A Private History of the Last Flight of Catalina 5404J
by John Strutman (18)


For me, this story really starts in 1926, the year I was born. World War I was over and by the time I was 5 years old, Lindbergh had flown to Paris. Lindbergh’s daring flight was retold at every supper table, and every red-blooded American shot the “Hun” out of the skies every night in his dreams.

Daredevil pilots dreamed up every stunt imaginable; flying Jennys into barns, acrobats hanging from airplane wings, and refueling from one Douglas C-1 airplane to a Fokker transport for an endurance record of 6 days. The designers were not sitting around either, Ford was building the trimotor, Curtiss Wright its Condor, and Douglas the DC2. Then I found out they were putting wings on boats and flying them. They were called seaplanes or flying boats, and for some reason this fascinated me.

The Italians had their Marchetti, the Germans their Dornier, the French had the Latecoere, the English, the Short, and the US had the Consolidated PBY-1. They had everything you could think of, multi-wings, multi-engines, multi-hulls, with struts and wires. But to me at this very early age, I thought the Consolidated PBY-1, affectionately known as the Catalina was the neatest looking flying boat in the world.

During World War II, the Catalina was very successful. It was used in the Pacific by the New Zealanders, Australians, and by our own forces. The New Zealanders had two squadrons of the flying boat, PBY-5, and are credited with rescuing hundreds of our service men out of the water. The Catalina was used in the Atlantic by the English and Canadians. The Canadians were licensed to build the PBY-5A during the war and built 600 of them.

After World War II, my brother and I learned to fly float planes and operated a seaplane at the Lake of the Ozarks for a few years. That was the best flying time in my life. But it was difficult to make enough money to raise a family, so we both moved on and got jobs working for McDonnell-Douglas for the next 37 years. Getting close to retirement, I decided to get back into flying and bought a private landing strip with a home on it. Then I decided to build an airplane.

That’s right, you guessed it, an amphibian. After looking over the homebuilts, I chose the Seahawker. It is a biplane with side by side seating, and jumps up on the step in 5 seconds and flies like a banshee. Oops-sorry McDonnell. Read More