Deer Park Man Helps Restore Navy PBY Catalina; Saved by One in WWII

The museum, at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, acquired the search, rescue and antisubmarine aircraft last spring from an upstate aviation museum and, after some rehabilitation, flew it to Long Island in November.

Once the Catalina was rolled into the museum's hangar, with little room to spare, the volunteer rehab crew resumed where it left off upstate.

One of them was Kittle, who was already a crewman on a PBY helping to protect convoys across the Atlantic to Britain as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Neutrality Patrol when the United States was drawn into the war on Dec. 7, 1941. "I was a flight engineer and more or less took care of the engines," Kittle said. Initially he was stationed in Newfoundland, searching for U- boats. Then, he was transferred to Greenland, where "we were plotting icebergs to make sure they didn't get into the shipping lanes when the convoys were coming over, and also doing rescue work."

He helped in rescuing the crews of B-17 bombers and P-38 fighters that went down on the Greenland icecap in 1942. But Kittle said he was never on a PBY that had to land on the water to make a rescue. "We could land on the ocean, but it's not desirable when it's rough," he said. "And it was rough up there, and it's cold."

B-24 shot down

Early in 1943, he shifted from flying and maintaining PBYs to bombers, primarily B-24s based in England. "On November the twelfth, 1943," he recalled, "I was shot down in a B-24 off the coast of Portugal about 150 miles out. We spotted a submarine on the surface and made a gunnery run on it. They were diving and going under, so we made a 180- degree turn and came back, and at the same time, six Junker 88s - German fighters - attacked us. They were escorting the submarine, and we didn't know it."

Kittle said, "Under attack, you normally jettison your bombs so they won't explode in the airplane. But we decided we had the submarine where we wanted it, so we salvoed the whole load on the submarine. But the JU-88s shot us up. We got our submarine, but they got us. They shot out three engines, and we couldn't maintain altitude, so we had to ditch. Everybody survived, but the airplane broke into three pieces and sunk. They strafed us in the water before they left. I guess they were teed off that we got their sub."

The crew climbed aboard its life raft. "We were out there floating around for 72 hours," Kittle said. A plane spotted them, and then a familiar sight for Kittle - a PBY - swooped in and landed. "Oh man, it was an angel. The PBY picked us up and flew us to Gibraltar, where we spent three days in sick bay," said Kittle, who after 4 1/2 years in the Navy worked in maintenance for United Airlines, ending up as an instructor.

Clyman said, "What this plane does for the museum is give us an incredible historical asset that can only add to the living history component, which is its raison d'ĂȘtre. It not only pays tribute to veterans of World War II but to all of our fighting men and women, and all the people who were in public service."

Clyman noted the flying boats were used by the Navy, Coast Guard and Army Air Forces in World War II and, later, up to the early '60s as firefighting aerial tankers that put out forest fires in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. If PBYs were special planes, the museum's model is very special, according to Clyman. "This airplane is completely original, with the gun blisters and the nose turret. It's a one-of-a-kind item."

Who sat where in the PBY Catalina

Wing span: 104 feet

Length: 63 feet, 10 inches

Wing area: 14,000 square feet

Colors: Varied by service and use. Colors shown here are those planned at the museum


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