memorable occasion, it flew in a local air display with its two sister aircraft and a formation water drop was carried out at low level!

C-FNJF was purchased by Duxford-based Catalina Aircraft Ltd in August 2002. The company has been formed to enable 20 shareholders to own a share of this classic piece of aviation history, to participate in its operation and, if qualified, to fly the aircraft as pilot. The aircraft has now been returned to fully airworthy state and was ferried to her new base at Duxford Airfield, England in March 2004, from where she is now being operated by Plane Sailing.

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