The Fastest ship and the slowest airplane.

This is the story of Catalina serial number 9767, the ‘Princesse des Etoiles’; the U-boat hunter, aerial photoreconnaissance machine, transport airplane, firefighter and even flying studio for a French TV channel. Four thousand Catalina’s were build and today about fifteen survive. ‘9767’ is definitely the most representative as well as the most mythical of the Catalina’s still in service…

The birth of Catalina 9767 is interesting in itself. ‘9767’ is born from an American father and a Canadian mother. In 1942 Boeing was licensed by the Consolidated company to build Catalina’s on Sea Island, Vancouver, Canada.  Consolidated out of San Diego send up the equipment and parts necessary to build 55 Boeing flying boats; American parts put together by Canadian workers. Of all the amphibious aircraft build in the Sea Island plant ‘9767’ is the sole survivor. She still graces the sky and occasionally stirs the waters. She is the last of the Boeing flying boats.

Catalina 9767’s legend began when she was delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Canso A, the Canadian designation for ‘Catalina’. She ended up in the 162 Squadron as aircraft ‘S’. On the 17th of April 1944 she saw some serious action, doing what she was meant to do, which is sinking enemy submarines. While on patrol southwest of Iceland, under command of Capt. Tom Cook,  ‘S’ encountered the German U-boat (submarine) U-342. This U boat was on her maiden voyage and had sailed from Bergen, Norway, 2 weeks earlier. The U-boats crew of 54, under the command of Oberleutnant Albert Hossenfelder, never saw the homeland again.

Well after the war, in 1946, number 9767 was acquired by Canadian Pacific Airlines to be registered as C-FCRR. During its fourteen-year tour of duty with Canadian Pacific Airlines, it flew as a passenger and freight aircraft with the fleet numbers 233 and 933. With CPA she lost all her military equipment, her shortened nose, her armament and her camouflage paintjob for a red, blue and silver livery to mark her new civilian life.

 

Just before being disposed of by Canadian Pacific Airlines, on 23 April 1959, CF-CRR suffered substantial damage in a crosswind water landing at Terrace, BC, and as a result, the Canso had to divert to the nearby land airport and make a nose-wheel-up landing.

After Canadian Pacific Airlines our Boeing build flying boat saw many other owners like Northland Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Ilford Riverton Airways. In 1977 she was purchased by Avalon Aviation to be used as a water bomber and stationed in Red Deer, Alberta. Later she was called to Parry Sound, Ontario and it was there that she entered long-term storage when Avalon ceased operations in the late 1980’s.

Firebombing is not without hazards and while operating as a fire bomber our Catalina was involved in two noteworthy accidents. The first one was at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, on 27th of May 1978, when serious damage was sustained after stalling onto the water whilst carrying out water pick-up training. The aircraft was beached before it sank. The outer section of the starboard wing was destroyed in this incident and was replaced with an unused wartime component complete with original RCAF roundels!

The second accident took place on the 30th of May 1981, when the left hand nose wheel door tore off during a water pick-up on Complex Lake, NWT. The aircraft nosed down and sank but was salvaged to fly again! Further an overrun happened on take-off from an airfield in Saskatchewan that resulted in the damaged airframe having to be airlifted out by helicopter, and a nose wheel collapse on landing in the mid-1980s. All in all, the Avalon days were an eventful period! Yeah, this ‘Cat’ was working her way through her nine lives like there was no tomorrow!

During her time in storage at Parry Sound, several purchase attempts were made by groups keen to preserve the Catalina because of its wartime history. All attempts failed but during the winter of 1994 Franklin Devaux of the Dijon based Canadian Air Legend group acquired it. In the spring of 1995, C-FCRR left Canada for France. Upon arrival, it was initially overhauled at Dinard by “LAB” (now Sabena Technics). She had her blisters replaced on the aft hull and other overhaul work carried out by Tom Reilly of Kissimmee, Florida. Then the Cat flew to Toulouse, where she was re-painted by “Aerospatiale” in a grey and blue scheme for her new operation

 

In October 1995, she was used as a flying TV studio in a French TV natural history series called “Operation Okavango” which took place in Africa. Its initial destination was Djibouti, followed by the Comoro Islands, then Kenya and Ethiopia. During 18 months, she flew under the harshest of conditions and got no damage at all! Well, she did crack a cylinder with one rather pleasant outcome: A much welcome rest for the crew...for a few hours.

After a few weeks at Harare in Zimbabwe, C-FCRR returned to France and was named “Capt Tom Cooke” after its illustrious wartime captain who sank U-342. On 23rd of August 1998 the Catalina was repainted in Air France colours, christened  “Princesse des Etoiles” and flown to Le Bourget, Paris. She was then dismantled by Mark Edwards, previously involved in the African “Operation Okavango” filming, and trucked to the “Place de la Concorde” on the “Champs Elysées”. She was placed on public display, throughout September, with a great number of other vintage aeroplanes, to celebrate the 100 years anniversary of the  “Aéroclub de France”.

After the anniversary the “Princesse” was taken back to Le Bourget for re-assembly after which she was flown south  for her next adventure; a transatlantic flight to Chile and Brazil via West Africa! This epic flight was to commemorate the Aéropostale mail flights flown by Jean Mermoz between France and Dakar, Sénégal, which began around 1930. The Catalina left Toulouse on 14th of October and by the 28th of November 1998, C-FCRR had arrived in Santiago of Chile. The flight to Brazil was made on the 3rd of December. C-FCRR flew north and spent some time at Oshawa, Ontario, where maintenance was carried out before leaving on 8th of June 1999. C-FCRR crossed the Northern Atlantic via Reykjavik and Shannon, before arriving at Dinard in Brittany, France. A few weeks later, she was being kept busy as an aerial camera platform so people could photograph the total eclipse of the sun.

Right now the Catalina nr. 9767 is no longer flying with her Canadian registration. She is now registered as an American girl nr. N9767. She was, for the time being based at Orly-Airport, south of Paris, so maintenance could be carried out.

Shade has disappear today and « 9767 » has changed her Canadian registration from C-FCRR to the American one, « N9767 ». She was then based at Orly-Airport in south of Paris. Mark Edwards, from AirVenture Ltd did the last phase of maintenance and preparation to get the US certification. Before there has been extensive maintenance, thanks to the French, Canadians & Americans engineers (Jim VanDyk, Peter Houghton, George Perez & Patrice Sublemontier) and the volunteers of Air France Industries. After the aircraft’s arrival at Orly, they gave 9767 a new engine, new propellers, upgraded avionics, overhaul hydraulics, commands cables, and a lot more. Almost all of 9767 parts have been checked & replaced when necessary. The outcome was a testimony to the mechanics work.

Plans were made to fly N9767 from Orly to its new base at Melun-Villaroche, and on the 22nd of December 2011  the Princess took off...

The “Princesse des Etoiles” is now ready to rediscover the elements for which she is well suited...better yet, for which she is perfectly suited namely,  Earth, Air and Water!