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World Catalina News – November 2023

This feature started to appear in print version of  The Catalina News to update a multi-part list of worldwide Catalina and Canso survivors that had previously been published in the magazine’s early issues.  This edition was first printed in Issue 100.

Back in the second half of the 1980s there were still a good number flying operationally as firefighting waterbombers, mainly in Canada, Chile and, a little later, in Spain and Portugal.  However, aerial geophysical survey work had all but ceased and the last military examples in Brazil had been withdrawn from service with the Força Aerea Brasileira.  This combination of waterbombers, survey aircraft and military transports did however provide many of the aircraft that still survive today, albeit mostly not in airworthy condition.  All of the surviving examples are now around 80 years old, the oldest reaching that milestone in 2021 and the ‘youngest’ seeing getting there in the next year or so.  Our own Miss Pick Up is 80 this October.

I now keep a regularly updated listing of surviving airframes on The Catalina Society website at and this shows that there are currently around a dozen or so airworthy or potentially airworthy examples extant.  For consistency, I refer to the featured aircraft using the type designation when originally built which is not necessarily how some appear on civil aircraft registers…..

Most news this time around concerns surviving aircraft in the USA, some positive but some not quite so good!  First the good news as one in particular is very active.  Canso A N9767 Princess of the Stars, is based at Eugene, Oregon with Soaring By The Sea Foundation.  This former Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft was built by Boeing Aircraft of Canada Ltd at Sea Island, Vancouver.  Since being sold by her previous owner in France and flying to the USA, she has been a frequent flyer despite suffering a minor accident on the water in Utah on June 27th, 2022 (see Issue 98) and an engine failure en route Grand Cayman to Florida last year (Issue 99).  2023 has seen her flying shows and giving rides at the Oregon International Air Show, Hillsboro, Oregon in mid-May; the Radials ’N Rivers show at Lewistown, Idaho in early-July; the Boeing Seafair Airshow in Seattle, Washington in August and later the same month at the Wings Over Washington Air Show at Bremerton National Airport, also in Washington State.  It is great that after many years of minimal activity in France she is very active once more…..

Not such good news concerns a Catalina in long-term storage at Ephrata, Washington State.  Many readers will be familiar with the opening sequence to the US movie Always, a 1989 re-make of the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe.  Two unsuspecting fishermen, one of them dozing, are in their small boat on a large lake as a waterbomber Catalina drops into shot and proceeds to carry out a water pick-up, heading directly for them.  At what seems the very last second, possibly exaggerated by the camera lens’s focal length, the Catalina climbs away having given the pair the shock of their lives.  It has had thousands of views on YouTube.  The Catalina featured in the film was Wright R-2600 Cyclone-powered ‘Super Cat’, PBY-5A N9505C, originally with the US Navy as BuNo 34027.  Surplussed in August 1956, it had a long commercial career with the same US civil registration, most of which was as a flying tanker combatting forest fires.  From 1969 it was owned by the Schlaefli family in Washington State, being registered to various individuals and family firms in that group but operating under the trading name SLAFCO from Moses Lake Airport, Washington.  In the Always film, it flew with the name Fire Eaters.  By the end of the 1990s SLAFCO had ceased trading and its substantial fleet of Catalinas, other aircraft and spares were auctioned off.  N9505C was sold to Comanche Air Inc of Winthrop, WA in 2003 and was flown to Ephrata, WA where it entered into a long period of outdoor storage that continues to the present day.  The current owners, Flying Fox Air Service LLC of Fort Lauderdale, Florida acquired the Catalina in 2009 with ownership changing to one of the principles, Andrew S Leggett, in October the same year.  Whatever plans the owners had failed to come to fruition and the Catalina’s condition has deteriorated over the years of inactivity.  On July 1st this year, the Port of Ephrata served a Notice of Impoundment on Flying Fox Air Services LLC due to ‘nonpayment of airport charges and fees’, the notice being taped to the forward hull under the cockpit .  The outstanding amount quoted was $6,062.76 and the notice went on to state that ‘If charges and fees are not paid in full within ninety (90) calendar days of this Notice, then the Port of Ephrata may sell the Aircraft at public auction to satisfy payment of the charges owed to the Port’.  More news when I have it…..

The sadly neglected ‘Super Cat’ N9505C awaiting an uncertain future at Ephrata, Washington State just before the Notice of Impoundment was served
David Legg collection

N9505C’s one-time sister ‘Super Cat’ in the SLAFCO fleet was PBY-5A N31235.  Acquired by the Palm Springs Air Museum in April 2007, it flew from Moses Lake to Palm Springs in California in July the same year but after a small amount of flying it was grounded for an extensive rebuild which is still ongoing.  Its Certificate of Airworthiness expired on December 31st last year and the US Federal Aviation Administration cancelled the Catalina’s registration as ‘expired’ on April 1st this year.  Hopefully the renovation will result in this aircraft taking to the air again in due course…..

Just before the aforementioned N31235 rolled off the San Diego production line (as US Navy BuNo 48426), PBY-5A N423RS preceded her as BuNo 48423.  Much later, after military service that ended in 1956 and a long commercial career as an aerial survey aircraft all around the world, she wound up in Europe being operated by Greenpeace.  When that ended she spent time at Duxford where she was looked after pending her sale by Garry Short our own Chief Engineer and she was much photographed whilst there in her ‘Rainbow Warrior’ colour scheme.  Over the next 13 years she flew just three times – on delivery flights from Duxford to Lee-on-Solent; from Lee’ to North Weald and, lastly, from North Weald to Biggin Hill where, in 2014, she was dismantled for shipping to the USA.  To date she has never been re-assembled and her condition has deteriorated during periods of open storage at Fort Pierce and New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  Donated to the Tunison Foundation Inc by owner James Lyle in 2017, things are finally beginning to look up!  The main airframe was moved by road from New Smyrna Beach to Tunison’s base at Poughkeepsie, New York in early-June this year, the remainder of the airframe and spares having arrived a few days before in several trailer loads.  N423RS will now be assessed before a restoration commences.  Hopefully one day she will join Tunison’s beautiful airworthy C-47 Placid Lassie in the skies…..

