A very special flying visit
A 75-year-old piece of aviation history is due to land at Kaitaia airport next month, for a two-day visit over the weekend of March 30-31. And no one is looking forward to it more than Kaitaia man Paul Muller, thanks in part to the yarns he heard as a child from a friend’s father.
“I spent hours and hours hanging out with my best friend Pine Takarangi when we were growing up on a farm south of Patea,” he said.
“His dad, Mick, would tell us tales of when he was a navigator/radio operator assigned to the RNZAF in a PBY Catalina during World War II, patrolling the Pacific, looking for enemy subs, downed airmen, lost seamen and signs of Japanese activity.
“He told me about the Pommie crew member whose job it was, after returning to base, to lasso the mooring and secure the lumbering flying boat. Only trouble was he couldn’t swim, and was dead scared of the water, while Mick, who had been raised on the banks of the Whanganui River, swam like a fish. So he volunteered to secure the plane to the mooring for him.
“On one occasion the skipper yelled at him to hook up to a particular buoy. Mick thought they were going a bit fast, but it wasn’t his place to question orders, so, with consummate skill, he threw the rope and captured the buoy.
“The plane came to an instant halt, the nose diving under the water while the tailed soared high in the air, akin to the Titanic going down.
It did bob up again, at which point the skipper informed Mick that he had been referring to another buoy altogether.”
The RNZAF had used 54 Catalinas in the defence of New Zealand against invasion during World War II, Paul said. More than 7000 were built altogether, and they had a huge influence on the outcome of the war.
They then slowly began to disappear. Some were used to fight fires from the air, Tasman Empire Airways (TEAL) used one, and a few ended up in wealthy private hands or in museums.
Two were converted into 16-seat passenger aircraft, one of them in Holland, until a recent landing mishap saw it withdrawn from service.
The other, which was used to fly highend charters in Africa, now the only one in the world that was fitted for passengers, had been bought and restored by the New Zealand Catalina Preservation Society.
“People now come from all around the world and queue up to admire it,” Paul added.
“They love the throbbing of those mighty 1200hp Pratt and Whitney radial engines, totalling 60,000cc — like 50 Harleys in one machine — and now the Far North will have the rare chance to see it too.
“The Kaitaia Aero Club has arranged to bring Catalina ZK-PBY to Kaitaia for an open day, weather permitting, and Catalina Society members will be doing some flying. You will be able to hear it, touch it and smell the burned avgas, and even go along for a ride to help share the cost.”
A Catalina making a low pass at the 2010 Tauranga City Airshow.