Shady Lady, a 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina operated by the Catalina Preservation Society, takes off from Cowichan Lake on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Shady Lady: legendary Catalina touches down on Vancouver Island

Two flying boats test the waters west of Youbou, make Port Alberni pitstop

Cowichan Lake was perfectly cooperative on Thursday, July 23 as aircraft buffs tested a legendary amphibious plane with a series of touch-and-gos and landings west of Youbou.

Members of the Victoria-based Catalina Preservation society used the lake for crew training and exercising their Consolidated PBY Catalina for a few hours that afternoon, and the situation couldn’t have been better.

“It was a stellar day,” said Oliver Evans, who was behind the controls of the Catalina. “The weather worked out perfectly. We got there early, and the water conditions were just pristine.

“Everyone there was extremely cognizant of the aircraft. They stuck close to the shore, which made my life easier.”

RELATED: Dozens of planes went down on Vancouver Island training for war

RELATED: Iconic aircraft at 19 Wing Comox entrance undergoes facelift

The Catalina — as it is known in most of the world, although it is also called a Canso in Canada — is a flying boat, designed to take off and land on water, with more than 80 years of history, serving in both military and civilian purposes.

During the Second World War, the Catalina served in both the Pacific and Atlantic theatres, sinking about 40 submarines, and it was a Royal Air Force Catalina that spotted the infamous German battleship Bismarck, leading to its sinking. Post-war, a Catalina was involved in the first hijacking of a commercial aircraft, in 1948. Just recently, a couple of Catalinas were loaded onto an aircraft carrier in San Diego and will be shipped to Hawai’i for VE Day 75th-anniversary celebrations later this year.

“The Americans really love this airplane,” said Evans, a director of the Catalina Preservation Society and a Boeing 787 pilot for Air Canada.

The society typically takes the plane, also known as Shady Lady, on the airshow circuit each year, including a highly anticipated stop at Seattle Seafair. Unfortunately, most airshows have been cancelled this year because of COVID-19, and Shady Lady has been grounded more than usual.

This particular Catalina, formerly RCAF 11024 and now registered as C-FUAW, has its own colourful history. Built in Montreal in 1943, it was based in Victoria for the last two years of the Second World War, where it hunted for enemy submarines. After the war, it was used for search and rescue missions out of Jericho Beach, then spent a few decades as a civilian freighter and water bomber.

“It’s quite a remarkable aircraft,” Evans noted.

Bob Dyck bought the Catalina from Buffalo Airways in 2011, and since then a group of volunteers have banded together to support the restoration project. Dyck gave it the name “Shady Lady,” borrowed from a different Catalina that flew out of Tofino during the Second World War. Society member Russell Redman, who actually flew RCAF 11024 during the war, died earlier this year at the age of 96.

“There’s hardly anybody left [who flew military Catalinas],” Evans said. “There aren’t many left to fix them anymore, either.”

That’s a big part of what keeps the society going.

“We try to keep it alive for those who flew it during the war,” Evans explained.

Catalinas themselves are a disappearing icon. Of about 4,000 built — almost entirely in the U.S. and Canada — fewer than 10 are still flying. Although it is still configured as a military aircraft and has limited seating, Shady Lady is one of two left taking passengers, the other being in New Zealand. The society had finally gone through the hoops to get it insured and licensed for passengers when COVID-19 hit.

For its most recent excursion to Cowichan Lake, the Catalina was joined by a Grumman G-73 Mallard, also from Victoria. The Mallard’s pilot is a friend of the society, and wanted to take advantage when he heard there would be video and camera equipment, including a drone, filming the Catalina.

“It’s not very often you have two flying boats on one lake,” Evans commented.

Not quite as old as the Catalina, the Mallard was produced between 1946 and 1951. This particular Mallard belonged at one point to the late Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

RELATED: Ambitious B.C. Aviation Museum need $10M to get iconic Lancaster back in the air

After stopping at Cowichan Lake, the Catalina went to Port Alberni where it picked up former pilot and society president Jim Vissers for what might have been his final flight. Recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Vissers flew a Catalina fighting forest fires in the 1980s.

It’s another testament to the lifespan and the emotional value of a plane like the Catalina.

“It’s probably going to outlive all of us,” Evans said. “It’s touched the lives of a lot of people along the way.”

For more information about the Catalina Preservation Society, pbycatalina.com. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Lake Cowichan

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Shady Lady, a 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina operated by the Catalina Preservation Society, lands on Cowichan Lake on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Shady Lady, a 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina operated by the Catalina Preservation Society, performs a touch-and-go on Cowichan Lake on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

A Grumman G-73 Mallard lands on Cowichan Lake on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Just Posted

Sidney’s Cascadia Seaweed hopes to float to the top of a growing industry

Food products based on seaweed could hit local shelves in spring 2021

New Oak Bay officer on the traffic beat

Const. Jeff Savoy a ‘top traffic enforcement officer’

Deadline looms to take Esquimalt’s waste stream survey

Township wants residents, business owners’ thoughts on integrated resource management

West Shore Rotary Club raises $20,000 with Golf Ball Drop fundraiser

Nearly 4,000 golf balls poured onto Olympic View golf course Saturday

Construction slows weekend traffic at Millstream overpass

West Shore RCMP recommend Leigh Road exit instead

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to call a provincial election for Oct. 24?

British Columbians will put their social distancing skills to the test when… Continue reading

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Most Read