|A restored OA-10 Catalina in US Army Air Corps colors|
|Role||Maritime patrol bomber, search and rescue seaplane|
|National origin||United States|
|Built by||Boeing Canada (PB2B) |
Canadian Vickers (PBV)
Naval Aircraft Factory (PBN)
Soviet Gidrosamolet Transportnii factory at Taganrog (GST)
|First flight||21 March 1935|
|Introduction||October 1936, United States Navy|
|Retired||January 1957 (United States Navy Reserve) |
1982 (Brazilian Air Force)
|Primary users||United States Navy|
United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
|Number built||3,308 (2,661 U.S.-built, 620 Canadian-built, 27 Soviet-built)|
The Consolidated PBY Catalina is a flying boat and amphibious aircraft that was produced in the 1930s and 1940s. In Canadian service it was known as the Canso. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations. The last military PBYs served until the 1980s. As of 2021, 86 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber (or airtanker) in aerial firefighting operations in some parts of the world. None remain in military service.
The PBY was originally designed to be a patrol bomber, an aircraft with a long operational range intended to locate and attack enemy transport ships at sea in order to disrupt enemy supply lines. With a mind to a potential conflict in the Pacific Ocean, where troops would require resupply over great distances, the U.S. Navy in the 1930s invested millions of dollars in developing long-range flying boats for this purpose. Flying boats had the advantage of not requiring runways, in effect having the entire ocean available.
As American dominance in the Pacific Ocean began to face competition from Japan in the 1930s, the U.S. Navy contracted Consolidated, Martin and Douglas in October 1933 to build competing prototypes for a patrol flying boat. Naval doctrine of the 1930s and 1940s used flying boats in a wide variety of roles that today are handled by multiple special-purpose aircraft. The U.S. Navy had adopted the Consolidated P2Y and Martin P3M models for this role in 1931, but both aircraft were underpowered and hampered by inadequate range and limited payloads.
Consolidated and Douglas both delivered single prototypes of their new designs, the XP3Y-1 and XP3D-1, respectively. Consolidated's XP3Y-1 was an evolution of the XPY-1 design that had originally competed unsuccessfully for the P3M contract two years earlier and of the XP2Y design that the Navy had authorized for a limited production run. Although the Douglas aircraft was a good design, the Navy opted for Consolidated's because the projected cost was only $90,000 per aircraft.
Consolidated's XP3Y-1 design (company Model 28) had a parasol wing with external bracing struts, mounted on a pylon over the fuselage. Wingtip stabilizing floats were retractable in flight to form streamlined wingtips and had been licensed from the Saunders-Roe company. The two-step hull design was similar to that of the P2Y, but the Model 28 had a cantilever cruciform tail unit instead of a strut-braced twin tail. Cleaner aerodynamics gave the Model 28 better performance than earlier designs. Construction is all-metal, stressed-skin, of aluminum sheet, except the ailerons and wing trailing edge, which are fabric covered.
The prototype was powered by two 825 hp (615 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-54 Twin Wasp radial engines mounted on the wing's leading edge. Armament comprised four .30 in (7.6 mm) Browning AN/M2 machine guns and up to 2,000 lb (910 kg) of bombs.
The XP3Y-1 had its maiden flight on 21 March 1935, after which it was transferred to the U.S. Navy for service trials. The XP3Y-1 was a significant performance improvement over previous patrol flying boats. The Navy requested further development in order to bring the aircraft into the category of patrol bomber, and in October 1935, the prototype was returned to Consolidated for further work, including installation of 900 hp (670 kW) R-1830-64 engines. For the redesignated XPBY-1, Consolidated introduced redesigned vertical tail surfaces which resolved a problem with the tail becoming submerged on takeoff, which had made lift-off impossible under some conditions. The XPBY-1 had its maiden flight on 19 May 1936, during which a record non-stop distance flight of 3,443 mi (2,992 nmi; 5,541 km) was achieved.
