Aircraft model, Consolidated Catalina, VH-EBD, Qantas Airways Ltd, 1:20 scale, fibreglass / wood / metal, made by Iain Scott-Stevenson for the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2004
Flying boats have been an integral part of Australia's civil aviation history since the 1930s with the introduction of the Short S23 'C' Class boats operated jointly by Qantas and Imperial Airways (later BOAC) between Australia and the United Kingdom. Since World War II, with improvements to landplanes and the establishment of all-weather airports, the role of the flying boat has been relegated to flying long over water or coastal flights. Australia was one of the last countries to operate large flying boats on regular services. The Australian use of the flying boat, it has been said, was dictated by Australian geography: an island continent with a mainly coastal population and proximity to the islands of the South Pacific, where airstrips were uncommon.
Qantas involvement with the Catalina flying boat began with the delivery of the first few Catalinas to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941 America presented a neutral front in the war in Europe. To maintain this stance it was necessary that sales of military material to countries involved in the European war, which included Australia, should be seen to be civilian operations. Thus Qantas, with some 'civilianised' RAAF personnel, were involved in the trans-Pacific ferry of the first group of Catalinas. As Qantas crews were also experienced operators of large four engined flying boats flying long sectors they were generally more practiced with this size of boat than their RAAF countertparts at this stage.
With the outbreak of the war in the Pacific Qantas operated a number of Catalinas, under British registration, between Perth and Koggala in, what was then, Ceylon. This famous service was known as the 'Double Sunrise' service because of the long duration of the flights.
With such experience of Catalina operation, Qantas continued to use them in their post-War island services even though they were primarily warplanes with the addition of a few comforts for civilian passengers. Their use was dictated by the availability of aircraft in the immediate post-war era and the international currency available to purchase them. As the Catalinas were readily available within Australia and required no call on foreign currency, particularly the American dollar, they were a purchase of opportunity. For the low-passenger volume island services Catalinas, with modifications to establish some comfort for the passengers, were available and useful until they were replaced by landplanes and/or the island services ceased.
The Qantas Catalinas were a significant feature of the Rose Bay flying boat base from the late 1940s until the late 1950s and an integral part of the civil air operations during that period.
The genesis of the Catalina began in 1932 when the US Navy announced a design competition for a new long-range patrol flying boat. It was to have a range of 3,000 miles, cruise speed of 100 mph and gross weight of 25,000lbs. At that time the principal aircraft in this category was the Consolidated P2Y Ranger, a twin engined sesquiplane patrol flying boat. It was designed by Consolidated's chief engineer, Isaac Macklin (Mac) Laddon. To meet the US Navy's demand, Laddon produced a new design and developed what was to become the Consolidated Model 28, later known as the Catalina. The prototype was the XP3Y-1, which first flew on 21 March 1935 at Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Air Station, with company test pilot William B Wheatley. The rival Douglas XP3D-1 was also a good aircraft, but the Consolidated boat won the Naval contract because it was a cheaper buy at $US90,000 as against the $110,000 price tag for the Douglas.
An order for 60 of the new Consolidated flying boats, to be designated PBY-1, was placed with Consolidated Aircraft on 29 June 1935 by the US Navy while another 50, designated PBY-2, were ordered two months before the first aircraft was delivered. These massive orders saw Consolidated move, in mid-August 1935, 3220 km from Buffalo, New York State, to San Diego, in southern California, where the weather was better. The cold northern winters caused ice to form in the waterways making flying boat operation dangerous until the thaw. The change of designation from P to PB for the production run indicated that the aircraft was to be a patrol bomber rather than just a patrol aircraft. The PBY-1s went into service with the US Navy in late 1936 and the first PBY-2 was delivered to the Navy in May 1937. Production turned successively to the PBY-3, PBY-4, PBY5, Nomad, -5A and -6A amphibians differing mainly in having more powerful variants of the Twin Wasp engines and the use of upgraded equipment. The Nomad was produced with a modified hull and tall tail, the latter also being incorporated into the PBY-6A.
Internationally the Catalina was recognised as an excellent patrol aircraft and in 1937 the Soviet Union negotiated a contract for licence production and engineering support. Thus PBYs, designated GST, were built under licence at Taganrog on the Sea of Azov, before the area was overrun by the German army in 1941. In 1939 a PBY-4 was bought by the British Air Ministry and tested at Felixstowe, East Suffolk. It proved so outstanding that it was adopted as a standard boat for coastal command and an order for 200 was placed on 20 December 1939. The name Catalina was coined by the British in 1940 and is derived from the name of an island off the coast of California (Santa Catalina), north of the Consolidated factory at San Diego. No flying boat, in fact no large US Navy aircraft, had ever been ordered in such quantities. Such was the demand for the Catalinas that, when the Royal Canadian Air Force sought to replace their aging Supermarine Stranraer flying boats in 1939 with PBYs they were unable to do so because all production was allocated to the Royal Air Force and the US Navy. This caused British officials to help arrange for licence production of Catalinas by Canadian Vickers at Cartierville (Montreal) and Boeing of Canada at Vancouver. The San Diego plant also more than doubled in size and was joined by an even larger plant a mile down the road.
