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Brought back to life

Historical PBY Catalina OA-10 pieced back together

After 23 years of work on the part of McChord Field Heritage Center volunteers to restore it, this PBY Catalina OA-10 will be moved to the Heritage Hill Air Park. /J.M. Simpson

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Twenty-three years ago, a PBY Catalina OA-10 arrived at McChord Field.

"The idea was for a Catalina to fly here," explained Raymond Jordan, the administrative curator of the McChord Field Heritage Center.

"Instead, it came through the front gate in pieces by truck."

So begins a remarkable tale of restoration.

In December of 1987, the center paid $25,000 for a junked airframe with ties to an impressive history.

"Some of the volunteers were not happy with the acquisition," Jordan explained.

"But the curator disregarded their concerns."

Doing so opened the door to McChord Field's storied history.

The PBY Catalina is an American flying boat built during the 1930s and 1940s by Consolidated Aircraft.

It was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of the Second World War, used primarily for anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombings, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions, and cargo transport.

The PBY Catalina OA-10 carried a crew of nine and had a range of 3,000 miles or 15 hours of flying time.

"During night operations they were known as ‘Black Cats,'" Jordan said.

The last active-duty PBYs were retired in the 1980s, although the aircraft still continues to fly as a water bomber in aerial firefighting operations.

Specific to the newly restored PBY at McChord, it entered service as Catalina N4760C in 1942 and was intended for use by the Navy.  In short order, however, the plane was diverted for service with United States Army Air Force (USAAF) for Observation/Amphibious (hence the "OA") service.

Between the end of the war and 1983, the plane served as both a passenger carrier and as a geophysical survey aircraft.

On March 22, 1983, the aircraft was substantially damaged when it crash-landed in a farmer's field outside of Lynn, Wisconsin.

Stripped of everything of value, the aircraft eventually made it to McChord.

Given its USAAF markings of 44-34033, the PBY OA-10 that flew out of McChord in the late 1940s and early 1950s as part of an Air Rescue Detachment - denoted by its bright yellow markings - slowly came back into existence.

Restoration proved challenging, and the biggest challenge was the rebuilding of the wings, nose and belly sections.

"There was nothing in the wings, even the extrusions were gone," Jordan said.  "We had to reconstruct stuff not milled any more.  Nothing was easy."

Since its arrival, Jordan estimated that between 40 and 45 volunteers have worked for over 30,000 hours on the aircraft.

The last volunteers to help restore the aircraft are Jim Bernethy, Chuck Bowen, Tom Caparrella, Mike Forhan, Alice Jackson, Sherri Jenne, Richard Jones, Richard King, Deb Lauchery, Jerry McNeil, Bill Olson, Jack Whitaker, Harvey Wishhoff and Ernest White.

"All of the volunteers, past and present, were tremendously vital; the support from senior leadership throughout the years has been outstanding," Jordan added.

Plans are to move the newly restored aircraft to the Heritage Hill Air Park by spring.

"These volunteers have captured a moment in time and history," Jordan said.

For more information about the Heritage Center, visit

Starting in the middle of August, members of the 62d Maintenance Squadron (62 MXS) will begin the last leg of the Museums PBY's after the aircraft's 20 year restoration effort accomplished by the members of the McChord Air Museum Foundation. After careful research by the Foundation, all painting information will be turned over to the 62d MXS to help the members repaint the aircraft back into the grey and white scheme worn by OA/SA-10's in the late 1940's.

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