The venerable WWII 'Catalina' is apparently back from the dead

A Florida-based company, Catalina Aircraft, has announced its intention to bring the Consolidated "Catalina" back from the dead.
Christopher McFadden
Image of a Consolidated PBV-1A Catalina, circa 2021.

Alan Wilson/Wikimedia Commons 

The venerable PBY "Catalina" is returning in a turn of events that will please many a WW2 aircraft enthusiast. With only a handful of original aircraft airworthy, one Florida-based company has announced that it intends to start producing brand new ones very soon. Moreover, the same company, aptly named Catalina Aircraft, has also announced its intention to update the design with an entirely new "Catalina-II" model.

Back from the dead

The company explains that the brand new "classic" versions of the "Catalina" will be outfitted with modern turboprop engines and cockpit displays. On the other hand, the all-new "Catalina-II" will be a completely redesigned and reimagined aircraft.

The original "Catalina," more accurately the Model 28 or PBY, was designed and built by Consolidated Aircraft in the 1930s. During World War II, the "Catalina" seaplane was widely used and served in various branches of the US Armed Forces and other nations' air forces and navies. It was tasked with a mixed bag of tasks including, but not limited to, a far-flying maritime patrol plane, long-range torpedo and land attack bomber, mine layer, submarine hunter, search-and-rescue plane, special operations transport, and cargo-hauler.

Over 4,000 "Catalinas" were produced in the United States, the Soviet Union, and Canada (where it was also known as the "Canso"). According to one source, 14 to 17 "Catalinas" and "Cansos" can still fly as of mid-2023, with at least seven more being restored to a flyable condition and many more being stored or displayed.

However, that is all about to change thanks to Catalina Aircraft. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, the company has let it be known that they already have a "lead" customer for its new "Catalina" and is also seeking pre-orders for its Next Generation Amphibious Aircraft (NGAA), aka the "Catalina-II." Delivery of this new "Catalina" is currently penciled in for around 2029.

“The Catalina II is a new production aircraft. We are not refurbishing and upgrading old birds in the turboprop effort,” a company representative told Popular Mechanics. “Our initial flight test bird will be a product-modification of an existing aircraft to prove out initial design concepts. Production flight test may include as many as 6 test vehicles, 3 for each variant [civil and military]. We are expecting to start turbine-powered [ie. turbprop] flight tests in 2025 with new production deliveries beginning in 2029," they added.

The venerable WWII 'Catalina' is apparently back from the dead
Envisaged uses for the Catalina II.

“We have several locations [in] the continental United States offered, as well as one outside the continental United States location we are considering. It’s all about space and the bottom line," they said.

Fills a niche

The company's sales pitch for the "Catalina-II" includes its ability to fill an important niche for commercial clients and military forces, including its great range, cargo capacity, versatility, and, they argue, reduced cost compared to alternatives like the US-2 seaplane. Commercial enterprises and government agencies could operate it to provide services such as anti-piracy operations, freight delivery, surveillance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare, to name but a few tasks.

It remains to be seen whether Catalina Aircraft can revive a World War II icon in the present day. However, the company has stated that additional details will be disclosed later in 2023, including the identity of its mysterious "lead" customer.

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