The Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust (RCMPT), after a worldwide, seven-year search, located and purchased a rare Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina finding the plane (un)surprisingly enough, on eBay, located in Puerto Rico, reportedly acquiring the plane for of AU$20,000 (US$19,000).
The RCMPT is dedicated to maintaing awareness of the role played by the Seaplanes and Flying Boats of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), their crews and the ground support personnel at RAAF Base Rathmines, located on saltwater Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, Australia. Founded in 1939, RAAF Base Rathmines became the largest seaplane base in the southern hemisphere and played a crucial role in the defense of Australia in World War II. Notably its flying boats were involved with the mining of Manila Harbor and played an important part in the Battle of the Coral Sea. At its peak, the base was home to over 3,000 RAAF personnel and comprised 230 buildings and marine facilities and had forty aircraft in service.
While RAAF Base Rathmines served as a base for nearly every type of amphibious aircraft and flying boat used by the RAAF including the Curtiss SOC Seagull, Douglas Dolphin, Supermarine Walrus, Short Sunderland, Martin PBM Mariner, Dornier Do 24, Short S23 Empire and the Vought OS2U Kingfisher, but it is the Consolidated PBY Catalina that is held most dear by Australians.
Between 1941 and 1952, the RAAF operated a total of 168 Catalinas, flown by four front line squadrons, two communications units and three air-sea rescue flights. In January 1952, after the war, the Catalina was declared surplus and the RAAF ceased operating seaplanes and RAAF Base Rathmines was used as a ground-training base and ceased operation altogether in 1960/61, deeded to the Lake Macquarie Council.
The PBY-5A Catalina will become one of the key attractions of a hangar-style museum planned for the heritage-listed lakeside memorial park at Rathmines. It is intended to be the museum’s centerpiece restored to static display standards and will complement an operational PBY6A Catalina, VH-CAT operated by the Catalina Flying Memorial.
RCMPT Registrar Penny Furner says the purchase of the Catalina PBY-5A was a real coup. “Catalinas are very hard to come by and this is one of the models that flew out of Rathmines during the war,” she said. “It will make a marvellous static display for our proposed museum and will boost our efforts to secure government support for the project. We want to build a fitting home for VH-CAT and the PBY-5A so anyone interested in wartime history or aviation can come and see these wonderful old aircraft first-hand.”
The acquisition of the PBY-5A Catalina was paid for with money raised by the Trust through donations and community events such as the annual Rathmines Catalina Festival. At the time of this writing, crews from Australia are on site in Puerto Rico, disassembling the amphibian for shipping to Australia.