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.

11 comments

  1. Wonderful photos and a great restoration effort
    My Dad was a driver in a Catalina squadron at Rathmines etc and flew from Borneo to Perth in the blister once when on leave.He always spoke fondly of them.They are a remarkable and elegant aeroplanes.Long may they fly
    Congratulations to the restoration team and the photographer.You made my day
    Geoff Bell

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words Geoff and we’re glad that the article and photos helped revive some fond memories of these great aircraft.

      Cheers,
      Motty.

  2. I have but one problem with all of these, I’m green with envy.
    Marvelous shots of a rare bird. Well done.

  3. As an ex-Catalina W/T flying in 43 squadron I am greatly impressed and envious of those who are ” caring for” Felix now. We are celebrating the Catalina during 2019 and bringing out a book of memorials to those 322 men who did not return. Keep an eye out for further announcements.
    Of course we join at Rathmines for Anzac Day as usual. If you happen to have any personal information about the boys that were lost we would be glad to hear from you. My address is attached.

  4. Wonderful photographs!
    My father served as a navigator on Catalinas during WWII, so I think I can be excused for taking some time off the tedium of work to enjoy every one of them!

  5. A very interesting story of the work involved in getting this aircraft into working order again. My late father-in-law was Inspector of Air Safety in what was the Territory of Papua & New Guinea in the 1960’s, early 1970’s, based in Moresby. I was working there too. We often went for walks around Jackson’s ( with our dogs) and looked at a crashed and abandoned Catalina left to rust away at the end of the strip. Such a pity, George would say. I wonder if the remains are still there ? As an ex RAF Squadron Leader he had flown many different types of aircraft including most frequently the Vampire, but only as a passenger in a Catalina, an aircraft he spoke very highly of. He would have loved to see ‘Felix’. Thank you for your photo’s and words.

    1. Thank you very much Trevor for your kind words and interesting information about your and your Father’s experiences. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      Cheers,
      Motty.

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