Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina Flying Boat

The PBY-5 was the first version of the Catalina to be produced in large numbers, and the last to be a pure flying boat, and yet at the start of 1939 it had looked as if the PBY-4 was to be the final production version of the aircraft. Both Sikorsky and Consolidated themselves had produced prototypes for the next generation of flying boats during 1937 (the XPBS-1 and XPB2Y Coronado respectively), while the first full sized prototype of the Martin PBM Mariner flew on 18 February 1939.

The Catalina was saved by the rapid approach of war in Europe. The RAF had purchased a commercial version of the PBY-4 in July 1939, and this aircraft had been flown across the Atlantic for tests at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe, Suffolk. Although these tests were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, the RAF still decided to place an order for 106 Catalinas. Produced as the Consolidated 28-5, these aircraft became the Catalina I and Catalina II in RAF service.

Consolidated Catalina under construction
Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina under construction

This order was soon followed by an even larger one from the US Navy. On 20 December 1939 the navy ordered 200 PBY-5s in their largest aircraft order since the First World War. These new aircraft were needed to implement the Neutrality Patrol, established in September 1939 off the American coast.

The PBY-5 saw the introduction of the waist gunner’s blisters, which gave the Catalina its familiar shape. The outer part of these circular blisters could be rotated up and under the top of the blister, giving the waist gunners a much better field of fire than on earlier versions of the Catalina, and also providing better protection from the slipstream.

The PBY-5 was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-82 engines and used Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers. On the PBY-4 the air intake for the engine had been on top of the engine nacelle, but on the PBY-5 it was moved to a position inside the engine cowling, above the propeller. The PBY-5 had a redesigned squared off rudder, and new horizontal stabilisers and elevators.

Catalina on the Slipway at Kipevu, Mombasa
Catalina on the Slipway at Kipevu, Mombasa

The PBY-5 was also manufactured by Boeing of Canada as the PB2B-1.

Deliveries of the PBY-5 began late in 1940, and continued until the summer of 1943. For most of that period it was being produced alongside the PBY-5A Amphibian, which remained in production until January 1945. In that time Consolidated produced 754 PBY-5s and 225 identical PBY-5Bs (for lend-lease), while Boeing produced 240 PB2B-1s.  

Engine: Pratt & Whitney R-1830-82
Power: 1,050hp, 1,200 at take-off
Length: 63ft 6in
Width: 104ft
Gross Weight: 26,200lbs
Maximum Speed: 190 mph
Ceiling: 21,600ft

US Navy PBY Catalina Units of the Pacific War, Louis B Dorny Osprey Combat Aircraft 62. This entry in the Combat Aircraft series looks at the varied uses of the Catalina in the Pacific theatre, where it served as successfully as a long range reconnaissance aircraft, a night bomber (the "Black Cat") and on air-sea rescue, or Dumbo duties. The text is well supported with first hand accounts, contemporary photographs and full colour illustrations. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 August 2008), Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina Flying Boat ,

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