CATALINA – LAST journey of the patrol boat yankee is a mini television series that features the story of how a 1931 Catalina PBY was restored in South-Africa and flown back to it’s home in San Diego where it sits today in the San Diego Air & Space Museum in the Gillespie Field Annex.
The story follows how San Diego businessman Jim Slattery, who loves naval aviation, restored the Catalina. He spared no expense to preserve it wherever possible. We follow a 21 day trip back to the US flying at unprecedented low altitudes. The result is the most spectacular views of Africa and South America ever captured on camera.
Under the competent care of mission pilot Mike Castillo, the PBY was flown from South Africa, up the west coast of Africa, over the Atlantic to Brazil across to San Diego. The plane arrived at its final destination, Gillespie Field in El Cajon, following a 16-leg, 12,000-mile journey that lasted three weeks.
flying at 100 feet above sea level Catalina PBY surges forward to the north of Brazil and the city of balem here her crew will traverse the most famous jungle in the world balem was a memorable destination for the air crew as a group of spectators had gathered to welcome PBY and watched eagerly as pilots Mike and Matt focused their attention on the port engine once again oil streaks were visible on the engine cowling balem was interesting insofar as there was a large pilot population there that came out to see the airplane many of whom had flown the airplane in South America for various air forces and one pilot probably he was 60 years of age and he was in his pilot uniform asked us don't go anywhere I'm gonna go get the commandante so he ran to the administration building and got the commandante of the airport and brought him over because he also flew PB wise 20 30 years prior as a young aviator they they were just thrilled they were inside the plane up in the cockpit waving out the windows taking pictures and laughing they had a wonderful time bob was more concerned about balancing the books and during an inspection of airport charges discovered a number of amounts that were very expensive almost everything had surcharges levied including fuel and even telephone rates after reaching a decision that the oil leak was nothing to be concerned about Mike tasked himself with securing passports and other documentation for the flight to Guiana chief pilot Bob frantic Ola elected to run up the engines while checking gauges for any indication of erratic heating or excessive oil use soon thereafter it was all systems go and the crew departed balem departing out a balem bob was lyin left seat I was in the right seat took off out of there and as we headed up towards the Amazon River you get into a section in northern Brazil where they had DeForest it a lot of it and to make grazing land for cattle and it was really a shame you can you can see how how gorgeous the landscape must have been in certain little small pockets and then you see it where it's all just been cut down for grassland and really didn't even see that many cows out there now so I don't know if they're still doing that or not but what a horrible waste and in deforestation this was one section of the journey the pilots had been looking forward to crossing the Amazon jungle and it's river systems covering half of the country over 20 percent of Brazil's forests have been destroyed farther up near the Amazon River then you start getting some of the forestation back probably difficult access for logging or this soil wasn't suitable for the grazing land and as you're actually crossing the Amazon the river is so wide that it looks like you're crossing a sea or something you can't see that the other side to the other Bank is you're flying over just miles and miles and miles of of brown water which is the outlet of the Amazon River as we get up the other side we're still in Brazil and heading towards French Guiana and the landscape starts to change into this real natural undisturbed virgin landscape that has a mixture of really beautiful green meadows and palm trees and some different swampland and just all this different stuff looks like land of the dinosaurs or something so we're really enjoying the flight cruising along low or maybe a hundred feet off the off the grass and I noticed Bob his hand sitting on the on the top of the yoke just in case I he feels so I'm pushing it down a little bit too low that was kind of funny and it just kept getting more and more lush and beautiful and then I asked Bob I said hey would you mind if we switch seats and and that way we could make room for the camera up front he said ah no problem so we we did a in flight pilot change and and then proceeded with with getting some really stunning images out the front of the plane and it was just at that northern part of Brazil that northeastern part of Brazil close to the shoreline is just some of the most beautiful landscape you're ever gonna see lots of birds and wildlife type a spoonbill that's up that way that's whatever it's eaten it's got a lot of red in it because these birds look like red macaws and they fly in these big flocks of them you'll see like 30 or 40 birds at a time they're all over the place one of the people commented you know when you fly this route on the next leg cheat a little bit to the Waterside stay away from the forest in case you have an emergency and you have to go downhill stay out in the moor in the open water because of crocodiles and snakes and all this the anacondas and things that are in the forest some of our straight line courses put us inland from the coast maybe a couple of miles and we it could