The scientific tourist #65 — PBY Catalina

This week’s image comes to you from the San Diego Air and Space Museum — it’s a PBY Catalina flying boat:


The Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat was built by the thousands during the 1930’s and 1940’s, largely for service during World War II. The PBY designation comes from the system used by the U.S. Navy (at the time, anyway) for identifying its aircraft models — PB for the craft’s original role as a Patrol Bomber, and Y to indicate its manufacturer (Consolidated Aircraft).

Before the day of aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy had the PBY built in order to support long-range bombing missions over the Pacific, interrupting shipping at a distance — a scenario that required little foresight in the mid 1930’s. Flying boats had the distinct advantage of being able to project force over long distances, while not requiring a landing strip in an area dominated by water. Although it was originally built to be a patrol bomber, the Catalina was both reliable and versatile, and would serve in a wide variety of roles over its lifespan.

The PBY was by far the most successful craft of its type, with more than 4,000 being produced. The last of these in military service was only retired in the 1980’s, while approximately a dozen remain in service fighting forest fires.

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