An historic aircraft is being restored to its original wartime configuration after it was handed over to the Royal Australian Air Force.
CAPTION: Ex-United States Navy PBY-5A Catalina ‘Our Girl’ is being restored by members and volunteers of the Rathmines Catalina Association in Beresfield, NSW. Story by Flight Lieutenant Karyn Markwell. Photos by SGT Craig Barrett.
Rathmines Catalina Association (RCA) formally handed over former US Navy PBY-5A Catalina ‘Our Girl’ to History and Heritage – Air Force (HH-AF) during the aircraft’s 80th birthday commemoration activities in Beresfield, NSW, on 17 November.
Director-General HH-AF Air Commodore Robert Lawson accepted Our Girl into the Royal Australian Air Force heritage collection on behalf of HH-AF and RAAF.
Built in 1943, ‘Our Girl’ saw service with the US Navy during World War 2.
RCA volunteers are restoring the aircraft to her original wartime configuration in support of HH-AF, while HH-AF’s Office of Air Force History is researching the livery in which to paint the aircraft to appropriately represent RAAF Catalina operations from Rathmines, NSW.
RCA president Bill Anderson said the PBY-5A model of Catalina was operated in Australia in large numbers between 1941 and 1945.
“Our Girl’s restoration and future display are important on several fronts,” Mr Anderson said.
“Our volunteers are maintaining and using skills learned over many years – workdays provide an avenue for fellowship and an aid to men’s health.
“Our members, many with family ties to the Catalina squadrons, and the public at large are experiencing the rebuilding of an aircraft that was a part of the defence of Australia.”
Following its US Navy service, Our Girl spent significant time out in the open in Puerto Rico and, as such, is heavily corroded.
Project officer Wing Commander Richard Dyson said it was a major restoration.
“The wings of the aircraft were discovered to have significant corrosion of their internal framework and lower surfaces, as water had soaked in over many years while Our Girl was grounded in Puerto Rico,” Wing Commander Dyson said.
“Similarly, significant ingress of water and debris into the fuselage has had a similar effect on the hull integrity.
“RCA have made significant inroads into the restoration and repair of these issues.
“The nose of the aircraft is being converted back to its 1943 configuration, with the installation of a bow-gun turret well progressed.
“This turret was beautifully restored by the Directorate of Air Force Heritage’s Restoration Support Section at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland.”
CAPTION: The interior of Ex-United States Navy PBY-5A Catalina ‘Our Girl’ under restoration.
Wing Commander Dyson said there was still significant work to be done on the internals of the aircraft, with a need to construct a navigator station, which was removed post-war.
“RCA continues to receive significant sponsorship support from a number of local industries, including the provision of equipment, paint and other materials,” he said.
“HH-AF will continue restoring the aircraft, drawing heavily on the specialist capabilities and support of the RCA supplement where necessary to complete the project.”
Restoration of Our Girl is expected to take about five years.
Once restored, HH-AF intends to publicly display the aircraft at the RAAF Williamtown Aviation Heritage Centre as a memorial to the region’s Catalina operations during WWII.
“RAAF Rathmines, best known as a major base for the iconic Catalina flying boats, was a significant part of the air-force story from 1939 to 1961,” Air Commodore Lawson said.
“RCA’s very generous donation of the now 80-year-old Our Girl will enable this important aspect of the Royal Australian Air Force’s history to be put on full display once the aircraft has been restored to display condition.”
Mr Anderson knows how important Our Girl is to the local community.
“The subsequent static display of the aircraft will be the subject of great pride to the RCA members, volunteers and their families,” he said.
“It will allow the story of RAAF Rathmines and the personnel who served there to be on permanent display as a reminder of the sacrifices made.”
CAPTION: Representatives from History and Heritage – Air Force (HH-AF), (from Left) Wing Commander Terry Ryan, Air Commodore Robert Lawson and Wing Commander Rick Dyson with Rathmines Catalina Association members, Bill Anderson, Terry Fahey and Penny Furner.
CONTACT believes RAAF is deliberately dropping ‘Royal Australian’ from its name – despite Defence assuring us it isn’t true. Campaigning against this name-change-by-stealth, CONTACT has appropriately ‘repaired’ this official story. See here for more details