By Capt Flippie Vermeulen & Photos by Willie Bodenstein
Given the fact that the first Catalina flew in South Africa in 1943/4 during World War Two (WWII), a historical and exciting (but also sad) event is about to unfold at Rand Airport, Germiston, South Africa. Most likely the very last PBY Catalina, ever to be seen in South Africa, is about to start its post restoration test flying before leaving for the USA, to be delivered to its new owner, Mr. Jim Slatttery in San Diego CA.
For the last six years, Consolidated PBY Catalina, N427CV, Serial No 11089, underwent extensive restoration at Springbok Aviation Services' facility in hangar 5 and today the first test flight is scheduled to take place.
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was designed and first flew in March 1935 as a long-range Naval Reconnaissance aircraft. It proved itself to be very successful in this role as well as many other roles, such as in Air Sea Rescue, Submarine hunting and numerous other rolls. After World War Two, it amongst others became active in Forest Fire Fighting, flying as water bombers, a roll which N427CV fulfilled until its final retirement in 1993.
Numerous PBY's were seen in South Africa over the years as surveying aircraft, flying around with huge antennae, looking for minerals for the big mining companies.
The long, thin wing (high aspect ratio) results in a relatively slow cruising speed, 85 - 105 knots (depending on the weight and power setting) but very efficient recognizance aircraft. With a fuel capacity of over 6,000 liters the endurance of the PBY is nearly 20 hours at lower power settings.
Various models of the Catalina were build, the most common of which was the PBY-5A, which was the amphibian version of which N427CV is one. The South African Air force operated some PBY-5's (not amphibian) from amongst others, the Durban harbour, during WWII. They were hauled onto the shore on purpose build dollies for maintenance.
More than 7,500 PBY's were built in the USA and Canada during WWII. N427CV, Serial No 11089 was built by Consolidated in Canada by Canadian Vickers, in Montreal as a Canso A / 2F CV 427.
It was first taken on strength at Eastern Air command on 3 June 1944 - delivered new into storage. It then served with No. 162 (BR) Squadron, in Iceland, coded "C", from 27 September 1944. At the end of hostilities it went into storage with EAC on 21 September 1945, reported serviceable on that date. On 2 February 1946, it came out of storage and was issued to RCAF Station Dartmouth, NS on 1 May 1946, with No. 435 (T) Squadron, RCAF Station Edmonton, Alberta, in August 1946. Shortly after this, on 22 August 1946, it picked up the crew of RCAF Vessel “Beaver”, after it had run aground near Cape Jones, Hudson's Bay.
On 13 June 1950 it was assigned to RCAF Station Sea Island, BC and to No. 121 (CR) Flight at Sea Island May 1956 to October 1961. In November 1961 it went to RCAF Station Lincoln Park, Alberta for storage. It was made available for disposal from August 1962.
Shortly hereafter it was sold to the Quebec Department of Transportation and Communications where it flew as C-FPQO until 1992, when the aircraft was sold to Pro Air Aviation of Bonsecours, PQ. It was during the period with the Quebec Government that it served as a water bomber, fighting forest fires.
On 6August 1999 it was sold to Antares Air Services of Oshawa, Ontario, a registration which was cancelled in 2001.
Mr, Manual Roque, an Angolan gentleman purchased the aircraft and had it ferried to South Africa under the registration of 3D-PBY, a Swaziland registration. It was used for a commercial at Vilanculos in the early 2000's where-after it was flown to Rand Airport, Germiston in South Africa.
It became derelict and after 6 years was purchased by Mr. Steve Hamilton and John Seibold, two aircraft collectors from the United States of America and they then commissioned Springbok Aviation Services to completely restore the aircraft.
An extensive restoration started in 2006. The aircraft was completely disassembled and restored from the airframe up. Extensive reconstruction of the centre wing section followed after corrosion was discovered in the upper areas of the fuel tanks.
The aircraft was ready to fly by mid 2011, but changed ownership in the USA the end of 2011 and is now owned by Mr. Jim Slattery, another keen aviation collector of San Diego, California.
A requirement by the new owner to operate the aircraft in the public category in the USA, dictated additional modifications to the aircraft. A new rudder, ensuring better directional control, strengthened floor attachments for the passenger seats, additional emergency exit and watertight bulkhead doors had to be fitted.
Springbok Aviation Services, one of Capt Flippie Vermeulen's family businesses at Rand Airport, executed and managed the bulk of the restoration process. Some specialized work was contracted out to local specialists at Rand Airport, such as Aircraft Rebuilders of Mr. Ken Jones.
It is expected, subject to the conclusion of a successful test-flying program, the aircraft will depart for the United States of America during early December, finally ending an association of 69 years with the PBY Catalina. Sadly, it will most likely be the very last time a Catalina will ever be seen in South Africa!!
A video of the Catalina at Heidelberg by Kevin McCormack