Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

Felix Flies Home

In late October last year, crowds lined the waterfront at the ex-RAAF seaplane base at Rathmines, on the shores of Lake Maquarie near Newcastle, in eager anticipation of the arrival of the star attraction at the annual Rathmines Catalina Festival; the majestic black PBY-6A Catalina (registration VH-PBZ) from the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at Albion Park, Illawarra near Woolongong (see our report on that event HERE).Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3400 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3266 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2095 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3211 -001-ASO

The Cat (also known as “Felix, after a wartime cartoon feline character which is also displayed on the aircraft’s nose) appeared in the distance but continued to the north-west and didn’t return. As became clear afterwards, the crew had experienced some problems with the No2 engine so, in the interests of safety, they elected to make a precautionary landing at Rutherford airport near Maitland. This marked the beginning of an extended stay at Rutherford for Felix as the team from HARS began the long and difficult task of changing the suspect engine on a large and historic warbird, a long way from home base.Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2511 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0595 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 1531 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3282 -001-ASO

Whilst it’s due to an unfortunate situation, having Felix at Rutherford has been a great chance for Newcastle and Hunter Valley locals to see the rare machine and, wherever possible, the crews have generously allowed visitors to get up close and have a good look at the old girl, including a rare glimpse of the cramped interior.Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0038 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0082 -001-ASO
A look forward into the cockpit and nose turret area.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0186 -001-ASO
A better look at the “office”.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0300 -001-ASO
The crew area immediately behind the cockpit.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0098 -001-ASO
Looking rearward from the crew area seen above. Of particular interest is the flight engineer’s unusual position, located in the “mast” area, just below the wing, at the top of the photo.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0104 -001-ASO
The gunner’s compartment under the large, distinctive “blister” windows.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0118 -001-ASO
Looking forward from the gunner’s compartment, through a crew rest area, to the forward compartments and cockpit.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2800 -001-ASO
The flight engineer’s panel in the “mast” area below the wing. Not for the claustaphobic1

Whilst the Catalina has been a welcome visitor at Rutherford, it was not the best conditions for the storage of such a large and historic airframe, which is normally well looked after inside a large hangar at Albion Park (especially during an Australian Summer). So, after a magnificent effort by everyone at HARS, the engine was successfully replaced and, following test runs and system checks, Felix was ready to return home to Illawarra.

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0069 -001-ASO
The crew prepares Felix for its flight home.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0287 -001-ASO
The new #2 engine.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0283 -001-ASO
Doing the water drains on a Catalina is a little more convoluted than on your average lightie. This is from the flight engineer’s position seen previously.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0373 -001-ASO
The job’s not finished until the paperwork is done.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0405 -001-ASO
Warming up the engines prior to departure.
Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0436 -001-ASO
Lined up for take-off.

The time finally came last weekend (Saturday 10th of February to be precise) for Felix and her crew to bid farewell to their temporary home in the Hunter Valley and make their way down the coast to Albion Park. As the crew got the large machine airborne after midday, I was lucky enough to be able to acompany them on the first stage of the trip to around the southern end of Lake Macquarie and get these photos. After passing by Sydney Harbour, Felix and her crew finally arrived home to Albion Park just after 2pm, to the delight of all involved.Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 0521 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 1260 -001-ASO
A pass over Luskintyre before heading home.

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2509 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 1084 -001-ASO

Congratulations to everyone involved in what has been a huge effort to get the Catalina back into the air. A lot of time and effort has been put in by a lot of people, often in difficult conditions, to ensure that this rare and historic aircraft could make it home safely once again.Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2562 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3373 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 2044 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 1757 -001-ASO

Mottys-HARS Black Catalina Felix VH-PBZ 3112 -001-ASO

My sincere thanks to the team from HARS and Paul Bennet for the very rare opportunity to capture Felix in her element.

Motty.

Please click HERE to see the full gallery of images.

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