"Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey" - Discover the world 1993
Monday May 31, 1993 was an important day for Peter Stuyvesant Travel a Dutch travel agency.
It marked the start of a unique event, which would take a PBY-5A Catalina to four different
continents in search of the "ultimate adventure". Exotic places and mythical regions as diverse as the Sahara desert, Amazonian Jungle Caribbean Islands and Greenland were on its itinerary.
A journey of some 26000 km flown by a 50 year old amphibian in about 160 flight hours. The smartly painted Catalina, with its deep red engine nacelles and blue and red stripes, stood proudly on the ramp at Schiphol-East Airport, decorated two large Logo's, portraying a Catalina in Flight, with the words "Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey" - Discover the World 1993.
At about ten o'clock in the morning, a large crowd assembled in the departure lounge at Schiphol East
Amsterdam airport. Staff members, Journalists, the lucky participants, family and friends, gathered to witness the departure of the Catalina. On board was Ben van de Burg, tv-presentor for the Dutch "Veronica Broadcasting", with him was TV-director Frank Thomasse cameraman, Richard Nobel, sound engineer Joep van Drunen, producer Yvonne Belonje and still photographer Frans Lemmens.
Also onboard were the three lucky winners of a free flight onboard the Catalina. The Catalina crew consisted of Captain Brian McCook, a 67 year old Australian, veteran flying-boat pilot who knows the Catalina better than anyone. His copilot Mike Terryl a relative youngster, is from the U.S.A. Mike has a lot of flying experience on Jet aircraft. Harry Holocraft the flight engineer is from Zimbabwe. Harry has been fixing PBY’s for almost 35 years and can rebuild a Pratt and Whitney engine in his sleep. Whenever one of the 14 cylinders starts to run rough, Harry is the first to notice it.
Pierre Jaunet, the Catalina owner also took part in the entire journey. Pierre a veteran globetrotter normally operates his Catalina on safaris throughout Africa. For the past several years the Catalina has been his second home. Last one onboard was Mr. Hans Wiesman, Peter Stuyvesant Travel, International director of Events.
Hans, the man behind this extra-ordinary event, has a soft spot for the old flying boats. As an organizer of new travel destinations and holiday packages he wanted to do something different. He wanted to offer his travelers the opportunity to relive the era of the old flying boat days. As a young boy he lived with his parents in Borneo, Indonesia. His father worked for "Royal Dutch Shell". They were stationed at Balikpapan and Songa, an outpost on Borneo Island. Once a month a PBY-5A would land on the nearby Mahakam River and bring mail and supplies.
It was the only contact with the outside world. On one occasion young Mr. Hans (5 years old), escorted his sick father to the city of Jakarta. Climbing aboard the huge Catalina then taking off from the river and flying low over the Indonesian jungle made an unforgettable impression.
Subsequent visits to the Netherlands involved flying to Jakarta on the PBY’s and DC-3 Dakotas and then onwards from Jakarta, by Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) L-1049 Super Constellation. The Connie made several stops en-route giving Hans the time and opportunity to sample the different atmospheres and cultures. Today the romance of flying has almost disappeared. All international Airports have identical buildings, services and atmosphere.
During a trip to the Reno Air-race show in 1986, Hans spotted a red/white Catalina, parked in a deserted corner of the Reno Stead airfield. The aircraft turned out to be the later Z-CAT, registered then C-FJCV, still painted in her former Air Caledonia colors. Hans inspected the Catalina and was invited onboard for a closer look. Many years later this PBY encounter triggered the idea for an International event.
Finally the moment of departure had arrived, with the all the luggage onboard and the passengers settled in, Capt. Brian McCook fired up the Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines and taxied to the active runway. At 12.15 local Amsterdam time, with blue skies and sunshine, the Catalina lifted off and slowly began her slow climb. The rumble changed to a roar as the twin-engine flying-boat roared overhead. On the ground a crowd of well wishers waved her goodbye and wished her a safe journey and a safe return to Holland.
