Archive for the ‘cat pack’ Category

Cat Pack update

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

EC-FMC is leaving Europe it seems. According to David Pajus’ blog, the PBY has been sold to an overseas buyer.

More details likely to come as the story develops…

the Cat Pack — “Miss Pick Up”

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

This series of posts will retrace a few of the surviving airworthy (or close) PBYs around the world, and their history.

If there’s one bird I know well, that would be G-PBYA, a.k.a. “Miss Pick Up”, the white bird of Duxford where she’s being lovingly maintained by the dedicated crew of The Catalina Society. This aircraft was the first (and come to think of it, to date, the only) Catalina I saw “for real”, when they visited Barcelona for the Festa al Cel airshow in 2010. I saw it again two years later at the flying-boats/floatplanes meeting in Biscarrosse where it displayed how graceful it can be on water. For my third visit, it turned out she had something special in store.

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G-PBYA – detail

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G-PBYA – detail

As some of you may know, I’ve been collaborating this year on a special project called the Féria de l’Air, an airshow in Nîmes, southern France. This airshow took place last week on the 26th-27th of September, and G-PBYA was there, and I had the immense privilege not just of getting another tour, given by crew chief David Legg, whom I had the pleasure to meet at last, but also to fly aboard as a passenger during one of their rehearsal flights.

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G-PBYA – running

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G-PBYA – in flight

G-PBYA (CV-283) was built in 1943 in Cartierville, Québec, by Canadian Vickers for the Royal Canadian Air Force. This makes it a Canso A, which is a variant of the US Navy PBY-5A. After a long life in military and civilian service, it is now a regular sight on the European airshow circuit, where it flies in the colors of a wartime USAAF OA-10A Catalina 44-33915 of the 8th Air Force 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron at Halesworth, Suffolk.

Here’s a small, somewhat shaky video of my flight on this beautiful bird, with tremendous thanks to all the people involved:

Full album of the airshow available soon!

the Cat Pack — N85U

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

This series of posts will retrace a few of the surviving airworthy (or close) PBYs around the world, and their history.

N85U is no more.

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The last active Catalina waterbomber has been destroyed. The Cyclone-powered PBY-6A, which spent the last few decades based in Washington state, fighting forest fires, had been hired to appear in the upcoming Nicolas Cage war movie “Indianapolis”, when it was beached two days after its arrival there due to a leak. A misfortune for sure after spending months refurbishing and repainting the plane for its movie appearance. But the worst was still to come…

The plane was completely salvageable, although all the electronics were probably totalled, however the recovery turned to a complete disaster when the misuse of a crane destroyed the fuselage, leaving N85U a three-part wreck.

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the crime scene

It is especially infuriating and frustrating to see such criminal incompetence as PBYs do have a hoisting point on top of the wing for precisely the kind of lift that was required. Wrong tools and unfamiliar crews can make a dangerous combination… A very sad, completely avoidable accident, and the end of one of the most iconic planes in the USA.

the Cat Pack — 35 years

Saturday, June 28th, 2014
Philippe Cousteau, Sr.

Philippe Cousteau, Sr. piloting the PBY-6A N101CS

This Cat Pack entry is a special one, as today marks the 35th anniversary of the tragic death of famed explorer and adventurer Philippe Cousteau, Sr.

N101CS on water

PBY-6A N101CS “Flying Calypso”

Cousteau was piloting his newly refurbished PBY-6A N101CS on June 28th 1979 for a trial run on the Tagus river in Portugal, after an extensive period of maintenance. As the crew was performing a high-speed taxi to test for leaks, suddently the great plane nosed over and cartwheeled. One of the wings was ripped off, its engine separated from the structure with the propeller slicing through the cockpit. The copilot lost an arm, Cousteau was killed instantly. He was the only fatality in the accident.

N101CS crash scene - wing

N101CS crash scene – wing

The cause of the accident has never been clearly determined. The prevailing theory at the time was that the plane hit a hidden sandbar or coral reef that the crew couldn’t detect and avoid in time. Some point at a nose wheel door failure, a notorious weakness of the PBY amphibians that caused many similar accidents. Finally, others point at pilot error, theorizing that the crew imprudently let the plane go into a vicious porpoise and didn’t realize it until it was too late.

N101CS crash scene - cockpit

N101CS crash scene – cockpit

Philippe was the son and heir-apparent of explorer and pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. An accomplished diver, sailor and pilot, he followed his father’s footsteps and explored the seas with him on the famous vessel Calypso, and later acquired the PBY flying-boat to reach the places they could not reach by sea. With it, the Cousteau team had completed an extensive survey of the Nile river a few months before. He was 38 at the time of the crash.

To finish this note on a bit of a bright side, his children Alexandra Cousteau and Philippe Cousteau, Jr. picked up the family tradition, and co-founded the organization EarthEcho International, dedicated to raise awareness on environmental issues.

“I’ll never be able to fill my father’s or grandfather’s shoes, but hopefully I can stand on their shoulders and reach farther.”
–Philippe Cousteau Jr.

Not to worry. With such an heritage, you’re doing great.

Philippe Cousteau (December 30, 1940 – June 28, 1979)

Philippe Cousteau (December 30, 1940 – June 28, 1979)
photograph by Bill McDonald, 1975

the Cat Pack — N9767, “Princesse des étoiles”

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

This series of posts will retrace a few of the surviving airworthy (or close) PBYs around the world, and their history.

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N9767 is arguably the most iconic of all PBYs that have survived until today. Once a U-Boat Hunter, then Photo Reconnaissance Aircraft, Transport Plane, Firefighter, Flying studio for the French TV channel TF1 on “Operation Okavango”… This Catalina performed virtually all the missions she was designed, then adapted for, and is still in flying condition today in France as N9767.

Created in collaboration with Angels One Five, today’s featured article presents an illustrated history of this venerable PBY, c/n 21996, from her launch in the 1940’s to her return to flight in 2011. It’s available in French (PDF/8Mb) and in English (PDF/8.2Mb).

the Cat Pack — EC-FMC, the Spanish Catalina

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

This series of posts will retrace a few of the surviving airworthy (or close) PBYs around the world, and their history.

Near the Spanish city of Toledo lies an airfield housing one of the few quasi-airworthy Cats left in Europe, EC-FMC. This PBY is peculiar in that it’s a -6A model that was retrofitted with a -5A tail in order to comply with Canadian certification rules a few decades back. Its serial number is Bu64064 and it was built at the Consolidated factory of Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans, USA.

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It also served in the French Protection Civile as F-ZBAZ “Pélican Noir” for a spell. In retirement after a long career in firefighting in Europe and Canada, it still has its water tanks installed.

Now under the care of David Pajus, its restoration unfortunately was plagued with legal issues and hasn’t seen as much progress as desired… You can read more about it at

the Cat Pack — a Colombian story

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

This series of posts will retrace a few of the surviving airworthy (or close) PBYs around the world, and their history.

I have been lucky enough lately to be in contact with two people who allowed me to use their words and pictures to tell the story of a plane. More precisely, a PBY-6A, whose lineage is shrouded in mystery.

In the city of Villavicencio, Colombia, airport code VVC, resides one of the few surviving Catalinas in the world. Her story would make good material for a movie, if movies today were about a story and not special effects.

You can read it here.

With many thanks to Javier Franco Topper and Michael S. Prophet.