The XPBY-1 was delivered to VP-11F in October 1936. The second squadron to be equipped was VP-12, which received the first of its aircraft in early 1937. The second production order was placed on 25 July 1936. Over the next three years, the design was gradually developed further and successive models introduced.
The aircraft eventually bore the name Catalina after Santa Catalina Island, California; the name was coined in November 1941, as Great Britain ordered their first 30 aircraft.
The Naval Aircraft Factory made significant modifications to the PBY design, many of which would have significantly interrupted deliveries had they been incorporated on the Consolidated production lines. The new aircraft, officially known as the PBN-1 Nomad, had several differences from the basic PBY. The most obvious upgrades were to the bow, which was sharpened and extended by two feet, and to the tail, which was enlarged and featured a new shape. Other improvements included larger fuel tanks, increasing range by 50%, and stronger wings permitting a 2,000 lb (908 kg) increase in gross takeoff weight. An auxiliary power unit was installed, along with an improved electrical system, and the weapons were upgraded with continuous-feed mechanisms.
138 of the 156 PBN-1s produced served with the Soviet Navy, after the NAF transferred ownership via Project ZEBRA (1944-1945). The remaining 18 were assigned to training units at NAS Whidbey Island and the Naval Air Facility in Newport, Rhode Island. Later, improvements found in the PBN such as the larger tail were incorporated into the amphibious PBY-6A.
The designation "PBY" was determined in accordance with the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing "Patrol Bomber" and Y being the code assigned to Consolidated Aircraft as its manufacturer. Catalinas built by other manufacturers for the U.S. Navy were designated according to different manufacturer codes, thus Canadian Vickers-built examples were designated PBV, Boeing Canada examples PB2B (there already being a Boeing PBB) and Naval Aircraft Factory examples were designated PBN. In accordance with contemporary British naming practice of naming seaplanes after coastal port towns, Royal Canadian Air Force examples were named Canso, for the town of that name in Nova Scotia. The Royal Air Force used the name Catalina and the U.S. Navy adopted this name in 1942. The United States Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force used the designation OA-10. U.S. Navy Catalinas used in the Pacific against the Japanese for night operations were painted black overall; as a result these aircraft were sometimes referred to locally as "Black Cats".
The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind, with around 3,300 aircraft built.
During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escort, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport.
The type operated in nearly all operational theatres of World War II. The Catalina served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role in the war against Japan.
These patrol planes shared with land based patrol bombers the combat roles while the very long range Consolidated LB-30 and the Consolidated Coronado were pressed into service to increase the all important logistic strategic air lift capability in the vast Pacific theater. The pairings allowed the Catalina to take on the role of eyes of the fleets at longer ranges than the float plane scouts.
Several different flying boats were adopted by the Navy, but the PBY was the most widely used and produced.
Although slow and ungainly, Allied forces used Catalinas in a wide variety of roles for which the aircraft was never intended. PBYs are remembered for their rescue role, in which they saved the lives of hundreds of aircrew downed over water. Catalina airmen called their aircraft the "Cat" on combat missions and "Dumbo" in air-sea rescue service.
The Catalina scored the U.S. Navy's first credited air-to-air "kill" of a Japanese airplane in the Pacific War. On 10 December 1941, the Japanese attacked the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. Numerous U.S. ships and submarines were damaged or destroyed by bombs and bomb fragments. While flying to safety during the raid on Cavite, Lieutenant Harmon T. Utter's PBY was attacked by three Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters. Chief Boatswain Earl D. Payne, Utter's bow gunner, shot down one, thus scoring the U.S. Navy's first kill. Utter, as a commander, later coordinated the carrier air strikes that led to the destruction of the Japanese battleship Yamato.
The Catalina performed one of the first offensive operations against the Japanese by the US. On 27 December 1941, six Catalinas of Patrol Squadron 101 bombed Japanese shipping at Jolo Island against heavy fighter opposition, with four Catalinas lost.
