The Consolidated PBY Catalina, also known as the Canso, was an American flying boat, and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the Air forces and Navys of many other nations.
During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. In 2014, nearly 80 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a water bomber
(or air tanker) in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.
The designation “PBY” was determined in accordance with the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing “Patrol Bomber” and Y being the code assigned to Consolidated Aircraft as its manufacturer. Catalinas built by other manufacturers for the US Navy were designated according to different manufacturer codes, thus Canadian Vickers-built examples were designated PBV, Boeing Canada examples PB2B (there already being a Boeing PBB) and Naval Aircraft Factory examples were designated PBN. In accordance with contemporary British naming practice of naming seaplanes after coastal port towns, Royal Canadian Air Force examples were named Canso, for the town of that name in Nova Scotia. The Royal Air Force used the name Catalina and the US Navy adopted this name in 1942. The United States Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force used the designation OA-10. US Navy Catalinas used in the Pacific against the Japanese for night operations were painted black overall, and as a result were sometimes referred to locally as “Black Cats“.
The PBY was originally designed to be a patrol bomber, an aircraft with a long operational range intended to locate and attack enemy transport ships at sea in order to disrupt enemy supply lines. With a mind to a potential conflict in the Pacific Ocean, where troops would require resupply over great distances, the U.S. Navy in the 1930s invested millions of dollars in developing long-range flying boats for this purpose. Flying boats had the advantage of not requiring runways, in effect having the entire ocean available. Several different flying boats were adopted by the Navy, but the PBY was the most widely used and produced.