The fastest ship, and the slowest airplane :
The Catalina 9767 - Princesse des Etoiles -
U-Boat Hunter, Photo Reconnaissance Aircraft, Transport Plane, Firefighter, Flying studio for the French TV channel TF1 on « Operation Okavango »... This Catalina has almost made all operations she has been pictured, and then fit. About 4 000 have been built; today only about fifteen of them are still flying. This one is, definitely, the most representative as well as the most mythical.
What will be « 9767 », flying for the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) is born from an American father and a Canadian mother. When Boeing of Canada sets on Sea Island, Vancouver, in 1942, his new plant for build under licence the already famous Catalina, Consolidated sends from San Diego all parts and equipments needed for the first 55 aircrafts... American parts, Canadian workers... From all the amphibious aircrafts which came from Sea Island, « 9767 » is the only one who survived, still flying, and the last of Boeing's flyingboats!
N9767’s legend began when she was delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force, as a Canso A, serial 9767. She was being operated by 162 (BR) Squadron as aircraft 'S'. On 17 April 1944, whilst it was under the command of F/O T.C. Cooke, southwest of Iceland, the U-boat, Type VIIC, U-342 was attacked while on the surface. This submarine commanded by the Oblt. Albert Hossenfelder, was on her maiden voyage, having sailed out of Bergen some two weeks previously. The U-342 and her 54 crew will never see again their homeland...
Almost a year after the VE-Day, in April 1946, n°9767 was acquired by Canadian Pacific Airlines and then registered CF-CRR. During its fourteen-year tour of duty with Canadian Pacific Airlines, it flew as a passenger and freight aircraft with the fleet numbers 233 and 933. At that time, she loose all her military equipment, her shortened nose, her armament, her camouflage painting, for a red, blue and silver livery as well as a new life.
Just before being disposed of by Canadian Pacific Airlines, on 23 April 1959, CF-CRR suffered substantial damage in a crosswind water landing at Terrace, BC, and as a result, the Canso had to divert to the nearby land airport and make a nose-wheel-up landing.
Many Canadian airline owners flew the Canso, as well as Northland Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Ilford Riverton Airways, before its acquisition by Avalon Aviation for use as a water bomber.
As a water bomber, C-FCRR carried the hull code '1' and, later, '791'. During fire-fighting operations, accidents happened and C-FCRR was involved in two of note. The first was at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, on 27 May 1978, when serious damage was sustained after stalling onto the water whilst carrying out water pick-up training. The aircraft was beached before it sank. The outer section of the starboard wing was destroyed in this incident and was replaced with an unused wartime component complete with original RCAF roundels! “
The second accident took place on May 30th, 1981, when the left hand nose wheel door tore off during a water pick-up on Complex Lake, NWT. The aircraft nosed down and sank but was salvaged to fly again!
Each time, she recovered following each ordeal, counting one of the nine lives commonly allocated to... Cats!
Based at the beginning at Red Deer, Alberta, from 1977, it was later to call Parry Sound, Ontario, and it was there that it entered long-term storage when Avalon ceased operations during the late 1980s. During its time in storage, several purchase attempts were made by groups keen to preserve it, because of its wartime history. However, all failed, and during the winter of 1994 Franklin Devaux of Dijon based Canadian Air Legend acquired it.
In the spring of 1995, C-FCRR left Canada for France. Upon arrival, it was initially overhauled at Dinard by “LAB” (now Sabena Technics). She had blisters replaced on the aft hull and other over haul work carried out by Tom Reilly of Kissimmee, Florida, before flying to Toulouse, where it was resprayed by “Aerospatiale” in a grey and blue scheme for her new operation.
In October 1995, she was used as a flying TV studio for use in a French TV natural history series called “Operation Okavango” which took place in Africa. Its initial destination was Djibouti, followed by the Comoro Islands, then Kenya and Ethiopia. During 18 months, she flew in the hardest conditions she experienced, and she got no damage! Less one cylinder, which decided to get absent without proper authorization. The outcome: few hours of work between two flights and a much welcome rest for the crew...
After a few weeks at Harare in Zimbabwe, C-FCRR returned to France, and by mid-1997 was at Arcachon minus its Okavango titles but named “Capt Tom Cooke”, after its illustrious wartime captain who sank U-342. It was later repainted in an Air France colour scheme with the name “Princesse des Etoiles” and flown to Le Bourget, Paris, on 23 August 1998. She was then dismantled by Mark Edwards, previously involved in the African “Operation Okavango” filming, and trucked to the “Place de la Concorde” on the “Champs Elysées”. She was placed on public display during September, with a great number of other vintage aeroplanes, to celebrate 100 years of “Aéroclub de France”.
