After the rather downbeat nature of our last bulletin when I reported on the final demise of a couple of Catalina airframes, this current report is rather more optimistic in nature and includes news of two Catalinas that have returned to the air again after quite long sojourns on the ground.
First, and closest to home, is the former Greenpeace PBY-5A Catalina N423RS. Originally a US Navy aircraft and later used extensively as a survey ‘plane, mainly in Canada, it went on to fly parties of sport fishermen on charters in North America. Then, rather ironically, it was acquired for operation by Greenpeace who used it to police illegal fishing activity off the coasts of southern Spain. When that role came to an end, N423RS was flown to Duxford in the late-Summer of 1998 and for a while it was looked after by our own engineer Garry Short whilst a buyer was found. Society members with long memories may recall that it was this aircraft that Plane Sailing used in a fund-raising ‘tug’ down the Duxford runway when we were considering options for acquiring our second aircraft. In due course, it was sold to the group who were attempting to rebuild our original Catalina at Lee-on-the Solent in Hampshire and it was flown there only to enter a period of prolonged storage. This period only ended in when it was flown to another new owner at North Weald in Essex on December 8th, 2009. It remained un-flown at North Weald until, on March 5th this year, it took to the skies for the short ‘hop’ across the Thames Estuary to Biggin Hill in Kent. On the 25th, it was towed into the hangars of RAS who will be replacing some of the skinning on the wings, installing rear hull blisters (rescued a few years back from our old Catalina VP-BPS) and re-spraying it. The intention is that in due course it will fly to the USA for it current owner.
As an aside to the above report, North Weald has been the home for several Catalinas over the years, all of which have turned into long-term residents. These have been PBY-6A N212DM/G-BPFY/N285RA now in Israel, PBY-5A N9521C now airworthy in Virginia, USA and the aforementioned PBY-5A N423RS. It has also ben visited in the past for various air displays by our old Catalina G-BLSC/VR-BPS and by PBY-5A C-FHHR, now in Holland as PH-PBY (see below). Ironically, our own G-PBYA has never landed there.
Another Catalina that has taken to the air recently is PBY-5A PH-PBY mentioned briefly above. This passenger-carrying aircraft has had its ups and downs (pun intended obviously!) over the years and in recent times has been kept grounded for extended periods due to administrative issues. However, it is now flying again and carrying out passenger ‘splash ands gos’ in Holland and flying further afield too, visiting Lake Lucern a few weeks ago.
The other, rather epic, return to the skies was by former RCAF Canso A N427CV which has featured in these pages a number of times in recent years with update reports from Bruce Perkins. It had been based at Rand, Johannesburg in South Africa for many years after arriving there with the Canadian registration C-FPQO. Over the last few years it has been on a long restoration for new owners with the intention that it would eventually fly to the USA. Somewhere along the way, ownership changed but the rebuild re-commenced with the work being carried out to a very high standard by Springbok Aviation Services – although the accuracy of the paint scheme applied to it has to be questioned! Finally, on the afternoon of November 28th last year, it flew again and test flights continued over the next few days. On December 22nd it left Rand for Lanseria and the start of a very long ferry flight to San Diego, California. The crew of captain Mike Castillo, second pilot Bob Franicola and engineer Matt Voight then flew on via Walvis Bay, Namibia; Luanda, Angola; Yaoundé, Cameroon; Monrovia, Liberia; Natal, Brazil; French Guiana; Trinidad, Panama; Costa Rica; Tijuana, Mexico and Brown Field, San Diego. At Brown Field, new owner Jim Slattery came aboard for the last, short leg to Gillespie Field which was reached on January 15th after three weeks and 12,000 miles. Although initially there was plenty of internet coverage of the delivery flight, the owner apparently imposed a news black-out although this did not stop interested observers along the route posting photos and news! Slattery has built up a considerable collection of vintage aircraft for his Greatest Generation Naval Museum although the Catalina is registered to Pissed Away N427CV LLC for reasons best known to the owner. It is assumed that after such a long restoration and flight, this beautiful aircraft will be maintained in airworthy condition.
PBY-5A N7238Z appeared on eBay again in February and apparently sold this time for US$20,200. It had been located at San Juan in Puerto Rico since around the late-1990s and had not flown since arriving. The eBay sale fell through and the good news is that it has now been acquired by the Catalina Flying Memorial in Australia and work has already started to dismantle and transport it to Australia. More news in our next bulletin.
The Federal Aviation Administration in the USA has been carrying out some more tidying of the Civil Aircraft Register and a few Catalinas have featured in the exercise in the last few months. Once a RCAF Canso A, N68740 has been sitting in the Lone Star Flight Museum at Galveston in Texas for many a year but its registration was finally cancelled as ‘expired’ on September 10th last year. OA-10 N1600M, originally built as a US Navy PBY-5A but transferred to the USAAF hence the OA-10 designation, was cancelled on September 18th having originally been cancelled back in November 1970 then re-instated in 2000. The airframe had met an unknown demise many years ago so these paper entries are somewhat academic. Wright Cyclone-powered Super Cat’ N9505C has languished at Ephrata, Washington State for quite a while now and plans for it to be used in the Caribbean seem to have stalled at best. Its registration was also cancelled as expired on August 30th. PBY-6A N9556C has not existed for years but its marks were revoked as expired on November 14th. Lastly, PBY-6A N324FA was cancelled on November 29th. It is located at Duluth, Minnesota with the Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force. The official reason for the cancellation was quoted as ‘corrosion problems’ but the Catalina has for some time now been used as a donor airframe in the restoration of PBY-6A N7179Y which was overturned by high winds many years ago. Col. Jergen Fuhr, the squadron’s Adjutant, advises that N324FA remains on public display, albeit in a dismantled state.
Finally, the McChord Air Museum at McChord AFB in Washington State has spent the past 24 years restoring OA-10 Catalina N4760C, acquired some time after its flying career ended in an accident at Lynn, Wisconsin following engine failure. Towards the end of 2012, the project was virtually complete and the Catalina was painted in a fresh colour scheme to represent a locally based SA-10 aircraft from Flight C, 4th Air Rescue Squadron, serial 44-34033. At the time of writing, the Catalina is not yet on public display but after some finishing touches are applied, it will move to the museum’s main site at Heritage Hill AirPark.