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Qantas Double Sunrise Catalinas


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Hi everyone,

 

I have recently been inspired to model one of the Catalinas which flew on the famous 'double sunrise' flights, still the longest (in time) commercial flights undertaken to date I believe.

 

DK Decals produce a lovely sheet but I am confused about the marking choices and cannot find reference photos to help.

 

Specifically I am unsure why some Catalinas on the decal sheet have roundels on upper wings whilst some do not. I am not sure if this reflects application of roundels to all Qantas Catalinas on a certain date or indeed that only a selection of them wore roundels.

navod_CatalinaQantas1.jpg

 

The silver example '1 Vega' is particularly interesting and I would like to understand the basis for no roundels on this aircraft. The only photo I can find doesn't help much but does show roundels on '2 Altair'

OIP.6Iv8UjsgV3URaS7HYjkXmgHaEK?pid=Api&d

Note that at some point '2 Altair' bore no roundels on the wings.

Pic_2_Catalina_takeoff_from_Koggala.jpg

 

 

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These aircraft had a variety of markings during their service, including the use of roundels and registration letters. There are several photos of these aircraft on the net - worth also trying a search on QANTAS founders museum. Note, these aircraft were modified for their work including the installation of seats in the rear of the aircraft and additional fuel tanks in the fuselage. I haven't been able to ascertain the seating arrangements, but I believe seating for 4-5 passengers in the rear gunners area. Additional fuel tanks were installed forward of the front bulkhead at the rear gunners area with fuel lines leading out of the wing pylon to the wing tanks. Armament was removed, and there were other internal modifications made that are not apparent from the outside. A few other photos:

 

p?i=c53ff9714bb5e224d89bde8853df8983

 

p?i=f2346c7be06829b2f960d7b9ca600b11

 

 

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It may be difficult to establish a time-line for  the markings changes but I will look through the best reference I have and see if there is any help there. I think the DK decals are quite accurate.

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I suspect I may be asking for a crystal ball here gents but really appreciate your replies. It feels like the aircraft went through several marking changes so had hoped to find out if anybody knew any details of timelines etc.

 

I will be building a 1/48 scale model and trying to add as much of the special detail as I can. Those seats in the back will be interesting because the gunner's semicircular platforms seem like they would be in the way. I believe a fold down seat was installed as standard on the bulkhead so that may be a start...

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Good point regards the gunners platform. I don’t have access to my research at present but from memory one of the modifications was the installation of a ‘floor’ in this area. I am not sure if the fold down seats were removed, but certainly extra seats were installed. I think there were also bunks installed in the area under the pylon but that is from my less than reliable memory. I think the Elsan may also have been moved aft but again from memory. Apologies, I should be able to check info Sunday.

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A thought re: the seats. It may be worth contacting the QANTAS Founders Museum. I contacted them many years ago for any information they had on these seats, but they didn’t have any. I note they now look to have a Catalina there so they may now have more information on this detail (?)

 

The Australian National Archives have several files with details of the modifications made to these aircraft if you wish to investigate further. As mentioned in my first post, many of these mods are not really visible unless you want to do a cutaway of the cockpit/fuselage.

Edited by Peter Roberts
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I'd question the statement that the Qantas Cats had their passengers seated down aft in the observers' cupolas. According to a mate of mine, who did his apprenticeship with TAA and worked on their Cats, accommodation for passengers (and everything else) was in the fuselage, in the space beneath the pylon. Little or nothing of substance was placed in the rear compartment because of the effect that weight there had on the aircraft's C of G. The main purpose of the Qantas operation was to carry mail - usually official. Passengers were decidedly a secondary consideration, and then only if they were VIPs with a pressing need to travel.

 

If you can find it, a great read on Qantas' Indian Ocean Cats is Qantas Empire Airways (Western Operations Division) Indian Ocean Service 1943 - 1946 by Barry Pattison and Geoff Goodall. It was published by the Aviation Historical Society of Australia in 1979, and these days is a bit hard to get hold of, but you may be lucky around the second-hand shops or some of the specialist retailers.

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8 hours ago, Ed Russell said:

From the book you mention

 

 

Thanks everyone for your replies. Nothing I love more than a mysterious modified aircraft!

 

Ed that photo is a true gift. It is amazing how simple the fuel tank racks are isn't it.