She was then taken back to Le Bourget and flown south again ready for its next adventure, a transatlantic flight to Chile and Brazil via West Africa! This epic flight was to commemorate the Aéropostale mail flights flown by Jean Mermoz between France and Dakar, Sénégal, which began around 1930. The Catalina left Toulouse on 14 October, and by 28 November 1998, C-FCRR had arrived in Santiago of Chile, a follow on flight to Brazil being made on the 3rd of that month. C-FCRR flew north and spent some time at Oshawa, Ontario, where maintenance was carried out before leaving on 8 june 1999, crossing the Northern Atlantic via Reykjavik and Shannon, before arriving at Dinard in Brittany. A few weeks later, it was being kept busy as an aerial camera platform for the 11 August total eclipse of the sun.
Shade has disappear today and « 9767 » has changed her Canadian registration from C-FCRR to the American one, « N9767 ». She was then based at Orly-Airport in south of Paris. Mark Edwards, from AirVenture Ltd did the last phase of maintenance and preparation to get the US certification. Plans were made to fly N9767 from Orly to its new base, Melun-Villaroche, and then on December 2010 the 22th, the Princess took off... Before there has been extensive maintenance, thanks to the French, Canadians & Americans engineers (Jim VanDyk, Peter Houghton, George Perez & Patrice Sublemontier) and the volunteers of Air France Industries. After the aircraft’s arrival at Orly, they gave 9767 a new engine, new propellers, new avionics system, overhaul hydraulics, commands cables, and a lot more. Almost all of 9767 parts have been checked & replaced when necessary. The outcome was a testimony to the mechanics work.
Today, operating will be done with help from the association France's Flying Warbirds
« Princesse des Etoiles » has rediscovered the only elements, which are suitable for her on earth: sky and water!
N9767 in flight by Yves Cartilier
The "Cat" seen by our Swiss friends "Altitudes Pictures"
I flew the "Cat"
Yves CARTILIER says:
"Land and Sea" type rating on Catalina
The first striking thing when one approaches the Catalina is its size. Its wingspan is comparable to the one of a modern airliner. Fortunately, it is much lighter than an Airbus, but its 12 tons at take-off definitely make it part of the category of "big" planes among the Warbirds.
The pre-flight visit therefore includes picturesque details such as the count down of the hull plugs, or climbing along the main landing gear to access the fuel tank's drains located 4 meters higher.
The next impressive feature is the structure's sturdiness. The size of its big rivets and the thickness of its sheet metal suggest that it was built as an ironclad. When climbing on board, the similarity with a Navy ship is even more visible and makes one want to salute the officer of the deck and ask "Request permission to come aboard, Sir!”
The cockpit is rather wide, but austere. A thick bar links the two steering wheels. This allows for another comparison to the Navy: "in a Catalina, one does not hold the flight controls, one holds the helm, and one is not flying it but manoeuvring it."
Typical of high wings seaplanes : the engines controls hang from the ceiling. Starting a big star engine remains a pleasant ceremonial, but the Pratt & Whitney "Twin Wasp" is not a difficult engine and its start-up is quickly under control.
Taxiing is easy, and differential breaking is efficient, which makes it fluent even on congested ramp.
In the air:
Given the weight of the beast, it is possible to worry about its take-off performances. But the two Pratt engines are powerful and reliable, like two good old Percheron draught horses on which we can always count to pull.
The take-off distance is, in the end, reasonable. And one is much less impressed by the required runway length than by the difficulties during the initial climb as the rate of climb, on the other hand, is very humble.
During flight, especially during display, the use of the flight controls must be virile and ample. This is not a plane for shy young ladies. One cannot say that the flight controls are very harmonious. The efforts required on the rudder are small whilst the ailerons controls are particularly heavy. The challenge of doing coordinated turns is therefore firstly made very amusing, especially as it has a clear tendency to adverse yaw and induced roll effect. But getting used to it is easy, and after a long trims adjustment session on the three axes, the steering quickly becomes easy. After this, maintaining the course is no problem, the visibility from the cockpit is very good and visual flying becomes delightful. I like to say that the plane then becomes "deliciously lazy".
It is during cruises that the Catalina's qualities truly show. It is certainly not fast, but it is made for long distances, a ship for long-haul flights. One of its most important characteristics is the enormous capacity of its wing tanks, which give it an incredible autonomy of more than 16 hours of uninterrupted flight!
During the approach, it is necessary to take its inertia and the necessary anticipations resulting from it in consideration, but the approach and landing is generally easy to manage.
And on water:
A good sea-landing is first of all a question of attitude and speed. When the approach is rigorous and stable, the splashdown is soft. But at high speed on water one must remain very careful, as a little instability in pitch can quickly turn into a disaster. At low speed on water, the manoeuvres are tedious. And this is where good crew coordination can make all the difference.
To summarize, the Catalina is not a difficult plane for pilots used to flying heavy aircrafts. Strong, robust and reliable, the PBY efficiently accomplishes the tasks for which it was designed.
" Manoeuvring " the PBY Catalina N9767 is not only a great pleasure, it is also a great privilege, as this particular plane is not a simple collection plane, it is a flying piece of history.