Nothing plain about this flight

The Catalina Flying Memorial group touch down in the flying boat from Portugal where it was used as a fire bomber. Photo: Barry Leddicoat/179784
The Catalina Flying Memorial group touch down in the flying boat from Portugal where it was used as a fire bomber. Photo: Barry Leddicoat/179784

North Shore plane spotters were transported back to one of the most romantic and graceful eras of aviation yesterday afternoon when a Catalina flying boat landed at Sunshine Coast Airport.

The aircraft, purchased in Portugal last year by the non-profit Catalina Flying Memorial organisation, is enroute to Bankstown, NSW, where it will be restored to its wartime configuration.

The Catalina will be fitted out with seating to enable paying passengers to enjoy the thrill of flying boat travel. The new-look Catalina will then “serve” the nation, not only as a flying memorial to the RAAF Catalina and other flying boat crews, but also as a “living” example from a bygone era that will help educate present and future generations.

Short scenic flights, as well as longer journeys taking in some of the places that played host to the RAAF Catalina squadrons during Second World War, II, are just a few of the itineraries being considered.

On board yesterday’s flight were two generations of the flying Hazleton family: Jim, his son Hubo and nephew Geoff.

Geoff’s son Ben, a pilot with Cathay Pacific, was at the airport to greet his family.

Geoff is a pilot and engineer and has been in Portugal for two months, replacing two engines. He said the plane had racked up around 100 hours of flying at six to eight hours a day since it left 20 days ago.

“It wears you out,” he said. “I think we had one day in Bali we had off and we didn’t have to go to the aeroplane.”

Hubo, who joined the flight from Darwin where he had been working, said the flight had been the “experience of a lifetime”.

The aircraft will eventually be based at Rathmines on the shores of Lake Macquarie.

The Rathmines RAAF Station became one of the major flying boat bases during the Second World War, II, and housed all RAAF Catalina squadrons at various stages during the war.

The Catalina Flying Memorial is a non-profit organisation, funded from public donations.

Geoff’s patient partner, Diane Page, who has been waiting at home on the Coast for the past two months, appealed for donations to help pay for fuel. The cost of fuel has risen to $4 a litre in some places and burns at the rate of about 400 litres an hour, in which time the Catalina only flies about 160 kilometres.

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