 

That photo gives a tantalising glimpse of the passenger seat installed.

 

It is true that this area will not be very visible at all on a finished model; I may have to find a way to make it so... If I can muster the mojo that is!

 

I've not been able to get hold of the Pattisson and Goodall book - seems that there are copies in some university libraries but nothing I can access as of yet.

 

Really appreciate the replies chaps - it is hard to find solid answers and facts on subjects like this one but you have already given me some great resources and food for thought.

 

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It would be very hard to find a copy of that book. Some of the information is here

https://www.goodall.com.au/australian-aviation/civil-catalina-1/Civilcatalinas.html

https://www.goodall.com.au/australian-aviation/civil-catalina-2/civilcatalinas2.html

Geoff Goodall is a thoroughly knowledgeable guy and has collated a massive amount of info about Australian aviation, much of it from his own files.

 

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On 1/15/2021 at 8:56 AM, Admiral Puff said:

I'd question the statement that the Qantas Cats had their passengers seated down aft in the observers' cupolas. According to a mate of mine, who did his apprenticeship with TAA and worked on their Cats, accommodation for passengers (and everything else) was in the fuselage, in the space beneath the pylon. Little or nothing of substance was placed in the rear compartment because of the effect that weight there had on the aircraft's C of G. The main purpose of the Qantas operation was to carry mail - usually official. Passengers were decidedly a secondary consideration, and then only if they were VIPs with a pressing need to travel.

 

If you can find it, a great read on Qantas' Indian Ocean Cats is Qantas Empire Airways (Western Operations Division) Indian Ocean Service 1943 - 1946 by Barry Pattison and Geoff Goodall. It was published by the Aviation Historical Society of Australia in 1979, and these days is a bit hard to get hold of, but you may be lucky around the second-hand shops or some of the specialist retailers.


On the contrary, the modifications made to these aircraft prevented passenger accommodation in the ‘pylon’ area - the long range fuel tanks and other equipment were stored here as per the photo Ed has posted. Records of modifications also include the installation of a new floor in the gunners area so clearly any centre of gravity issues were dealt with. There is a difference between a peace time commercial aircraft and a modified long range aircraft. My  study of these aircraft indicates there was quite consistent passenger travel.

 

Edit - having re-read this, my apologies if the above sounds dismissive. I take your point regards the need to ensure proper load distribution, especially so with these aircraft being so heavily overloaded.

 

Also Edit to correct post - must NOT rely on my memory! Apologies.

Edited by Peter Roberts
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Catalinas made 271 crossings carrying an average 2.4 passengers (ie usually 2, sometimes 3) as per the "three passenger chairs" quoted above. There were centre-of-gravity problems and the fuel tanks were moved forwards into the pylon area - the picture appears to show the "chairs" or at least one of them just abaft the tanks. The floor in the gunners compartment was for cooking gear. it was a cold trip without cabin heating so blankets etc were essential and the food was self-service.

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Finally have access to my reference on these a/c which is, of course, contradictory, and both from pilots who flew these aircraft. 

 

Captain L R Ambrose compiled his first hand accounts entitled 'A brief outline of Indian Ocean operations' which were printed by Aeroplane Monthly in three installments across November and December 1986, and January 1987. In the last article, Capt. Ambrose notes that changes were made to improve passenger comfort when the aircraft were flown to Sydney for fuel tank conversions. Two bunks were fitted on the port side of this compartment (presumably where the tanks were) and three Empire Boat-type chairs fitted facing athwartships on the right side. The floor was built up in the blister compartment and the lavatory established in the rear compartment. Later a two-element electric stove was fitted and food containers moved into the rear blister compartment. The second officer was "made responsible for all feeding arrangements - and a very fair job he made of it, too!"

 

I have a second set of notes from pilot no. 407010, Rex Clifton, who also qualified as a navigator and flew on these Catalinas. His notes state that two bunks were fitted in the cabin, position not mentioned, primarily for off duty crew to rest in, but also for passenger use. Three chairs were fitted in the blister compartment to provide passenger accommodation and a small toilet was fastened to the rear wall, regrettably with little privacy available. He notes that some 860 passengers were carried over the course of these trips.

 

Both sets of notes also make mention of considerable work to shed weight - all de-icing boots were removed, as was armour plating and any interior cladding. No oxygen was carried.

