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.
Gigi at her old home near Building 12 on the hill, on NASWI Seaplane Base.
In these first few shots, Gigi is fully assembled to include her wings.
Looking straight at her sitting on the hill.
Gigi in the rising sun….
Here, Gigi’s wings have mostly been removed.
These last three shots were taken just a couple days before her move.
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.
Bud Rude’s PBY-6A!
Scooping up water to demonstrate how fire fighting PBYs do their thing.
The water drop! Just fabulous!
Slowly making way to the ramp….
A lot of folks came to see this plane.
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.).
In the beginning, Gigi was on the other side to the fence, ready to be moved!
A lot of equipment and people assembled to help with her move….
We had wing walkers to keep an eye on obstacles in front of her wings….
These are such new tires for the move, the stickers were still on them!
There was a tractor in back for braking and backing up.
Gigi’s long, distinguished lines….
The tractor in front for pulling.
Specialists assisted with airing of the tires and struts for overcoming obstacles.
See the sticker on that tire?
Lamp posts posed a threat….
Materials were on hand to construct ramps to raise Gigi up even more for those pesky lamp posts.
Planters posed a challenge.
One tree got a radical pruning because it was in the way.
Active duty Navy folks participated in the move!
A combination of lamp post and tree were real fun to work with!
The college maintenance staff was on hand to assist where needed. Here, they pre-emptively took down this lamp post.
Gigi rests here, at the top of this ramp-way at the college for the night move.
The night move began at exactly midnight!
Measuring this Garry Oak to make sure Gigi clears it.
One of the professional photographers had this drone for aerial shots of Gigi’s move.
It was quite the parade of people and equipment!
She’s on the first segment of Pioneer Way….
The whole city was involved!
Gigi approaches the first intersection with lights!
Road marks for Gigi to safely make a turn at this intersection….
Another photographer out to capture the event as it unfolds.
Drone! I dubbed it Optimus Prime!
Our front tractor driver takes a rest while utility crews deal with the traffic lights.
They had to move the lights up and away for Gigi to clear them.
….And she’s through!
Now, Gigi proceeds down Bayshore Drive….
A cool photo of her passing by the park on Bayshore….
Ending her travels down Bayshore, now she must negotiate through a series of parking lots between bank buildings.
A power line obstacle!
This is how we deal with it….
….And, she’s through!
The fog rolled in and was a cool special effects filter for night photos….
Law enforcement was on hand to make sure there wasn’t any trouble.
After making it through a couple of parking lots, safely…..
…Gigi is back on Pioneer Way for her final approach to her new home!
The anchor in front of Gigi’s compound….
This traffic sign had to come down for the move…
Gigi was lined up parallel to her compound….
…and then, carefully, backed into her new home.
She’s in her compound….
Now to position her, just right, within her new home…
X marks the spot where she needs to be facing….
Securing her, now that she is in!
The PBY Memorial Foundation “Powers That Be….”
And, now, I head back to where my car is parked back at the beginning of the move route….It’s 0330. The move was completed two and a half hours ahead of schedule!
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.
The PBY-Naval Air Museum in the crisp morning light….
A view of the museum looking through Gigi’s compound before she was moved….
Gigi, just a few hours later after she was moved, in the morning sun!
Let the restoration begin! Volunteers are greatly needed!