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Careless Loss of PBY N85U

August 2015 - The lead-up to Oshkosh was colored by several events; however, most notable was the loss of veteran PBY-6A N85U. The PBY Catalina is a rare bird, with the one that was at AirVenture last year down with engine problems and few others in the United States capable of flight. The PBY is not a DC-3 and takes a special airframe care that goes beyond simply knowing how to operate its engines and systems. As they will tell you from Lake Winnebago, a seaplane is different.

This aircraft was the last WWII non-transport aircraft in state service as far as I can tell, other than the Mighty Martin Mars, and thus is a bit of a special bird in its own right. N85U was a Super Catalina, equipped with R-2600 engines and propellers from a surplus B-25 back in the day when it was believed Catalinas needed more power. The mod was first showcased on PBY N19Q owned by the Monsanto company back in the 1960s and has been applied to many Catalinas over the years. However, I don’t believe any are flying today for a variety of reasons.

N85U was employed in a movie shoot and was sent to the Florida-Alabama border coastline for a picture about the find of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, and the tragic losses of sailors aboard the ship that wasn’t supposed to be there. A PBY-6A was lost saving those men, and it was very appropriate to use this aircraft, as it was only a few serials down the list from that valiant plane. It was a PBY-6A, BuNo 64041, ex-N6453C, that flew with Hemet Valley as a tanker before going to Canada as C-GFFI and then returned as N85U.

The pilot of that PBY had loaded his wings with wounded men, damaging his PBY beyond flight, but saving many from the sharks. Somehow during operations the PBY began taking on water and eventually was beached near a restaurant. While the damage to the plane was minimal, the saltwater immersion wasn’t doing it any good. In a pure demonstration of what not to do, somehow a salvage company was contacted with some kind of super crane to lift the waterlogged PBY from the water after it was floated. The salvage company ripped the airplane apart with its crane, and did so in a way completely inconsistent with caring for an aircraft. Destroyed but recovered, the wreck’s eventual disposition is unknown.

The lesson for warbird owners is pretty clear: More planes are destroyed by recovery than you would think. This did not need to happen.

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