Capt. McCook followed a southbound track for a two-hour flight to Le Bourget Airport (Paris) for fuel and oil. During the short stop she was refueled and after 30 minutes, the flight continues towards Biscarosse in the south of France. After three hours flying low over the French country the Catalina made her first water-landing on Lake Biscarosse in honor of Pierre Lateocere (the great French seaplane builder). Lake Biscarosse is also the site of Lateocere airbase and a beautifully restored seaplane restaurant. The first night was spent on the edge of the Lake.
At Lake Biscarosse a French team, consisting of two lucky winners and a photographer boarded the Catalina. The second day of the journey (June 1st.), the Catalina departed early for Biarritz airport. During the two-hour stopover at Biarritz the participants and passengers enjoyed their lunch while the Catalina was topped up with some 5000 liters of fuel. After lunch the heavy Catalina departed from Biarritz and continued south towards the Pyrenees Mountains.
Due to its heavy weight, the PBY was unable to climb over the mountains, and instead it followed a lower track which took her through several steep canyons and green valleys. After a number of close encounters with the Pyrenees mountain cliffs it was a relief to over-fly the flat Iberian Peninsula of Spain. Passing low over the provinces of Castilla, Extremadura and La Mancha (the heart of Spain), gave the passengers a grand view from the PBY aft blisters. At around17.00 hours the PBY landed at Gibraltar, the most southerly point of Spain. For most of the participants this flight was a once in a life time experience.
The constant pounding of the engines created a buzz. The particular oily smell and often freezing temperature inside the cabin, coupled with a magnificent view for the huge blisters, made for an exciting sensation, never to be forgotten.
The next two days was spent at Gibraltar. Capt. McCook made several "touch and go's" in the harbor next to the runway, which was filmed by the Dutch tv team. On the morning of June 3rd. at around 10 o'clock, the "Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey" resumed its flight and took off heading for the African continent.
Crossing the 15 km wide straights of Gibraltar she flew over the city of Tanger and followed the rugged Moroccan coastline. Four hours later the Catalina arrived at Agadir "El Massira" Int. airport for a lunch break. Here the first problem emerged dealing with the local Airport customs officers.
Although a flight plan was filed and included a scheduled stop at "El Massira", the on-duty customs officer was not aware of the arrival of the Catalina. He complained about the landing permit, cargo, passports, airport tax ect ... in general making life very difficult. After a lot of heated-discussion the necessary landing fee was paid and the Catalina was cleared to continue. Running a bit behind schedule, she took off on a south- westerly course; leaving the Moroccan coast far behind.
Endless kilometers of deep blue Atlantic Ocean passed beneath. After a comfortable 4 hours flight, the Catalina approached the Canary Islands and touched down at Lanzarote Int. Airport, for an overnight stop. Again problems were encountered with the airport customs agents. This time it concerned the expensive TV equipment. But the problems were quickly solved and everybody headed for the hotel. The following day (04/06) was a mission day for the participants. There was no flight scheduled and the crew had a day off. The old PBY was checked from top to bottom and serviced by Mike and Harry. The 50 year old flying boat had performed superbly) with no major problems encountered. A day later (05/06) she was scheduled to arrive in the Cape Verde Islands by late afternoon. Around nine o'clock she took off from Lanzarote and headed south. Around midday everybody onboard was starting to get hungry and a lunch stop was scheduled in.
The Catalina turned towards the African coastline and requested permission to land at Nouadjibou (Port Etienne), a deserted town on the northern edge of Mauritania, bordering Morocco.
As the Catalina approached the barren coast, which was litterd with wrecked ships, the bright yellow sand of the Sahara desert came into view. Moments later she landed on Nouadjibou single runway and parked near the dilapidated terminal buildings on the scorching and dusty ramp.
The ill-tempered custom-officer was scared to death by the sight of the Catalina, he regarded it and it's passengers, aliens from another planet. Since it had been a number of years since such a giant airplane had landed. The only regular visitor was the Mauritanian Government small Cessna airplane.
The building facilities were out of order, since the border dispute with Morocco. The place was virtually abandoned. In the instant chaos of our arrival nobody was allowed to take pictures or film. After an uneasy lunch break, the Catalina left the desolate airstrip and headed towards the Cape Verde Islands leaving the shores of Africa for good.
