NotesThe first Catalina to arrive in Australia was in 1938 when "Guba", a privately-owned Model 28-2 was leased by the Commonwealth Government. It was commanded by Captain P G Taylor on a survey flight across the Indian Ocean to Mombasa, Kenya for an Empire Route. This was thought necessary if Japan increased its aggression in Asia and the air route to England was cut at Singapore.
In 1940 the PBY-5 version of the Catalina was ordered for the RAAF. They were ferried across the Pacific by a combination of Qantas and RAAF crews, and the first aircraft was accepted on 5 February 1941, piloted by Captain Lester J. Brain, with Capt. Taylor as navigator. This was only the third aircraft ever to fly the direct route across the Pacific. The last Catalina, A24-386, arrived on 3 September 1945. In all, 168 Catalinas were operated by the RAAF under the following serial Nos. A 24-1/114, A24-200/206, A24-300/309, and A24-350/386. These aircraft included two PBY-4s taken over from the US Navy, Mks I, II and IIA (PBY-5 flying boats), MK III(PBY-5A amphibians) and Mk IV and MkVI (Boeing built PB2B-1,-2). With their long range and endurance, the Catalinas established an impressive war record and operated with Nos 11, 20, 42, 43 Squadrons, Nos 6 and 8 Com. Units, and Nos 111, 112, 113 ASR Flights.
Catalinas also served a civil role in Australia during the war. A small fleet was operated by Qantas Empire Airways for two years between July 1943 and June 1945. During that period Catalinas undertook 271 ocean crossings between Ceylon and Perth, 3,513 miles (5,653 km) in radio silence, non stop and airborne for up to 31 hours. This incident-free operation was the world's longest non-stop airline sector. Post-war a number of Catalinas were used in commercial operations, notably by Qantas, Barrier Reef Airlines and TAA's Sunbird Service.
The Museum's Catalina PB2B-2 was built under licence for Consolidated Aircraft by the Boeing Aircraft Company in Vancouver, Canada, in 1944. Following its test flights, the aircraft was flown to San Pedro, California. It was then handed over to the RAAF San Pedro Ferry Detachment, given the RAAF Serial No. A24-385, and flown across the Pacific by an RAAF crew, arriving in Australia on 3 September 1945. It was the second last RAAF Catalina to be received, only weeks after the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945.
Many Catalinas at this time were used in the South West Pacific area to bring home to Australia the ex Prisoners of War well enough to fly. Following this they flew back Australian soldiers from Borneo, New Guinea and the other islands due to be discharged from war service. On the outward flight from Australia the Catalinas carried clothing, footwear, medical supplies, fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat. These flights continued up to March 1946.
Unfortunately, exact details of the duties of the Museum's Catalina at this time are not known as neither the pilot nor aircraft logbooks have survived. However it is known to have been allocated to 43 squadron for 4 months before being returned to storage in February 1946. It was then allocated to 112 air-sea rescue flight as a standby for aircraft No. A24-109 but because of an unserviceable air screw, No. A24-300 was issued instead. Following repairs it was issued to Rathmines RAAF flying boat base on Lake Macquarie, NSW, but was damaged in a hailstorm and after repair was allotted to the New Guinea administration for air-sea rescue. In August 1946 its 360-hour check was undertaken at Rathmines, after which it was allotted to 111 air-sea rescue flight. However, following disbandment of this unit in January 1947, it was again issued to Port Moresby. More repairs were undertaken after a beaching accident which damaged the hull and port float when the beaching gear collapsed. After this it was issued to 11 squadron in September 1949, its last duty with the RAAF.
In 1950 Captain Patrick Gordon "Bill" Taylor was given permission by the Australian Government to carry out a survey flight to establish an air route between Australia and South America. The Government allowed Captain Taylor to select an aircraft to achieve this flight and the best available was A24-385, which was officially handed over to him on 22 August 1950. Despite its good condition, it was given a thorough overhaul by the RAAF, repainted, named "Frigate Bird II" by Taylor and given the Civil Registration VH-ASA. It was originally allocated the civil registration VH-AGB but Taylor requested the more appropriate VH-ASA (indicating Australia South America), which he was granted. On 13 March 1951 Taylor set off from the flying boat base at Rose Bay in Sydney with the smallest workable crew: Captain George Henry "Harry" Purvis (first officer), Eugene Dennis "Blue" L'Huillier (engineer), Angus Allison (radio officer and bowman) and "Sydney Morning Herald" journalist, Jack Percival (executive officer and official correspondent). They made a shakedown flight to Grafton, NSW, landing on the Clarence River, and next morning headed east for South America. Stops were made at: Noumea, New Caledonia; RNZAF Station Luthala Bay, Suva, Fiji; Stapuala Bay, Samoa; Aitutaki; Cook Islands; Papeete Harbour, Tahiti; and Mangareva, French Oceania; and Easter Island. The necessity to refuel at Easter Island, where there was no sheltered area of water for take-off, was a serious hazard for a grossly overloaded aircraft. There the crew suffered through a storm, a freak swell broke all three anchor ropes, and Taylor was washed overboard. Finally take-off was executed with the assistance of the JATO rockets (jet-assisted take-off) that had been fitted to the hull by the RAAF at Rathmines.