have been faced with going down into the forest so we stayed away from that we took the man's advice and flew out over the water with over 1,100 tributaries making up the Amazonian river system 17 of these rivers are over a thousand miles long the Amazon itself is over four thousand miles long and an astonishing 16 percent of the world's freshwater flows through the Delta we come along the shoreline it was very very low tide had a really wide beach area you could see it that went out for hundreds of yards must have been just very low tide at that time and proceeded up the shoreline there it's just amazing to be able to go do this it's such an experience for me I've done it for years but I'll never get over it I don't think I'll ever get used to it and I'm real sure I'll never get over it it's just a really great experience I'm just so so lucky to be able to do this stuff it's amazing really following a relatively short flight of four and a half hours catalina PBY was positioned for short finals to French Guiana famous for the notorious prison system immortalized in the novel Papillon written by former inmate and author on riche aria coming into Cayenne when we landed we pulled up got out of the plane and realized that the left engine was leaking quite a bit more oil than than had been you know up until then they had been very dry very very nice and just a few drops oil now we realized we got a pretty good amount of oil leaking as its trailing off the the back of the wing fortunately most of the oil was leaking out of the interconnects that tubes that run between the rocker boxes on the engine that allow it to drain down to the lowest point and then get pumped back to the oil tank via the sump pump those are pretty easy fix most of it was just loose hose clamps and some loose caps on the rocker pins one of the guys in the crowd that greeted us was the air traffic controller from the tower he was the same air traffic controller that was on duty in Paris when the Concorde supersonic transport crashed that day so that was you know he told us a bit about that but he is now stationed in French Guiana so I don't know if that any anything to do with it or not well we're checking the rain buckets and checking the weather her a little bit and perhaps changing the flight plan to a different kind of flight rainy weather had put an immediate spoke in the wheel of plans the crew had for an early departure because Catalina was unable to fly on instruments alone they simply had to wait it out the morning of our departure out of cayenne was pretty snotty day it was raining pretty good and overcast skies not great visibility Bob wasn't too keen to fly that day we spent a good amount of time in the flight service station checking out the weather is it was gonna be on her departure and going forward looks like we're gonna have a little bit of clearing sky later on in the day Bob wasn't too excited about and about flying this plane in the weather but we did get a little bit of a break just prior to departure out of cayenne this world of scouted crowd going out of cayenne we went ahead and filed IFR the weather at the airport at the time of departure wasn't so bad it was pretty marginal but we knew along the route we were gonna run into a lot of rain and weather clobbered with rain every 40 minutes and then it went away and then rained for five minutes and then came again in 40 minutes and there was just a constant wave of storms in the small storms that had a lot of water had a lot of rain that was interesting as we headed up the coast came into a section where we could see that there was a solid wall of clouds in front of us and we weren't real familiar with the train in that area it showed on the 696 that we had some higher terrain along our route so we went ahead and did a climbing 360 degree turn and actually two of them to get a couple more thousand feet altitude before we went ahead and entered the clouds the cockpit of the PBY isn't entirely watertight so we had to manage some of the leaks with buckets and such to keep it from just flowing in as we flew kind of kind of a different way to fly having identified a relatively rain-free altitude at which to fly comfortably Mike set course for the island nation of Tobago nestled in the Caribbean clear sunlit skies allowed for the waterlogged Catalina to dry out a little after the rain although it became quite warm in the cockpit a while later the almost six hour flight to the islands commenced at an altitude of around a thousand feet after which the crew maneuvered PBY down for a low-level run along the coastline from Cayenne Kru rest was an important contributing factor to morale on board the aircraft and Bob relaxed while Matt and Mike enjoyed the breakers as we approach Trinidad we had a lot of easterly winds though ocean conditions weren't real smooth for sure but still a real real pretty pretty landscape in that as we headed up the east side of Trinidad going through different areas of showers you'd go through a sunny spot then you go through a cloudy spot then you go through a rainy spot real isolated heavy showers as we approached Port of Spain the day we arrived in Trinidad was kind of scattered showers and but you know good amount of sunshine way more sunshine than there was rain the day were getting ready to leave all that changed we got up to a lot of rain a lot of heavy rain overcast sky poor visibility so we're fueling the plane in the rain fuelling it under an umbrella on top of the wing crummy conditions we did have a long flight that day so we figured we'd wait for the conditions to improve a little bit before we went smoking