When the Catalina reached her cruising altitude of 5000 feet it was time to sit back and reflect on the journey ahead. During early 1930 and 1934, this route was flown by French flying boats, from the" Compagnie Aeropostale", (which was later taken over by "Societe Centrale Sark" Exploitation de Lignes Aerienne). On those pioneering mail flights to South America, "Aeropostale" used large four engine Latecoere 300 croix-du-sud and the "Couizinet 71" land plane to cross the Atlantic.
The "Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey" Catalina, Z-CAT was reliving the pioneering spirit of the early days. While the big jumbo’s jets cruised overhead at 33.000 thousand feet, this lumbering PBY cruises comfortably at a speed of 110 knots.
With a max capacity of 7000 liters of fuel, the Catalina has a very long range capability of about 4000 km. (the equivalent of about 22 hours of non-stop flight). She felt very much at home on the open stretches of the Atlantic Ocean. During the leg to the Cape Verde Islands most of the participants tried to catch up with some reading or take a short nap. But the constant vibration and drone from the Pratt and Whitney engines kept most passengers awake.
Cape Verde Island (Ilhas Do Cabo Verde) was reached 4 and 5 hours later. She landed at the Int. airport on Sal Island, for an overnight stop. The Cape Verde Islands lie approximately 450 km. west, of the coast of Senegal, Africa. The Island chain consists of some 15 Islands, of which nine are inhabited. The climate is subtropical year round with 25+ degrees. In 1975 the Cape Verde Islands received its independence from Portugal. They are still one of the poorest countries in the world, but these beautiful islands certainly have a future in tourism.
The next day the flight continued south to the Island of Praia. Two days were spent on Praia. Sunday June 6th was another mission day for the participants. Capt McCook and Mike boarded the Cat for some additional water-landing training at a nearby bay. As the Catalina approached the bay a low pass was made in order to access the water swell and the wind conditions. A water-landing was attempted despite the rough condition of the water. The Dutch television crew positioned themselves near the bay in order to record the water-landing. As the Catalina approached the beach she banked sharply to the right, in order to alight for her landing path, parallel to the beach.
The throttles were eased back and moments later the white hull contacted with the water causing a huge spray. Due to the wind Z-Cat was thrown back into the air but seconds later she bounced back onto the choppy sea. Having failed to slow her airspeed sufficiently, Capt McCook made a full stall landing realizing the rocky hillsides nearby. The sleek Catalina dropped down with a big splash and thereby avoided a possible clash with the rocks. It was a hairy moment for the crew. Later Capt McCook explained there was nothing else to be done. The Catalina hits the water at almost full speed, with no flaps to decrease her airspeed. At such a moment it is impossible to attempt another take off. You just believe in you lucky stars and hope the plane doesn't come apart during this full-stall maneuver.
Z-CAT returned to the airport, were she remained grounded in preparation of her flight to Brazil, its first trans-Atlantic crossing. Both oil tanks (55 gallons in each nacelle) were filled. The max allowable fuel quantity, 1750 gallons (875 per tank) was taken on. Due to the long over water stretch and the risky nature of the flight, only six people would be allowed on the flight. The next two days were spent servicing the PBY. The participants of leg 1, the Veronica team left the Odyssey, while the second group the "Playboy team" arrived for the second leg of the Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey!
Two days later on Wednesday, June 9th the Catalina took off very early in the morning 05.15 hours local time, bound for the Brazilian coastal town of Natal. During the first four hours of the flight, nobody inside was allowed to walk through the cabin; in order not to disturb her critical center of gravity. With a slight tailwind and favorable weather conditions (speed 115 knots and altitude
4500 feet), it took Z-CAT 14.5 hours to reach the Brazilian mainland. This marked the longest flight for the "Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey plus a highest risk factor. During the latter part of the flight the crew witnessed a spectacular tropical sunset, bathing the Catalina in golden rays of sunshine.
Soon afterwards and without incidents she finally touched down at Natal Airport. The arrival of the Catalina did not go unnoticed. Several Brazilian journalists’ and the local TV were on hand to greet the exhausted crew. Pierre Jaunet opened a bottle of champagne, in order to celebrate this momentous occasion. Many hands were shaken and pictures taken but the crew had only one thing on their mind checking into the nearest hotel for some much needed rest. Back on Praia, Cape Verde Islands, the "Peter Stuyvesant Travel team" boarded a Russian Aeroflot jet bound for South America. This was the only available service to Brazil. Their flight took them via Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a night stop and then on to Natal. After sitting on cramped seats for many hours and eating Russian food, most of the team wished they were back on the good old Catalina.