Catalinas were the most extensively used anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II, and were also used in the Indian Ocean, flying from the Seychelles and from Ceylon. Their duties included escorting convoys to Murmansk. By 1943, U-boats were well-armed with anti-aircraft guns and two Victoria Crosses were won by Catalina pilots pressing home their attacks on U-boats in the face of heavy fire: Flying Officer John Cruickshank of the RAF, in 1944, for sinking U-347 (although the submarine is now known to have been U-361) and in the same year Flight Lieutenant David Hornell of the Royal Canadian Air Force (posthumously) against U-1225. Catalinas destroyed 40 U-boats, but not without losses of their own. A Brazilian Catalina attacked and sank U-199 in Brazilian waters on 31 July 1943. Later, the aircraft was baptized as "Arará", in memory of the merchant ship of that name which was sunk by another U-boat.
In their role as patrol aircraft, Catalinas participated in some of the most notable naval engagements of World War II. The aircraft's parasol wing and large waist blisters provided excellent visibility and combined with its long range and endurance, made it well suited for the task.
A RAF Coastal Command Catalina, with Ensign Leonard B. Smith of the U.S. Navy as copilot, and flying out of Castle Archdale Flying boat base, Lower Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, located the German battleship Bismarck on 26 May 1941, some 690 nmi (1,280 km; 790 mi) northwest of Brest, which was attempting to evade Royal Navy forces as she sought to join other Kriegsmarine forces in Brest.[note 1] This sighting eventually led to the destruction of the German battleship.
On 7 December 1941, before the Japanese amphibious landings on Kota Bharu, Malaya, their invasion force was approached by a Catalina flying boat of No. 205 Squadron RAF. The aircraft was shot down by five Nakajima Ki-27 fighters before it could radio its report to air headquarters in Singapore. Flying Officer Patrick Bedell, commanding the Catalina, and his seven crew members became the first Allied casualties in the war with Japan. Patrol Wing 10 of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet had 44 Catalinas under its command but lost 41 within 90 days. Patrol Wing 10 also lost its main seaplane tender, USS Langley, to Japanese aircraft during the Dutch East Indies Campaign while it was transporting 32 Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes.
A flight of Catalinas spotted the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway.
A Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Canso flown by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall foiled Japanese plans to destroy the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet on 4 April 1942 when it detected the Japanese carrier fleet approaching Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
During the Battle of Midway four United States Navy PBYs of Patrol Squadrons 24 and 51 made a night torpedo attack on the Japanese fleet on the night of 3–4 June 1942, scoring one hit which damaged the fleet oiler Akebono Maru, the only successful American torpedo attack in the entire battle.
During the Guadalcanal campaign, some U.S. Navy PBYs were painted matte black and sent on night bombing, torpedoing, and strafing missions against Japanese supply vessels and warships, including conducting interdiction raids on the Tokyo Express. These PBYs were later called "Black Cats". Subsequently, special squadrons of Black Cats were formed, commencing in December 1942 with VP-12, with an additional thirteen squadrons coming into service thereafter.[note 2] Flying slowly at night, dipping to ship mast height, the Black Cats bombed, strafed, and torpedoed all kinds of Japanese vessels, sinking or damaging thousands of tons of shipping. The Black Cats also performed bombing, strafing and harassment regarding land based Japanese installations, as well as conducting reconnaissance and search and rescue operations. The Black Cat squadrons continued to be active into 1944 with the PB4Y-2 beginning to come in service in greater numbers and replacing the PBYs, the last Black Cat squadrons returning to the U.S. in early 1945.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also operated Catalinas as night raiders, with four squadrons Nos. 11, 20, 42, and 43 laying mines from 23 April 1943 until July 1945 in the southwest Pacific deep in Japanese-held waters, bottling up ports and shipping routes and forcing ships into deeper waters to become targets for U.S. submarines; they tied up the major strategic ports such as Balikpapan which shipped 80% of Japanese oil supplies. In late 1944, their mining missions sometimes exceeded 20 hours in duration and were carried out from as low as 200 ft (61 m) in the dark. Operations included trapping the Japanese fleet in Manila Bay in assistance of General Douglas MacArthur's landing at Mindoro in the Philippines. Australian Catalinas also operated out of Jinamoc in the Leyte Gulf, and mined ports on the Chinese coast from Hong Kong to as far north as Wenchow. Both USN and RAAF Catalinas regularly mounted nuisance night bombing raids on Japanese bases, with the RAAF claiming the slogan "The First and the Furthest". Targets of these raids included a major base at Rabaul. RAAF aircrews, like their U.S. Navy counterparts, employed "terror bombs", ranging from scrap metal and rocks to empty beer bottles with razor blades inserted into the necks, to produce high-pitched screams as they fell, keeping Japanese soldiers awake and scrambling for cover. There was a Catalina base on Drimmie Head on the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory.