The one-time Greenpeace PBY-5A Catalina N423RS about to be moved from New Smyrna Beach, FL to Poughkeepsie, NY in early-June this year.  Faded traces of her old rainbow colours are still just visible on the rear hull
Casey Littrell

A US restoration that is well under way is that of the 82-years old PBY-5A N459CF.  Another Catalina that was well-known in Europe before being sold by her Dutch operator a few years back, she was acquired by The Collings Foundation and is undergoing a comprehensive restoration to ‘stock’ condition under the supervision of Casey Littrell of American Aero Services, New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  She has recently had a bow turret put in place and has received a US Navy colour scheme as VP-73’s plane number ‘9’ to replace the Dutch MLD livery previously worn.  Casey reports that all of the interior has been painted apart from the waist gun/blister area and the full and original military configuration is being replicated with hard-to-source parts being fabricated.  Radar antenna have been installed also.  Once complete this will be a magnificent restoration and will surely be a prize-winner…..

Fantastic attention to detail on the restoration of PBY-5A N459CF is evidenced in this August 2023 photo by the aerial array at the rear of the hull and the stencilling
Casey Littrell

Across the ‘States at Richard I Bong Airport, Superior, Wisconsin, the Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force continue to work on the restoration of PBY-6A N7179Y (aka The Blue Cat’).  As previously reported, she now has the wing of PBY-6A N324FA (aka The Black Cat’) as a replacement for her own wing, damaged when the Catalina was overturned in strong winds many years ago.  The LSS report that recent work has included blasting the inside of Stations two to four in preparation for the installation of newly-fabricated cockpit canopy components.  The medium for blasting had been changed from soda to walnut which has seen an improvement in quality.  Meanwhile, work continues on the undercarriage at AirCorps Aviation, Bemidji, Minnesota.  Work on the port wing leading edge has been completed with resumption of restoration on remaining sections due to recommence soon.  The squadron hosted the Discover Wisconsin tourism TV show for a talk on the restoration project and the opportunity was taken to display some wing surfaces and floats in the hangar, remaining there for the subsequent Open House event.  The Black Cat’ sits outside the LSS hangar as an attraction and although unrestored it is complete, having ‘inherited’ The Blue Cat’s wing.  Her starboard float was recently damaged when a pin came loose during strong winter winds.  It was soon repaired and the hull was later tidied up to accept visitors during the summer season…..

Recent work underway on the cockpit roof of PBY-6A N7179Y of the Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force
LSS photo

Canso captain Oliver Evans reports on three Canso As from Canada.  C-FUAW which Oliver flies is currently grounded at Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC while people from Canadian Warplane Heritage (CWH) plan a work schedule to get her flying again in 2024 after some work on the main undercarriage and a prop’ overhaul.  We have previously reported that she had been acquired from Bob Dyck by the CWH thanks to the generosity of John Carswell of Canso Funds.  The CWH have operated the airworthy C-FPQL from Hamilton, Ontario for many years and Oliver has recently been checked out on her as captain.  Oliver says: ‘I was pretty excited to get checked out on CWH’s Canso.  That was quite an experience as it is just like WWII all over again there with a B-25, Dakota, Harvard and the Lancaster of course flying in and out all day.  I had a couple of good check rides in the Canso without a hitch then they announced I would go out to Niagara Falls in her on a passenger flight.  But first I was invited to go for a quick post-maintenance flight in the Lanc’ – I thought you’d never ask I said!’  Not content with being involved with these two Cansos, Oliver is also currently one of the captains flying C-FNJE of the Fairview Aircraft Restoration Society.  He flew her at the Peace Airshow at Peace River Alberta in July and was planning to do some water-work in September…..

Fantastic view of Niagara Falls during one of Oliver Evans’ check-rides in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Canso A C-FPQL this summer
Oliver Evans

In-cockpit view of Canso A C-FNJE with Oliver Evans at the helm – note that she is still labelled ‘Tanker 702’ on the instrument panel, a throwback to her forest firefighting days
Oliver Evans

In New Zealand, Canso A ZK-PBY (another aircraft that Oliver Evans has flown, albeit many years ago in Africa) is still on the market (for US$495,000) but the New Zealand Catalina Preservation Society Inc report that, despite some enquiries from Australia and the USA, there has been no serious interest in acquiring her.  She is currently located outside the late Brett Emeny’s hangar facility at New Plymouth, North Island but following his passing after heart surgery earlier this year, the Canso and her spares will need to be moved.  The current plan is to get her flying and relocated to Pacific Aerospace at Hamilton, also on North Island, where parking space has been offered…..

Finally, the Chilean OA-10A Catalina CC-CDT, for sale for several years, is said to have been sold to an American interest.  More news on this when we have it.

David Legg

David Legg is a life-long aviation enthusiast and has had a specialist interest in Catalinas since seeing several water bombing examples in British Columbia in 1977. He has been a volunteer with Plane Sailing Air Displays Ltd since its first season in 1985 and has edited The Catalina News magazine since 1987. He currently flies in Miss Pick Up as one of the team’s Crew Chiefs.