Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our Last Catalina

After a recent photographic trip around the Port Albert/Wellsford area, I was searching on-line for other sights of interest in that area...
when I stumbled upon the tale of our air force’s last Catalina flying boat, and its association with Wellsford!
The story came from Seawings (a site dedicated to the history and operations of the world's Flying Boats), and appears to have taken years of exhaustive hunting to piece together...!
Between 1943-1956 the Royal New Zealand Air Force operated 56 Catalinas (all Consolidated PBY-5 and Boeing PB2B-1 non-amphibious flying boat versions). The last of these boats were withdrawn and sold for scrap in 1956.
One Boeing PB2B-1 Catalina (NZ4055, 'KN-L' of No.6 Squadron), was sold for £250 to local garage proprietor Jack Sellars of Wellsford, North Auckland. It was towed up the coast from the Hobsonville airbase, and beached at Whangateau.
Jack planned to convert it to a twin-screw sea-going launch with 20 bunks. The wings and tail unit were first removed by axe and handsaw, and the aircraft - or what remained of it - was trucked to Wellsford. When eventually finished, a further part of its tail was to have been removed, part of the fuselage top replaced by a small false deck, it was to have a wide buffer strip around it and below-decks there was to be a stateroom, bunkroom, navigation room, and storage space all separated by watertight bulkheads.
For a decade, the fuselage could be seen from the road, along the side of Mr Sellars’ house at 69 Rodney Road - something of a local landmark! Everybody needs a dream... unfortunately this particular one did not come to fruition, and the fuselage was finally scrapped in the late 1960s (...thankfully Don Subritzky took these photos in 1968, shortly before that happened).
As these details took years to track down, it illustrates the rarity of the material – and the need to save the past for the future, whether we think it may be of interest or not.
[NZ's (and Australasia's) only airworthy Catalina, ZK-PBY, is owned and operated by the Catalina Group of NZ and is an amphibious version. It purchased the plane in 1994 and painted it as NZ4017
(XX-T) of No.6 Squadron RNZAF. It's one of few airworthy Catalinas remaining in the world. A second Catalina is held by the RNZAF Museum for restoration - it was imported from New Guinea by the Museum of Transport and Technology in 1979, after lying abandoned and vandalised for several years.]

1 comment:

Mad Bush Farm said...

Great story. I recall a close friend of my parents mentioning the Catalina being at Whangateau. I know the area very well. My parents had a property at Tramcar Bay up on a high hill overlooking the bay. Funny thing is I was just there yesterday. I took my mother up to Leigh. My father was buried there. Headed back to Matheson's Bay once I had some batteries in my camera and nabbed a few shots. Heck of a lot of history around the area.

Great post. Oh well back to stirring again.LOL