On 26 March 1951, Taylor, escorted by a Chilean Air Force Catalina, reached the capital of Chile, Valparaiso. There he landed near the Quintero Air Force station and was warmly welcomed by the President of Chile after covering 8,500 miles (13,679 km). On 3 April Taylor left Quintero for the eventful return flight, which saw the starboard rockets fail to fire when taking off in another storm from Easter Island and the plane nearly smashed to pieces on the cliffs at Ovahe Cove. They arrived back at Rose Bay on 21 April to a large reception. The aircraft was subsequently presented to Captain Taylor by the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in recognition of the first air-crossing of the South Pacific Ocean and in appreciation of the many surveys made by the famous aviator. It was not until 1970 that serious talks aimed at establishing a service between Australia and Chile commenced.
Patrick Gordon Taylor was born in Sydney on 21 October 1896, the son of a prosperous York Street merchant. He was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School and The Armidale School and enjoyed sailing his 16-footer. In 1916 Taylor sought to enlist in the Australian Flying Corps, but was rejected and sailed to England. He joined the Royal Flying Corps and was a trainee pilot at Netherhaven, Wiltshire, on Sailsbury Plain before joining 66 Squadron in France. He was awarded the Military Cross, the citation noting his 40 offensive patrols at low altitudes and under heavy ground fire and 'exceptional dash and gallantry in attacking large formations of hostile aircraft'
Later Taylor returned to Australia and served as a tactical air flying instructor in the Australian Flying Corps until the end of the war in 1918. After this he undertook an aviation engineering course, taught himself navigation, and received the first navigator's licence issued by the Department of Civil Aviation.
In 1930 when Kingsford Smith and Ulm founded Australian National Airways to fly between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Taylor joined as a pilot, but the company foundered and Kingsford Smith and Ulm enlisted Taylor for pioneering overseas flights. In 1933 Taylor navigated for Kingsford Smith when he flew the "Southern Cross" from Australia to New Zealand. The next year he flew with Kingsford Smith in the Lockheed Altair "Lady Southern Cross" on the first west-east crossing of the Pacific. In 1935 Taylor was flying mail to New Zealand with Kingsford Smith in the ageing "Southern Cross" when the starboard motor cut out and the port engine began to lose oil. The aircraft continued to lose altitude despite dumping the mail and freight. Taylor climbed out onto the struts of the aircraft six times and retrieved oil from the dead engine and transferred it to the labouring engine in a thermos. For his bravery Taylor was awarded the Empire Gallantry medal (later changed to the George Cross).
In 1939 Taylor captain-navigated the Catalina flying boat "Guba", trail blazing the great commercial air routes across the Indian Ocean between Australia and Africa. During World War II he ferried American Liberator bombers across the Atlantic and Catalinas across the Pacific in 1941. In 1942 he flew Netherlands East Indies naval Catalinas with VIPs between Java and Hawaii and in 1944 was engaged by the RAF to survey a mid-Pacific route linking Mexico with New Zealand. For this flight he was provided with a Catalina IVB JX275 at Bermuda, and named it "Frigate Bird".
By the end of the war there was only one ocean expanse still unconquered by air, the South Pacific between Australia and South America. In 1950 Captain Taylor was determined to establish an air link from Australia to Chile. With official support from the Commonwealth Government, he was provided with the Boeing-built PB2B-2 by the RAAF, A24-385, which he named "Frigate Bird II". The pioneering survey flight was successfully undertaken in 1951. After his return to Australia from Chile, at the age of 55, Captain Taylor, a widower, married a young schoolteacher and in 1954 was knighted. Taylor then considered using "Frigate Bird II" for his own commercial operations, but this was not financially possible and attempts at selling the aircraft were unsuccessful.
In 1954 the flying boat was removed from the Civilian Register and made its last flight back to Rathmines for storage. There it suffered from the removal of numerous items for spare parts and by souvenir hunters either working or training at the base. When the base closed in 1956 Taylor had the aircraft dismantled and towed on a barge to the flying boat base at Rose Bay in Sydney. Sadly, by this time, "Frigate Bird II" was in poor condition. After initially being stored in the back of the Ansett hangar at Rose Bay it was later moved outside, where its aluminium hull suffered from exposure to the elements and vandalism. The aircraft's deterioration continued and Taylor was faced with the possibility of scuttling the aircraft at sea until, in 1961, his attention was drawn to the Museum by a friend and aerophilatelist, Mr Ernest Crome, and he consequently presented the Catalina as a gift. Taylor recorded his adventures in seven books, with the 1951 Sydney to South America flight described vividly in "Frigate Bird". He died suddenly in Honolulu at the age of 70 of a heart attack on 16 December 1966. Taylor had piloted 71 different types of aircraft.
In the 1960s the Museum's display area was very small, so the Catalina went into storage. It was lent during the 1970s to the Camden Museum of Aviation, but after that Museum was forced to leave its site the Catalina was kept in storage until 1985. Structural and cosmetic restoration was then undertaken by Hawker Pacific Pty Ltd at Bankstown Airport, Sydney, to take the aircraft back to its 1951 appearance. At a special ceremony on 17 June 1987, attended by Sir Gordon Taylor's widow, Lady Joy Taylor, the Catalina was hoisted 10 m above the floor of the Boiler Hall of the Powerhouse Museum, back into its natural environment. A year later it formed the breathtaking centrepiece of the Transport Exhibition which opened to the public in 1988.