PBY Memorial Foundation PBY-Naval Air Museum

The PBY MEMORIAL FOUNDATION, established September 22, 1998, is dedicated to the preservation and study of all PBY “Catalina” aircraft as well as the aviation history of NAS Whidbey Island and the role of Naval Aviation in the history of the Whidbey Island and Puget Sound Communities.

Our initial mission was to preserve the PBY and all seaplanes once based at the seaplane facility on Whidbey Island. We now include all aircraft that have been based and flown from NAS Whidbey Island from 1942 to the present day.

Beginning with the past and moving through to the present day, young and old alike will enjoy a memorable journey through history at the PBY Memorial Foundation’s PBY-NAVAL AIR MUSEUM located in Oak Harbor Washington. From displays dedicated to all wars and conflicts from WWII to today, to impressive artifacts, two flight simulators and more, the PBY-NAVAL AIR MUSEUM promises to educate and entertain!

Do you love history, classic aircraft – maybe both? Come join us! We are looking for more members and volunteers!

How You Can Help

Our Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina move from Bldg. 12 to her new home

Gigi is a PBY-5A Catalina “flying boat.”  This particular aircraft appears to have been built in 1943 and was stationed here in Oak Harbor in 1945.  During her tenure at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, she bounced up and down the west coast from San Diego to the Aleutian Islands (served two tours in the Aleutians) providing a variety of services from being a Patrol Bomber to rescuing sailors.  She was flown by LTJG Norwood Cole.  Her original nick name was Rachel Radar because she was one of the first aircraft of that era to have radar installed. The PBYs were the first aircraft to have radar installed on board.

The acronym PBY actually mean Patrol Bomber with the third character denoting the company who built the aircraft.  In this case, Y stands for Consolidated Aircraft, the company who originally designed the Patrol Bomber.  Other companies emulated the design such as Vickers, from Canada, who had the PBV aircraft.  Boeing had the PBB, Naval Aircraft Factory made the PBN and the Airforce had their version with the PBOA-10.  The desire was to get away from the cumbersome biplane and the result was a much more streamlined aircraft that could do more than just patrol and bomb.  The PBY-5A Catalina is the result of various developments and improvements over time.  She was named “Catalina” for Catalina Island in California.

Their typical armament included .50 machine guns at both waste positions, one to two .30 guns in the bow turret, a single gun positioned on the underside of the aircraft and four bomb racks on the wings for carrying  up to 1000-pound bombs.  The gunner’s main role, though, was as a “lookout.”  The two propellers on each wing were very powerful but very noisy because they were in such close approximation to each other.  The PBY was painted black for doing night bombing patrols and because of that, was called the “Black Cat.”  She was referred to as “Dumbo” when assigned to be used in air-sea rescue, as was referenced in the movie “Jaws” when Quint spoke about the sinking of the Indianapolis.  According to historical sources, the actual model of aircraft that actually assisted in that rescue was the PV-1 Ventura (a Vickers creation). In their time, this aircraft was considered to be the backbone of long distance reconnaissance units.

Currently, there are about eighty PBY-5A that continue to be used as water bombers or air tankers for aerial firefighting, globally.

After years of honorable military service, Gigi went missing for about sixty seven years.  Perhaps she served as an aerial water bomber.  Nobody knows for sure because her log book was confiscated and lost by United State Marshalls fifteen years ago when she was being used as a “mule” for a drug running operation they busted.  Later, an oil company purchased her and used her in the Gulf of Mexico.  It isn’t known what she was doing in Montana, but she was seriously damaged while there.  She was, then, disassembled and moved to Skagit Valley where she remained for about ten years before being found by the PBY Memorial Foundation, who purchased her.

She isn’t to be confused with the PBY-6A that flew into Oak Harbor Marina in 2009.  That PBY is owned by Bud Rude from Deer Park, WA.  It was employed up to 2008 or so as an airborne fire fighter. This aircraft flew in and was on display for a few days at NASWI’s Seaplane Base, as a teaser in preparation for purchasing Gigi.  I was there when she flew in.  It was quite the sight!  She demonstrated her agility, scooping up water and then releasing it over Crescent Harbor.    This particular model was also featured in the movie “Always.”   The most popular scene was when the plane dipped down into the lake to get water and surprised two fisherman in a boat nearby who subsequently abandoned boat, as the plane flew over their heads. Unfortunately, age is taking its toll on these beauties and they’re are being systematically grounded, as a result.

