The PBY Catalina Ramp, January 23, 2021
Today I watched a really good video about the Consolidated PBY Catalina in WWII. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOi0o91Sw7U
It’s a good plane. A flying boat with Pratt and Whitney 1830 engines. Same as the DC-3.
When I worked at Kenmore Air Harbor at the north end of Lake Washington in the ’80’s, there was a mechanic there named Adolph M., but everyone called him “Mickey”. Adolph worked on Catalina’s in WWII and flew in them. He might even have been a flight engineer. I think he was there at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese blew them all up on December 7th, 1941. Mickey wasn’t the best or most accurate story teller.
Mickey always worked on the amphibian landing gear on the company Grumman Goose, as it also was a flying boat and the landing gear was similar.
In 1990 I went to Belem, Brazil at the mouth of Amazon River on the equator to work on a DeHavilland Beaver being used in a film. David Jones, the aerial unit boss and owner of the Beaver, had me put the plane on floats so that it could be used to ferry actors and staff to the remote jungle movie set.
This was a mistake. But it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the old Catalina amphibian ramp into the Amazon River at the Brazilian Naval base. The base was at the west side of the Belem Airport. The Beaver was on wheels in an open hangar on the east side of the airport.
The Brazilian Navy used Catalina’s until 1982 and in 1990 there was one of the flying boats on static display at the entrance to the base. I’m sure it’s corroded away by now.
Andrez, Brazilian aerial unit liaison and I went to this base to talk to the base commander to ask if we could use the old Catalina ramp to launch our Beaver on floats.
It was an interesting afternoon. The Brazilian commodore kept us cooling our heals in his anteroom for an hour, then let us into his office. The usual open cement block building with no glass windows (no need), fans circulating the air, he didn’t have air conditioning.
Andrez and the Commodore talked Portuguese for awhile and then I said, “Rampo esta fechado.” (Ramp is closed.)
This brightened up the Commodore’s attitude. I think he thought I’d understood the whole previous conversation.
Suddenly all was smiles. The Commodore would take down the wire fence blocking the ramp and we could launch our Beaver floatplane.
Well, the plane crashed in a storm and we had to retrieve it at the Catalina ramp about four weeks later.
If only that Catalina ramp hadn’t existed the whole episode could have been avoided. But then those Catalina’s in WWII wouldn’t have rescued the crew of the Indianapolis and all those others. Or sunk those U-boats.
Airplanes do change the world. They are amazing machines.