As regular readers here will know, I’ve been bitten by the SL flying bug. It’s not something I do all the time, but it is something I enjoy; so much so that I’ve gained a (very) modest collection of aircraft over the past couple of years, of which I tend to use my EC-135 helicopter, Spitfire and Terra Stingray the most.
However, these three now have a competitor for my time and attention: a Consolidated PBY Catalina, which is affectionately referred to as the “Cat” by aviation enthusiasts. It’s one of those aircraft I fell in love with while going around airshows; being a flying boat, there is something very graceful about its lines that not even the frog-like “blister” canopies on the sides or the gawky, sticky-outy main wheels (on the amphibious version) can spoil.
So when I was out investigating air racing locations in SL (of which, more anon) and I came across Shana Carpool’s PBY-6A (the “A” being for “amphibious”), I got completely sidetracked (sorry Terag!), and couldn’t help but click the button labelled “PAY”. And I’m glad I did; this aircraft is simply beautiful.
This is actually a new addition to the Shana’s impressive range of aeroplanes, and two variants are provided in the package: the flyable version, which weighs-in at a LI of 49 and a physics weight of around 9; and a static “display” model, which has a LI of 38 and roughly the same physics weight. The scaling of the aircraft is idea for SL flying, and the dual controls make it fun to fly with a friend.
Being the amphibious version, the PBY-6A rezzes with wheels down, ready for a land-based take off. However, simply sit it in Linden water, get in, and with two quick commands you can lower the wing-tip floats raise the wheels, and be ready to take off from the sea. The controls are pretty typical, the usual
WASD or arrow keys for up/down and left/right and
PAGE UP and
PAGE DOWN for the throttle. Other commands are single-letter commands – “g” for raising / lowering the wheels, “v” for lowering / raising the wing-tip floats, etc. In addition to this, the side “blister” canopies can be opened / closed at a click, as can the rear gangway.
Starting the Cat causes the two engines to turn over in sequence; the big radials giving a puff of smoke as they cough into life. Both on land and water, the plane is very responsive to control movements, with ailerons, flaps and rudder responding nicely in response to input.
With land based take-offs, the plane pretty much takes care of itself; simply get up to airspeed and it’ll lift itself off of the runway very smoothly, so with just a touch on the controls, you’re climbing out nicely, ready to bring the wheels up. On water it is slightly different – as it should be. Take-off requires a good head of speed and a firm (not too heavy!) pulling back on the yoke in order to get the water to agree to let you go.
Landings are slightly harder. I’m not a qualified pilot in the physical world, nor am I an expert in dynamics; but I assume that huge overhead wing is responsible; once in the air, it doesn’t want to come back down to Earth, and I found myself drifting quite a distance down the runway before actually getting the wheels on the ground during my initial attempts. Whether the real Catalina is like this, I’ve no idea; but it felt very real, and certainly adds to the experience of flying the plane.
As well as the exterior detail, the PBY6A has a nicely detailed cockpit, complete with the distinctive overhead throttles. The aircraft also comes with a painting kit, with three supplied finishes: white, dirty white and US Navy. UV maps and instructions are supplied for those wishing to create their own livery for the Cat, although I’m hoping we might see an extension pack (as my graphics design skills are non-existent!). I’d happily buy a pack offering RAF Coastal Command colours :). Given you can also deploy a “rescue boat” to help those in distress in the water, perhaps some form of coastguard colours in a pack wouldn’t go amiss (although I assume the boat is for combat pilots who have crashed into the sea).
Region crossings with the PBY6A were no different from when flying my Spitfire or EC-135; the expected “”rubber banding” and / or barrel rolling as a result of the hand-off between regions was the same, and the occasional skewing of the camera to one side of the aircraft was encountered. Neither a fault of the design, just a fact of life with SL region crossings. However, given it can carry up to nine (2 crew + 7 passengers) I do wonder how things will fair on multiple region crossings under a full load.
The camera slewing issue, when it occurs has led me to start flying more in Mouselook; it’s either that or edited the ‘plane mid-flight and quickly standing/sitting again to reset. I have to say that for some reason, I found doing so a lot more fun in the Catalina than in the Spitfire or EC-135. Perhaps this is simply because flying the Cat is new to me; but I certainly enjoyed myself attempting landings in ML a lot more!
There are some lovely touches to this aeroplane; just witness the way the main wheels tuck themselves up into the fuselage recesses on being raised; similarly the lowering and raising of the wingtip floats is somehow poised and graceful. All told a fabulous aircraft, and one which really is a must for any SL aviation fan, and which also now has me thinking maybe I should be moving to somewhere larger, where I can park it on display :).
Shana Carpool PBY6A Catalina price at the time of writing: L$2,100. Available from Shana Carpool headquarters and vendors across SL.