The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at Albion Park NSW operates a large fleet of “heavy metal” piston engine aircraft. One of the significant types in the collection is a PBY-6A Catalina. The Catalina is a type of great historic value to Australia and the RAAF acquired approximately 168 Catalinas both amphibians and flying boat versions including PBY-4, 5 and 5A as well as PB2B-1 and PB2B-2 aircraft. The aircraft flew in many roles with the RAAF including Transport, Maritime Patrol and Bomber/Mine layer and was classed as a huge success with the RAAF. The most famous of the RAAF “Cats” were the black Cats which flew clandestine missions into hostile territory and dropped mines.
The HARS Catalina is finished in the colors of one of the Black Cats A24-362 a PB2B-2 of 43 Sqn RAAF, construction No 61194 Bu.44288/JZ835. The Catalina is actually a later PBY-6A which was purchased by HARS in Portugal in 2003. In the usual “swashbuckling” HARS style the aircraft was quickly made ready for the flight by volunteers and in September 2003 it made an epic 3 week flight from France to Australia. The aircraft made a safe landing at Illawarra Regional Airport on 5 October 2003.
Almost immediately the aircraft was set upon by the HARS team and commenced a transformation into an accurate representation of the RAAF Black Cat. The typical RAAF Black cat was a flying boat without retracting undercarriage to save weight for long flights however this would have been impossible for HARS as it has no water base. The aircraft is however in every other respect representative of a Black Cat.
The aircraft was almost immediately impressed into the HARS flying display team of piston aircraft and has been demonstrated across the country ever since at numerous air shows and commemorations and is a very popular aircraft with crowds. The Cat is an ongoing work in progress in that many of its military fixtures and fittings were removed when it was utilized as a water bomber. Over time these items have been located and restored before being refitted to the aircraft. The most important items so far fitted include the correct “blister” turret/windows in the rear of the hull and the fitting of a correct gun turret at the nose of the machine. All of the interior has also been completely refitted as an RAAF Catalina and has the look and feel of a true RAAF WWII Black Cat.
The Catalina is a very significant aircraft to HARS and continues to serve as reminder to the nation of the magnificent efforts of the brave Catalina crews many of whom lost their lives. The task of maintaining this aircraft is long and hard but is a task undertaken with great pride by the HARS dedicated crew.
History of VH-PBZ (aka A24-362)
Originally built to a US Government contract as a tall tail PBY-6A by Consolidated and delivered to the United States Navy Air Arm in April 1945 utilizing Bu No 46679. The aircraft was in the Northern area of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. The aircraft then continued in service until it was retired in 1956 and stored in Arizona from where it was sold to a civil operator, the Aircraft Instrument Corporation, Miami, Florida in late 1957 and civil registered as N9562C.
The aircraft did not remain in the USA for long and was sold in 1957 to a Chilean operator, TRANSA, Santiago and registered there as CC-CNF and civil converted by Fabrica Nacional de Aeronaves (FANAERO), Los Cerrillos Airport. The PBY did not remain with that operator for long and in 1959 passed to Roberto Parrague of Aeroservicios Parrague Ltd, (ASPAR), Santiago. From then on the aircraft appears to have been in storage until it was converted to a role as an aerial Fire Fighting tanker in 1980, The aircraft now wore the registration CC-CCS and was marked up as Tanker 79 and continued to serve as a tanker until 1986 when it was involved in a fatal water landing and sank. The Catalina was salvaged straight away and repaired by ASPAR in Santiago and flew again returning to service in 1988.
A new stage in the aircrafts varied career began in 1991 when it travelled to Spain on lease to Instituta Para la Conservation de la Naturaleza (ICONA) (Spanish Ministry of Land and Forest Management) but was little utilized and was retired in 1992. The aircraft was then again stored for and extended time in Portugal before being purchased by HARS in 2003 and made ready for the trip to Australia in France. The aircraft now operates in Australia with the civil registration VH-PBZ, finished in the scheme of RAAF Catalina A24-362 ‘OX-V’ ‘Felix’ of No 43 Squadron.
History of the original A24-362
This aircraft was built in 1944 against a RAF order but issued to the RAAF instead was delivered to Australia in June 1945 and served with 43 Sqn and 115 Air Sea Rescue Flight. The Catalina was sold as surplus to Butler Air Transport in 1946.
© John Parker 2017