The Consolidated PBY-5A was the first version of the Catalina to be equipped with wheeled landing gear, turning it from a pure flying boat into an amphibian, capable of operating from sea and land bases. This change made the Catalina a much more flexible aircraft, but despite that production of the standard flying boat continued alongside that of the amphibian until the summer of 1943, while the RAF only purchased 11 of the new design.
Work on turning the PBY into an amphibian began in April 1939, when the last production PBY-4 was returned to Consolidated to have landing gear installed. Consolidated installed tricycle landing gear, with a nose wheel that foled up into a compartment under the flight deck and two main wheels that pulled back into the side of the hull between the two wing struts, leaving the wheel itself visible on the side of the aircraft.
Redesignated as the prototype XPBY-5A, this aircraft made its first flight on 22 November 1939, a month before the Navy placed its first order for the standard PBY-5. The order was quickly modified to include 33 PBY-5As and 167 PBY-5s. The US Navy added orders for 134 PBY-5As on 25 November 1940, 30 in June 1941 and 22 in October 1941, for a total of 219 aircraft ordered in peacetime. Nearly 500 more would be produced during the war.
At first the landing gear was the only significant difference between the PBY-5 and PBY-5A, but during the long production run of the amphibian, which lasted in 1945, a series of changes were made. The engines were changed to R-1830-92 Twin Wasps, but the new engines gave the same amount of power as those used the PBY-5.
Late production PBY-5As had the standard open topped bow turret replaced with a new “eye ball” closed top design. This carried two .30in machine guns, mounted in a plexiglass dome on the front of the turret.
A number of late production PBY-5As also carried the radome (radar dome) above the cockpit normally associated with the PBN Nomad and PBY-6A.
Engine: Two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines
Horsepower: 1,200hp at take-off
Span: 104ft 0in/ 31.70m
Length: 63ft 10.5in/ 19.47m
Empty Weight: 20,910lb
Maximum take-off weight: 35,420lb
Max Speed: 179mph at 7,000ft
Cruising Speed: 117mph
Range: 2,545 miles
Armament: two 0.30in machine guns in bow, one rear firing 0.30in machine gun in tunnel under hull, two 0.50in machine guns, one in each blister
Payload: 4,000lb of bombs or depth charges