The Catalina was designed as a pure flying boat PBY-5B, but in 1939 the first PBY-5A flew: An amphibian, with tricycle landing gear. The mainwheels retracted upwards in the fuselage sides, under the wing, and remained clearly visible. Of course this meant an increase in weight, and therefore a reduction in range. The RAF preferred the pure flying boat model, and only 11 of the more 700 Catalinas that RAF received were amphibious. In all, 1428 amphibious Catalinas were built.
The PBY was a quite large aircraft. To keep the engines and propellers away from the water spray, the wing was put on top of a sturdy pylon, and braced with two struts on each side. The wingtip floats were retractable. Compared with its biplane predecessors, the Catalina was much better streamlined. The fuselage itself had a two-step flotation bottom, and a rounded upper side. The fuselage was wider than it was high, an unusual feature for a flying boat, and inside there was only one deck.
In the nose, there was a position for a gunner/bombardier. Behind him was the cockpit for the two pilots, and immediately aft of the cockpit there was a cabin for the navigator and the radio operator. Behind them was the flight engineer, whose workplace extended into the wing pylon and was shared with the Galley. Aft of the wing there was a cabin with bunks; finally, there were two waist gun positions, in most versions covered with large blisters.
The Cutaway PBY-5B (FP-216) was a popular exhibit for flight students as well as civilian visitors to the the Survival Training Unit at NAS Pensacola until 1997. That year, in the wake of the decision to close the Survival Training Unit at NAS Pensacola, a team from the museum ripped the airplane out of the wall and placed it in storage. Not until 2001 was it moved to the museum’s restoration facility where it received corrosion control, metalwork, and painting.
While this process was underway, volunteers and staff refurbished equipment removed from the aircraft while members of the PBY Catalina International Association scoured the world for parts to complete the interior, their efforts resulting in the current display of the airplane that fully depicts the interior of one of the venerable flying boats in its wartime configuration. Below are some photos I took during my visit to the Museum in September 2010.
Photo credits, US Navy, Flyvertosset, World Air Photography