Rare Catalina makes a return to Taupo

Coastguard Lake Taupo running a rescue exercise on Sunday with a PBY-5A Catalina amphibious aircraft - an aircraft used ...
Robert Steven

Coastguard Lake Taupo running a rescue exercise on Sunday with a PBY-5A Catalina amphibious aircraft - an aircraft used by the New Zealand Air Force between 1943 and 1953.

"In case of an emergency landing please exit the aircraft via the machine gun pods." 

It was hardly a typical in-flight safety briefing, but this was hardly a typical flight. After all, not many flights take off from a runway, 'ditch' in the lake, only to the take off and land back at the runway again. 

While the machine guns, depth charges, torpedos and other ordnance has been removed, the spirit of the old WWII warbird has been preserved thanks to the effort of volunteers from the New Zealand Catalina Preservation Society. 

NZCPS President Mike McSherry at Taupo Airport.
Matt Shand

NZCPS President Mike McSherry at Taupo Airport.

Dressed in its Canadian Airforce Blue, and freshly washed for the trip, the Catalina looked a picture, lumbering into Taupo Airport on Saturday. 

It was one of the few trips the plane has made as it has been undergoing extensive repairs at Ohakea Airforce Base for the past four years. 

NZCPS President Mike McSherry said they arranged a training exercise with Taupo Coastguard because the plane will be coming to the lake in the future, because it can land safely there. 

NZCPS Pilot Brett Emeny surveys the Catalina plane at Taupo Airport.
Matt Shand

NZCPS Pilot Brett Emeny surveys the Catalina plane at Taupo Airport.

"If we ever were to get into trouble they would be the ones helping us out," he said.

The exercise saw crew members practicing exiting from the rear blisters, that used to house .50 calibre machine guns, and the side entrance. 

Divers from the Harbourmaster's office also abandoned ship into the water to see how easy to was to exit the plane in an emergency. 

NZCPS Pilot Brett Emeny surveys the Catalina plane at Taupo Airport.
Matt Shand

NZCPS Pilot Brett Emeny surveys the Catalina plane at Taupo Airport.

The exercise has been hailed a success by NZCPS and Taupo Coastguard with everyone being rescued and no damage done to the plane in the process. 

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Pilot Brett Emeny said it was good to be able to take the Catalina out again onto the waters of Lake Taupo. 

"It does have its challenges," he said. 

The New Zealand Catalina Preservation society lands their operational Catalina at Taupo Airport over the weekend.
Matt Shand

The New Zealand Catalina Preservation society lands their operational Catalina at Taupo Airport over the weekend.

"We won't land if there is a big swell or if there are white caps on the lake. 

"That is just to look after the aircraft."

Originally built in the 1940s the Catalina was used in WWII by Allied forces, including the  RNZAF and RAAF.

The New Zealand Catalina Preservation society lands their operational Catalina at Taupo Airport over the weekend.
Matt Shand

The New Zealand Catalina Preservation society lands their operational Catalina at Taupo Airport over the weekend.

These qualities made them ideal for long range maritime patrol, shipping escorts, anti-submarine patrol, transport and perhaps their best known task, the search and rescue of downed airmen.

They affectionately became known as "Dumbo's" named after Walt Disney's flying elephant, because of the similarity in heroism and physical resemblance between the aircraft rescue missions and the cartoon character.

New Zealand's Catalina was purchased by the NZCPS in a bid to preserve the heritage of the unique aircraft and it is estimated to be one of just six flying worldwide. 

More information about how to donate to the society can be found at nzcatalina.org.nz.

 - Stuff

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