out of there it's bad for the permanent in the hair when we get to our Newport okay after fueling we pulled over to a staging area on the ramp and just sat there with the engines idling and watch some of the other planes take off and we we saw some of them getting off and getting to several hundred feet before they disappear into the clouds so that was looking good enough to go so we departed on an IFR flight plan and proceeded toward carousel despite the overbearing humidity the skies started to open up soon after takeoff and the crew were able to embark upon a very enjoyable four hour flight to Curacao the journey provided some beautiful postcard vistas the grand old lady of the skies was garnering a growing support base in the Caribbean wherever she landed spectators were close by enjoying sights of the famous flying boat fueling challenges seem to be a thing of the past and despite howling winds and persistent drizzle the crew was able to gas up and plan the next phase of the journey Mike's immediate plans included a dip in the ocean and he wasn't about to give that up easily a special treat was spending an evening resting in an opulent paradise hotel near the beach in the Caribbean if I had to pick one spot that would seem like the best place to to holiday it would probably be carousel it was very nicely done beautiful crystal clear water and seemed like a real nice economy a real nice real nice place to live if you're gonna if you're gonna be stuck somewhere it wouldn't be a bad place all good things come to an end and besides which Mike and the team were eager to get to the apron and prepare for departure it had rained overnight and the aircraft was waterlogged because of all the heavy rain we had had for the last couple days we thought at carasau this would be a good idea to pull the whole plugs and drain some of this water out that may have accumulated in the in the in the bilge of the airplane so as we opened up some of those plugs on awful lot of water came out after setting a heading for dahveed and Panama Mike took control of the PBY and flew along the coastline the sea was dead calm and flying conditions were ideal these waters are some of the most beautiful in the world and the cockpit crew had the very best seats in the house we had the pleasure flying over the Panama Canal which was extremely interesting to see how that's built I'm I never had that vantage point of course and it I thought the Panama Canal was one big ditch and of course it isn't it goes into a lake and you transit the lake and then go out another lock on the other side and that was extremely interesting we were actually traveling in Venezuelan airspace which had us a little bit concerned whether or not they were gonna be friendly or not turned out the controllers were very nice very pleasant and then we went around the corner of the Venezuelan air space into Colombian airspace and proceeded along the shoreline of northern Colombia came into view of the Andes Mountains and you could see the glaciers up on the up on the top of the mountains and it didn't look like we're very far away at all we're probably less than 30 miles and we're down along the shoreline and these mountains go up what 15 17,000 feet now because of that there's a lot of wind associated with that and as we got around right around the corner right adjacent to where the the mountains were we got into a lot of turbulence and it was a pretty rough line there for a while on the Eastern Caribbean side of Panama there is archipelago of beautiful islands just the stuff dreams are made out of tons of little dot islands coconut trees crystal blue waters seems like a lot of them have maybe have a little house there there might be a yacht pulled up there are a lot of have nothing but looks like a really really great spot for boating and yachting and certainly the stuff dreams are made of with far as tropical paradise is concerned sapphire blue waters welcomed the crew to the nation of Panama as PBY wound down her engines for the approach to dahveed far from the madding crowds Panamanian border officials and police dog handlers awaited the Catalina's arrival and immediately set about searching every nook and cranny for drugs and contraband arriving in Panama was another milestone for us now we're out of South America were out of the Caribbean now we're actually in the northern hemisphere we're on we can almost we can almost smell the barn so to speak there was a renewed sense of vigor an urgency among the pilots as Panamanian officials did their best to make up for the less than welcoming reception meted out by their countrymen earlier on PB wise proved couldn't have cared less they were homebound the next leg departing out of dahveed Panama was to San Jose Costa Rica there wasn't a blast fuel available in dahveed so our next fuel stop needed to be in San Jose the first part of the flight leave in dahveed was pretty smooth not too much wind as we went along that Southern Pacific coast of Panama on the west side they're approaching Costa Rica as we got farther up towards Capo's and climbing to altitude to go into San Jose it got windier and windier and coming through the mountain passes we got up to about 7500 feet and it was quite turbulent at points that almost seemed like the plane was twisting you could almost feel like the tail of the plane was twisting and just rocking back and forth pretty violently really increased turbulence had done little to dampen spirits as it was wheels down in San Jose the next few legs of the journey would bring Catalina home to her birthplace via Mexico and on to San Diego the crew could hardly wait you