Thursday June 10th. After a well deserved sleep at the tropical Genipabo hotel it was back to the Catalina. The local yacht club hoisted a reception in name of the Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey. Many airline personnel connected with the Brazilian Air force attended the reception.
Natal used to be on the cross roads of sea and air-routes during World War II. American PBY’s where stationed at Natal and flew patrol missions in search of German U-boats, who threatened the flow of men and materials, to the fighting fronts. During December 1941 PBY-5A’s of the VP52 Patrol wing were deployed at Natal together with Martin Mariners flying boats. Several buildings, including the slipway, working-platforms and hangars still exist today, although in a dilapidated condition. Several veteran FAB (Forca Aerea Brasileira) Catalina pilots were treated to a demo flight aboard the Z-CAT. With tears in their eyes, they enjoyed several touch and goes on the Potengi River, in front of the old Aeropostale Seaplane base.
Friday June 11th, was again an early morning start for the Odyssey team. Take off was at 08.30 LT
And this time back it was re-tracing its inbound route from the Cape Verde Islands and heading north-east towards the Brazilian "Fernanado de Noronha" Islands, just a mere 350 km. away. At about 10
O-clock the main island of "Fernando" came in sight. This beautiful tropical island, with its deserted coves, blinding white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, is full with exotic birds and animals.
This tropical paradise was first discovered by Amerigo Vespucci in 1502. Today it belongs to Brazil. There are no hotels on the island and tourism is not allowed.
During WW II the American Air Force constructed a base on the main island from which many DC-3, Catalina's and liberators operated. Today the old corrugated iron barracks still exist. The arrival of the Catalina marked a special occasion. No other seaplane had landed at "Fernando" for almost 30 years. A night stop was planned and the crew together with the Peter Stuyvesant Travel team slept inside the old USAF barracks. That afternoon the Catalina took off from the 1845 feet long runway and headed for the Bay of Santo Antonia, located on the northern edge of the island, just behind the 1060 feet mountain peak. This used to be the old "Aeropostale" seaplane "anchor" sight. The old dilapidated pier and small arrival building still remain. It is here that Z-CAT made another water landing. After three low passes Capt Brian McCook finally settled onto the turquoise blue water of Santo Antonio bay, commemorating the great "Aeropostale" pilots.
The following day (12/06), it was back to Natal "Augusto Servo Airport" for food and drinks, and a fresh supply of oil and fuel. At Natal the Z-CAT was parked between two Brazilian war time bombers. An unidentified camouflaged A-25B bomber stood on her left, while a smart grey and yellow colored B-25J Mitchell bomber coded 5133, stood silently on the right, guarding the old PBY.
At noon the journey continued onwards and saw the Catalina flying over terra firma. She followed the Brazilian coastline via the cities of Fortaleza, Parnaibo and Sao Luis. The six hour flight took them to the city of Belem, located at the mouth of the mighty Amazon River. Today the city of Belem has a population of 1 million inhabitants. The city primarily exports timber, Brazil nuts and small amounts of rubber. Two days were spent at Belem. For the crew it was a time to relax and pamper the Catalina.
Parked next to the Catalina were some interesting old cargo planes belonging to the Brazilian operator Royal "Taxi Aereo" Ltda. DC-3 PT-KZG (26921) in full "Royal" color-scheme, stood silently in the morning sun. Next to her, awaiting her cargo stood "Royal" flagship a Curtiss C-46A Commando PT-LBP (155). This sturdy C-46 still flew cargo on a regular basis through out the Amazon basin.
Located on the other side of the airport, another interesting aircraft was parked. This was a former FAB PBY-5A Catalina (6552) which was on static display.
The FAB operated as many as 31 PBY-5A’s and a single PBY-6A, between 1943 and 1982. Stationed at Belem, was the special Transport Group (2e Grupo), which used the PBY's for Amazon Patrol, SAR and transport duties. The Brazilian Cats were painted light grey and white and carried a large insignia on its tail, portraying a "Flying turtle" with the motto: "I go slow, but I get there". April 1983 saw the last PBY retire at Belem.
