A very spe­cial fly­ing visit

The Northland Age - - Local News -

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.”

PIC­TURE / BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

A Catalina mak­ing a low pass at the 2010 Tau­ranga City Airshow.

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