One of the most significant aircraft ever produced was the Consolidated PBY Catalina series both in seaplane and amphibian (with retractable wheels). Warbirds Online recently visited the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, Sydney NSW to view Catalina, PB2B-2, “Frigate Bird II”, VH-ASA.
Possibly the Worlds and Australia’s most significant surviving Catalina is more famous for its civil history than its military service. Catalina, PB2B-2, “Frigate Bird II”, VH-ASA is a true Warbird having flown with the RAAF as A24-385 and was the second last Catalina delivered to the RAAF in Sept 1945. The PB2B-2 is a seaplane version and this particular aircraft served with the RAAF 43 Sqn, 112 air sea rescue flight (ASRF), 111 ASRF and its last Sqn was 11 Sqn – it also served on detachment in PNG on several occasions. After retirement from the RAAF in 1950 the Catalina was made available to Captain Patrick Gordon “Bill” Taylor to carry out a survey flight to establish an air route between Australia and South America. Taylor chose A24-385 as it was in the best condition of those available.
Much has been written about Taylor and the flight of the Catalina (now named “Frigate Bird II” by Taylor and given the Civil Registration VH-ASA), suffice to say the flight in 1951 was a huge success opening up the air route between Australia and South America – the last great route to be explored. The flight was 8,500 miles to Chile via Noumea, New Caledonia; RNZAF Station Luthala Bay, Suva, Fiji; Stapuala Bay, Samoa; Aitutaki; Cook Islands; Papeete Harbour, Tahiti; and Mangareva, French Oceania; and Easter Island and finally the capital of Chile, Valparaiso.
In 1954 the Catalina was deregistered and went into storage at Rathmines NSW and in 1956 it was dismantled and barged to Sydney where it was Rose Bay flying boat base until in 1961 when P G Taylor donated the aircraft to what was to become the Powerhouse Museum. The aircraft was briefly loaned to Camden Museum of Aviation in the 1970s before returning to storage until 1985 when it was taken to Bankstown Airfield and restored structurally and cosmetically by Hawker Pacific Pty Ltd. . In 1987 the Catalina was hoisted 10 meters above the floor in the Powerhouse Museum where it remains today.
Although we have seen many Catalinas over the years, this is one of the most dramatic presentations of the type we have seen and it appears to be in beautiful condition. One thing that struck us was the sheer size of this aircraft, something you only appreciate when you stand under a Catalina and look up. It is a huge aircraft.
Catalina aircraft were operated by the RAAF in significant numbers (nearly 170) and played a vital role in the defence of Australia in WWII with both amphibians and seaplane versions serving including the famous “Black Cats”.
The Powerhouse Museum may possibly move to Parramatta in the future and naturally the Catalina may be displayed in a different manner or position, so if you are in Sydney we suggest you catch up with this truly historic old “bird” in her current dramatic setting at the center of the Transport exhibition. It’s well worth the visit.
© John Parker 2016