PBY – Naval Air Museum – Whidbey Island

The PBY – Naval Air Museum (operated by the PBY Memorial Foundation) can be found in downtown Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Washington state. The Oak Harbor section of Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island was once a thriving seaplane base and during World War Two the Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibious patrol bomber (also used for Search And Rescue duties) was one of the key aircraft flown from there from 1942 onwards (the seaplane base was established in 1942 and the main airfield north of Oak Harbor, known as Ault Field was established in 1943). Aircraft would train in Oak Harbor for operational patrols along the Pacific coast an up the north-west coast to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. By 1944 they were also operating the larger Martin PBM Mariner patrol bomber flying boats.

US Navy PBY Catalina at the Oak Harbor Seaplane Base - NAS Whidbey Island 1945
US Navy PBY Catalina at the Oak Harbor Seaplane Base – NAS Whidbey Island 1945
US Navy NAS Whidbey Island - Oak Harbor Seaplane base 1944
NAS Whidbey Island – Oak Harbor Seaplane base 1944 (US National Archives photo)

Today the museum has various artifacts on display including photos, uniforms, aircraft models, flight simulators and informative movies on US Navy operations in the region from World War Two, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and through to the modern-day. There are also parts of Catalina aircraft including a nose gun turret that you can operate. There is also a touching POW/MIA memorial with a table set for dinner awaiting their return.

PBY Museum in Oak Harbor - the POW/MIA Memorial and the uniform of Colonel Kenneth M. Ford USMC WW2 air ace
PBY Museum in Oak Harbor – the POW/MIA Memorial and the uniform of Colonel Kenneth M. Ford USMC WW2 air ace
NAS Whidbey Island Oak Harbor seaplane base history
NAS Whidbey Island Oak Harbor seaplane base history
PBY Catalina nose turret and parts PBY Museum Oak Harbor Whidbey Island
PBY Catalina nose turret and parts
PBY - Naval Air Museum - Whidbey Island
US Navy uniforms and artifacts from WW2 to the modern day
PBY - Naval Air Museum - Whidbey Island Pilot Suits
Fly Navy – 1940’s, 1950’s to 1960’s
PBY - Naval Air Museum - Whidbey Island
From tail hooks to training manuals

Across the road is the centre piece of the museum, a 1943 Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina that flew from the NAS Whidbey Island seaplane base in 1945 (PB was for Patrol Bomber and Y was the designation for the Consolidated company). This particular aircraft patrolled and conducted Search And Rescue operations as far south as San Diego in California and completed two tours in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Oak Harbor Whidey Island
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY – Naval Air Museum
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Oak Harbor Whidey Island
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY – Naval Air Museum (USS Arizona memorial model in the foreground)

She was originally dubbed Rachael Radar as it was one of the first Catalina’s to be fitted with search radar. Today it sports some nose art with the name Gerral’s Girl and on the foundations website they simply refer to her asGigi (G.G. – named after Captain Gerral David, the then Commander of NAS Whidbey Island who helped arrange a Chinook helicopter to transport the unflyable “Gigi” in 2010 from her previous owners location to the museum which was then on the base. In 2015 the PBY was moved by road to the present downtown location).

"Gerral's Girl" Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Oak Harbor Whidey Island
“Gerral’s Girl” aka “Gigi”
The PBY Catalina was powered by 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines
The PBY Catalina was powered by 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines
PBY Catalina nose turret with a 0.30 cal machine gun
PBY Catalina nose turret with a 0.30 caliber machine gun

After the war the Gigi seems to have an interesting and somewhat unknown history due to the log books being lost when the aircraft was apparently confiscated by US Marshalls a few years back for being involved in drug running! Prior to this dubious period, the PBY was possibly converted to a fire bomber and is also known to have been operated by an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow she ended up in a poor and damaged state in Montana, then she was disassembled, transported and sat in storage in the Skagit Valley in Washington for a number of years before being obtained by the museum foundation in 2010. Given this checkered post war operational history, there is still work going on to restore it to its original US Navy configuration, particularly the interior fittings and equipment but they also need to refit the side waist blister windows and 0.50 caliber guns (they have them but apparently they leak – not good for an outdoor display!).

Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Oak Harbor Whidey Island
The side waist blister windows and 0.50 caliber guns need to be refitted
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Oak Harbor Whidey Island
The marine blue shaded livery of the PBY looks good
1946 Ford Command Staff Car PBY Museum Oak Harbor WA
1946 Ford Command Staff Car

They also have a 1946 Ford Command Staff Car next to the PBY. A museum docent can take you across to the locked enclosure for a closer inspection of you can take a look through the fence any time of the day. A worthy aviation museum to check out if travelling around Whidbey Island.

Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY - Naval Air Museum Whidbey Island
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina at the PBY – Naval Air Museum
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