3 June 1942: At dawn, twenty-two U.S. Navy PBY-5A Catalina patrol bombers launched from Midway Island to search for a Japanese fleet which was expected to be heading toward the American island base. One of them, 44-P-4, (Bu. No. 08031) commanded by Ensign Jewell Harmon (“Jack”) Reid of Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44), sighted Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Force, 700 nautical miles (1,296.4 kilometers) west of the atoll, shortly before 9:00 a.m.
The Catalina scouted the enemy task force, which they believed to be the “main body” of the Japanese fleet and radioed information back to their base. The task force consisted of 1 light cruiser, 12 transports carrying 5,000 soldiers, 11 destroyers, 2 seaplane tenders, 1 fleet oiler and 4 patrol boats.
The Consolidated PBY Catalina made its first flight on 28 March 1925, with chief test pilot William B. Wheatley in command. It was a twin-engine flying boat produced from 1936 to 1945. It was utilized primarily as an anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrol bomber and for search and rescue operations.
The PBY-5A was an amphibious variant equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 63 feet, 10-7/16 inches long (19.468 meters) with a wing span of 104 feet (31.699 meters) and overall height of 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters). Its empty weight was 20,910 pounds (9,484.7 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 35,420 pounds (16,066.2 kilograms).
The PBY-5A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G (R-1830-92) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). These engine drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers with a 12 foot, 1 inch (3.683 meter) diameter through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).
The PBY Catalina had a cruise speed of 125 miles per hour (201 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 196 miles per hour (315 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,800 feet (4,816 meters) and range was 2,520 miles (4,056 kilometers).
The patrol bomber could carry 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of bombs, depth charges or torpedoes on hardpoints under its wing. Two Browning M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine guns were mounted in a nose turret with 2,100 rounds of ammunition. Two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns were mounted in the waist with 1,156 rounds of ammunition.
3,305 Consolidated PBY Catalina’s were built, of which 802 were the PBY-5A variant. In addition to United States service, many other countries operated the Catalina during and after World War II. The last PBY in U.S. service was a PBY-6A which was retired 3 January 1957.
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby