PBY Seaplane coming back to Oak Harbor for permanent exhibit

A PBY, similar to the one purchased by the PBY Memorial Foundation, is shown in a picture postcard with the former seaplane Hangar in the background, now the PX. - Submitted photo
A PBY, similar to the one purchased by the PBY Memorial Foundation, is shown in a picture postcard with the former seaplane Hangar in the background, now the PX.
— image credit: Submitted photo

More than 11 years, 136 newsletters and 282 members later, the PBY Memorial Foundation finally achieved its goal of “Project Seaplane.”

Or as the bright yellow fundraising buttons proclaim, “The cat came back.” The Catalina PBY, that is.

On Wednesday, the foundation purchased a PBY after nearly a dozen years of fundraising and searching for an available aquatic aircraft. The plane will be transported to Oak Harbor later this year for a permanent static display on the Seaplane Base.

Many Whidbey residents saw it in action last summer when one landed in Crescent Harbor for the first time in decades.

The historic planes may be one of the most versatile to ever grace the skies, said PBY Memorial Foundation member Jim Siggens. The Marine Corps rigged bombs under the PBY’s wings, converting the seaplanes into bombers for the battle of Guadalcanal, and the U.S. Army Air Corps used the PBY to ferry “some of the top brass” from island to island before the Seebees constructed airstrips.

What began as a small, passionate group of 14 members who met at the CPO Club for lunch on Sept. 22, 1998 to discuss a PBY purchase, blossomed into the PBY Memorial Foundation Association and later became the PBY Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization, in 1999.

Since then the group has faced its fair share of ups and downs.

There’s been four planes within reach, and all but this last one got away, Siggens said.

They’d been short on funds, out-bid and even hit with international adversity over a PBY in Canada.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose and “this was it,” he said. “We were way short. There was $8,600 in the bank and we needed to raise $50,000 in less than a week.”

A bank-owned PBY, near Skagit County Airport, was up for sale, he said. It seemed like this could be the foundation’s last shot to acquire one.

The membership met on a Tuesday, he recalled, and in 50 hours the they gathered $50,000.

“Some of it was outright; some of it was loans,” Siggens said. “ All of it is from the membership. I am so proud of this group.”

The private loans will need to be repaid, so the foundation has a lot of fundraising left to do, but the payoff is worth it, he said.

“We’re no longer a lunch bunch,” joked Win Stites, a fellow founding member.

“This day would not have happened without Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Captain Gerral David,” Siggens said. “God bless him; he’s bent over backwards to restore historical importance on base.”

Since the commissioning of the Seaplane Base on Sept. 21, 1942, which took place on the steps of Building 12—the current home of the PBY Command Display —Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has undergone major changes to accommodate the rapid evolution of technology. The goal of the PBY Memorial Foundation is to preserve the history that made today’s operations possible.

“The PBY is to this base as the cannon is to Fort Casey,” said Dolores Meisch, wife of founding Foundation member Adoph Meisch.

Stites anticipates the plane’s arrival sometime in May and the group is already planning a dedication ceremony for June.

The plane is no longer airworthy, so one option is to airlift it to the Seaplane Base via helicopter, Siggens said.

The static display will be located on the former PBY tarmac on the right-hand side of Maui Avenue near the Seaplane Base gate.

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