Catalinas were employed by every branch of the U.S. military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by LCDR Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors in high seas from the heavy cruiser Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. When there was no more room inside, the crew tied sailors to the wings. The aircraft could not fly in this state; instead it acted as a lifeboat, protecting the sailors from exposure and the risk of shark attack, until rescue ships arrived. Catalinas continued to function in the search-and-rescue role for decades after the end of the war.
Further information: The Double Sunrise
Catalinas were also used for commercial air travel. For example, Qantas Empire Airways flew commercial passengers from Suva to Sydney, a journey of 2,060 miles (3,320 km), which in 1949 took two days. The longest commercial flights (in terms of time aloft) ever made in aviation history were the Qantas flights flown weekly from 29 June 1943 through July 1945 over the Indian Ocean, dubbed the Double Sunrise. Qantas offered non-stop service between Perth and Colombo, a distance of 3,592 nmi (4,134 mi; 6,652 km). As the Catalina typically cruised at 110 kn (130 mph; 200 km/h), this took from 28 to 32 hours and was called the "flight of the double sunrise", since the passengers saw two sunrises during their non-stop journey. The flight was made in radio silence because of the possibility of Japanese attack and had a maximum payload of 1,000 lb (450 kg) or three passengers plus 143 lb (65 kg) of military and diplomatic mail.
An Australian PBY named "Frigate Bird II", an ex RAAF aircraft, registered VH-ASA, made the first trans-Pacific flight across the South Pacific between Australia and Chile in 1951 by (Sir) Gordon Taylor, making numerous stops at islands along the way for refueling, meals, and overnight sleep of its crew, flown from Sydney to Quintero in Chile after making initial landfall at Valparaiso via Tahiti and Easter Island. One of six ordered by the RAAF was used as part of the air route across the Pacific from Sydney to Valparaiso, is in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts ands Sciences in Sydney.
With the end of the war, all of the flying boat versions of the Catalina were quickly retired from the U.S. Navy, but the amphibious versions remained in service for some years. The last Catalina in U.S. service was a PBY-6A operating with a Naval Reserve squadron, which was retired from use on 3 January 1957. The Catalina subsequently equipped the world's smaller armed services into the late 1960s in fairly substantial numbers.
The U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command used Catalinas (designated OA-10s) in service as scout aircraft from 1946 through 1947.