In 1984, five PBY-5A’s, (FAB 6509, 6510, 6520, 6551 and 6525) were flown to the United States as part of a deal by which the Brazilians received C130 transport planes in exchange. All 5 PBY ended their military careers at US military museums. PBY-5A, coded FAB "6527" can be found at the Air Force museum "Campos Dos Afonsos, at Rio Janeiro. FAB" 6552", which is on display at Belem act's as a reminder of the "Heydays", when the Brazilian Cat's would charge down the Amazon river on another peaceful mission deep in the jungle. During the two day lay-over at Belem temperatures reached high’s off 35 °C. With continuous tropical down pour and 85% humidity, it was problematic working on the Catalina. On Tuesday June 15th it was time to continue the Odyssey. The Catalina departed Belem at 10.00 0' clock in the morning she cruised over yet another stretch of seemingly endless jungle. Heading west and staying low, she followed the mighty Amazon River. The massive jungles of the "Amazonia" and the Bolivar (Venezuela) are the oldest and the most impressive in the world. Some trees average 150 to 200 feet high. This is no place for an emergency landing ... unless you have a flying boat. After 6.5 hours flying over thick jungle, the city of Manaus appeared on the horizon. The Catalina landed just outside the city limits, on the Rio Negro River. After off-loading her passengers and their baggage, Capt. Brain McCook and Mike decided to take her up again for some practice runs.
The night was spent at the "Acajatuba Lodge", which consisted of several primitive huts on poles located at the edge of the river. There was no telephone, no electricity, no airco, only the essential comfort. At night antique oil lamps illuminated the huts and walkways, while crocodiles swam underneath in search of food. The following morning the Catalina took off from the Rio Negro and headed inland for "Eduardo Gomes" Airport, Manaus, to pick up the Peter Stuyvesant Travel team.
With no time to waste the PBY departed Manaus and settled into another enduring flight over thick jungle. Heading north, she crossed the city of Boa Vista, situated on the "Rio Branco" river.
After covering some 900 km., she then entered into Venezuelan airspace. Leaving its cruising altitude of 6000 ft. the Catalina made a small diversion, in order to reach "Gran Sabana" Table Mountains. Just north of them, with peaks between 2500 to 2700 meters, is the world’s highest waterfall, called "Angle Falls". Two attempts to view the "Sal to de Angel" were carried out, but with-out success. The Angel Falls was not seen and remained shrouded in low clouds. In the cabin it was difficult to keep dry, rain water was dripping everywhere into the 50 year old flying boat cabin.
All the tv cameras and film equipment had to be specially protected. As the Catalina plotted onwards she crossed over the Orinoco River delta and flew towards the northern coastline. Just before nightfall she landed at "Crown Point" Airport, on the Island of Tobago. Here history repeated itself, the on duty customs officers were not fully informed of the PBY’s arrival. The local press and TV showed up in full force.
Some of the high ranking officers refused a temporary import of the expensive cameras, resulting in another big hassle. The next morning it was early start, for her next leg to Beef Island Tortola, British Virgin Islands, scheduled for an afternoon arrival. While taxiing to the runway a magnetic drop in the LH engine was detected. Taking no changes Capt McCook turned around and taxied back to the ramp. Shutting down the engines, all passengers disembarked the Cat ... and returned to the airport building. Harry jumped out and immediately checked the offending engine, the problem soon emerged. Due to the excessive rain over the past days, it had soaked the engines electric cylinder cables, which had to be dried. After a 1.5 hour delay, the engine was running again, and soon after Z-CAT was on her way to the BVI.
Numerous islands, densely covered with palm trees and impressive beaches, surrounded by shallow turquoise lagoons passed underneath the Catalina big wings. Famous Islands like St-Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua and Sint Maarten came into view. The arrival of Z-CAT was planned to coincide with a special sporting event, "The Peter Stuyvesant Travel-Blue Marlin Windsurf Tour", held at BVI. The Catalina was the guest of honor. The next day (18/06) several water landings were made on the Sir Francis Drake Channel, an open stretch of water south of Beef Island,
During the stopover, a fresh team from Holland, Nieuwe Revu, started their tour onboard the Catalina.
