( A24-88 in wartime service as "RK-A" with 42 Squadron, at Bowen Queensland )
The PBY Catalina is the world’s most successful Flying Boat with 3,272 examples being built, including 1,418 built as amphibians.
Developed from two earlier flying boat designs previously built for the US Navy, the Consolidated model 28 was designed to meet a 1934 US Navy specification for a new patrol flying boat. The first aircraft flew in March 1935, and resulted in a contract for 60 aircraft, as PBY-1 patrol flying boats.
In 1939 the last intended US Navy order was placed for 32 PBY-4 aircraft, resulting in a total of 216 aircraft including the prototype been delivered by that time, however one PBY-4 was delivered to England for evaluation by the Royal Air Force, and the outbreak of war in September 1939 found the RAF poorly equipped and seeking aircraft types from overseas.
The RAF placed an order for 200 PBY Flying Boat aircraft, now fitted with the distinctive gun blisters on the rear fuselage and recieving the PBY-5 model number in the US Navy but named "Catalina" by the RAF. The US Navy also placed further orders for the improved PBY-5 Flying Boat and asked Consolidated to deliver its last two examples with undercarriage to allow amphibious operation from land and water, leading to the definitive PBY-5A model.
Catalinas were built in Canada by Boeing and Canadian Vickers as the Canso (PBY-5A) Amphibian and PB2B Flying boat, while Russia licence built 150
GST Flying Boats, and a further 175 PBY-6A Amphibians were built by Consolidated.
At the commencement of WW2, Australia also found itself in need of more aircraft and varying types, and an order was placed for 18 Catalina (PBY-5) Flying Boats. Due to the neutrality of the United States, these aircraft were flown out from the US to Australia by civilian crews manned by Qantas pilots. Qantas was to go on and forge a long relationship with the Catalina, operating
5 Catalina’s from England to Australia during wartime for VIP passenger and mail services, and post war operating 7 Catalina’s in PNG and on services to the Pacific Islands, it is one of the iconic aircraft of Qantas’ history.
The RAAF eventually received 168 Catalinas, consisting of 2 early PBY-4 flying boats transferred from the Dutch East Indies, 66 PBY-5 Flying Boats, 46 PBY-5A Amphibians and 54 PB2B Flying Boats.
A total of 29 PBY-5A Amphibians were modified locally at Lake Boga and Rathmines in a 1500 manhour conversion back to pure Flying Boat configuration, to reduce weight by removal of the undercarriage to increase range and payload.
These newer PBY-5A (M) aircraft then replaced the older
PBY-5 in the famous "Black Cat" squadrons mining enemy harbours and sealanes while the remaining amphibians and flying boats undertook Air Sea rescue and Patrol dutues.
Our aircraft was delivered to the RAAF in March 1944, and served with 42 Squadron as “ RK-A” from August 1944 through to July 1945 in the South East Pacific operations as a “Black Cat” on sea mining missions.
Missions up to December 1944 included:
Mining Banga Straits
Mining Tiworo Straits
Mining Wowomi Straits
Mining Makassar Harbour
Mining Pare Pare Bay
Mining Balabac Straits
Mining Brunei Bay
It most famous mission was to take part in the longest "Black Cat" Mining Mission of the War, to mine Manila Harbour in December 1944 to bottle up the Japanese Fleet ahead of the landings in the Philippines by General McArthur.
This was a secret mission involving RAAF aircraft from 11, 42 and 43 Squadrons and consisted of A24-88 departing Melville Bay in the Northern Territory on a round trip of nearly 9000 miles, and 15 hours flying duration, the mission consisted of 4000 lbs of mines, severely limiting the fuel load and duration of flight.
Missions after December 1944 included:
Mining Cape Seletam
Mining Hong Kong Harbour
A24-88 transfered to 11 Squadron on 1 August 1945 and remained with that squadron to the end of the war and was allocated to 1 Flying Boat Repair Depot at Lake Boga Victoria on 10 January 1946 for storage and disposal.
It was sold from that site on 5 January 1948 to Kingsford Smith Air Services who stripped it for spares to maintain other former RAAF Catalinas purchased and flown from Lake Boga. The hulk of A24-88 was sold for scrap but instead was stripped of its engines, wings, and tail, and converted to a house boat on the Murray River where it served for over 30 years in the Echuca area before being acquired by the Museum.
It is thought to one of at least 6 former RAAF Flying boats converted into houseboats and operated on the Murray River post war, including a former PBY-4 which was converted to a paddle boat, A24-88 was one of the few not to suffer radical modification of its superstructure.
The Museum is fundraising to restore the aircraft to externally complete 'Flying Boat" configuration, with parts being recovered from all over Australia, and overseas, it is one of only four original wartime RAAF Catalina's surviving in Australia, and the only one with documented "Black Cat" operational history.
It is therefore the last surviving RAAF "Black Cat", the sole surviving RAAF PBY-5A model of 46 delivered, and the only survivor of the 29 locally modified PBY-5A (M) aircraft converted from Amphibian to Flying Boat.
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PBY-5 Flying Boat
Engine: 2x 1200HP Pratt & Whitney R1830-92 Twin Wasps
Length: 63 feet 10 inches ( 19.45 m)
Span: 104 feet 0 inches ( 31.70 m)
Height: 18 feet 10 inches ( 5.65 m)
Weight: 17,526 pounds (empty) ( 7,950 kg)
31,813 pounds (loaded) ( 14,530 kg)
Speed: 117 mph (cruise) ( 188 km/h)
Range: 3,100 miles (4,989 km)