Posing proudly before their PBY at NAS North Island in the fall of 1937 are the men of VP-3. Of additional interest are the large numbers of enlisted pilots (note the wings on their chests). VP-3 had already racked up some impressive achievements with their new patrol bombers. The PBY was not shattering existing speed records, but this being said, the PBY’s single wing, no landing gear, and a minimum of external braces all contributed to fairly low drag, meaning the early PBY was, by 1937 standards, a speedy enough machine. Its rated top speed was only 170 knots, but this was comparable to most fighter aircraft of the period, they mostly being biplanes with fixed landing gear.
None of that makes the PBY an agile and swift aircraft, but that was something the plane was never designed to be. My dad flew the PBY during World War II and he will tell you to this day that the aircraft could take off at 90 knots, cruise at 90 knots, and land at 90 knots. But he will also tell you that the PBY was a gas miser that could fly seemingly forever. The longest PBY flight in his logbook: 22 hours, non-stop from NAS North Island to Pearl Harbor. A more routine time was 14 hours but according to dad their Direction Finder died, and to make matters more exciting, they also had quite a quartering headwind that both slowed them down and pushed them off course. By off course we’re talking a couple hundred miles south of the Hawaiian islands.
They tossed out everything they didn’t need, and when Hawaii was finally found, Dad & co. were showing zero fuel and were obliged to fly the last 30 minutes at wave-top altitude so they could simply plop in the ocean when the gas gave out (Just one of the nice things about a flying boat). But the gas held out, and foregoing all air traffic control rules, Dad flew his PBY so low up the Pearl Harbor channel he had to weave his way around navy ships as he brought his gas-starved bird in for a smooth landing alongside Ford Island.
The F3F had a number of nicknames, all of which seemed related to its appearance. Nevertheless, it was rugged, reliable, and pretty quick. It was also the last biplane fighter ordered by the US military. The first two photos show VF-4 out for a cruise above California in the late 1930’s. Numbers are 261, 228, 235Here we see marines of VMF-2 out for a drive in the F3F-2. This second model had a bigger motor and is therefore quickly identified by the size of the engine cowl. Numbers are 973, 977, and 979.