THIS is the sound of two 1200 horspower Pratt & Whitney radial engines at full take-off power. Make that six Pratt & Whitney radials as a World War II-era Catalina flying-boat and a Douglas C-47 “Dakota”, and two Harvard chase planes took off from Rand Airport on a photo shoot on Saturday. You will hear the sound of one of the Harvards climbing out after take-off, followed by the wide-open-throttle sound of the Catalina and then the Dakota
The Catalina, fresh from a six-year restoration job, is about to depart for its new home on San Diego so this was a last chance for local photographers get pictures of this magnificent machine in the air.
The aircraft will be flown back to the US by three experienced flying-boat pilots – mission commander Bob Franicola, an ex-US Navy pilot with 19000 hours in his logbook; pilot Mike Castillo; and flight engineer Matt Voight (who also managed to bag himself a lovely South African bride during his time out here working on the plane).
The 33-day trip will take them up to Monrovia, via Libreville and Abidjan. There, says, Castillo, “we will spend two or three days doing our final checks on the aircraft, making sure everything is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. We’ll wait for favourable winds aloft, then we’re gonna put 1750 gallons of gas in it and take off for Natal, Brazil, 660 nautical miles across the water,” he said.
All going well, that leg will take roughly 13 hours. After a couple of days’ rest in Natal, the Catalina wil head up the coast of Brazil and over the Caribbean to Panama and Mexico and finally San Diego. It is one of those epic journeys that are rare events in our instant jet-age world. “After this and the other flying adventures I’ve done, I won’t have many regrets,” says Castillo.
The plane is owned by US businessman Jim Slattery who is expanding his private collection of restored historic aircraft that served with the US Navy.
The “photo ship” was Springbok Classic Air’s restored Dakota which is a regular sight in Jo’burg’s skies as she rumbles around the city on scenic flights. Springbok Aviation Services restored the Catalina. “It was a lot of money,” says Springbok owner and chief pilot Flippie Vermeulen, “more than you’d get if you sold the aircraft.”
Wow… for some reason these planes remind me of the old Mercedes cars… seemingly indestructible! The itinerary sounds like quite an adventure.. have been to all those places with the exception of Monrovia!