PBY Naval Air Museum
PBY Catalina seaplane base
The history of the PBY Naval Air Museum began in 1998 when the PBY Memorial Foundation was formed with a mission to preserve history and artifacts related to the PBY Catalina seaplane base in Oak Harbor, WA. That history began in January 1941 when the U.S. Navy began searching for a base to rearm and refuel Catalina flying boats that could patrol and defend Puget Sound. Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor expedited the construction and the first Catalinas landed in Oak Harbor in December 1942.
AirMuseumGuide.com would like to thank Wil Shellenberger, the President of the PBY Memorial Foundation, and George Love, Restoration Manager, for all the hospitality during our visit to the PBY Naval Air Museum.
270 SE Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor, WA 98277
Wed – Sat: 11 AM – 5 PM; Sun: 1 PM – 5 PM; closed Mon – Tue
Adults: $7; Seniors & Military: $6; children under 6 free
PBY Naval Air Museum
|270 SE Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor, WA 98277, USA|
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
The U.S. Navy also built an airfield nearby, which became a training base for crews of Wildcat and Hellcat fighters, Ventura patrol bombers, and Dauntless dive bombers. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was born, and the seaplane base became a part of it. In addition to Catalinas, the base in Oak Harbor also housed Martin PBM Mariners during WWII and Martin P5M-2 Marlins during the Korean conflict. In the early 1970s all seaplane operations ended at NAS Whidbey Island.
A tour of the museum building starts with a display dedicated to the pre-Navy history of the Whidbey Island and early construction days of Ault Field, the main airfield of NAS Widbey Island. Next you will visit a PBY maintenance shop where you can operate a Catalina’s nose gun turret and see a cross-section of the Catalina’s Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine. The tour continues with displays featuring photos, uniforms and other artifacts from the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf conflicts as well as the still-ongoing war in Afghanistan. The museum also has a tail section from a Lockheed WV-2, a Navy version of the Super Constellation.
Visitors can fly the PBY or other aircraft in one of the two flight simulators. If you were every wondering how heavy aircraft tailhooks are, the museum gives you an opportunity to lift one yourself at a dedicated interactive display. Wil Shellenberger, the President of the PBY Memorial Foundation and our tour guide, also showed us a terrain model board previously used by navy pilots for night vision training. This scale model of various natural and urban environments can simulate different night lighting conditions for trainees equipped with night vision goggles.
Gerral’s Girl history
The main attraction of the museum, the Consolidated PBY-5A aircraft named “Gerral’s Girl”, is parked in a vacant lot just across the street. It was manufactured by Consolidated in San Diego in April of 1943. Delivered to the U.S. Navy a few months later, it received the Bureau Number 33968. While stationed at Oak Harbor, the aircraft was deployed in the Aleutian Campaign during WWII to help defend the islands from Japanese invasion. Once museum’s Catalina become obsolete for the Navy, it was transferred to USCG Station Port Angeles, WA. In 1946, the plane was decommissioned and began its civilian life.
Acquiring the aircraft
In 1985 this historic aircraft was sold to the Israeli Air Force Museum, but it was badly damaged in an accident before it was delivered, claiming also the life of a pilot. The plane was later repaired using a nose section of an unidentified Royal Canadian Air Force Canso (a Canadian-built PBY) and again offered for sale. After the PBY Memorial Foundation was able to raise the missing $50,000 in just about 2 days, the plane made its last “flight” from the Skagit Regional Airport to the PBY Naval Air Museum on July 29th, 2010, slung under a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The museum continues the restoration work and a list of still missing PBY parts is published on their website. The ultimate goal is to bring the Catalina back to what she looked like when she served with the U.S. Navy during the WWII. There are also other interesting exhibits located around the plane including a 1946 Ford restored as a Navy staff car, an M211 6×6 truck, a Runway Supervisory Unit and a 21-foot Nimitz class aircraft carrier replica used in various local parades and events. The museum is currently looking for a new location to build a hangar for the Catalina and possibly expand the collection.