Catalina From Movie “Always” Finds New Home at Yanks Air Museum

Aircorps Art Dec 2019


By Adam Estes

It’s a scene that stands out as one of the classic scenes in aviation movie history, where two fishermen are having a slow day in their boat on a lake when a soft rumble builds up as a PBY Catalina lands on the surface of the lake, racing towards them. The man at the stern hurriedly wakes his friend as he attempts to start the boat’s motor. But before the engine can start, the men fall out of their boat as the Catalina rises from the water just in time and roars overhead. As it so happens, the very same aircraft, which has been sitting at a regional airport in Ephrata, Washington for decades now will be heading to the Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California.

The “Always” Catalina photographed by Nigel Hitchman in 2016

The aircraft was originally constructed as PBY-5A construction number 1581 and flown by the US Navy as Bureau Number 34027, the aircraft led an average life for a Navy PBY up to 1956, when it was stricken from the Navy inventory. Shortly afterward, the aircraft was registered as N9505C, converted into a fire tanker, and modified to the Stewart-Davis “Super-Cat” standard, where the Pratt & Whitney R-1830s were replaced in favor of Wright R-2600s, the rudder was enlarged and squared off, and as was typical of many other civilian Catalinas, a Clipper nose was installed in place of the bow turret. N9505C flew as tanker #9, then #53 for several owners, but the longest serving and most prominent among them was Robert P. Schlaefli, who ran SLAFCO, Inc., and operated fire fighting services for the Pacific Northwest. It was also Schlaefi who flew N9505C during the flying sequences of Always that involved the Catalina.

SLAFCO Super Catalina N9505C tanker #53 in June 1979. Geoff Goodall collection

By 1993, however, Schlaefi was retired and his planes either found new homes or sat on airport ramps awaiting new owners. Such was the case with N9505C, which occasionally attracted a buyer every now and then, but it never left Ephrata Airport after its departure from nearby Moses Lake. In recent years, public officials from the Port of Ephrata urged that the aircraft be placed for auction to sell off the aircraft and gain proceeds for the Department of Revenue. Fortunately, Port Director David Lenham has seen fit to find someone willing to preserve the aircraft, just as he stopped the demolition of two WWII hangars on the airport to renovate them for new tenants. It was Lenham who also spoke to the Columbia Basin Herald about the acquisition of the old fire bomber turned movie star to the Yanks Air Museum. No details about the shipment or arrival have been announced by the museum yet, as this is still a developing story, but the Herald article confirms through Lenham that the Catalina is indeed Chino-bound.

Yanks Air Museum also has another Catalina in its collection already in Chino.  The aircraft is registered N2763A, it is another Super Cat conversion, but it was used for passenger flights as opposed to being a tanker. Yanks Air Museum [also] acquired this aircraft from Washington state, with N2763A being retrieved from Moses Lake, and is currently being kept in storage by the museum at Chino. For more details about the sale of N9505C, the link for the Columbia Basin Herald article will be provided here (Port of Ephrata sells PBY aircraft from ‘Always’ | Columbia Basin Herald), and for details on the Yanks Air Museum and its vast array of American-manufactured aircraft from across the history of aviation, visit https://yanksair.org/.

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