On Saturday the 19th, the Odyssey picked up a fast pace, leaving the Lee-wards Islands behind, bound for the Grand Cayman Islands. These groups of islands lie about 830 km northwest of Jamaica. There are three main Islands Cayman Brae, Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. The capital is George Town situated on the main Island of Grand Cayman. Halfway through the flight a lunch stop was made at Santo Domingo's "Las Americas" Int. Airport. Flying south of Haiti, she crossed the Jamaican Channel, an open passage dividing Hispaniola and Jamaica, Landing safely at "Owen Roberts" Int. airport, Grand Cayman. During the 2-day layover, the Dutch team visited the famous West bay, better known as stingray city, where large stingray's swim freely in the shallow lagoon and can be fed by hand.
The next stage of the Odyssey was a short flight to the East coast of Yucatan, Mexico, for a two day stops over at the small town of Ciudad Chetumal. This small Mexican town lies on the border of Mexico and Belize. Just to the north of Chetumal hidden from most tourists, are plenty of deserted pearl white beaches, secluded coves, exotic diving sites and cozy bungalows. During the rest day the mysterious Mayan temples at Coba, on the inland rainforest were visited. Mexico marked the halfway point of the Peter Stuyvesant Odyssey. The next leg would take the Catalina across the United States eastern coast and onwards over the eastern part of Canada, ultimately tracking to the arctic region.
On Wednesday, June 23rd. the Catalina crossed the "Gulf of Mexico. She left the tropics behind and entered the northern hemisphere. She routed via the Mississippi river Delta and landed at New Orleans Int. airport. During that evening most team members visited the famous streets of the French Quarter, at downtown New Orleans. The next leg took the Catalina to Clayton, Georgia where team members made an effort at some wild water rafting on the Chattooga River. The following day was a rest day. On Saturday (26/06) the blue and red flying-boat was back in the air, now destination the "Big Apple" New York. Plotting over the eastern route, over the state of Washington. The Manhattan Skyline came into view during the afternoon.
For Peter Stuyvesant Travel, the company whose name originated from the man who founded New York, it was a special moment. The Catalina sailed past the rows of skyscrapers and followed the East river, en-route to Peterborough Airport.
This marked the end of leg 3 and a change of teams. The Dutch "Viva" magazine team would complete the Odyssey to Amsterdam. The next morning, Sunday 26th would be a special moment for the Catalina. An unusual flight plan was filed in order to land in front of the statue of Liberty. This marked a 35 year period since the last water landing by a flying-boat. The Z-CAT was not alone on the East River. Numerous private boats dotted the water trying to catch a glimpse of the PBY. The
US Coast Guard was busy keeping all the boats at a safe distance.
As the Catalina approached the landing site, a rain storm passed overhead. As the worst of the weather past over, Capt McCook initiated a series of low passes, before settling onto the East River. Keeping his engines running at high rev he completed a 360 degrees turn and aligned for his take off run. The throttles were moved up to max power and the gracefull white bird raced down the East river.
Thundering across the harbor she cleared the skyline and banked away over the Hudson River into the low clouds. The long trek to the Great White North had just begun. The next leg routed via Lebanon, Vermont where the new arrived team went for balloon ride. During a lunch-stop at Monkton New Brunswick, radio problem plagued the Catalina.
Spare parts were ordered in New York but never reached the Catalina. After a temporary fix, the flight continued across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cabot Strait and onwards to Newfoundland. Late in the afternoon she touched down at Deer lake local airport. While slowly flying north into the Northern hemisphere the crew and passenger suddenly became aware of the climate change. It had gone from a comfortable 33 degrees to an intense low of just 5 degrees. Inside the cabin most of the passenger began changing into winter gear; hot coffee was consumed in great quantities, in a constant battle to keep warm. During the two day stop over at Deer Lake (New Foundland Canada), Z-CAT was parked next to sister flying-boat, a Canadian PBY-5A, a water-bomber variant belonging to the "Province of Newfoundland" Air Service Division". Tanker 704 registered C-FIZU (c/n 2019), painted in a smart orange/red and green colorscheme, was on standby duty. The Province of New Foundland has four PBY-5A’s in its fleet, of which three where still active. Capt McCook and the tanker Capt. George Furey posed proudly in front of both flying boats, while their pictures were taken.