 

Finally, a recent article on the Catalina at the QANTAS Founders Outback Museum (Classic Wings Issue 99) indicates that passengers were carried in the compartment immediately behind the cockpit.

 

So which version is correct, or are all correct. Based on Capt. Ambroses account, it would seem that passenger accommodation 'evolved' so it is possible that the above information reflects that. Possibly there were different configurations across the aircraft in the 'fleet', though I would have thought that the same modifications would have been applied to all the aircraft in this service, so the only differences would be due to delays in making such changes.

 

Given that these aircraft were some 4 tons overloaded (!! - according to Rex Clifton) clearly careful consideration would have been given to where loads were placed (as referred to by Admiral Puff above) The pilots however were able to develop a take off technique that enabled them to over come this and Capt Ambrose notes that at the time of compiling his notes there had been three emergency landings of fully loaded Catalina's, though these were on smooth water. It is also worth noting that all but one flight lasted over 27 hours. A remarkable effort.

 

Edits to improve clarity

 

Edited by Peter Roberts
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23 hours ago, Ed Russell said:

It would be very hard to find a copy of that book. Some of the information is here

https://www.goodall.com.au/australian-aviation/civil-catalina-1/Civilcatalinas.html

https://www.goodall.com.au/australian-aviation/civil-catalina-2/civilcatalinas2.html

Geoff Goodall is a thoroughly knowledgeable guy and has collated a massive amount of info about Australian aviation, much of it from his own files.

 

That's fantastic Ed. I've gleamed much info from Geoff's pages which I had not found before. Thank you.

4 hours ago, Peter Roberts said:

Finally have access to my reference on these a/c which is, of course, contradictory, and both from pilots who flew these aircraft. 

 

Captain L R Ambrose compiled his first hand accounts entitled 'A brief outline of Indian Ocean operations' which were printed by Aeroplane Monthly in three installments across November and December 1986, and January 1987. In the last article, Capt. Ambrose notes that changes were made to improve passenger comfort when the aircraft were flown to Sydney for fuel tank conversions. Two bunks were fitted on the port side of this compartment (presumably where the tanks were) and three Empire Boat-type chairs fitted facing athwartships on the right side. The floor was built up in the blister compartment and the lavatory established in the rear compartment. Later a two-element electric stove was fitted and food containers moved into the rear blister compartment. The second officer was "made responsible for all feeding arrangements - and a very fair job he made of it, too!"

 

I have a second set of notes from pilot no. 407010, Rex Clifton, who also qualified as a navigator and flew on these Catalinas. His notes state that two bunks were fitted in the cabin, position not mentioned, primarily for off duty crew to rest in, but also for passenger use. Three chairs were fitted in the blister compartment to provide passenger accommodation and a small toilet was fastened to the rear wall, regrettably with little privacy available. He notes that some 860 passengers were carried over the course of these trips.

 

Both sets of notes also make mention of considerable work to shed weight - all de-icing boots were removed, as was armour plating and any interior cladding. No oxygen was carried.

 

Finally, a recent article on the Catalina at the QANTAS Founders Outback Museum (Classic Wings Issue 99) indicates that passengers were carried in the compartment immediately behind the cockpit.

 

So which version is correct, or are all correct. Based on Capt. Ambroses account, it would seem that passenger accommodation 'evolved' so it is possible that the above information reflects that. Possibly there were different configurations across the aircraft in the 'fleet', though I would have thought that the same modifications would have been applied to all the aircraft in this service, so the only differences would be due to delays in making such changes.

 

Given that these aircraft were some 4 tons overloaded (!! - according to Rex Clifton) clearly careful consideration would have been given to where loads were placed (as referred to by Admiral Puff above) The pilots however were able to develop a take off technique that enabled them to over come this and Capt Ambrose notes that at the time of compiling his notes there had been three emergency landings of fully loaded Catalina's, though these were on smooth water. It is also worth noting that all but one flight lasted over 27 hours. A remarkable effort.

 

Edits to improve clarity

 

Thanks for the contributions Peter I really appreciate you digging out these references. It gives me a lot to think about as I plan the layout of my model! It's also extremely interesting. You'll see below I've taken a lot from your notes.

