They were called "Black Cats" because they were Navy Catalina Patrol planes... seaplanes, flying boats. They were painted dead-flat black for night bombing operations against Japanese shipping in the Southwest Pacific. In the daytime, they flew air-sea rescue missions, picking up ditched air crews and pilots from the army bomber and fighter strikes.

The PBY Patrol Bomber by Consolidated was considered obsolescent in 1939, but it performed miracles all through World War II. Overall, it was a remarkable aircraft, compartmented like a flying submarine and usually carrying a crew of 10 to 12. There were three pilots (a patrol plane commander and the two co-pilots who alternated flying and navigating), a plane captain (head mechanic) who rode in the "tower," two radiomen, two ordnance men, plus several machinist’s mates. It had several bunks, a small galley, a sit-down toilet, two 50-caliber machine guns in the waist blisters and twin pop-gun 30-caliber machine guns in the nose. It carried 1,450 gallons of aviation gas in the cumbersome wing and 3000 pounds of bombs hanging under the wing, plus assorted anti-personnel bombs inside (usually laid on the bunks).

The wingspan of the Catalina was 104 feet, and she was not built for speed. She was built for endurance, powered by two magnificent Pratt & Whitney engines that – like the crews – rarely gave up.

(The above section of text is the preface from "Bless 'Em All" by Robert Hayes)

Back to History index

Back to Contents