However, Gigi simply wasn’t air-worthy to be flown “home.”  Instead, she was transported by a Chinook helicopter in 2010, with the help of Captain Gerral David, who was the Commanding Officer of NASWI at the time.  He was very integral in overcoming the many obstacles that were in the way, at the time, in getting her home.  In gratitude for his help, Win Stites, the founder of PBYMF re-named her “Gigi” for Gerral’s Girl (G.G.).

For the past five years, she was kept on display up on the hill by Building 12, on the NASWI Seaplane Base.  She was moved the end of January to her current home on Pioneer Way, because she was still very inaccessible to the public and posed security concerns for the base.  Her current home is directly across the street from the museum so visitors can tour the museum and see the plane all in one stop!  She can be seen by anyone simply passing through town, now.  She is a wonderful historical landmark complimenting this town’s military history.

GiGi has a new home!

George's pics 227

On the last weekend in January, GiGi made the 2+ mile trek through the streets of Oak Harbor and is now at the new Aircraft Display Area across the street from the PYB – Naval Air Museum on SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. Check out our Facebook page to see some of the many pictures taken that night.

This move was truly a community effort involving the Navy, Skagit Valley Community College, various departments of the City of Oak Harbor, North Whidbey Fire & Rescue, the Pioneer Way Wells Fargo Bank, various utility companies and many, many more. We thank everyone who supported the move. But special thanks goes to all the volunteers who came out to help with the move – we could not have done it without you. Finally, we are grateful to Island Thrift which provided funding that covered a major share of the expenses for this move. Please consider donating goods to as well as patronizing the Island Thrift store 600 SE Barrington Drive in Oak Harbor. Your patronage helps Island Thrift support important programs throughout our community.

 Volunteers are now working on preparing the Aircraft Display Area and GiGi for visitors. We are aiming at 1 April to open the Display Area. This will be a major addition to the PBY-Naval Air Museum. Please come by to see GiGi and other artifacts that will be on display with her.

Cat on the Street coming soon

Coming soon to the streets of Oak Harbor, WA is the PBY-5A Catalina aircraft belonging to our PBY-Naval Air Museum. Months of preparation and planning will come to fruition on the last weekend of January – the 24th and 25th. Our Catalina, affectionately known as GiGi will be towed from the NAS Whidbey Island Seaplane Base through the streets of Oak Harbor WA to a new Aircraft Display Area across the street from our Museum. GiGi’s journey will complete our transition off of the Seaplane Base to our much more accessible downtown location.


Watch this website or follow GiGi on the PBY Memorial Foundation Facebook page. This will be a historical event for a legendary aircraft. Seldom do you see a vintage WWII aircraft rolling down a public street. If you can adjust your circadian rhythm to join the crowds on Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive in Oak Harbor you will see this historical Cat on her way to a new home and new place in the hearts of aviation and history buffs. She will start onto Pioneer Way at midnight and expects to arrive at the Aircraft Display Area around 5 AM on Sunday morning.

Final report Confidence Foundation of South Pasadena CA Matching Grant

“You did it! All of you who supported our matching fund campaign – you
pushed us over the top this week. A big THANK YOU to everyone whose
contributions enabled PBYMF to match the $12,500 grant from Confidence
Foundation of South Pasadena CA. These funds are critical to preparing GiGi
to move to her new home across from the PBY-Naval Air Museum. If you were
ready to send in you contribution but had not done it yet, do not hold
back. There are many other move expenses that donations can be used to
cover. Again, we are grateful for your support.”

UPDATE 3 Confidance Foundation of South Pasadena, Challenge Grant

Update 3. Confidence Foundation of South Pasadena Challenge Grant. “We have
hit $9600 or about 77% of our $12,500 target Thanks to all for your great
support. About $2900 to go. Please join in and push us over the goal line!
You can contribute through our Website by credit card or PayPal – just
click on the Donate tab. Or mail your contribution to PBY Memorial
Foundation, PO Box 941, Oak Harbor, WA 98277-0941. Help move GiGi into town
near the PBY- Naval Air Museum.”