Due to her upcoming "Trans Atlantic" crossing, Z-CAT was thoroughly inspected. Harry and Mike performed routine maintenance checks on the aircraft and serviced the Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines. Minor items, such as engine oil, filters, and spark plugs were changed. This time, major service-sing and inspection of carburetors, valve clearances, timing etc. was carried out.
After two days of hard work the big moment arrived. On Thursday July 1, fully fuelled and pre-oiled it was time to fire up the engines. Due to the cold weather conditions at Deer Lake, the propellers where pulled through in order to clear the engine of accumulated oil. After start up Capt McCook used his taxi run, to warm up the engines. As the oil and cylinder head temperatures reached normal operation levels a magneto check was performed. The normal procedure for this is to idle one engine, while the second engine is run up to about 2000 rpm checking the magnetos. After checking the second engine, Capt McCook ran through the PRE-TAKE-OFF, check list.
Hydraulics-checked, Trims-set, Fuel boosters-on Mixtures-rich, Carburetor heat-cold, pitch-Full Fine, pilot heat on, Cowl Flaps-trail, Gyros-set, Rudder lock-off and controls free. All was clear, Mike gave the thumbs up signal and Capt McCook applied full power. After 30 seconds run, engines at 1200 BHP, 2700 RPM, and 46 inch of Manifold pressure, the Catalina soared upwards. While slowly climbing to 6000 feet, the barren coastline disappeared from view. At a steady 110 knots, Z-CAT commenced her lengthy oceanic crossing.
Inside the passengers settled down for a tedious long flight. The Catalina was performing flawlessly; temperatures and pressures were all in the green. Inside, conditions where less than ideal.
Eight hours into the flight Greenland appeared on the distant horizon. Its snow covered mountains stretching as far as the eye could see. Approaching the coast thousands of white dots appeared below on water, they appeared to be giant icebergs. As she initiated her slow descent, she banked towards the small town of Qaqortoq, where a landing in the harbor was planned.
This was going to be a tricky landing because off a visual approach path. After making a low pass, checking the landing site for wondering icebergs and fishing boats, a smooth landing was carried out. The Cat was guided to a safe anchor site and was firmly tied down. Drifting ice and sudden weather change could pose a threat, so the crew wanted to be kept constantly informed about the weather conditions if conditioned worsened the cat would take off immediately and take shelter at the local airport. Several Eskimo’s paddled up to the old flying-boat checking out the strange flying-boat.
The quiet town of Qaqortoq, with a population of 3.500 is one of the largest settlements in Greenland. Fishing is its main source of income. The following night was spent warm and calm at the hotel. Additional winter clothing was bought at the local hardware shop to cope with the low temperatures. Saturday July, 3rd during the early morning hours, the Catalina was prepared for her next take off. After completing the pre take-off check list, both Pratt and Whitney engines were fired up. Due to the extreme low overnight temp., Capt. McCook completed his run-up while taxing in the Fjord. In order to warm up the engines, he circles the Catalina around in the bay. The Catalina departed her cold mooring site for a fuel stop at reputedly world's most expensive airport for Avgas called Narssarssuaq.
The following leg lasted about 8 hours and routed to the eastern edge of Iceland. The Cat landed on a remote airstrip near the town of Hofn. This 2 day stopover was planned to allow several missions to be carried out. On the first day an expeditions was organized to the nearby Vatnajokull glacier, while the crew rested at the hotel.
On the second day the Catalina ventured out to the inlet for her second artic water-landing. After a low pass Capt. McCook radioed to the ground crew, that too many icebergs were blocking the landing path. Several rubber boats on the water were scrambled to push the icebergs aside. Luckily most of them where small and could be easily moved. Not wanting to hang around burning precious fuel, Capt. McCook headed back. As the crew climbed out of the Catalina, bound for the hotel bar, they received an urgent message from a ground crew -"have missed you on your first run, please start engines for a second attempt ... camera teams are in position and waiting! Ten minutes later the old flying-boat thundered passed the small control tower on her way to one of its most "picturesque" artic "take-off" captured on film during the tour.
