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July 26, 2023
4 Min Read
PBY-5A Catalina bomber on patrol over uninhabited Aleutian islands on a clear day.Bettman, Getty Images
The Consolidated Aircraft Corp. Catalina PBY flying boat is an icon of the World War II era, but this ancient design may have new life when brand-new examples are built using modern turboprop powerplants and contemporary avionics.
Consider it the flying equivalent of the modern Volkswagen buses built by Classic Steel, with their water-cooled Subaru engines or electric motors replacing the original air-cooled VW engines.
Consolidated built 3,276 Catalinas according to the U.S. Navy, which employed the planes for maritime patrols, search and rescue missions, and even bombing. According to the Navy Times, PBYs accounted for 25 of the 60 enemy submarines sunk during WWII, with another one sunk by a destroyer after being spotted by a PBY patrol plane.
The plane is notable for its streamlined hull and its wet wing, which contains fuel inside without separate tanks or even a rubber bladder.
Florida-based Catalina Aircraft is the current holder of the FAA Type Certificates for the 28-5ACF Catalina and has been providing parts to support Catalina operators. From this foundation, the company has announced the Next Generation Amphibious Aircraft (NGAA) Catalina II twin turboprop amphibious flying boat.
The Catalina II is available in two new production variants, a NGAA Civilian Variant and a NGAA Special Use Variant for government and military customers. The Air Force has recently expressed interest in amphibious aircraft, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting proposals for a ground-effect seaplane.
"Interest in the rebirth of this legendary amphibian has been extraordinary,” said Lawrence Reece, president of Catalina Aircraft. “The capabilities this modernized iconic platform offers, being capable of performing so many unique missions, and in a variety of market segments, speaks to the heritage of the Catalina product line.”
“The NGAA Catalina II is a modern amphibian with advanced engines and avionics and will offer capabilities no other amphibian can provide today,” Reece continued. “We are looking forward to moving this program forward rapidly.”
The company says that the NGAA Catalina II will be the largest, fastest, longest range, highest payload, and most capable amphibious aircraft available worldwide with Western Certifications.
While the airframe design is carries over, Catalina says it will build them using modern corrosion-resistant materials, assembly practices, and supportability to ensure reliable supply of repair parts.
Cruising on the water on a takeoff run, a Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina patrol bomber can take off on land as well as water.
The plane’s civilian variant will have a 32,000-pound Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) and be sea state 2-capable. It can carry 34 passengers or 12,000 pounds of cargo for private or commercial operators.
Catalina Aircraft says the plane will use modern turboprop engines that deliver 15-20 percent better fuel efficiency than older turboprops, for a range of as far as 1,525 nautical miles and a cruising speed of 185 knots. At 212 mph, that’s about 100 mph faster than the piston-powered originals fly at cruising speed.
According to the Navy Times article, Qantas Airlines PBYs flew from Perth to Ceylon, near India, on a route that kept them aloft, non-stop and unrefueled, for more than 32 hours!
The military version will be rated for a 40,000-pound MTOW and can handle sea state 3 for military CONcepts of OPerations (CONOPs). This version flies faster than the civilian plane, with a cruising speed of 230 mph or 200 knots.
A fuel capacity of 2,710 gallons promises to keep the Catalina II in the air for more than 19 hours.
Catalina says the plane will be able to carry as many as 30 troops and their gear, though during WWII, one Australian Catalina managed to take off carrying 87 Dutch sailors rescued from their sunken freighter!
Both versions of the plane will feature dual ultra-wide, 4-segment touch screen displays (with night vision goggle compatibility for the military version) and a dark cockpit interface to reduce pilot workload.
Catalina promises to deliver the first planes in 2029, though pricing hasn’t been announced yet.
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