The Brazilian Air Force flew Catalinas in naval air patrol missions against German submarines starting in 1943. The flying boats also carried out air mail deliveries. In 1948, a transport squadron was formed and equipped with PBY-5As converted to the role of amphibious transports. The 1st Air Transport Squadron (ETA-1) was based in the port city of Belem and flew Catalinas and C-47s until 1982. Catalinas were convenient for supplying military detachments scattered along the Amazon. They reached places that were otherwise accessible only by helicopters. The ETA-1 insignia was a winged turtle with the motto "Though slowly, I always get there". Today, the last Brazilian Catalina (a former RCAF one) is displayed at the Airspace Museum (MUSAL) in Rio de Janeiro.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau used a PBY-6A (N101CS) to support his diving expeditions. His second son, Philippe, was killed in an accident in this aircraft that occurred on the Tagus River near Lisbon. The Catalina nosed over during a high-speed taxi run undertaken to check the hull for leakage following a water landing. The aircraft turned upside down, causing the fuselage to break behind the cockpit. The wing separated from the fuselage and the left engine broke off, penetrating the captain's side of the cockpit.
Paul Mantz converted an unknown number of surplus Catalinas to flying yachts at his Orange County California hangar in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Steward-Davis converted several Catalinas to their Super Catalina standard (later known as Super Cat), which replaced the usual 1,200 hp (890 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines with Wright R-2600 Cyclone 14 engines of 1,700 hp (1,300 kW). A larger, squared-off rudder was installed to compensate for the increased yaw which the more powerful engines could generate. The Super Catalina also had extra cabin windows and other alterations.
Chilean Air Force (FACH) Captain Roberto Parragué, in his PBY Catalina FACH No. 405 called "Manu-Tara", which means Lucky Bird in the Rapanui language, undertook the first flight between Easter Island and the continent of South America (from Chile), as well as the first flight to Tahiti, making him a national hero of France as well as of Chile. The flight was authorized by the Chilean President in 1951, but a second flight he made in 1957 was not authorized, and he was dismissed from the Chilean Air Force.
Of the few dozen remaining airworthy Catalinas, the majority are in use as aerial firefighting aircraft. China Airlines, the official airline of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was founded with two Catalina amphibians.
Platforms are folded out and deployed from Catalinas for use in open ocean fishing and Mahi Mahi tracking in the Pacific Ocean.
Main article: Catalina affair
The Catalina Affair is the name given to a Cold War incident in which a Swedish Air Force Catalina was shot down by Soviet fighters over the Baltic Sea in June 1952 while investigating the disappearance of a Swedish Douglas DC-3 (later found to have been shot down by a Soviet fighter while on a signals intelligence mission; it was found in 2003 and raised 2004–2005).
An estimated 4,051 Catalinas, Cansos, and GSTs of all versions were produced between June 1937 and May 1945 for the U.S. Navy, the United States Army Air Forces, the United States Coast Guard, Allied nations, and civilian customers.
|Model||Production period and distinguishing features||Quantity|
|PBY-1||September 1936 – June 1937
Original production model.
|PBY-2||May 1937 – February 1938
Minor alterations to tail structure, hull reinforcements.
|PBY-3||November 1936 – August 1938
Higher power engines.
|PBY-4||May 1938 – June 1939
Higher power engines, propeller spinners, acrylic glass blisters over waist guns (some later units).
|PBY-5||September 1940 – July 1943
Higher power engines (using higher octane fuel), discontinued use of propeller spinners, standardized waist gun blisters. Self-sealing fuel tanks introduced during production run.
|PBY-5A||October 1941 – January 1945
Hydraulically actuated, retractable tricycle landing gear, with main gear design based on one from the 1920s designed by Leroy Grumman, for amphibious operation. Introduced tail gun position, replaced bow single gun position with bow "eyeball" turret equipped with twin .30 machine guns (some later units), improved armor, self-sealing fuel tanks.
|PBY-6A||January 1945 – May 1945
Incorporated changes from PBN-1, including a taller vertical tail, increased wing strength for greater carrying capacity, new electrical system, standardized "eyeball" turret, and a radome over cockpit for radar.
Main article: List of PBY Catalina operators
Main article: List of surviving Consolidated PBY Catalinas
Data from Encyclopedia of World Air Power, Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Handbook of Erection and Maintenance Instructions for Navy Model PBY-5 and PBY-5A Airplanes, and Quest for Performance.
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era