In clear skies the UK’s only airworthy Catalina – operated by Plane Sailing Air Displays from Duxford, Cambridgeshire – diverted from a round Britain commemorative flight to make two circuits over Pembroke Dock, recalling wartime days when Catalinas operated alongside Sunderland flying boats from the local RAF station.
Watchers all along the Haven were not disappointed as the white painted Catalina – carrying wartime American markings – flew over.
Vantage points on both shores were crowded and people on the Cleddau Bridge walkway and cycle track had a terrific view as the flying boat swept over, its wingtip floats lowered. A crewman in one of the observation blisters could clearly be seen.
The Catalina’s commemorative flight marked the 100th anniversary of a flight attempted by pioneer aviator Harry Hawker in 1913, flying a single engine Sopwith Waterplane. Hawker failed to complete the epic flight but his attempt – made just ten years after the Wright Brothers first in the USA – was an outstanding achievement. A century on the Catalina followed much the same route.
Photos and models of wartime Catalinas are on display in the Flying Boat Centre and Workshop, operated by the Pembroke Dock Sunderland Trust. Volunteers manning the Centre had one of their busiest days of the year on Saturday, welcoming nearly 100 visitors. This is the UK’s only centre devoted to flying boat history and operations – appropriately located in what was in wartime the world’s largest flying boat station.
The Flying Boat Centre is open Tuesdays to Saturdays inclusive, 10 am to 4 pm. Entry is free with donations welcome.