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History: From its introduction to U.S. Naval service in 1936, through its continued
international military use into the 1970's, to the recent retirement of the last civilian
fire-bomber, the Consolidated PBY Catalina has served a
distinguished career as one of the most rugged and versatile aircraft in U.S. history. It
was created in response to the U.S. Navy's 1933 request for a prototype to replace the
Consolidated P2Y and the Martin P3M with a new patrol-bomber flying boat with extended
range and greater load capacity.
The Catalina was created under the guidance of the brilliant
aero-engineer Isaac Macklin Laddon. The new design introduced internal wing bracing, which
greatly reduced the need for drag-producing struts and bracing wires. A significant
improvement over its predecessors, it had a range of 2,545 miles, and a maximum take-off
weight of 35,420 lbs. In 1939 the Navy considered discontinuing its use in favor of
proposed replacements. The Catalina remained in production, however, because of massive
orders placed by Britain, Canada, Australia, France, and the Netherlands. These countries
desperately needed reliable patrol planes in their eleventh-hour preparations for WW II.
Far from replacing the PBY, the Navy placed its largest single order since WW I for an
Over the years, numerous improvements were made to the design,
and many variants were produced under license by several different companies. An
amphibious version, the PBY-5A, was developed in 1939, through
the addition of a retractable tricycle undercarriage. The PBY-6A
featured hydrodynamic improvements designed by the Naval Aircraft Factory. The Soviet
Union produced a license-built version for their Navy called the GST
and powered by Mikulin M-62 radial engines. Boeing Aircraft of Canada built the PB2B-1
and PB2B-2 ("Canso"), and a derivative of the PBY-5A
called the PBV-1A was built by Canadian Vickers. In US Army Air Force service, the aircraft was known as the
OA-10A (PBY-5A) and OA-10B (PBY-6A).
The Royal Air Force's Coastal Command flew Catalinas under the designations Catalina
Mk I/II/III/IV. The Naval
Aircraft Factory built a similar-looking version called the PBN-1
Nomad that can rightly be called a different aircraft, so extensive
were the changes.
A total of approximately 4000 Catalinas and variants were built between 1936 and
1945. Because of their worldwide popularity, there was scarcely a maritime battle in WW II
in which they were not involved. The PBY had its vulnerabilities: it was slow, with a
maximum speed of 179 mph, and with no crew armor or self-sealing tanks, it was highly
vulnerable to anti-aircraft attack. However it was these weaknesses, coincident with the
development of effective radar, and Japanese reliance on night transport, which led to the
development of the "Black Cat Squadrons." These crews performed nighttime search
and attack missions in their black-painted PBYs. The tactics were spectacularly successful
and seriously disrupted the flow of supplies and personnel to Japanese island bases. The
Catalinas also proved effective in search and rescue missions, code-named
"Dumbo." Small detachments (normally of three PBYs) routinely orbited on
stand-by near targeted combat areas. One detachment based in the Solomon islands rescued
161 airmen between January 1 and August 15, 1943, and successes increased steadily as
equipment and tactics improved. After WWII, the PBY continued its search and rescue
service in many Central and South American countries, as well as in Denmark, until the
The Catalina has also proved useful in civilian
service: in scheduled passenger flights in Alaska and the Caribbean, in geophysical
survey, and mostly, in fire-bombing for the U.S. Forest Service until the
retirement of the last PBY in the early 1980s. Through its long and varied service, the Consolidated PBY
Catalina and its numerous variants have earned their reputation as a workhorse of naval aviation.
NIcknames: Cat; Mad Cat
(When outfitted with Magnetic Anomaly Detection Gear); Black Cat (Night Variant);
Pig Boat; P-Boat; Y-Boat (Dutch Navy nickname); Canso/Canso
A (Canadian designation); Mop (NATO designation for Soviet Lend-Lease PBYs).
Engines: Two 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial piston engines
Weight: Empty 20,910 lbs., Max
Takeoff 35,420 lbs.
Wing Span: 104ft. 0in.
Length: 63ft. 10.5in.
Height: 20ft. 2in.
Cruising Speed: 117 mph
(0.3-inch) machine guns
Up to 4,000
pounds of bombs or depth charges
Number Built: ~4,000
Number Still Airworthy: ~30
PBY Catalina Pilot Report
by J.B. Stokely.
Catalina Close-up Photos
"Kiwi Catalina" article
"Four Days in a
Cat" -- Article by Chuck Ellsworth
HARS Black Cat (PBY-6A)
Superior Detachment 101 Catalina restoration
Marc Commandeur's PBY Catalina
Luftartsmuseum PBY-5A Catalina
PBY Catalinas for Sale
PBY-5A Catalina N287
PBY Catalina Foundation
PBYFlightTraining.com -- PBY training and ferry services
Super Catalina Restoration
Consolidated PBY Catalina: The Peacetime Record
By David Legg
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published March 2002 by U.S. Naval Institute Press
[Click for more great books
about the Catalina!]
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