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IRVINE : Just 2 Days to Takeoff for WWII 'Flying Boat' : Countywide

November 12, 1994|TOM RAGAN

It stands alone at John Wayne Airport, near Campus Drive and MacArthur Boulevard--a majestic, blue and white, 15-ton aircraft that helped turn the tables on the Japanese during World War II.

But catch a glimpse of it while you can, because it's taking off Monday, headed for Phoenix, its winter home.

Some say if it weren't for the PBY-Catalina, the great Japanese fleet--which was en route to Midway, a strategic island in the middle of the Pacific--never would have been spotted.

But the aircraft's pilot did spot the enemy, leading to the first U.S. victory in 1942 over the Japanese.

On Friday, residents from across the county turned out in droves to catch a glimpse of the plane, nicknamed "The Flying Boat" for its dual capability to fly and carry out search and rescue missions at sea.

Many marveled at the aircraft, the same type as the one that led to the destruction of four Japanese aircraft carriers and earned Americans their first advantage after a terrible defeat at Pearl Harbor.

"It's a labor of love keeping it up," says Larry Mullaly, a member of the Confederate Air Force, which has invested a considerable amount of money restoring the amphibious plane.

Only 22 PBY-Catalinas are left in the United States, of the estimated 3,300 that were built between 1939 and 1945. The rest were either left overseas after the war, destroyed in battle or sold to other countries such as Russia, Brazil and England.

But the most beautiful sight is the aircraft taking off, said Fran Cantor, a receptionist in the Martin Aviation building near the plane.

The price of a tour before the plane rumbles down the runway for the winter is $3.

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