Keeping her wings level, she sailed past a massive block of ice, dwarfing the PBY. Overcoming earth gravity, Z-CAT became airborne again (60 knots), simultaneously raising her wing floats in the usual elegant fashion. Climbing away gracefully over the top of the glacier the PBY disappeared from sight
Her next port of call, the Shetland Islands was reached the day after in a 5.5 hours flight. From there the last leg of the 1993 Odyssey would commence. On Wednesday July 7th the final leg got under way and would officially end at the Lelystad marina harbor, Holland. A big ceremony was planned in order to greet the brave crew and her passengers for a safe arrival. Your truly was also invited and duly awaiting the arrival of the PBY ... but it was not to be!
After a normal departure from the Shetland Islands and a normal climb to her cruising altitude of 6000 ft. the crew settled in for a routine flight crossing the North Atlantic and the North Sea.
Inside the cabin the atmosphere was relaxed. Everyone was looking forward to seeing their family and friends. Ninety minutes into the flight, while Mike was about to close his eyes for a short nap, Capt. McCook noticed that the LH engine was making strange noises. He noticed that its oil pressure indicator was fluctuating and started to rise to 150 psi. The brand new engine, with only 200 hours, was vibrating and started over-speeding. After soldiering on for 2-3 minutes, Capt McCook got into action and decided to shut it down and called for an "engine failure" checklist.
The engine was throttled back to idle power and the propeller was feathered. With the LH engine down, the power on the RH engine was slightly increased, so to maintain the altitude.
Realizing that something was wrong Pierre Jaunet and F/E Harry Holocraft headed to the cockpit. "We just lost our LH engine ... shouted Mike. At this point it became clear that a landing at Lelystad was not in the cards. A mayday call was transmitted for an emergency landing at the closest airport ... which happened to be Aberdeen International Airport.
Still 1.5 hours out of Aberdeen, fuel was dumped and the passengers donned their life vest ... awaiting the events to unfold. A Sea-king helicopter from RAF loosiemouth naval base was scrambled to intercept the unlucky Catalina. A second helicopter from the coast guard came in to assist.
Emergency fire trucks and ambulance at Aberdeen airport where scrambled to the active runway.
After a few tense moments, the Catalina finally descended for her long approach. Control of the aircraft was some what heavy. With the airport in sight the landing gear was extended firmly locked in the down position. The Catalina came in to fast; she crossed the threshold, and touched down firmly. With some stern braking action the Catalina came to rest within a safe distance from the end of the runway. A big round of applause and loud cheers sounded from the cabin. Everybody was glad to be back on the ground
Inspection of the failed Pratt & Whitney R1830s radial engine, revealed some disturbing news. Metal shrapnel, in the oil sump was detected and this meant a complete engine change! The news caused the termination of the last leg of the Peter Stuyvesant Travel Odyssey Tour. Being this close to home, it was decided to fly the passengers and team-member home on the next available scheduled flight. The poor Catalina was left behind. She was to arrive in Holland a week later. Mike and Harry stayed with the Catalina, replacing the engine, which arrived from Harare, Zimbabwe three days later.
After the engine change and a short test flight followed. The Catalina completed her final leg to lelystad, during the early morning of July 17th. She made a smooth landing at Lelystad marina harbor, thus completing the Peter Stuyvesant Travel adventure.
The 1993 "Discover the World" Odyssey turned out to be a great success. The loss of an engine during the last leg did not dampen the excitement and enthusiasm of the Peter Stuyvesant organization. The PBY-5A "Catalina" flying-boat turned out to be a safe, reliable and fun way of traveling to the numerous exotic locations. Surely Z-CAT was fast becoming one off the most, well traveled Catalina's ever!
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I would like to thank Mr. Hans Wiesman, the International director of Events, for "Peter Stuyvesant Travel" for his interview, at the Amsterdam office. All the dates and info is based on his personal account. I would also like to thank Wim Boonstra, Product Manager, for providing the photo's and slides.
Photo credit’s: Peter Stuyvesant Travel, Ron & Chris Mak and M.S. Prophet