A Japanese Navy Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” patrol seaplane, #801-77, flies close to the ocean while trying to escape from a PB4Y-1 Liberator patrol bomber (a U.S. Navy B-24s with only minor modifications), just East of the Ryukyu islands, (25 20’N, 130 30’E) on 31 October 1944.
The PB4Y these images were taken by, flown by LT. Herbert G. Box of VPB-117 (“The Blue Raiders”), shot this Emily down, recorded at 1345(I).
Equipped with the early AN/APQ-5 low-altitude radar bombing gear, the PB4Y-1 shown above could carry 10 .50 cal machine guns in four turrets and two waist positions as well as 1,200-pounds of bombs on up to 1,500-mile patrols.
In the old adage of “he who lives by the sword,” Box’s aircraft, Sweating it Out (USAF B-24J-155-CO 44-40312, BuNo 38760), was less than two weeks later severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire from Muko-Jima Retto in the Bonin Islands, the site of a Japanese weather and radio station. The crippled PB4Y made it back to within 30 miles of its Tinian base before being forced to ditch. Upon hitting the ocean, the plane broke into three pieces and five enlisted aircrewmen were lost. Seven survivors, including an injured Box, were rescued the next morning.
Between its establishment on 1 February 1944 and its decommissioning on 4 November 1945, Patrol Bombing Squadron 117 flew an impressive 1,617 missions, averaging 11.4 hours each, primarily on 1,000-mile patrols in support of the U.S. Third Fleet.
Throughout the Blue Raider’s Pacific War, they tallied 210 Japanese ships of some 109,000 tons (24 during one three week period alone), made 300 attacks on Japanese installations, and were credited with 58 enemy aircraft shot down, earning a Presidental Unit Citation.
VPB-117s crews were so good at splashing Zekes, Emilys, Jakes, Vals and Judys that they count the highest number of air-to-air victories among U.S. Navy patrol squadrons of all time and had an unprecedented five crews that chalked up five or more “kills,” an impressive number when you take into account that the whole fleet only had eight such crews.
In exchange, The Blue Raiders lost 17 of their own PB4Ys along with 72 officers and men.
Above is an EADS HC-144B Ocean Sentry at Corpus Christi, Texas on Feb. 20, 2019. The Sentry is the navalised maritime patrol version of the CN-235 cargo plane made for the U.S. Coast Guard. The model recently was shifted from CGATS Mobile to Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi’s newest addition and has a number of upgrades from the earlier A-series that will allow aircrews to gather and process surveillance information that can be transmitted to other platforms and units during flight.
If the livery looks different, it is one of two modified in 2016 to celebrate the 100th year of U.S. Coast Guard aviation. The throwback scheme was carried by the bakers dozen Douglas RD-4 Dolphin seaplanes the Coast Guard flew from 1934 to 1943, with a dark blue fuselage, yellow on top of the wings, red and white on the tail, and silver metallic on the belly, underneath the wings, and for the engine cowlings and a stripe on the tail.
The Dolphin, a modification of Douglas’s 1930s Sinbad “flying yacht,” gave yeoman service in the 1930s and 40s in search and rescue and both the Army and Navy picked up a few of their own. Several saw WWII service.
Only 58 were made and there was a flying example still airworthy in the early 1990s.
The last known surviving example of the venerable amphibian is at the Naval Air & Space Museum in Pensacola.
This majestic beast is a Consolidated P2Y-1, coded “10-P-1” denoting it as the command plane of LCDR Knefler “Sock” McGinnis, of patrol squadron VP-10F, as it peaks over the Hawaiian coastline, en route to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, near the end of the non stop formation flight from San Francisco, USA, 10-11 January 1934. But more on that later.
The U.S. Navy fell in love with seaplanes back in the days of Glenn Curtiss and, by the end of WWI, had numerous models in regular service around the country, chief among them being the Curtiss H.16 and Felixstowe F5L. By the 1920s, the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia were making what they termed the PN flying boat, variants of the F5L with a massive 72-foot wingspan and a pair of Cyclone 9-cylinder single row radial engines.
In 1925, in a show of force of the Navy’s ability to respond quickly to attacks on far-flung Pacific bases at a time when Japan was starting to flex serious muscle, two PN-9’s tried to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu– 2,400 miles.
I mean that is a big distance. Especially just 20 years after the Wright brothers first flew.
To put it into perspective, it is only 1,000 miles by air from Berlin to Moscow, and 1,100 from New York to Miami. Even going cross-country, from Charleston, South Carolina to Los Angeles is 2,200. The 2,300 miles from Pearl Harbor to San Fransisco is serious.
The thing is, the trip didn’t work out that well and, though heroic, did not prove the point. One aircraft was forced to land 300 miles outside of San Francisco and had to be towed back while the second flew 1,341 miles and ran out of fuel and, after fashioning sails (not making this up) blew into the Hawaiian Islands nine days later on the incoming tide.
The crew of 4 rigged a sail of wing fabric and attempted to sail to Hawaii. They were found by the submarine R-4 when less than 20 miles from shore. Still, the 1,341 miles flown by the PN-9 was a new distance record for seaplanes.
Then came civilian attempts.
The ill-fated Dole Air Race (aka the Dole Derby) from California to Hawaii in 1927, started off with 18 “civilian” crews trying for the prize and only two made it. The lucky ones that didn’t cracked up near the California coast. The unlucky ones, including early aviatrix Mildred Doran, were never seen again.
The winner of the $25K Dole prize? Two Army Air Corps pilots (!) who made it to Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu in 25 hours and 50 minutes in the “Bird of Paradise,” a converted Fokker C-2 tri-motor. The gauntlet had been thrown down.
A couple of years after the PN-9 debacle and while the Dole racers were risking their lives, Consolidated Aircraft built the huge Commodore, a flying boat designed for long-range clipper service for Pan Am and others. With a 100-foot wingspan, the aluminum-hulled parasol wing monoplane could carry as many as 32 passengers on short hops and half as many on 1,000-nm+ legs.
One thing led to another and by 1931, the Navy ordered 23 of the big Commodore variants of their own, powered by two Wright R-1820-E1 engines, dubbed P2Y-1’s. The first 10 of these boats, capable of carrying three machine guns for self-defense and up to 2,000-lbs of bombs, were delivered to Patrol Squadron 10, float (VP-10F) at Norfolk in 1933 and soon embarked on a series of epic long distance flights.
The most important of these was when six Consolidated P2Y-1s set a record for flying in formation from San Francisco to Honolulu– in 24 hours and 35 minutes, erasing the sting of the PN-9 affair of the 1920s and the Army-flown tri-motor of the Dole race.
Newsreel footage of VP-10’s P2Y-1 boats attempting the SF to Pearl run in January 1934:
They made it without sails, as a unit, flying all night. In doing so, they established three world’s records. The flight bettered the best previous time for the crossing; exceeded the best distance of previous mass flights; and broke a nine-day-old world record for distance in a straight line for Class C seaplanes with a new mark of 2,399 miles (3,861 km).
The 30 crew members of the assembled aircraft were celebrated on arrival.
The reign of the P2Y was to be short lived, with the Hawaii record the highlight of their service. In 1935, the first Consolidated PBY Catalina flew and the next year set a distance record of 2,992 miles with ease.
In all only about 75 P2Ys were built in all variants, and were replaced by 1941 with the famous and imminently capable PBY-1 Catalina, which it inspired.
The P2Y’s giant formation seaplane jaunt, however, was commemorated in “Record Breaking Flight, 1934” a 1999 oil painting by artist Morgan Ian Wilbur, which portrays the boats in all their full color peacetime livery.
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