Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina A24-104
One of the most valuable aircraft in the war against Japan, the Catalina entered RAAF service in February 1941. Crewed by eight and capable of carrying as many as 20 people, the "Cats" were used for reconnaissance missions, bombing, mine laying, dropping supplies and air/sea rescues. Units operating the aircraft included Nos 11, 20, 42 and 43 Squadrons, as well as Nos 6 and 8 Communication Units, Nos 111, 112 and 113 Air-Sea Rescue Flights and No 3 Operational Training Unit.
In RAAF service, the aircraft was best known for its exploits as a night intruder. Painted matt black and carrying sophisticated mission equipment, the "Black Cats" undertook mine laying and air/sea rescues under the cover of darkness and assisted with the repatriation of prisoners-of-war from Singapore and Japan at the end of the war. Following World War II, the aircraft trialed jet-assisted take-off units at the RAAF's Aircraft Research and Development Unit, as well as participating in supply missions in support of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions. Of the 168 Cats that saw RAAF service, only 23 survived World War II, the last of which was retired from service in 1952.
The RAAF Museum's aircraft was a Boeing Canada-built Canso, constructors number CV-369, which was initially used by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF 11060), entering service in April 1944. The aircraft had a very uneventful wartime career, and by April 1949 had only logged a total of 943 flying hours. By May 1961, the aircraft had reached the end of its military life, and was sold to the Frontier Air Transport Company. During its period of military service, the aircraft was converted to a freighter configuration, with sliding freight doors replacing the characteristic observation blisters on the rear fuselage. Initially registered as CF-NJD, in 1966 the aircraft was transferred to the US civil register as N609FF, where it was used as a fire bomber throughout North America. In 1972, the aircraft was flown to Australia and operated in the geophysical survey role by Geoterrex as VH-EXG. Flying for the last time around 1987/88, the aircraft sat at Essendon Airport in Victoria before acquisition by the RAAF Museum in 1992, and was then transported to RAAF Base Amberley for restoration to represent a wartime PBY-5A as operated by the RAAF.
The identity of A24-104 was selected for the final finish as 104 was a very significant aircraft. Initially serving with No 113 Air Sea Rescue Flight, A24-104 operated throughout the South-West Pacific. Immediately following World War II, the aircraft was involved in escorting No 77 Squadron Mustangs to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. A24-104 then returned home to be used as a testbed for jet-assisted take-off (JATO) trials, which were carried out at Point Cook by No 1 Aircraft Performance Unit (forerunner to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit). Before the completion of these trials, the aircraft was used in a supply mission to the Australian Antarctic Territory, where the JATO equipment was used successfully. In 1953, A24-104 was transferred to the Netherlands Government, and was scrapped at Biak in 1956.