 

Layout of internals

I'm pulling together my understanding of the internal layout... Does this sound correct to you all? I would welcome any corrections or thoughts. :) 

 

Of course, it seems this varied, probably through time and across airframes. 

 

From the front:

- Nose to first bulkhead: front turret (no gun) - not sure what they'd have done with this but likely stripped as far as possible

- First to second bulkhead: cockpit - as normal

- Second to third bulkhead: navigator and radio operator - as normal or x3 passenger seats 

- Third to fourth bulkhead (under pylon): Engineer in the top seat; extra fuel tanks installed. Possibly also a bunk installed. The seat seen in the photo Ed posted is in the next compartment - the bottom right corner shows the triangular bulkhead opening. Also notable in this photo - it appears the floor decking is raised above the normal level.

Fourth to fifth bulkhead (cabin): Two bunks fitted (I believe this was standard), three seats fitted (seats and bunks likely on opposite sides)

- Fifth to sixth bulkhead (blisters):  A flat floor was installed. Cooking equipment installed. Toilet fitted (I think this was standard) and if the seats weren't fitted in the cabin or from 2 to 3, they were fitted here

 

For ease of reference:

spacer.png

spacer.png

 

Vega - why the bare metal?

If you will permit me a little speculation, I have some thoughts about why 'Vega' was bare metal.

 

It's clear these aircraft cam from RAF stocks in the standard temperate sea scheme - EDSG/DSG on top, sky undersides. I've been puzzling as to why 'Vega' appears to have bare metal on her fuselage and upper engine cowlings. 

 

My guess is - a weight saving measure. Perhaps the paint was stripped from this area to lose some weight, whilst the camo was retained on the most visible parts of the airframe because of the need to hide from Japanese aircraft.

 

Geoff Goodall writes that the RAF camouflage appears to have worn off the aircraft; but the photo shows a very neat demarcation between bare metal and sky on the engine cowlings which looks deliberate. Hence, I'm guessing that the paint was deliberately stripped by some method. 

 

Does this sound at all plausible to you? I'm aware that this is frankly speculation with no real evidence - but so long as that's acknowledged I think that's where the fun lies.

 

Thanks again for providing such fantastic info.

 

 

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I think it is possible Vega was stripped of paint at a late overhaul. Unfortunately, not being on RAAF charge, we don't have status cards for these planes. The Liberators which replaced the Catalinas were bare metal. Note that all of them were covered from the waterline downwards with lanolin to protect the surface. In modelling terms, make sure that below the waterline is more gloss than above.

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What you are proposing sounds reasonable to me, though I may have been a bit misleading regards the QANTAS Founders info as there are no seats in the picture they present. It appears the passengers simply sat on the floor! This may be why Ambrose refers to the need to improve passenger comfort - ya think! These would have been tough flights to endure, but it appears the first flights were tougher than most. I'm not sure about seats being in so many areas as you have laid out. Based on the info from the crew I have outlined, I think they were either in the blister area or the area with the extra tankage as per the photo Ed has posted.

Edited by Peter Roberts
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Thanks both. Noted about the lanolin.

 

Peter that makes sense - I can imagine an operation like this would not emphasize comfort and hence you'd have passengers on the floor somewhere. 

 

I meant to outline all the potential seat locations - as there seems to be evidence for a few places - but obviously we'd only see one example in each airrcaft.

 

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It appears that 413 Squadron, RCAF, was involved in the early stages of this operation and flew the first Sunrise flight in FP244 on May 3, 1943.  I don't know if this photo helps or confuses, but it is from the RCAF archives and depicts GIE with the BOAC flash on the nose.  Photo is RCAF PL-18412 and I cropped the photo to focus on the Catalina.

 

Jim

 

spacer.png

Edited by airjiml2
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Many thanks for that photograph @airjiml2, I’ve not come across that one and it shows up many details. 

Cheers and good thread chaps.. Dave 

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I note you don't specifically relate the picture to the text but just for clarity, most references give JX577 as the serial for G-AGIE. FP244 was G-AGFM.

Nice picture which I have not seen before.

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Hi Ed,

 

Indeed.  I'm unclear if the photo has any relation to 413 Squadron's ops for the Double Sunrise Flights, or if it just is a coincidence.  The only serial I find in the 413 ORB is FP244, but I've not read the whole diary.

 

Jim

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