In September 1940 the Boeing Canada Company in Vancouver, British Columbia, received a contract for 55 PBY-5A amphibians which were to be assembled from parts supplied by Consolidated. The first Boeing produced PBY known in Canada as Cansos, named after the Strait of Canso which lies between the Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia, was completed on July 27, 1942. Ultimately Boeing Canada produced 362 Cansos in two types, the PB2B-1 and the tall-tailed PB2B-2.
More Catalinas were built than any other flying boat in history. Total production of all versions of the Consolidated Model 28 totalled 3,272. Of these, 1,854 were flying boats and 1,418 were amphibians. Some 731 were built in Canada by the two Canadian plants.
This type of aircraft transformed the ocean patrolling capability of the US Navy in both flying boat and amphibian types with good load carrying capability and an amazing range and endurance. Consequently, they became one of the more durable and effective aircraft of World War II. Catalinas were used by virtually all the Allied services including the RAF and RAAF. Although it was one of the slowest combat aircraft of World War II, it outsold all the newer, faster and better-equipped replacements of other manufacturers.
This model represents a Boeing-built PB2B-2 Catalina, constructor's number 44259, received by the RAAF on the 6th June 1945 and allocated serial number A24-371 (RAF number JX641) and subsequently obtained by Qantas Airways and registered VH-EBD for use in their New Guinea service.
The model was produced by Iain Scott-Stevenson, the Museum's model maker.
The first Catalina to arrive in Australia was in 1938 when "Guba", a privately-owned Model 28-2 was leased by the Commonwealth Government. It was commanded by Captain P G Taylor on a survey flight across the Indian Ocean to Mombasa, Kenya for an Empire Route. This was thought necessary if Japan increased its aggression in Asia and the air route to England was cut at Singapore.
In 1940 the PBY-5 version of the Catalina was ordered for the RAAF. They were ferried across the Pacific by a combination of Qantas and RAAF crews and the first aircraft was accepted on 5 February 1941, piloted by Captain Lester J. Brain of Qantas, with Capt. P G Taylor as navigator. This was only the third aircraft ever to fly the direct route across the Pacific. The last Catalina, A24-386, arrived on 3 September 1945. In all, 168 Catalinas were operated by the RAAF under the following serial Nos.: A24-1/114, A24-200/206, A24-300/309, and A24-350/386. These Catalinas included two PBY-4s taken over from the US Navy, Mks I, II and IIA (PBY-5 flying boats), MK III(PBY-5A amphibians) and Mk IV and MkVI (Boeing built PB2B-1,-2). With their long range, the Catalinas established an impressive war record and operated with Nos 11, 20, 42, 43 Squadrons, Nos 6 and 8 Com. Units, and Nos 111, 112, 113 ASR Flights.
Catalinas also served a civil role in Australia during the War. A small fleet was operated by Qantas Empire Airways for two years between July 1943 and June 1945. During that period Catalinas undertook 271 ocean crossings between Ceylon and Perth, 3,513 miles (5,653 km) in radio silence, non stop and airborne for up to 31 hours. This incident-free operation was the world's longest non-stop airline sector. Post-war a number of Catalinas were used in commercial operations notably by Qantas, Barrier Reef Airlines and TAA's Sunbird Service.
Between 1945 and 1949 Qantas acquired 15 PB2B-2 Catalinas from the RAAF, modifying seven for passenger use and using the remaining eight for spares. Of these, they operated three Catalinas in their New Guinea services along with 12 land planes. The others were operated on the services to New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Fiji and Lord Howe Island.
Originally manufactured by Boeing in Vancouver, Canada as a PB2B-2 patrol bomber VH-EBD bore the constructor's number 44259 and the Royal Air Force serial number JX641. It was received by the Royal Australian Air Force on 6 June 1945 and allotted the serial A24-371. It served with 42 Squadron from 23 July 1945; with 20 Squadron from 22 November 1945 and with 43 Squadron from 14 January 1946 until acquired by Qantas on 29 July 1949. In Qantas ownership it was given the civil registration VH-EBD and named 'Island Patrol'. Operating from the old RAAF slipway at Port Moresby VH-EBD and the two other Catalinas VH-EBA 'Island Explorer' and VH-EBC 'Island Chieftain' were used for a variety of purposes including airline work. VH-EBA was withdrawn from service in March 1954 but VH-EBC and VH-EBD remained in service until 11 November 1958 when both were scrapped.
This model of VH-EBD represents its later livery and the removal of the bow turret.
This model was commissioned for the Museum's Education and Visitor Services section. The model is no longer required by that section and has been acquired into the Museum's permanent collection.
Vincent, David, Catalina Chronicle: A History of RAAF Operations, (Adelaide, 1981)
Creed, Roscoe, PBY: The Catalina Flying Boat, (Airlife, Shrewsbury, 1986)
Gunn, John, Challenging Horizons: Qantas 1939-1954, (University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1987)