CAF Lake Superior Squadron’s PBY Catalina Restoration Update – December 2023

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By Luc Zipkin

The Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force’s ongoing restoration to airworthiness of their Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina, BuNo. 64097, has been selected once again to be a part of the CAF’s annual 12 Planes of Christmas giving campaign. As only a dozen or so Catalinas remain airworthy today, the Squadron has been working diligently for many years to return another example of this historic military aircraft to the skies. Through the 12 Planes campaign, the Lake Superior Squadron is specifically seeking to raise $25,000 to recondition the interior of their PBY.

The CAF Lake Superior Squadron’s Consolidated PBY Catalina, seen here before the wing was dismounted for overhaul. The aircraft is currently undergoing a major restoration to airworthy condition. (image via CAF)

BuNo. 64097 was acquired by the CAF as N7179Y in February 1994 and briefly operated by the CAF Minnesota Wing of St. Paul, Minnesota, before wing damage from a violent storm in 1998 grounded her. From 1998 to 2009, the Minnesota Wing stored BuNo. 64097 in Duluth, Minnesota, when the project was reassigned to the newly formed Lake Superior Squadron. The Squadron began the restoration in 2009 at Duluth, before relocating to their new home in Superior, Wisconsin in 2018. The restoration includes the ambitious mating of the wing section from another PBY, BuNo. 64092, to BuNo. 64097, which the Squadron says has never been attempted before by civilians.

When Vintage Aviation News last updated readers on the restoration project in December 2022, the Squadron had completed new hangar doors to enclose their workshop, as well as major structural work on the aircraft’s center section, where its two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines are mounted. They had begun work on flight controls and the cockpit, reinstalled hydraulic and fuel lines and new wiring for the electrical systems, and were fundraising for an overhauled R-1830 engine. In December 2023, Vintage Aviation News Publisher & Founder Moreno Aguiari spoke to the Lake Superior Squadron’s Wing Leader, Bill McMahan, about their progress on this ambitious project. McMahan highlighted the efforts of Richard Kahoon, one of their volunteers, to restore the cockpit roof and windshield sections of the aircraft that were damaged in the aforementioned 1998 wind storm. “That’s a little bit of a puzzle,” McMahan notes. From there, they moved forward to the cockpit and nose section, with the goal of restoring the PBY’s combat turret, which had been modified to an enclosed nose during BuNo. 64097’s subsequent civilian service. “We have to fabricate everything there from scratch from the plans,” McMahan says.

For the 12 Planes of Christmas campaign, the Lake Superior Squadron is highlighting their efforts at stripping the interior to bare aluminum and restoring the interior to its wartime configuration; the Squadron says that their $25,000 goal will cover about half of the material costs for the interior restoration. Alongside the planned interior restoration, they have already rebuilt one of the wing leading edges, and plan to install rebuilt landing gear and complete the restoration of the nose section for 2024. McMahan says that his unit is doing well, having recruited more A&P mechanics to complete complex sheet-metal and structural work, and is also making progress on their restoration of their Stinson OY-2 Sentinel. With the help of the 12 Planes of Christmas campaign, it seems that the Lake Superior Squadron is well on its way to returning another historic Catalina to airworthiness.

The Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force’s ongoing restoration to airworthiness of their Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina, BuNo. 64097, has been selected once again to be a part of the CAF’s annual 12 Planes of Christmas giving campaign. As only a dozen or so Catalinas remain airworthy today, the Squadron has been working diligently for many years to return another example of this historic military aircraft to the skies. Through the 12 Planes campaign, the Lake Superior Squadron is specifically seeking to raise $25,000 to recondition the interior of their PBY.

BuNo. 64097 was acquired by the CAF as N7179Y in February 1994 and briefly operated by the CAF Minnesota Wing of St. Paul, Minnesota, before wing damage from a violent storm in 1998 grounded her. From 1998 to 2009, the Minnesota Wing stored BuNo. 64097 in Duluth, Minnesota, when the project was reassigned to the newly formed Lake Superior Squadron. The Squadron began the restoration in 2009 at Duluth, before relocating to their new home in Superior, Wisconsin in 2018. The restoration includes the ambitious mating of the wing section from another PBY, BuNo. 64092, to BuNo. 64097, which the Squadron says has never been attempted before by civilians.

CAF PBY Catalina Wing Replacement

When Vintage Aviation News last updated readers on the restoration project in December 2022, the Squadron had completed new hangar doors to enclose their workshop, as well as major structural work on the aircraft’s center section, where its two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines are mounted. They had begun work on flight controls and the cockpit, reinstalled hydraulic and fuel lines and new wiring for the electrical systems, and were fundraising for an overhauled R-1830 engine. In December 2023, Vintage Aviation News Publisher & Founder Moreno Aguiari spoke to the Lake Superior Squadron’s Wing Leader, Bill McMahan, about their progress on this ambitious project. McMahan highlighted the efforts of Richard Kahoon, one of their volunteers, to restore the cockpit roof and windshield sections of the aircraft that were damaged in the aforementioned 1998 wind storm. “That’s a little bit of a puzzle,” McMahan notes. From there, they moved forward to the cockpit and nose section, with the goal of restoring the PBY’s combat turret, which had been modified to an enclosed nose during BuNo. 64097’s subsequent civilian service. “We have to fabricate everything there from scratch from the plans,” McMahan says.

For the 12 Planes of Christmas campaign, the Lake Superior Squadron is highlighting their efforts at stripping the interior to bare aluminum and restoring the interior to its wartime configuration; the Squadron says that their $25,000 goal will cover about half of the material costs for the interior restoration. Alongside the planned interior restoration, they have already rebuilt one of the wing leading edges, and plan to install rebuilt landing gear and complete the restoration of the nose section for 2024. McMahan says that his unit is doing well, having recruited more A&P mechanics to complete complex sheet-metal and structural work, and is also making progress on the restoration of their Stinson OY-2 Sentinel. With the help of the 12 Planes of Christmas campaign, it seems that the Lake Superior Squadron is well on its way to returning another historic Catalina to airworthiness.

To support this restoration project, click HERE.

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